Sweet & Spicy Sloppy Joes

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Have you ever craved something without really being able to pinpoint what the flavour was?

Like, for example, Charleston Chews. They hold some magical appeal from my childhood – I have no idea what they taste like, and I haven’t had one since I was little, but I really want one.

I have been craving sloppy joes for about two years, and finally got around to scratching the itch. The thing is, I didn’t really know what a sloppy joe was – I just had a flimsy memory flitting around in my brain from some time when I ate one and it made me really happy.

I knew they were… sloppy. And I remembered a sticky tomato sauce.

So if you’re looking for a classic joe, stop right here.

(Or keep reading, maybe I hit the nail on the head).

I didn’t consult cookbooks or other blogs before I tugged my apron strings around my waist – I just went by personal taste. So I don’t actually know (or care) how close I got to the original. But it doesn’t matter, because these are really yummy in their own right.

Ground beef is browned with onions, garlic and ginger before being simmered in a thick tomato sauce with cider vinegar, brown sugar, a hint of cumin and a kick of cayenne.

The result is tangy, spicy, sweet, and abundantly sloppy.

Grated carrot and finely chopped celery round out the sauce with a bit of undetectable veggie. I would have added zucchini if I had it on hand, too – about 1/2 a medium zucchini, grated, would have been perfect.

I bought the softest, pillowy rolls I was able to find to stuff with the saucy ground beef. Note that over-filling is a mandatory part of this experience.

Pass the extra napkins, please!


  • 2 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, grated
  • 2″ piece ginger, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 lbs lean ground beef
  • 1 1/2 cups ketchup
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1-2 tsp cayenne (start with less and add more to taste)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • soft rolls, for serving


  1. Heat olive oil in a dutch oven or large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Saute onion, celery, and carrot until soft, about 5 minutes. Add ginger and garlic and cook until fragrant, about one minute. Add the beef and cook until fully browned, about 10 minutes.
  2. Stir in the ketchup, brown sugar, tomato paste, vinegar, soy sauce and spices. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.
  3. Serve with split rolls, spooning a generous amount of filling between halves.

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  1. Lisa says:

    I have made these so many times. They are absolutely my favorite ever sloppy joes.

    1. Jennifer Pallian BSc, RD says:

      Thank you so much Lisa!