Bourbon Sloppy Joes

These bourbon sloppy joes are made with ground beef in a tomato and bourbon sauce and topped with tangy pickled red onions and Cheddar. A gussied-up riff on an American classic.

Two bourbon sloppy joes on sesame buns, topped with shredded Cheddar cheese, and pickled red onion.

You can banish all childhood memories of overly sweet, suspiciously gloppy sloppy joes. These bourbon sloppy joes take on a sophisticated edge with the addition of smooth bourbon, tangy pickled onions, and creamy Cheddar. Yet they retain all the classic messiness that makes them so completely irresistible.–Angie Zoobkoff

Bourbon Sloppy Joes

  • Quick Glance
  • (4)
  • 45 M
  • 1 H, 15 M
  • Serves 4 to 6
5/5 - 4 reviews
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  • For the pickled red onions
  • For the sloppy joes


Make the pickled red onions

Bring a small pot of water to a boil.

In a 1-quart (946-ml) jar, combine the sugar, salt, vinegar, peppercorns, coriander, and mustard seeds, and stir to dissolve the sugar.

To a heatproof glass bowl, add the onions and pour enough boiling water over them to cover completely. Let the onions sit for 30 seconds and then drain the onions through a sieve.

Add the softened onions to the jar. Add cold water, if needed, so the liquid covers the top of the onions.

Seal the top of the jar and shake to distribute the flavorings. Let rest for at least 30 minutes and, preferably, a few hours. Use or stash in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Make the sloppy joes

Add the beef to a medium bowl and sprinkle with the baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Using your hands or a wooden spoon, work the mixture until well combined.

Let the beef mixture rest on the counter for 20 minutes to let the baking soda works its tenderizing magic.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the onions are softened but not browned, 4 to 6 minutes.

Add the garlic and paprika and cook for 1 minute more.

Add the beef to the skillet and cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until it’s mostly brown, 5 to 10 minutes.

Add 1/4 cup of the bourbon, the tomato sauce, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, and mustard. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce has thickened, 15 to 25 minutes.

Taste and adjust the seasoning accordingly with salt, pepper, and up to a tablespoon or so more bourbon, if desired.

Spoon the sloppy joes onto the buns and top each with shredded Cheddar and pickled onions.

Serve hot. Don’t forget napkins aplenty.

Print RecipeBuy the Cork and Knife cookbook

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Recipe Testers' Reviews

This is a more sophisticated take on a comfort food classic, sloppy joes, that was easy to put together. My husband immediately commented on the “rich” and “buttery” texture of the sauce. This sloppy joes recipe lacked the typical vinegar punch of a ketchup-based recipe but the pickled onions supplied some of that flavor. The Cheddar is a bit of extra richness that isn’t quite necessary but nice.

I had never used baking soda on ground meat before to tenderize it and it was an interesting technique that I think was effective. I’m not sure that the bourbon flavor was distinct, but I think I could sense it in the background and 1/4 cup with a splash at the end seemed like an appropriate amount. I served these on some nice buttery brioche-style buns and it was extremely delish!

I had to add 2 1/2 cups of water to cover the onions. The onions actually sat for about 3 hours before we used them and the flavor was great.

This recipe was super easy to put together and the results were outstanding. I've never been a sloppy joes fan—too sweet, too messy. But I'd eat these any day of the week.

Mixing the baking soda and salt with the ground beef and letting it sit for 20 minutes really did make the beef brown up nicely. Quickly, too.

It was true that the pickled red onions, which also couldn't have been easier to prep, made a perfect foil for the saucy beef. I think the bourbon was the secret because it added a wonderful flavor. I might use a dash more smoked paprika next time because that's always a great addition and I can see how it would work well here.

When I tasted the meat before serving, I found that the smoked paprika, which smelled so wonderful when I dropped it in, had gotten lost. As always, the test of a recipe is how long the dish lasts. This one disappeared right away.


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  1. This was a delicious take on Sloppy Joes – somewhat elevated, but a thoroughly recognizable and satisfying old friend. Next time I’ll use a more substantial bun. The pickles were great, giving some acidity and crunch. Comes together easily.

    1. Thanks, Margo! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for taking the time to let us know.

  2. Pinned this as soon as I saw it. I used white sharp cheddar and already had some onions pickled in the fridge. This summer I decided I needed to have onions ready all the time.
    Toasted buns add crunch, so good, husband very happy. Thanks

  3. OMG, awesome! this brings sloppy joes to a whole new (sophisticated) level! Absolutely love this recipe. I had to make some substitutions based on my Pandemic Pantry stock—whiskey instead of bourbon; coriander ground spice instead of seeds; dry mustard powder instead of mustard seeds; and yellow onions instead of red. The recipe was flexible and forgiving enough that it still came out amazing even with my needing to punt on some of the ingredients. Thanks so much for another incredible LC recipe.

  4. This is excellent! The flavors are just different enough so you know you aren’t eating the usual sloppy joes.

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