Skillet Supper Series: Sloppy Joes That Don’t Come from a Can or a Package

Sloppy Joe on Bun Gluten Free Easily

Homemade Sloppy Joe

When we were growing up, we never ate Sloppy Joes. When I transitioned to apartment living and cooking on my own, I became quite fond of Sloppy Joes. A pound of ground beef, a package of Sloppy Joe mix, and a package of hamburger buns and I was good to go. My roommates and I loved our occasional Sloppy Joes. After Mr. GFE and I got married, we’d eat Sloppy Joes occasionally, but the coloring seemed to be getting more and more unreal. Sort of that mix between bright red and Dayglow orange, you know? It doesn’t really look appetizing and will actually stain your spatula when you scrape the last bits out of the skillet. Hmm.

Sloppy Joes, unprocessed, gluten free, skillet suppers, quick meals, gluten free easily, gfeThen I found a recipe (somewhere … I have no idea where honestly) that included ground beef, onions, green pepper, ketchup, chili sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. We quickly decided that we preferred leaving out the green pepper, but we were very good with the other ingredients. I was far happier keeping my pantry stocked with chili sauce than I was with the very unreal packages of seasoning mix. I didn’t make Sloppy Joes often, but sometimes they provided a quick and satisfying meal. Sometime we ate them with chips, sometimes fries, or sometimes veggies or a salad. 

But guess what? I eventually discovered that chili sauce contains high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). I’m not sure if it was present when I first started using chili sauce to make my Sloppy Joes, but it’s there now. And no matter how much the corn industry (or medical professional x who dogmatically repeats that “sugar is sugar” in article after article) wants me to think otherwise, I know that HFCS is not a healthy ingredient. Of course, all processed sugars are bad for us (check out Heidi’s latest post), but I digress. A bit. So I set out to make these Sloppy Joes free of processed ingredients as much as possible. What is chili sauce made from? Tomatoes, sweetener, vinegar, and seasonings. I don’t know about you, but I always have those ingredients in my pantry. And I love it when I get to choose exactly what I want in my food! 

Worcestershire sauce can be a more complicated. Heidi shared her homemade corn-free Worcestershire sauce and I am sure that it is fantastic. However, for the purpose of this recipe, I took quite a bit simpler route with a little help from the web. I searched for substitutes for Worcestershire sauce and found one suggestion to use a combination of dry mustard, hot sauce, and honey in its place. That combo sounded good to me, so I used that idea in my recipe. It works perfectly fine in this case! 

Proper Sloppy Joes have a mixture of tangy and sweet. We think my latest version of Sloppy Joes is just right. If you’re a Sloppy Joe fan, I hope you’ll agree. In fact, Mr. GFE raves over these Sloppy Joes every time I make them. This is yet another recipe that he thinks that I should market or sell in a restaurant. I laugh when he says these things and remind him that I only cook for those I love. If he gets to take a Sloppy Joe for lunch, he’s practically ecstatic! He also prefers his Sloppy Joe with a slice of cheddar cheese or some shredded cheddar on top. (Since he has a microwave at work, I make a little Sloppy Joe “kit” for him—Sloppy Joe filling, cheese slice, and bun in individual containers, and a spoon for preparation.) Sometimes I like to top my Sloppy Joe with some cheese, too. A sprinkle of Daiya dairy-free cheddar-style shreds do the trick. 

As a funny side note, whenever I make these, Mr. GFE always smiles and asks, “Now are these Sloppy Joes or Untidy Samuels?” He says that Untidy Samuels is what he and his siblings always called them when his mom made them. They thought that name sounded so funny. If you eat these flavorful sandwiches, what do you call them?

