Sloppy Joes with a smoky twist


While some may consider sloppy Joes to be simply meat sauce on a bun, I like to think of them as extra-easy hamburgers. There’s no need to cook them to a perfect medium-rare doneness. There’s no worry that carefully shaped patties will turn to round baseballs on the grill. Plus, sloppy Joes are easy to adapt to whatever ground meat (or meat alternative) you can find at the store.

To increase the burger-like flavors of my sloppy Joes, I employ a couple of extra tricks. First, I make sure to get some browning on the meat. If you add ground meat in crumbled form to a hot skillet, it’ll start steaming before it can begin to sear. Instead, add the meat in very large pieces so that there’s less meat hitting and crowding the pan. It’ll turn deep brown in minutes. Salt it, then do your best to flip it in once piece to a second side. (Don’t worry too much if it starts to fall apart.) After the second sear, use a slotted spoon to transfer the meat to a bowl, leaving behind any rendered fat.

The second trick is to add a couple of smoky ingredients that mimic the flavor of grilled burgers: smoked paprika and minced chipotle peppers in adobo. Give these about 30 seconds in the hot skillet to bring out their flavor, and then pour in a couple cups of canned tomato sauce. Let it come to a simmer and scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the skillet. At this point, the meat can go into the sauce. Use a spoon to break it up into small pieces, then let it simmer until you’re ready to serve.


Smoky Sloppy Joes

Smoky Sloppy Joes
  • Extra-virgin olive oil or canola oil, for the meat
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground meat, such as beef or turkey, or meat alternative
  • Salt
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon minced chipotles in adobo sauce
  • 2 cups canned tomato sauce
  • 4 hamburger buns, split
  • Optional toppings: Diced white onion, dill pickles, shredded cheddar cheese, shredded lettuce
  • On the side: Steamed broccoli or another green vegetable
  • Coat the bottom of a large, high-sided skillet with the oil and place over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the ground meat in 3 to 4 large pieces (do not break it up yet) and season with salt. Let cook until well browned on the first side, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip, season the browned side with salt, and continue to cook on the other side until browned, another 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat.
  • Use a slotted spoon to transfer the meat to a bowl. If there’s more than 1 to 2 tablespoons of fat left in the skillet, drain off the excess into a small bowl. If there is no fat left, add about 1 tablespoon of oil. Return the skillet to the stovetop and set the heat to medium. Add the paprika and chipotles. Cook, stirring constantly, until aromatic, about 30 seconds, then add the tomato sauce. Let come to a simmer while scraping the browned bits from the bottom of the skillet.
  • Transfer the meat back to the skillet, stirring to incorporate, and breaking the meat into small pieces with a wooden spoon. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the meat is flavorful and the sauce has thickened, 10 to 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt.
  • While the sauce simmers, toast the buns.
  • Scoop the meat mixture generously onto the buns and serve with steamed broccoli on the side. Serves 4-6.

Nutritional information

Per serving: 423 calories (percent of calories from fat, 31), 43 grams protein, 30 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 14 grams fat (trace saturated fat), 106 milligrams cholesterol, 932 milligrams sodium.


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