Sloppy Joes – Instant Pot or Not

Sloppy Joe’s can be a great alternative to plain burgers when you are looking for a quick dinner idea… and what can be easier than browning some meat, stirring in a can of Manwich, or maybe some bottled, store bought BBQ sauce, or some jazzed up ketchup and spooning it on a bun? It was perfect when you forgot to take the ground beef out of the freezer, you could just brown it up in the pan, mincing it as it cooked. But the sauce options are filled with sugars, or are just plain really processed.

Sloppy Joes

Now I’m not going to try and convince you that this version is “healthy”, but because you’re adding all the individual ingredients, you have more control and can tweek it to your tastes. While there is a fair amount of brown sugar in this, it’s spread across up to 6 servings, and depending on your tastes you might even be able to decrease it down to 1/4 cup, or use a sugar substitute. And using sweet onion vs a regular white or yellow can help make up for that decrease.

And while I call for ground beef, try other ground meats such as chicken or turkey or even pork. My most recent batch was beef mainly because it was what was on sale the day I went shopping. And if you want to stretch that out even further… try substituting in about 1 cup of cooked quinoa for up to half of the ground beef. I’ve also subbed in other whole grains, my favorite being green wheat freekeh, but I haven’t been able to find that in any stores lately. Subbing in lentils might be a good option as well.

As far as cooking this, if you are going to sub in some grain or something for some of the beef, make sure you have that cooked before hand. Then it’s a matter of browning up the meat, sauteing the onions that for a bit, adding the peppers (including the jalapeno – which while listed as optional, never is for me), then the garlic, followed by all the sauce ingredients. If you’re doing this on the stove, you then just turn the heat down and simmer about 10 minutes. It’s not hard at all, but you need to keep an eye on things.

Or, you can saute it all up right in the Instant Pot if you have one, you can do all that browning and sauteing in there, add your sauce ingredients, close it up, set it to manual cook at high pressure for 5 minutes, and walk away. As with a number of Instant Pot recipes, with the coming to pressure, cooking, and then letting it natural release the pressure, it actually does take a bit longer than just doing it on the stove, but it’s time you can be doing something else. Overall, you’re looking at about 10 minutes of prep and another 30-40 minutes of “cooking” time.

This night I had my Sloppy Joe’s on some toasted, whole wheat buns. But you have many options there too, depending on where you’re going with your own healthy eating. If you’re doing some sort of bread though, I always recommend toasting it first.. helps with the structural integrity.

Sloppy Joes

Sloppy Joes - Instant Pot or Not


  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1-1/2 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 medium onion diced
  • 1 green or red bell pepper diced
  • 3-4 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp prepared mustard
  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1-2 jalapenos chopped - optional
  • cayenne pepper to taste - optional


  • If subbing in any grains/lentils, those should be cooked first and set aside. On stove top, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat until hot. If using an Instant Pot, press the Saute button and adjust to More/High heat. Once pan or Instant Pot insert have heated up, add the ground beef.
  • Season meat with salt and pepper to taste. As meat cooks it will release moisture. After about 5 minutes of cooking, drain and discard any excessive moisture . Keep cooking the beef, stirring occasionally until it's browned.
  • Add the diced onion, stir to mix in and saute about 2-3 minutes. add bell pepper, jalapeno pepper (if using) and minced garlic, then saute about one more minute.
  • Deglaze the pan by adding the cider vinegar to the pan and stir to incorporate and to help get any cooked bits off the bottom of the pan.
  • Add sugar, mustard, tomato paste, soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce, stir just enough to incorporate. For stove top, reduce heat to low and let mixture simmer about 10 minutes. Stirring every few minutes. For Instant Pot, close the lid and venting knob, set Manual cook for 5 minutes. After 10 minutes of natural pressure release, carefully open the valve to release remaining pressure. Carefully open the lid, give everything a stir and let it sit for another 5 minutes to allow the sauce to reduce slightly.
  • Toast burger buns for a few minutes in a hot skillet over medium heat before serving.

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