Homemade Gluten-Free Sloppy Joe with Cheese Gluten Free Easily

 Homemade Sloppy Joe Waffle Sandwich Gluten Free Easily

Sloppy Joes That Don’t Come from a Can or a Package
  • 1 pound ground beef (we use ground venison; see notes for using ground turkey)
  • 14 ounces of diced tomatoes, undrained (petite cut works best; see notes)
  • Half an onion (about ½ cup), chopped
  • ¼ cup brown sugar (or same amount of coconut/palm sugar or slightly less of honey, molasses, or agave)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp allspice
  • ¼ tsp cloves
  • 2 tsp garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ tsp chili powder
  • 1 ¼ tsp hot sauce
  • ¼ tsp dry mustard
  • ½ tsp honey (omit if already using one of the liquid sweeteners vs brown sugar)
  • ½ cup gluten-free, HFCS-free ketchup
  • ½ tsp vinegar (optional, see notes)
  1. Brown ground beef in large, deep skillet. Drain and then return to skillet.
  2. Stir in other ingredients, mixing well. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer, using medium-low to medium heat. The mixture will reduce to proper Sloppy Joe consistency after about 15 minutes on medium heat, but you must stir frequently. If simmering at medium-low, stir occasionally for about 20 to 30 minutes. You can probably guess that I use the quicker method. I do use a skillet screen over my skillet to keep that beautiful, naturally red sauce from flying everywhere. Stirring can be a great task for a child (if you have one around) or even a partner (it can be an easy way to spend some time together), but I stir now and again while doing other chores in my kitchen.
  3. Serve in a bowl with tortilla or potato chips or on a gluten-free hamburger bun (the one shown is on a Rudi's hamburger bun) or gluten-free waffle.
If using ground turkey, you might want to add more seasoning or a bit more salt as turkey is fairly bland. If you use regular diced tomatoes in this recipe versus petite diced tomatoes, you can use your kitchen shears to make the chunks smaller so they’ll cook down better. I drain the liquid into the skillet and then just cut “wildly” into the can of tomatoes. (Be careful of the sharp can rim.) If you want to be more exact in your cutting, you can empty them into a bowl to cut more uniformly-sized pieces. Using ketchup in this recipe gives the Sloppy Joes a richer taste and better texture, but it can be omitted and they’ll still be quite good. The small amount of vinegar does add a tad of tanginess, but it may be left out if you prefer. If you don’t have any onion and/or garlic on hand (or family members who shy away when they see the real stuff), you may substitute about ½ tsp to one tsp each of onion powder and garlic powder (depending upon your personal tastes), respectively. Some folks may abhor the idea of eating Sloppy Joe without bread, but doing so will really let you know the quality of the meat you are using (buns can cover a lot of flaws!), plus you’ll tend to eat less meat with that serving method.

This post is linked to Gluten-Free Wednesdays.

Not just gf, but gfe!

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41 Responses to “Skillet Supper Series: Sloppy Joes That Don’t Come from a Can or a Package”

  1. Desi@ThePalatePeacemaker on September 27th, 2011 12:11 pm

    Untidy Samuels!!!!! Oh my goodness, I LOVE that! That is my new name for Sloppy Joes from this point onward. Thank Mr. GFE for me! And thank you for this yummy recipe, Shirley!

    • Shirley on September 28th, 2011 12:03 am

      Hi Desi–Haha, I’m so glad that Mr. GFE made your day with this “new” name and that you like the recipe itself, too. I must admit that it’s a good thing to smile over Sloppy Joes … oops, I mean Untidy Samuels! ;-)

      Thank you, dear! xo,

  2. Kay Guest on September 27th, 2011 12:30 pm

    Yay! Another one of Mr.GFE’s favorites! Untidy Samuels…that’s funny, and since I have a nephew named Sam I will be sure and tell him!
    I LOVE Sloppy Joe’s and I think this combo of spices sound just about perfect to me! Thanks!

    • Shirley on September 28th, 2011 12:05 am

      Hi Kay–I knew I’d make you happy with this recipe! :-) I wonder what your nephew will think about Untidy Samuels?

      Enjoy these, Kay! And I hope I make you happy with the rest of the skillet suppers! ;-)


  3. Linda on September 27th, 2011 2:19 pm

    I agree about the coloring in the mixes. Yuck! Sloppy Joes are an occasional meal here, and now you have me in the mood for them. I make mine from scratch except I use ketchup. I do try to buy a good organic brand from the health food store. Thanks for sharing your recipe with us!

    • Shirley on September 28th, 2011 12:16 am

      Hey Linda–It’s amazing how many bizarrely colored “foods” that are out there, isn’t it? There’s really nothing more appealing than the actual colors of real food, but since I guess there’s not much of that included in such products, the artificial colors get added. :-( Glad you’ve found a ketchup that you feel comfortable using. I admit that I’m not much of a ketchup person, but I do like using it occasionally in recipes. Enjoy your Sloppy Joes when you make them! :-)


  4. Ricki on September 27th, 2011 3:35 pm

    As you know, I’m behind anything that’s made simpler and less processed. . . your sauce ingredients sound fantastic! I am going to make Messy Rickis, I think, by replacing the meat with. . .something! But my mouth is already watering with the notion of sweet, mustardy, tangy and savory all in one. What kind of buns do you use? I bet this would make a great spaghetti sauce, too, come to think of it. :)

    • Shirley on September 28th, 2011 12:25 am

      Hi Ricki–Messy Rickis???!!!! I love that name. You are always so clever. And I’m sure you will come up with a great meat substitute. Black beans? Lentils? Chickpeas? Yes, the sauce is quite good. Hmmm, spaghetti sauce? I will have to give that a try, too. ;-)

      Thanks, dear!

