Merlin's Favorite Sloppy Joe

Prep time: 30-45 minutes
Servings: 12


  • 1.5 lb ground beef or ground turkey
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 15oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 6oz can tomato paste
  • 2-3 tablespoons chili powder (or more!)
  • 1 tsp ground oregano
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp dry mustard
  • 1 tsp hot sauce (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 2 tbs worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tbs cane vinegar (or white vinegar or rice vinegar)
  • 3 tbs brown sugar
  • 1 tbs salt (or to taste)


Over medium-high heat, saute the onion in the olive oil with a pinch of the salt until the onions are soft and starting to caramelize.

Add all the meat, the garlic and the rest of the salt. Break up the meat and cook until it's brown. If using ground beef you'll want to drain the oil off at this stage, then return it to the pan.

Add the tomato sauce, paste, chili powder, paprika, cumin, ground oregano, mustard, vinegar and worcestershire sauce. Cook on high heat and stir regularly until most of the liquid has been cooked off. The tomato will start to brown in the pan, that's when you know you're almost done. Lower the heat to medium and cook a few minutes more. You should have a nice, thick gloppy texture.

Serve on toasted rolls, with hot sauce on the top if you like.


When I researched the best way to make sloppy joes, I found that most recipes used ketchup and a quarter cup or so of brown sugar. Both of these things lead to a sweeter sloppy joe. This is all right if you like that, but I want mine to be a bit more savory. Instead, I get sweetness by caramelizing the tomato paste, which gives a natural sweetness to the mixture that isn't as cloying. Most recipes also use celery; I personally dislike it (as does the rest of my family) so I don't bother with it, but other people may find it to add a nice flavor.

The secrets of this recipe are: Finding the right balance of salt, cooking hot enough and long enough that the tomato caramelizes, and making sure to cook as much of the liquid from the tomato sauce out as possible. The other secret is the bread: you want a roll that is dense and a little bit chewy that soaks up the sauce and gives a good mouth feel. A traditional hamburger bun will work, but the texture you want is more like what you'll get from a hoagie roll (though that's way too big). Also, use a small bun! These things are filling!