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How to Make a Sloppy Joe: Easy 4 Ingredient Recipe

If you’re wondering how to make a Sloppy Joe, you’re in the right place. Easy 4 ingredient Sloppy Joes are one of our favorite quick dairy free recipes. The base recipe is made with ingredients we always have on hand, so it’s one of those 15-minute meals that we make regularly. 

I learned to make 4 ingredient Sloppy Joes from my mom who had an incredibly simple recipe compared to the top search results on how to make Sloppy Joes. Not to mention, it’s cheaper than buying Manwich. 

That being said, there are so many variations of Sloppy Joes that I never knew about. You can put everything from onions to peppers in Sloppy Joes, based on what you have on hand or what you feel like cooking.

I was surprised to learn that some Sloppy Joe recipes call for tomato sauce instead of ketchup. Easy alternatives to the Sloppy Joe base recipe are listed below and explained at the end of the recipe card.

How to Make a Sloppy Joe – 4 Ingredients

4 ingredient Sloppy Joes are made with 1lb ground beef, browned, and drained. Then add 1 part mustard, 1 part ketchup, 1 part bbq sauce to taste. Start with about 1 ½ tbsp of each sauce, add more as needed. Eat on hamburger buns, baked or microwaved potatoes, or with tortilla chips. Bbq sauce can be replaced with 1 tbsp brown sugar (to taste).

Plop the mix on a bun and that’s it. That’s all it takes to make a Sloppy Joe. However, there’s so much more you can add to the recipe if you want to add flavor, nutrition, or volume.

Easy Sloppy Joe Recipe Made With 3 Ingredients


Let’s get this recipe down even further to a 3 ingredient Sloppy Joe recipe. Brown 1lb of ground beef, drain, add ⅓ cup of ketchup or tomato paste, add 2 to 3 tbsp brown sugar. Mix well.

If this version doesn’t turn out at first, season to taste with any combination of onion powder, salt, pepper, mustard, ketchup, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, or bbq sauce. I recommend starting with bbq sauce and adding a pinch of whatever it tastes like it needs in order to meet your tastes. 

This is a very plain recipe, but it’s as basic as you can get. Tomato paste is also not as good as ketchup because it’s otherwise unseasoned. Ketchup is seasoned with sugar and salt, and is generally tangier than tomato paste. 

Just keep trying until you have something you like. Sloppy Joes feel like a miracle recipe to me because we can just mix in some things we have on hand until we have a tasty new sauce.

5 Ingredient Sloppy Joes

If you’re feeling like adding a little more to make a 5-ingredient Sloppy Joe sauce, start here. Brown the meat halfway, and add a diced onion or green bell pepper. When they are finished cooking, drain any excess fat, then add 1 part (about 1 tbsp) ketchup, 1 part mustard, 1 part bbq sauce, and 1 part brown sugar. Mix well.

Personalize This Recipe

Sloppy Joes are easy to personalize. There are many reasons to add to a Sloppy Joe recipe, from nutritional value to expanding on the taste.

For replacing nutrition in a dairy free diet, ground beef is a source of protein, magnesium, phosphorus, and a small amount of potassium that could have been fulfilled by dairy. Cooking the beef with a vegetable will

What should I put on my Sloppy Joe?


Sloppy Joe toppings are optional, but can take personalizing a sloppy joe to an individual level. One version is to dress it like a regular burger with lettuce, tomatoes, onions (or green onions), pickles and sauce. If you like the bbq flavor or didn’t add bbq sauce to the sauce recipe, bbq could make a great sauce.

Add a creamy texture with mayonnaise, avocado, or coleslaw. Coleslaw is a popular combination called a Memphis Sloppy Joe. Coleslaw is usually dairy free, but always check the label of store bought coleslaw, or ask a restaurant if there’s dairy in their coleslaw before ordering.

Add some heat with sliced jalapenos, red pepper flakes, or hot sauce.

Sides to Serve with Sloppy Joes


If you’re looking to keep it a quick and easy meal, serve Sloppy Joes with sides that are equally as simple. Pop some frozen sweet potato fries or french fries into the oven before you start the Joes. Or serve with fresh vegetables. Sloppy Joes make a great summertime dish and go great with garden veggies.

Go easier? Got it. Premade mixed cold salads like coleslaw, potato salad, and garden salads have a great contrast with Sloppy Joes. Coleslaw and potato salad often have a tang that contrasts well in the same way that pickle spears contrast a restaurant burger. Pickle spears are another great addition for this reason. A can of corn or green beans will go a long way with this dish.