  5. Alta on September 27th, 2011 3:43 pm

    I love sloppy joes. We never had them growing up either, but I made the canned variety a few times for the kids, but when I started down my avenue of healthier eating and gluten-free living, I opted to make them from scratch as well. It’s not hard! Thanks for reminding me about them. Sounds like a lovely easy dinner option. Maybe I can throw some in the slow cooker for the kids and hubby this weekend while I’m gone. :)

    • Shirley on September 28th, 2011 12:29 am

      Hi Alta–It’s always so surprising to find out how simple such meals can be after we’ve been pitched the “this will make your life so much easier” lines. These are a quick and easy dinner option for us, even if we don’t eat them that often. I think that makes them even more of a treat when they pop back into my head and ask to be made. ;-) Slow cooker sloppy joes sounds like a great idea, too. :-)


  6. Katie | Healthnut Foodie on September 27th, 2011 4:37 pm

    These look great! I love the Worcestchire substitute! Another fun way to healthify Sloppy Joes is with butternut squash! Check it out! (They are naturally gluten-free too!)

    • Shirley on September 28th, 2011 12:38 am

      Hi Katie–It looks like you are new here–welcome to gfe! :-) The Worcestershire sauce substitute made me happy, too. And Sloppy Joes made with butternut squash? Brilliant! Thanks so much for sharing them. I will definitely given them a try in the near future!


  7. Lexie on September 27th, 2011 6:36 pm

    Sloppy Joes are a classic. Thanks for this “no-can” recipe :)


    • Shirley on September 28th, 2011 12:38 am

      Hey Lexie–Thanks so much, dear! Enjoy! :-)


  8. cheryl on September 27th, 2011 10:12 pm

    mmmm….this looks delish!

    • Shirley on September 28th, 2011 12:39 am

      Hi Cheryl–Thank you! Hope you’re having a good week. I hear cooler weather is on its way for us! ;-)


  9. Barb on September 27th, 2011 11:06 pm

    I made my own “cans” of tomatoes from garden this year. I cooked my home grown tomatoes, cooled them and packed them in Ziploc bags in 14 ounce amounts. Lay them flat it the freezer and they defrost very quickly. No cans, no artificial ingredients-just organic tomatoes!

    • Shirley on September 28th, 2011 12:40 am

      Hi Barb–It’s great to see you again! Bravo on your own organic ready-to-go tomatoes! I know you’ll truly enjoy all the ways you can use them. :-)


  10. InTolerantChef on September 28th, 2011 3:54 am

    We’ve never tried these, but every family had a recipe for Savoury Mince- I guess it’s pretty similar, but served with mash or rice. They look great, and I love BOTH names even though we call a tracksuit jumper a Sloppy Joe.

    • Shirley on September 28th, 2011 10:23 pm

      Intolerant Chef–Savoury Mince? That sounds so sophisticated! I’d love to try it. :-) What a hoot on how you guys use the expression Sloppy Joe! I love learning different terms and different meanings of the same terms in other countries. Thanks so much for sharing, dear!


  11. Amy @ Simply Sugar & Gluten-Free on September 28th, 2011 9:27 am

    Hi Shirley! I love Sloppy Joes! It’s been ages since I’ve had one but it looks like it’s about time.

    Thanks for sharing my ketchup recipe with your readers! And, happy birthday to you Dad – I know it’s coming up soon.


    • Shirley on September 28th, 2011 10:27 pm

      Hi Amy–Sloppy Joes can get “overdone” in families, but if you haven’t had one in a while, they can taste sooo good! ;-)

      I know that many will love your slow cooker healthy ketchup recipe. :-) One look at those ingredients and we all seek alternatives.

      Thanks for the birthday greetings for Dad! Yep, his birhday is this weekend. :-) “Break a leg” at the Dallas Expo!


  12. Ina Gawne on September 28th, 2011 10:09 am

    Shirley – these look great! I have not had sloppy joes in years! I used to make them back in the day, with more of a chili sauce, but like the sound of yours better. I will often use Balsamic Vinegar in place of W. Sauce – works well. I will check out
    Heidi’s homemade recipe – thanks for sharing!

    • Shirley on September 28th, 2011 10:34 pm

      Hi Ina–I think almost everyone is saying that! That interim version that I made used chili sauce and we loved them … I just didn’t love the ingredients.

      Balsamic vinegar in place of Worcesteshire sauce? That is brilliant! I love balsamic and I could see how it would do the trick as a substitute. And Heidi is amazing with her many allergen-free condiment recipes. :-)


  13. Eileen Beran on September 28th, 2011 1:41 pm

    Thanks for this recipe – I look forward to trying it. My GF husband wants to cut inflammatory foods from his diet as well so I may leave out the chili powder and hot sauce as well as the ketchup, but I miss sloppy joes, so this recipe is a great find.

