Sloppy Joes for Picky Eaters

I know what you’re thinking. Sloppy joes are already a perfect meal for picky eaters, right? But usually there are onions involved, and often bell peppers too, and many fussy eaters will be decidedly unimpressed with that. This here is just meat and flavor. Just make sure you cut the garlic finely enough that no one can pick it out and accuse you of feeding them onions. (‘Some’ picky eaters I know think that garlic bits look like onion bits in things like this.)

How to Serve Sloppy Joes

The simplest way to serve these is to dollop the meat mixture on a burger bun or roll of your choice. I use my homemade burger buns. You can top with cheese if you like, and if, like me, you actually like onions, you can sauté some to add to your sandwich, or just add them raw. It’s really up to you.

How to Make Sloppy Joes

Brown Meat

Set a large skillet over medium heat and add butter. When it’s melted and starts to foam, add the ground beef and cook, stirring and breaking it up, for about 4-5 minutes or until brown. If there’s a lot of excess fat in the skillet, spoon some of it out, leaving about a tablespoon.

Add Garlic and Tomato Paste

Add the garlic and tomato paste, if using, and cook, stirring, for another minute. This tastes good without the tomato paste, but a bit better with it. It just adds an extra savoriness to the meat mixture.

Add Other Ingredients

Add the ketchup, water, brown sugar, chili powder, dry mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Season with a little salt and pepper. Stir to combine and bring to a simmer.


Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes or until liquid has reduced, stirring a couple of times. You can cook for a bit less if you like your sloppy joes sloppier!


Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if needed, then serve atop burger buns or rolls, along with any extra toppings you want, such as cheese or onions.

Sloppy Joes for Picky Eaters

A sloppy joe recipe that packs plenty of flavor without anything fussy eaters will want to pick out.
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Servings 4


  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste optional
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder see note
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 hamburger buns or rolls toasted, if desired


  • Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add ground beef and cook for 4-5 minutes, or until brown. If a lot of excess fat has accumulated in the skillet, spoon it out, leaving a tablespoon or so.
  • Stir in garlic and tomato paste, if using, and cook for another minute.
  • Add ketchup, water, brown sugar, chili powder, dry mustard, and Worcestershire sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Stir to combine and bring to a simmer.
  • Cover and simmer over medium-low heat, stirring once or twice, for about 15 minutes, or until liquid has reduced to your liking.
  • Taste and adjust seasoning, then serve on hamburger buns or rolls.


  1. The chili powder called for here is the US version, which is a mild blend of chilies, cumin, paprika and a few other spices. Do not substitute with chili powder made completely from chilies or this will be really spicy. You can find recipes for US chili powder online if you can’t buy it; Spend with Pennies has a recipe that looks good.
  2. Recipe adapted from The Pioneer Woman.

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Join the Conversation

  1. What sort of toppings are usually put on Sloppy Joes? As you are aware these aren’t really part of the Australian food tradition but I would like to try them as it sounds yum.

    1. I think cheese is the only common topping though you could of course add whatever you think sounds good. And you could add in some onion and capsicum after the meat has browned if you want, to make it a ‘non picky eaters’ version. These are quite sweet as you can probably imagine, which I think is one reason they are so popular in the US.
      Also, I’m going to put this in the recipe notes, but in case you didn’t know, chili powder in the US is not the same as chili powder in Australia. Here, it’s a blend of chilies, cumin, paprika and other stuff and really mild. You can find recipes for it online if you can’t buy it easily; this one looks pretty good:

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