Sloppy Joes (A Blast From the Past, Only Better!)

My husband Jon is frequently asked “What’s your absolutely favorite meal at home?” Most people are quite surprised by his answer, which is always the same: “Lauren’s Sloppy Joes are close to the top of the list.” This combination of ground meat simmered in an intensely flavored sauce, served atop toasted, homemade burger buns seems to send my husband back to his childhood. (Of course, the sauce we all had back then was from a can, the buns were always store bought and the eating place was usually the school cafeteria.)

Since this sauce doubles perfectly, I recommend that you make a large batch and freeze it in separate small containers. Then, on nights when you’re exhausted, simply purchase some fresh ground beef and go to your freezer for the sauce. Within minutes, you’ll have a delicious, quick and truly comforting meal. Also, don’t hesitate to use ground turkey instead of beef. Or, if meat isn’t your thing, you can simply simmer reconstituted soy vegetable protein in the sauce and serve it the same way you would when using meat. The point: Regardless of your choice of protein, this recipe for Sloppy Joes is a real winner!

serves 4 (generously) or 6 (adequately)

For the sandwiches

  • 2 generous cups Sloppy Joe Sauce (below)
  • 2 generous pounds freshly ground beef (chuck, round, sirloin or a combination) or ground veal and/or turkey
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 6 to 8 large hamburger buns
  • Softened butter, for the buns

For the sauce

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup packed minced yellow onion
  • 1/2 cup packed seeded and minced green bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup seeded and minced red bell pepper
  • 2 tablespoons minced celery
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups canned tomato puree
  • 2 rounded tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup prepared ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup unsulphured molasses
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped cleaned fresh button mushrooms or portobello mushroom caps only
  • 1 1/2 cups peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped ripe plum (Roma) tomatoes or drained and seeded canned plum tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon crumbled dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon “Better Than Bouillon” (beef version), available in well-stocked supermarkets
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Sloppy Joe Sauce

  • Yield: about 4 cups; serves 8 to 10 (may be doubled)

    This makes twice as much sauce as called for in the preceding recipe. You can cut it in half or double it so you will have plenty on hand in your freezer. You’ll need one generous cup of sauce for each generous pound of ground meat to serve three or four.

Any time I’ve suggested a tool, a piece of equipment, or a culinary term that’s unfamiliar to you, you can go to Learn to Cook for more information.

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Bakery
6 to 8 large hamburger buns

Canned & Jarred Goods
1 cup prepared ketchup
1 teaspoon “Better Than Bouillon” (beef version), available in well-stocked supermarkets
1/4 cup unsulphured molasses
2 cups canned tomato puree
2 rounded tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons cider vinegar

Dairy & Eggs
Softened butter, for the buns

Meat & Seafood
2 generous pounds freshly ground beef (chuck, round, sirloin or a combination) or ground veal and/or turkey

Produce
1 1/2 cups peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped ripe plum (Roma) tomatoes or drained and seeded canned plum tomatoes
1 cup chopped cleaned fresh button mushrooms or portobello mushroom caps only
1 cup packed minced yellow onion
1/2 cup packed seeded and minced green bell pepper
1/4 cup seeded and minced red bell pepper
2 tablespoons minced celery
6 cloves garlic, minced

Spices & Baking
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon crumbled dried oregano
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
3 tablespoons olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

To brown ground meat

Heat a 10-inch non-reactive deep-sided skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the ground meat and break it up with a wooden spatula. Cook the meat until separated and no longer pink, about 4 minutes. Then remove from the stove and drain out any excess fat from skillet. Return skillet to the stove, over low heat. Stir in the sauce and bring the mixture to a gentle simmer, uncovered. Cook gently until the flavors mingle and the mixture is piping hot throughout, about 10 minutes. Add some more freshly ground black pepper and serve immediately.

To assemble Sloppy Joes and serve

While the sauce is simmering, open the hamburger buns and spread both opened sides lightly with butter. Lay the buns, buttered sides up, on a shallow baking sheet. Broil the buns until the buttered sides are nicely toasted. Spoon the ground beef mixture lavishly over buns and serve hot.

To start the sauce

Heat a 2 1/2-quart nonreactive saucepan over medium heat and, when hot, add the oil. When the oil is hot, stir in the onion, green and red pepper, celery and garlic. Cook until the vegetables are softened and fragrant, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato puree, tomato paste, ketchup, vinegar, molasses and Worcestershire sauce. Bring the mixture to a simmer, reduce heat to very low and simmer with the cover ajar for 1 hour.

To sauté the mushrooms

Heat an 8-inch skillet over high heat and, when hot, add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the chopped mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms are golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

To finish the sauce

After the sauce has simmered 1 hour, add the sautéed mushrooms, chopped plum tomatoes, oregano, “Better Than Bouillon” seasoning and some freshly ground black pepper. Return to a simmer and cook with the cover ajar for 30 minutes more. If you plan on using the sauce right away, measure out as much as needed and let the remaining sauce cool. Freeze cooled sauce in tightly sealed containers.

Serving Variations

The assembled Sloppy Joe mixture (including meat) is not only great on buns, it's fabulous over hot, lightly buttered pasta; toss in some cooked peas for a hearty and delicious meal. Alternatively, stir some into a bowl of freshly cooked rice. And, don't throw out any leftovers! Heat up the sauce on the next night and spoon it onto baked potatoes; If desired, sprinkle the tops lightly with grated Cheddar cheese and bake or broil until the cheese is melted and bubbling.

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