    • Shirley on September 28th, 2011 10:49 pm

      Hi Eileen–It appears that this is your first time commenting on gfe–welcome! :-) I hope those changes work out well for you. If your husband can eat balsamic vinegar (per Ina’s suggestion), you could substitute that for some of the honey, hot sauce, and dry mustard, or maybe just add a bit of balsamic to the recipe with the omissions you’ve made. Might take a few tweaks to get it perfect. ;-)

      Thanks so much,

  14. Awesome Dawson on September 28th, 2011 3:08 pm

    Growing up in an Italian-American family, we called these Sloppy Giuseppes ^_^

    All kidding aside, Mom always made hers from scratch so I have never tasted the in-the-bag mix or a canned version…and after checking the labels on them, I never will!!!

    Thanks for reminding me of this great, simple treat from my childhood!

    • Shirley on September 28th, 2011 10:57 pm

      Hi Awesome Dawson–Welcome to gfe! :-) Haha … I would have believed you. ;-) Glad to know that you never endured the “other” kind! And I wonder why we always forget about this recipe. ;-)


  15. Carol, Simply...Gluten-free on September 28th, 2011 7:48 pm

    I grew up eating sloppy joes as well – loved them! Gosh I haven’t had one in soooo long, thanks for the reminder of this old fav!

    • Shirley on September 28th, 2011 11:00 pm

      Hi Carol–You’re yet another person who says they’ve forgotten about Sloppy Joes! We should have a big Sloppy Joe party. ;-)


  16. Illya Leonov on October 30th, 2011 5:24 pm

    “Untidy Samuels” is actually a pop culture reference from a television show from the late 1960′s called “Family Affair” starring Brian Keith and Sebastian Cabot. At that time the term “Sloppy Joe” was already a popular term in the English lexicon for a number of sandwiches with ground beef and tomato sauce as a base, but it had already become a trademarked brand of Del Monte. In those days, and still to some extent now, television shows are loathe to name unsponsored brands in the script. So when the children on the show (Buffy and Jody, played by Anissa Jones and Johnny Whitaker)asked Mr. French (Sebastian Cabot) to make them sandwiches, they asked for “Sloppy Sams.” In his best proper manner, Mr. French agreed to prepare “Untidy Samuels.”

    • Shirley on November 27th, 2011 7:50 pm

      Hi Illya–I’m finding a few comments of old that I haven’t replied to … so sorry. But thank you for this explanation! None of us knew the background (or remembered it), but Untidy Samuels makes perfect sense now that we know Mr. French was involved. ;-) I used to love that show.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to give us the history, Illya! I told my husband and we both chuckled appreciatively as we remembered watching Family Affair during that time period. :-)

  17. Melissa @ glutenfreeforgood on September 20th, 2012 7:08 pm

    I used to make my own “from scratch” version of Sloppy Joes when my kids were little. They loved them. Thanks for the reminder and the inspiration in this recipe! I enjoyed the comments on this post as well. =) Untidy Samuels! I’ve never heard that one. You always learn something new here at GFE!

    • Shirley on September 20th, 2012 9:46 pm

      Hey Melissa–I bet your homemade Sloppy Joes rocked! Lucky kiddos you had for sure! :-)

      Who knew that Untidy Samuels came from the show, The Family Affair, huh? I know you are not a TV watcher, but it was so much fun to learn that info from a reader after Mr. GFE and his family used that term vs Sloppy Joes. ;-)


  18. Brenda on September 27th, 2012 9:53 pm

    Just found your site!!! Love it!!! Hubby just diagnosed with celiac and I need all the recipes and info that I can find. Thanks

    • Shirley on September 28th, 2012 10:20 pm

      Hi Brenda–Welcome to gfe! :-) I appreciate your positive feedback and am happy to help if you need more info and/or have specific questions. Be sure to take a look at my printable tip sheets here. Be sure to look at the Essential Posts on the sidebar, too. I’m assuming that you’ve already been looking at the Recipe Index. ;-)

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment! Hoping your family’s transition to living gluten free will go smoothly with the help of the gfe approach. :-)


  19. Harvey on April 10th, 2013 5:14 pm

    Simply amazing…..Thank you! I used honey in place of brown sugar. I added diced green and red pepper. The aroma during cooking was so enticing I was afraid the finished dish would be too intense…and it wasn’t. It was amazing. I also added in GF shell pasta. Thank you!

    • Shirley on April 10th, 2013 11:48 pm

      Hi Harvey–Welcome to gfe! :-) I like your changes to my Sloppy Joe recipe. Mr. GFE would especially love that addition of pasta. ;-)

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. Hope to see you more!

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