Updated Classic: Not So Sloppy Joes

Hello friends! I am so happy you’re here, I have a super fun recipe today. As a kid in the 70s and 80s I have fond memories of eating Sloppy Joes; mostly at my Grandma’s house in the summer time. I am sure she made hers with the recognizable packet of McCormick Sloppy Joes Seasoning; and I loved them. The loose meat sandwich wasn’t new then, in fact its origins go all the way back to the 1930s; with the first mention of Sloppy Joes in the 1940s. A classic, in my book. I hadn’t had Sloppy Joes in probably 30 years, and never from scratch, so I thought it might be a fun recipe to do here. Let’s do it! Updated Classic: Not So Sloppy Joes.

Not So Sloppy Joes

Sloppy Joes

This recipe starts with an interesting technique I learned from America’s Test Kitchen. We will mix the ground beef with a slurry of baking soda and water. This slurry helps the ground beef retain moisture when cooked. A good tip to keep in your back pocket! Mix the slurry and add it to the ground beef with 1/2 teaspoon salt and lightly mix the slurry into the beef and set aside.

Not So Sloppy Joes ground beef

The Sauce

Now it’s time to make the sauce: a rich and deeply flavored sauce that I think you’ll find is so much more flavorful than the McCormick packet. Another baking soda trick here; we are going to sauté the onions with baking soda to help them soften more quickly. In a large skillet over medium heat, heat oil until shimmering. Add onion and 1/8 teaspoon baking soda and cook, stirring often until the onions are soft, about 3-4 minutes. Then add garlic and stir constantly for about 30 seconds.

cooking onions and garlic for Not So Sloppy Joes

Next, add the sugar, paprika, salt, and red pepper flakes to the onions and stir continuously until the paprika is fragrant, only one minute or so.

Then add the tomato paste and stirring constantly, cook until the tomato paste has darkened in color, about 3-4 minutes.

Now it’s time for the ground beef. Toss it in and break it up as it cooks. once it’s mostly cooked, ATK recommends using a potato masher to get nice, small crumbles of ground beef. Well, I don’t have a potato masher, so I am getting my arm workout by using my flat wooden spatula to break up the ground beef.

Now, the classic ingredient I am sure you were expecting: ketchup. And we have Worcestershire and red wine vinegar. Mix well to combine.

Not So Sloppy Joes ground beef and sauce

Then our last ingredient is a corn starch slurry to thicken it all up to create our Not So Sloppy Joes.

Loose Meat Sandwich

Alright, everyone. We have our Not So Sloppy Joes ready, we have Martins classic potato buns, and I have made a cole slaw (per Alex’s request).

Instead of pickle chips, I am topping these with our favorite Doux South Red Onion Cult Pickled Onions.

Updated Classic: Not So Sloppy Joes

Sloppy Joes have a reputation for being a sloppy staple on the elementary school cafeteria tray. I think this recipe not only dispels that reputation, but makes it a dish worthy of any casual family get together, or if you’re like me and Alex, a perfect Thursday night dinner, sans kids. So get on the Not So Sloppy Joes bus with us!

Not So Sloppy Joes

Thank you all for spending some time with me today, I hope you give this updated classic a try, and don’t forget the tip about the baking soda in the meat mixture and when sautéing the onions! It’s a super helpful tip useful for all kinds of recipes. If you want to try another updated classic, try my Smoked Meatloaf and Cauliflower Mashies! Remember you can find all the Djalali Cooks recipes on Pinterest, so hop over and give me a follow so you can have all the recipes with easy access.

Not So Sloppy Joes

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (41 votes, average: 3.49 out of 5)
Dinner, Main Course American
By America's Test Kitchen Serves: 2-4
Prep Time: 20 minutes Cooking Time: 15-20 Minutes Total Time: 45 Minutes

An updated classic, this recipe is super easy with a trick to keep the ground beef super moist. Rich and deeply flavored, it's the Sloppy Joes of your memories, only better, and from scratch!


  • 2 tbsp. Water, divided
  • 1/2 tsp. plus 1/8 tsp. Baking Soda, divided
  • 1 lb. 85 or 90 percent Lean Ground Beef
  • 1/2 tsp. plus 1/8 tsp. Kosher Salt, divided
  • 2 tsp. Vegetable Oil
  • 1/2 Onion, chopped fine
  • 2 Garlic Coves, minced
  • 2 tsp. Packed Brown Sugar, plus extra for seasoning
  • 2 tsp. Paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1/4 cup Tomato Paste
  • 1/3 cup Ketchup
  • 1 tbsp. Red Wine Vinegar, plus extra for seasoning
  • 1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. Cornstarch
  • 4 Hamburger Buns



Combine 1 tablespoon water and ½ teaspoon baking soda in small bowl.


