Sloppy Joe’s have had a tough life. Like an old toy that’s been forgotten in the attic, no one wants to play with him. I don’t even think the grocery store carries an off-brand version of sloppy Joe seasoning. When you think of sloppy joes, you invariably think of Manwich, then you think: “YUM, YES PLEASE” or “GROSS GET IT OUT OF MY FACE!” Poor sloppy joes are so neglected. As though Manwich has the recipe so perfected that there is no need to create any variation.
Joe’s not generally found on a restaurant menu and your mother probably doesn’t have her own “secret recipe”, but why not?? What did Joe do to make everyone so mad at him? No one wants to experiment. No one wants to make him their own. It’s just brown meat, open can of Manwich, warm and serve. What did poor joe do to make him so disrespected that no one even thinks of giving him a second chance? There are as many salad dressings, barbeque sauces, and sandwich spreads as there are crayola crayon colors, but just one lonely Joe… poor guy. Don’t worry, Joe. I still love you. I will make you my own, and give you my very own (not) secret recipe…
People don’t generally think of sloppy joes as being customizable, but I beg to differ. Ever since I first discovered the smoky, spicy, little guy, chipotle has been my latin lover. Boyfriend loves chili-garlic, that spicy pepper sauce you see sitting in jars at the asian restaurant. Both of those are welcome additions to sloppy joes, trust me- I know.
So here is a basic sloppy joe recipe that is really easy to whip up, and then you can customize it to your liking. If you want it a little smoky- throw in chipotle. Spicy? Hit it with some cayenne or chili-garlic paste. You love manwich? Omit the brown sugar and add some BBQ sauce instead and you’ll be surprised at just how closely it matches Manwich- it could be his evil twin… and if you want to stretch it out to feed a large family or make it healthier- double up on the veggies. Just experiment, have fun, and find what works for you. This is a good jumping-off point, though.
*Tip: The finer you chop your veggies, the better texture they’ll have. Also, you don’t need to saute them all the way to tender, they’ll soften up a lot as it simmers.
- 1 lb lean ground beef
- 1 small carrot, finely minced
- 1 small onion, finely minced
- 1 small red bell pepper, finely minced
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1 8oz can tomato sauce
- 1 tsp mustard
- ½ c ketcup
- 3 – 4 tsp brown sugar (to taste) or 1 Tbsp BBQ sauce
- 3 dashes worcestshire sauce (or soy sauce would probably do the trick)
- Dash each (about 1/4-1/2 tsp) of garlic powder, onion powder, paprika
- In a saute pan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Once hot, add meat. Cook, breaking into small pieces, until well-browned. Add chopped veggies, a dash of salt and pepper, and cook until veggies are slightly softened (but not brown).
- Once meat and veggies are cooked, turn heat down to simmer and add a bit of water to de-glaze the pan. Add the rest of the ingredients, mixing well. Cover with lid and turn heat all the way down to simmer.
- Simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes—checking every so often to make sure it’s not drying out—add water or a bit of stock if it starts to look dry.
- After 20 minutes, adjust seasonings to taste & serve!
*I believe almost everything sauce-related tastes better the 2nd day, once the flavors have had time to mingle. After simmering, I transfer the joes to a heat-safe container and refrigerate overnight. Reheat on the stovetop in a covered saucepan over low heat, adjust seasonings to taste and serve then! (I like mine with a little bit of cheese and potato chips on top)