How to make Sloppy Joe sides even easier? Sloppy Joes go great with potato chips. Serve with original potato chips or dip up the leftovers with tortilla chips.

Sloppy Joe Sliders Appetizer


Sloppy Joe sliders are an easy dairy free appetizer to keep in mind for events. Whether it’s a Superbowl party or birthday party, Sloppy Joe sliders are a crowd pleaser. They’re a filling app that’s quick to make, and guests won’t even think about the fact that they’re dairy free.

How to make Sloppy Joe sliders as an appetizer: either assemble them before the event, at the gathering, or include a tablespoon with the slider buns and cooked Sloppy Joe meat so guests can assemble them themselves.

Consider how many people will be at the event to figure how many sliders you will need. If each slider is 2 ounces, or 1/8 pound, then you’ll get 8 sliders. They will most likely be a little less than 2oz each, so 10-12 is normal. If there are other appetizers available, then

Mo’s Difficulty Rating for 4 Ingredient Sloppy Joes


Mo’s rating for Sloppy Joes is a 6 out of a possible 20 points, making it an easy or beginner recipe. There are only 3-4 ingredients in the base recipe, and those ingredients are usually on hand. It’s also a throw-together recipe that only takes two steps to make the dish. 

It’s easy to add to on a whim with on-hand ingredients like onions and brown sugar. Or with a little planning, you can make Sloppy Joes with bell or jalapeno peppers.

4 Ingredient Sloppy Joes

4 ingredient sloppy joes are a throw together meal that is easy to personalize. It makes about 4-5 sandwiches, but can be stretched with smaller servings, especially as sliders, or by adding optional ingredients like onions and peppers. For volume, flavor, or nutrition, add toppings like lettuce, tomato, and coleslaw.
Prep Time0 minutes
Cook Time15 minutes
Total Time15 minutes
Course: Appetizer, Dinner, Main Course, Supper
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Appetizer, Beef, Dinner, Meal Prep, Sandwiches
Servings: 4 people
Author: Kari


  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 1/2 tbsp mustard
  • 1 1/2 tbsp ketchup
  • 1 1/2 tbsp bbq sauce any kind, can replace with 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • variations below


  • Brown ground beef at medium heat. Season if desired.
  • Once fully cooked, turn off heat and drain. Add equal parts (start with approx. 1 1/2 tbsp) of mustard, ketchup, and bbq sauce. Mix and add more of each until it reaches your desired taste.


Olive oil, margarine, or cooking oil is sometimes added to cook beef, but even the lean beef I cook usually has enough oil that it doesn’t stick unless overcooked. The only way I would add oil when cooking sloppy joes is if you sautee onions, garlic, or peppers and see that they are sticking. 
Alternative Ingredients:
  • Worchestershire Sauce – a dash to 1 tsp – Worcestershire sauce is a staple addition to sloppy joes, and if I added an extra ingredient to the sauce, this would be it. How much you add depends on the volume of food. If you’re only cooking beef, start with ½ tsp – 1 tsp. If you’re also adding vegetables, you should be safe to start with up to 2 tsp. Some recipes call for as much as 4 tsp.
  • Chili Powder – ¼-½ tsp – Add chili powder to the beef while it is cooking. This will get your BBQ a little closer to the Manwich-type sloppy joe.
  • Brown Sugar – 1 tsp – 4 tbsp – Sweeten the sloppy joes with brown sugar. This could be used in place of BBQ sauce or in addition to the base recipe. Be careful combining brown sugar with a BBQ sauce that’s already sweet. I recommend using brown sugar to taste; start with 1 tsp and work your way up by increments of about 1 tsp. Some recipes call for 1 tsp while others lean toward 2-4 tbsp.
  • Hot Sauce – a dash – For an easy to add kick, add hot sauce. This can either be added to the sauce recipe or added as a condiment.
  • Steak Sauce – 1 tsp – If BBQ sauce is too sweet, try 1 tsp steak sauce.
  • Onion – 1 onion or 1/2 tsp onion powder – Saute a diced onion with the ground beef to add some extra nutrition and flavor to the meal. Onion powder is a valid substitution, start with adding ½ tsp to the sauce. Uncooked onions can also be used as a topping.
  • Garlic – 1 clove or 1/2 tsp garlic powder – While you’re adding onion, try adding garlic to the mix. Add garlic toward the end of the cooking process because it doesn’t take as long to cook as onions and ground beef. It’s a common addition that I’m looking forward to trying. Or add ½ tsp garlic powder to the sauce and continue seasoning to taste.
  • Red Pepper Flakes – a dash to 1/4 tsp – Red pepper flakes aren’t only for pizza. They’re a common addition to sloppy joes as well. Season the burger with red pepper flakes. 
  • Green Bell Pepper – 1 pepper – Dice a green bell pepper and cook it with the beef or saute it ahead and mix in when the burger is finished. 
  • Jalapeno Peppers – 1-2 jalapenos – Finely chop a jalapeno pepper or two and cook with the ground beef for a spicy joe. The more the jalapeno cooks, the spicier it will be. Or slice one to add as a topping.
  • Water – 1/4 cup – 1/2 cup – Some BBQ recipes add water for a soupier sloppy joe. When adding water, add it early in the cooking process so it can simmer down and become flavorful, or add it to the sauce and cook it down.
  • Salt & Pepper to taste – Salt and pepper to taste is always an option, but it’s never been necessary with this sauce recipe.
  • Tomato Sauce or Paste – If you add a lot of vegetables to the recipe, ketchup can be replaced with either an 8oz or 15oz can of tomato sauce. Another option is about 1-2 tbsp tomato paste (to taste), also in place of the ketchup.