In large bowl, lightly mix beef with baking soda mixture and ½ teaspoon salt until thoroughly combined. Set aside.


Heat oil in 12-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and remaining ⅛ teaspoon baking soda and stir to coat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, 3 to 4 minutes.


Add garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.


Stir in sugar, paprika, pepper flakes, and remaining ⅛ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring constantly, until paprika is fragrant, about 1 minute.


Add tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, until paste is rust-colored, 3 to 4 minutes.


Add beef and cook, breaking up meat with wooden spoon, until beef is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Mash beef with potato masher until fine-textured, about 1 minute.


Add ketchup, vinegar, and Worcestershire and stir to combine, scraping up any browned bits.


Combine cornstarch and remaining 1 tablespoon water in small bowl, then pour cornstarch mixture over beef and stir to incorporate.


Cook, stirring constantly, until sauce thickens and coats beef, about 1 minute.


Season with salt, extra sugar, and extra vinegar to taste.


Spoon beef mixture onto buns and serve.

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  • Susan
    April 15, 2021 at 8:55 am

    I was just thinking about my mother’s sloppy Joe’s- very similar. Thanks for the baking soda tips. Do you drain the grease from the meat after browning?

    • Kelly Djalali
      April 15, 2021 at 9:00 am

      Hi Susan, No need to drain the grease. With 85% or 90% lean, there’s not much grease to drain and the small amount of fat there helps to combine with the other ingredients to create the sauce. Thank you so much for stopping by, and for your question! Have a great end to your week, xo Kelly

  • Nancy
    April 15, 2021 at 9:56 am

    My family has always loved sloppy joes too. One difference, our have chopped green peppers!

    • Kelly Djalali
      April 15, 2021 at 10:12 am

      Hi Nancy, green peppers – what a great addition! I really had forgotten how much I love Sloppy Joes! Thanks so much for stopping by today, have a great day! xo Kelly

  • Deanna
    April 15, 2021 at 10:38 am

    Interesting tip about the baking soda slurry. This recipe with the pickled onions added to the sandwich sounds tasty. Alex was right on with his choice of slaw as a side dish. A quick and easy lunch/dinner.

    • Kelly Djalali
      April 15, 2021 at 10:44 am

      Hello Deanna, Yes I thought was an interesting tip too. I learn so much from America’s Test Kitchen! Those pickled onions were so perfect! And of course, Alex was right-on about the coleslaw – a perfect side dish for Sloppy Joes. Thanks so much for writing in today, I love to hear from folks. Have a lovely day! xo Kelly

  • Stephanie Bailey
    April 15, 2021 at 7:35 pm

    This is a great recipe- we made the TK sloppy Joe’s a few times, delicious!

    • Kelly Djalali
      April 15, 2021 at 10:39 pm

      Hi Stephanie! It’s so good! I am so happy to have in the rotation this summer. Thanks so much for stopping by today, xo Kelly

  • Mari
    April 27, 2022 at 9:29 am

    When I was growing up, these were locally called Maid Rites after the cafe that popularized them in our town. My mother talked about these wistfully, because when she was a secretary, she and her friends walked there for lunch quite frequently. She had very fond memories, but she never made them until many years later when Manwich was a thing. My younger brothers ate them, actually, inhaled they inhaled them. I never liked the canned sauce or it’s many variations. In high school, we had a day off one Friday, and we went to my friend’s house. Jeanne wanted to make Sloppy Joes for,lunch, but none of us knew how they were made. She called her mother at work to get a recipe, and decided it was too much bother. We ended up going to the nearestMcDonalds for lunch, and we were quite happy. Her Mom’s recipe was more involved and we had no idea what most of the ingredients were, so I was pure luck that we didn’t attempt it. If we had found this recipe, I think we would have wished for more days off! Happy windy Wednesday to Kelly, Alex, Terry, Dante and his lovely Ladies. ? ?

