Grown-Up Sloppy Joes

A childhood favorite gets an upgrade! These sloppy joes are just what you remember having as a child only with a grown-up taste. Roasted vegetables, red wine, and less sugar takes them to a whole new delicious level.

mini sloppy joe sandwiches lined up on a cutting board

It’s been years since I’ve made sloppy joes because what I once loved about them as a child – a cloyingly sweet sauce – doesn’t hold true today. At some point, I moved sloppy joes over to the “kid’s meal” column and didn’t give it much more thought.

Then I remembered my grown-up beefaroni. With a couple of tweaks, I took what was a kid-orientated dish and dressed it up a bit for someone with a little more grown-up taste. Why not apply the same principle to sloppy joes?

What Makes These Fancy Sloppy Joes

There are a few things that make these more like fancy joes than kiddie joes:

  • There’s a hint (instead of a lot) of sweetness from brown sugar.
  • Roasted veggies add a depth of flavor and wonderful texture. Instead of just tossing them in the pan, we’re popping them in the oven first to draw out their natural sweetness.
  • The sauce is infused with red wine but you can also use balsamic vinegar. Again, it’s all about the layering of flavors.

And, yes, these grown-up sloppy joes are not the best weeknight dinner. They’re more suited for the weekend when there’s time to roast and simmer – the effort is worth it in the end. They still have a whiff of childhood nostalgia but dressed up for a grown-up table. Maybe we should call them sloppy josephs?

Ingredients

  • Yellow onion
  • Bell pepper
  • Tomato paste
  • Olive oil
  • Garlic
  • Ground beef
  • Italian seasoning
  • Kosher salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • Red wine or balsamic vinegar
  • Tomato sauce
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Brown sugar

How to Make Them

Roast the veggies – in this case, bell pepper, onion, and a whole head of garlic – until they’re soft and caramelized.

Brown the beef and add all the other ingredients. One the roasted vegetables are cool, finely chop them and add them to the beef mixture. To make it easy, feel free to chop them up in a food processor instead of using a knife.

Simmer the sloppy joes until the sauce thickens.

Recipe Tips

You can do all or parts of this recipe ahead to save time. Roast the vegetables a day in advance and keep them in the fridge until you’re ready to use them.

Or, make the whole recipe a day ahead and chill the sloppy joe mixture overnight in the fridge. It will taste even better the next day after the flavors have fully mixed and mingled.

Leftover sloppy joe will keep in the refrigerator for three to four days. Or, you can freeze it for several months.

close-up of a sloppy joe

I hope you enjoy these fancy sloppy joes!

Happy cooking,

April

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Grown-Up Sloppy Joes

photo of sloppy joe sliders

A childhood favorite gets an upgrade! These sloppy joes are just what you remember having as a child only with a grown-up taste.

  • Author: April Anderson
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings 1x
  • Category: Dinner
  • Method: Simmer
  • Cuisine: American

Ingredients

Scale
  • 1 yellow onion, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 1 bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus 1 teaspoon (divided)
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup red wine (Pinot Noir or Cabernet) or balsamic vinegar
  • 1 (15-oz) can tomato sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ cup brown sugar

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F and line a sheet pan with foil. Spread the onions and bell peppers on the pan in a single layer.
  2. Whisk the tomato paste and two tablespoons of olive oil in a small bowl. Pour the mixture over the veggies and stir or lightly toss them to coat them evenly.
  3. Slice the top of the head of garlic off – just enough to expose the top of most of the cloves. Place the garlic on a piece of foil and drizzle 1 teaspoon of oil over the top. Loosely wrap the garlic in the foil and place it on the sheet pan with the other veggies.
  4. Roast the vegetables for 40 to 45 minutes or until they are soft and lightly charred around the edges. Cool them on the pan.
  5. While the veggies cool, brown the ground beef in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. While it cooks, add the Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper. Break up the beef as it cooks.
  6. Once the ground beef is browned, add the wine (or vinegar, if using), tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and brown sugar. Stir to combine.
  7. Unwrap the garlic and squeeze the cloves out onto a cutting board. Place the roasted peppers and onion on the board, too. Finely chop the garlic and veggies with a sharp knife or, if you want a shortcut, chop them in a food processor.
  8. Add the chopped vegetables to the ground beef mixture in the pan. Stir and bring the sloppy joes to a simmer. Simmer the mixture for 20 to 30 minutes or until thickened.

Notes

This is a great make-ahead recipe because the flavors get better as they sit, so make it a day ahead and warm it up the next day.

The nutrition estimate doesn’t include the buns.

Nutrition

  • Calories: 395
  • Sugar: 7.8g
  • Sodium: 737.6mg
  • Fat: 26.9g
  • Carbohydrates: 16.3g
  • Fiber: 2.9g
  • Protein: 22.5g

Keywords: sloppy joes, fancy sloppy joes, gourmet sloppy joes

Do you love this recipe? Don’t forget to leave a comment and your recipe star rating!

The nutrition is an estimate only. It was calculated using Nutrifox, an online nutrition calculator.

Post and recipe updated from the archives. First published in February 2016.

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15 Comments

  1. Ok, you had me at the roasted garlic!!!! I am definitely making these for my SuperBowl party this weekend. Yum, and I love the idea you have of making the “grown-up” version of food. Super Smart!

  2. These sound delicious! And will likely be hitting our dinner table soon. Do you think substituting turkey in place of beef would taste alright?

    1. Hello, I’m wondering if this is a revised or modified recipe from the original?
      I remember saving the original recipe, and I feel like some of the ingredients, or maybe even the steps in the preparation are slightly different now. It has been quite some time since I made it. Possibly like a year or so. I apologize if I’m wrong, but something seems different to me. Although the recipe is still very delicious, it seems to be different than the original one that you posted. Please correct me and forgive me if I am wrong. 😊

      1. Yes, I updated the recipe! The original had celery and chicken stock, which I omitted to make it simpler and to make the sloppy joe sauce thicker – I also reduced the amount of brown sugar so they’re not as sweet. I also added tomato sauce – that’s probably what makes the biggest difference. This helps thicken the sloppy joe sauce and also give them a brighter more acidic flavor – that might be what you’re noticing. I’m glad you enjoy this new version!

  3. Just made your recipe last night! made everything as you said just subbed ground turkey, and I also added 1/2 lentils–a great way to sneak in a little more nutrition without the family staging a coup.
    Added a small side of coleslaw.
    Perfect! a keeper!
    xo Eva

    1. It depends on how fatty the meat is – you want a little fat in the sloppy joes for flavor, but if you have a lot of excess grease when you cook the meat, you can drain some of it off.

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