Eat Sloppy Joes on buns, bread, sliders, a baked or microwaved potato, tortilla chips, or plain.

Sloppy Joe Meal Prep


Sloppy Joes taste great the next day and can be meal prepped easily. They also make a great quick freezer meal for a dairy free lunch. I use a Silicone Freezer Tray, but you can dip out sandwich-size portions into a plastic freezer bag or container to eat later. 

I used to eat premade frozen meals regularly but my options reduced dramatically when we went dairy free. I’ve gotten creative with freezing meals now and have started freezing portions of Sloppy Joes. I sometimes make a double batch so we have an easy-grab lunch when needed. 

To thaw, microwave the meat in a microwave-safe container for about 1 minute. Stir. Then gauge how much more time you need for it to get to temperature.

FAQs for “How to Make a Sloppy Joe”

What is Sloppy Joe sauce made of?

Sloppy Joes are made of ground beef and sauce. There are many versions of the sauce. Homemade Sloppy Joe sauce is made out of tomato sauce with a variety of other seasonings like Worcestershire sauce, onion powder, and brown sugar. The exact combination depends on the recipe. In other versions just add ketchup, mustard, and bbq sauce to a pound of ground beef. Or just use a can of Manwich.

What goes good on a Sloppy Joe?

Lettuce, tomato, onion, green onion, pickle, jalapeno slices, pickles, and mayonnaise are all good on Sloppy Joes. Coleslaw is a great topping, and a Joe with coleslaw on it is called a Memphis Sloppy Joe. A few less common toppings include bacon, avocado, guacamole, and hot sauce.

Can you use ketchup instead of tomato sauce for Sloppy Joes?

You can use ketchup instead of tomato sauce for Sloppy Joes, but it will taste different because ketchup is seasoned more or differently than tomato sauce. If you use ketchup instead of tomato sauce, consider what other ingredients in the recipe should be reduced to accommodate the taste of added salt and sugar. You might also consider using a simplified 4 ingredient Sloppy Joe recipe with ketchup, mustard, and bbq instead of a traditional Sloppy Joe recipe when using ketchup instead of tomato sauce.

How to make Sloppy Joes with ketchup?

Making Sloppy Joes with ketchup is easy. After browning a pound of hamburger, mix in about 1 and 1/2 tbsp of ketchup, mustard, and bbq sauce. Taste the mix and see if it needs more of one or all for your preference. Then serve on buns, bread, baked potatoes, or with tortilla chips.

How to make Sloppy Joes with bbq sauce?

To make Sloppy Joes with bbq sauce, replace the brown sugar in your recipe with bbq sauce. If it’s not a sweet bbq, you may still be able to add some or all of the brown sugar. When making a traditional Sloppy Joe, consider what other ingredients the bbq might replace or might need to be reduced, such as Worcestershire sauce. Sloppy Joes are hard to mess up, so get creative and go light on the ingredients you’re using to make your sauce while you build it. If that’s intimidating, consider a 4 ingredient Sloppy Joe recipe made with ground beef, ketchup, mustard, and bbq sauce.

Conclusion for “How to Make a Sloppy Joe”

If you’re wondering how to make Sloppy Joes, the answer is simple and complex. Sloppy Joes are simple but versatile, and each person will have a different preference for the final taste they’re searching for.

With a few simple ingredients and a straightforward base recipe, you can make Sloppy Joes at a whim, as meal prep, or even as sliders for an appetizer.

Looking for dairy free recipes similar to 4-ingredient Sloppy Joes? Check out these articles by Base Recipes:

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