turkey sloppy joe

Sloppy joes with ground turkey

4 November 2011

Depending on your memories, sloppy joes are either childhood comfort food or the stuff of scary cafeteria meals past. I have to admit they hold a retro charm for me, and as an added bonus they’re a hit with kids. My ground-turkey version is lighter than the traditional beef, and it’s also free of the preservatives and other industrial mysteries you’d find in a can of Manwich.

Sloppy joes – a ground-meat sandwiches flavored with sweetly tangy tomato sauce – date back to the 1930s, though their origin is debated. They have an all-American appeal, kind of a hamburger with the ketchup conveniently built in.

Sloppy joes fall into the classic American food category of Dressed-Up Hamburger Meat, along with spaghetti with meat sauce, crunchy-shell tacos, Hamburger Helper. As as child of the ’70s, the hamburger-meat era is the one in which I grew up: Hunt’s introduced its Manwich sauce in 1969, and Hamburger Helper was launched by Betty Crocker in 1971.

My poor mom, aiming to satisfy the tastes of her American-born children, would dutifully prepare sloppy joes and other enhanced-hamburger meals at home, along with the fresh homestyle Chinese food she always made for herself and my dad. My palate has developed considerably since then, but sloppy joes are one of those foods of childhood that still hold a nostalgic appeal.

This recipe could hardly be easier – ground turkey flavored with onion, garlic, ketchup, sugar, mustard and Worcestershire sauce. It’s a fast meal to put together that is also great for making ahead.

The original recipe from allrecipes.com uses garlic and onion powders instead of fresh. But the extra step of sauteing fresh onions and garlic is worth it if you have the real deal on hand.

Add ground turkey and cook.

Add ketchup (this recipe uses a lot, so I take a few extra minutes to make homemade, which is easier than you’d think).

Add other ingredients: brown sugar, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt and a bit of water.

Cover and simmer for a bit. Then you’re ready to go.

You can pile the meat on a bun and eat with a knife and fork. Or you can attempt to eat it as a sandwich and see if you are a sloppy Joe (or Jane).

Right back to the ’70s. But better.

Sloppy Joes with Ground Turkey
Depending on your memory, sloppy joes are either kiddie comfort or scary cafeteria food. This recipe is a lighter version that my daughter, husband and mother-in-law all adore. Adapted from allrecipes.com.


  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Olive oil (or other cooking oil)
  • 1 pound ground turkey (I use 93% lean)
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons prepared mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 hamburger buns, split


  1. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat and add onions and garlic. Cook until softened.
  2. Add ground turkey, breaking it up with a spoon, and cook until it is no longer pink. Drain any excess liquid and return to pan. If you cook the meat long enough, you may not have excess juices.
  3. Stir in the ketchup, water, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, mustard and salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Serve on buns.


  • Spice things up if you like with a dash of cayenne powder or crushed red pepper.
  • If you like green pepper, another traditional sloppy joe ingredient, saute some along with the onions.
  • You can substitute 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder and/or 1/2 teaspoon onion powder if you don’t have fresh.
  • If you don’t want to use so much commercial ketchup, you can easily make your own with tomato paste, sugar, vinegar, salt, garlic powder and onion powder. Here’s my recipe for homemade ketchup.

Here’s the link to a printable version.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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