Let’s Get Sloppy!

Sometimes I just get a craving. And it must be fed. For several weeks now, I’ve said to Chef J, “So do we want to make burgers or sloppy joes.” Since the weather has been so amazing lately, we’ve been grilling out a lot so he always defaults to burgers. But on Saturday, at the ground meat counter, the craving won so I bought TWO packages of ground beef. I figure we can BOTH get what we want this week. Not the healthiest meal plan in the world but Mama wants a Sloppy Joe, dammit.

I don’t know what it is about sloppy joes. These are not the most sophisticated of sandwiches. They are tangy, gloppy, delicious messes. You have to use a STACK of napkins but you just don’t care. I’m from the deep south so I’m quite comfortable with sopping up delicious sauces with chunks of bread or whatnot (sorry Miss Manners!) and a sloppy joe certainly lends itself well to that type of thing. You aren’t going to serve this at a fancy dinner party (unless you just really want to ruin your linen napkins), but if you want your family to sigh with contentment, this is the perfect meal. This isn’t the type of thing we normally think of as comfort food, but it just reaches in to some deep place inside you and makes you go, “Ahhhh, this tastes like home.”

In the past, I just kind of winged it with sloppy joes and always wound up using lots of ketchup and they ended up more sweet than savory. And no way am I buying that canned garbage stuff. So not too long ago, after lots of trial and error and not finding anything online that really did it for me, I came up with a mixture that hits my palate in all the right places. A little sweet, tangy, savory, spicy, smoky bit of everything.

cold ingredients   cupboard ingredients   spices

Now, if you are making a burger, you REALLY want to use 80/20 ground beef. The higher fat content means that the meat stays moist on a hot grill. It also has a lot more flavor than the leaner blends. But sloppy joes are cooked in a skillet with LOTS of other flavors going on. I find that using a leaner beef here is better as it can get a little greasy otherwise. I prefer 90/10 but this week 93/7 was on sale so that’s what I used. Start by browning the meat in a large skillet. I use a potato masher to break up the meat as it cooks so that it is all evenly cooked without big chunks of meat.

potato masher

The Boy is not a huge fan of green bell peppers but many things just don’t taste the same without them. This is one of those times. I wouldn’t mind this being a bit chunkier but, for him, I chop up the veggies pretty small so that they lend their flavor to everything but I don’t get a “Hey, what’s this big green thing?” from The Boy. After the meat has browned, drain off any excess grease, but not all of it as you’ll need some of that fat to sweat your peppers and onions.

sweating veggies

As the veggies start to cook and get a bit translucent, toss in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds or so. Garlic burns SO easily and once you’ve got burned garlic, it’s really hard to salvage a dish. As the garlic softens, add all of your dry seasonings and let those heat up so that the flavors really begin to develop. When it smells amazing, stir in the tomato paste (which will make this nice and thick) and allow that to cook for a minute or so as well. Finally, add the tomato sauce and the beef stock (which will make it rich and delicious) and allow to bubble and thicken, about 10 minutes. I like mine pretty thick but if you like yours a little looser, stop cooking whenever. If you like yours even thicker, you can make a slurry with a bit of beef stock and some corn starch. That’ll really tighten it up.

almost done   measure beef stock   make a slurry

Serve this with a side of crispy tater tots and you’ve got a fabulous satisfying weeknight meal. And this is not the night to teach company manners. Hunker down over that plate, stick those elbows out and tuck in. You are going to have messy faces, messy hands and bellies full of happiness.

finished product


Sloppy Joes

  • 1 lb ground beef, preferably 90/10
  • 1/2 large green bell pepper, diced small
  • 1 medium onion, diced small
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic (about 1 T), minced
  • 1 t chili powder
  • 1 t ground cumin
  • pinch of cayenne pepper (more if you like it spicier)
  • scant 1 t smoked paprika
  • 1 T packed brown sugar
  • 1 t coarse kosher salt
  • 1 t ground black pepper
  • 2 T tomato paste
  • 2-3 T red wine vinegar
  • 1 T hot sauce (I like Crystal) – optional
  • 1 T Worcestershire sauce
  • 8 oz can tomato sauce
  • 8 oz beef stock (measured in the tomato sauce can – easy!)
  • 1 T cornstarch plus extra beef stock, if desired, for thickening
  • 4-6 hamburger rolls, toasted
  • 4-6 slices American cheese

Brown ground beef in a large skillet over medium-high heat until most fat is rendered. Break up the meat as you cook so that there aren’t a lot of big chunks. Drain off most of the fat and stir in peppers and onions. Sweat veggies in the meat for about five minutes or until softened and translucent. Add garlic and continue to cook for about 30 seconds, just until it starts to soften. Add spices and tomato paste and continue to cook until it is very fragrant. Stir in vinegar and allow it to cook for just a few seconds, scraping up all the brown bits from the bottom of the skillet. Add Worcestershire, hot sauce (if desired) and tomato sauce(hang on to that can!). Pour beef stock into tomato sauce can and swirl it around to get out anything left then add to beef mixture. Reduce heat to medium and allow to bubble and thicken for about 5-10 minutes or until desired thickness.

If you want it even thicker, put cornstarch in can, add a little beef stock and mix well. When it is nice and smooth, stir it into beef mixture and continue to cook for a few minutes. It will continue to thicken when you remove it from heat.

Serve on toasted hamburger buns with a slice of American cheese on the bottom of each as a barrier to prevent the bun from getting too soggy. Pair with a side of crispy tater tots and LOTS of napkins.

the aftermath


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