    • Kelly Djalali
      April 27, 2022 at 9:45 am

      Hi Mari, I totally forgot about the Manwich version! There’s a little drive-in place in Missouri that we used to go to called Jolly Cone and their Jolly Burger is actually a version of sloppy joes. I bet there are little places all over the country that have their own version. Such great memories! Give this one a try, I bet you will enjoy it – it’s so easy too! Have a great Day, xo Kelly

  • Donna
    April 27, 2022 at 9:35 am

    I’ve always loved Sloppy Joe’s but have not made them in ages!! I can’t wait to try this recipe and all of your tips! I look forward to your posts every day. Thank you for all of the recipes you share.

    • Kelly Djalali
      April 27, 2022 at 9:47 am

      Hello Donna, Thank you so much for following Djalali Cooks! I love this recipe – it’s one of those recipes that really takes you down memory lane! Try this one, I am sure you will enjoy it. Let me know how it goes for you! xo Kelly

  • Julia+Babarik
    April 27, 2022 at 9:39 am

    Hey Kelly, I love this recipe! I make it pretty regularly. I use brioche buns and make my own pickled onions. Also, I have boneless chicken thighs thawing right now for the Simple Teriyaki Chicken Rice Bowl. It looks SO good and I can’t wait to taste the finished meal. Thanks for your clear, concise instructions and helpful photos.

    • Kelly Djalali
      April 27, 2022 at 9:49 am

      Hi Julia, Thanks so much! I think you will love the Teriyaki Chicken Rice Bowl – it’s so simple, so flavorful and just plain wonderful! Let me know how it goes for you! Take care, xo Kelly

  • Suzanne+smith
    April 27, 2022 at 11:06 am

    I always make mine from scratch and they’re really good! But I’ve not used the slurry. I have done that with several me ask an recipes I make but I will definitely have to try it with these. Joe recently asked me to make sloppy joes again so I’ll have to do so soon. Thanks for the tip! I’m with Alex on slaw with these, for sure.

    • Kelly Djalali
      April 27, 2022 at 11:44 am

      Hi Suzanne, Definitely do try the baking soda slurry for the meat before cooking. It is a total game changer when it comes to cooking ground meat. The difference in the moisture, texture and flavor in the cooked ground meat is noticeable – so much better! I use this trick now every time I cook ground beef. Let me know what you think! xo Kelly

  • Suzanne+smith
    April 27, 2022 at 11:08 am

    That should have been I used slurries “with some Asian recipes”. World’s worst typist! LOLOL

  • Barbara Lacy
    April 27, 2022 at 11:13 am

    Thank you for such great instructions and pictures. The wedge salad is on my list!

    • Kelly Djalali
      April 27, 2022 at 11:45 am

      Hi Barbara, Love the Wedge Salad! Let me know how you like it. Have a great day! xo Kelly

  • Sally+Burke
    April 28, 2022 at 3:18 am

    Hello there from Portland, Victoria… finally made time to drop you a line Kelly. Sloppy Joe’s are not something made here in Australia, but I have to say you have made these sound very tasty. The pickled onions reminded me that I have some Japanese pickled onions in the fridge so perhaps I could use those. I am not sure of the flavours but I’m sure they would work fine. I will test this recipe out when we get home and perhaps take up Alex’s suggestion re the slaw. My husband didn’t catch any fish yesterday, although he will say that he did, but it was so small he had to throw it back, I thought he was just showing me what bait he was using lol… so off to the local Indian Restaurant, one of the few that were open. Tonight I have pre-booked our restaurant and their menu is Italian this month so we are happy with that. I am hoping that they may do a Carbonara, but done with just eggs, Parmesan and pasta water … no cream, and if you follow the late Antonio Calucciano, definitely no cream!! Are you having problems in the US with restaurants not having enough staff and not opening for the hours they used to in the past? It is a real problem here. Anyway once again I have diverged from your great recipe.
    Happy cooking ?‍?
    Sally ?

    • Kelly Djalali
      April 28, 2022 at 8:04 am

      Hello Sally! I saw some of your photos from Portland, it looks beautiful! We do have that problem with restaurants and their staffing issues here in the states. Alex and I have encountered places featuring a limited menu due to short staffing, and we have chatted with waitstaff who have to pick up the slack because people don’t show up for their shifts…it is a real problem here too. Sorry your husband didn’t catch a fish! I hope you enjoy the rest of your trip – and that you got your Carbonara! ? Talk soon! xo Kelly