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The Best Healthy Sloppy Joe Recipe

No, really. They are the Best Sloppy Joe’s Ever. According to us, anyway.

“Best Ever” can be fightin’ words. Especially when talking about chili. Or chocolate chip cookies. Or *gasp* pie crust. That last one can be a direct assault on a grandma if said to the wrong person.

I’m sure everyone (at least in the US — are these a thing outside the country?) has a recipe for Sloppy Joe’s. Homemade Sloppy Joe’s are SO much better than that icky canned mix. Don’t buy that. Please.

So, why are these the best Sloppy Joe’s ever?

Homemade Sloppy Joe Ingredients

First, this is a great recipe because the sloppy joe meat isn’t overly sweet or fussy. You don’t even need a knife for this.

For reals. No chopping anything. Not even onions. Or bell peppers. This is a green bell pepper free recipe.

And there’s just a handful of ingredients. Most of them you probably have on hand already:

  • chili powder
  • dried onions
  • ketchup
  • mustard
  • (here’s the secret ingredient: ground sage)
  • And no extra sugar. The only sugar is from the ketchup, which can be a pretty low amount depending on what kind you buy.

And second, it’s my grandma’s recipe. No, not Grandma Inez. My Grandma LaRue, who claims she’s a “horrible cook.” I sense that she doesn’t enjoy cooking, but I have to disagree with her. In fact, two of my favorite family recipes come from her, my favorite chocolate cake.  And these Sloppy Joe’s.

My mom made these for us all the time when I was growing up. Our family loves them. When I eat them now I think about a typical night around the table. . . .

Dad watches the news. Mom tries to convince my picky baby sister to eat. And my younger brother and I make faces and stick out our tongues (full of chewed-up dinner)  at each other from across the table while my mom’s preoccupied. Then we do the “I have a secret” giggle, and my mom wonders what’s so funny.

We still do that as adults. We’re so mature. And my mom still wonders what’s funny. :)

I think there are two types of family recipes. Those that stay exactly the same for decades and those that evolve with each generation.

This one has evolved somewhat. My mom didn’t like cooking with fresh onion, so she used dried. She also likes hers with pickles, and that’s how I like them, too.

I threw my little spin on these as well, using plain tomato sauce in place of condensed tomato soup (fewer ingredients in that can and much cleaner!), using a gluten-free thickener (Or not. Most of the time I don’t even add it), and using lettuce leaves (on occasion) instead of hamburger buns. Grains for greens!

Different Ways to serve Sloppy Joe meat

I have to admit — eating these as a lettuce wrap gives a whole new meaning to the word “sloppy.”

Most of the time we make them easier to eat and turn them into Sloppy Joe Salads. Or “Salad Joe’s”. It’s much easier to eat! I actually prefer to eat them over a pile of Sweet Potato Fries. Like chili fries, but better.

If you’re not into salads, but still want these to be gluten-free, try serving the sloppy joe meat over a baked potato or baked sweet potato. Or with some jasmine rice. Or roasted cauliflower rice. Or in a bowl with assorted roasted vegetables. Sloppy Joe’s definitely don’t have to be confined to a bland hamburger bun. 

Speaking of…. I have a story for you.

We were visiting my family and my mom made Sloppy Joe’s for everyone. I made my 3-year-old one with a bun and gave it to her. She handed the plate back to me and said, “NO, MOM. I want a Sloppy Joe!”

I handed the plate back to her and said, “This IS a Sloppy Joe.”

She pulled off the bun and flings it to the other side of her plate and said, “I don’t want THIS.”

I started laughing hysterically. That little girl had never had a Sloppy Joe with a bun in her life and that strange thing I handed her was DEFINITELY not the Sloppy Joe she was used to. #brainwashed #proudmommoment

Anyway, everyone who has tried this, loves this recipe. It’s quick, easy, made in under 30 minutes.

Grab a large skillet and go to town, guys. You wouldn’t be disappointed if you doubled this recipe, either. Our little family has started eating a full batch, and I like having leftovers for a couple of days for lunches. 

You might be tempted to substitute ground turkey for the beef. I have a feeling that you’d be disappointed, my friends. The beef gives these a richness that ground turkey definitely doesn’t have. And if you get grass-feed beef, it’s much healthier than most ground turkey you find in the grocery store. 

If you’re looking for a vegan version, try mushroom and cashew-based Vegan Sloppy Joes!


The Best Sloppy Joe's Recipe Ever

The Best Sloppy Joe's Recipe Ever

Yield: Serves 6
Additional Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes

Why are these the best Sloppy Joe's ever? Well, they're not overly sweet or fussy. You don't even need a knife. (Honest!) And eating it over a pile of sweet potato fries puts chili fries to shame.


  • 1 - 1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef (organic, grass-fed, if possible)
  • 1 15-ounce can tomato sauce (two 8-ounce cans are also fine)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried, ground sage
  • 2 Tablespoons plain yellow mustard
  • 2 Tablespoons honey
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried minced onion
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons tapioca or arrowroot starch (see note)


  1. Brown the beef in a large skillet over medium-high heat. If your beef is extra lean, you may want to add a tablespoon of oil to keep it from sticking to the pan. Drain off any oil, if needed.
  2. Return pan to skillet and add the remaining ingredients plus 1/3 cup of water. Stir well and simmer over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes.
  3. Serve with buns or lettuce leaves, shredded cheese, Sweet Potato Fries, and (our recommendation) pickles.


Nat's Note:

  1. I used arrowroot powder to make this recipe grain-free. You can also substitute the same amount of cornstarch or double the amount of all-purpose flour.
  2. To make these Whole30 compliant, omit the honey or replace it with 1 Tablespoon of Date Paste.
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