sloppy joes

Vegetarian Sloppy Joes

Tofu instead of beef makes these vegetarian sloppy joes a bit healthier. Don't worry though. They are still packed with flavor and messiness.


Vegetarian Sloppy Joes

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Since I’m doing mostly one (or maybe two) pot meals for the next few weeks, Sloppy Joes was one of the first things that came to mind. Real Sloppy Joes (not the canned stuff) are really filling and flavorful and not actually all that bad for you!

They are the perfect meal for a chilly fall day and you can make a good Sloppy Joe mix from scratch in under 30 minutes.

I decided to try my hand at a vegetarian version so I substituted tofu for what would normally be ground beef. I’m not sure that I could’ve passed off my sandwich to a true meat-loving carnivore, but I think I might have been able to pass it off to a drunk meat-loving carnivore.

Which is to say that the sandwich ended up with great flavor, but the texture is more tofu-like than beef-like. I found them to be very delicious but Betsy wasn’t such a fan.

Vegetarian Sloppy Joes

4 sandwiches
Prep Time:
Total Time:
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Tofu instead of beef makes these vegetarian sloppy joes a bit healthier. Don’t worry though. They are still packed with flavor and messiness.


1 pound extra-firm tofu, drained, pressed, and crumbled (or 1 pound ground beef if you insist)
2 Tablespoons neutral oil, like grape seed oil or canola oil
1/2 white onion, diced
1 cup carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 red pepper, diced
1 Cup tomato sauce
1/2 Cup ketchup
3 Tablespoons brown sugar
2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce (remember to use vegetarian Worcestershire sauce if you want this to be *truly vegetarian)
2 Teaspoons whole cumin seeds, toasted lightly or 1 Teaspoon ground cumin
1 Teaspoon chili powder
Salt and pepper


1) If using tofu, place the block of extra-firm tofu between a few layers of paper towels and place a large cutting board or plate on top.  Add something heavy to press out water in tofu.  Let sit for 5 minutes.  Then crumble the tofu.

2) Add a small drizzle of oil (1 Teaspoon) to a nonstick stillet and add the crumbled tofu.  Cook until browned, about 10 minutes.

If you’re using ground beef you can brown it in the same pan you make the sauce in!

3) In a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat, add a few Tablespoons of neutral oil and then add all your chopped veggies.  Cook until soft, about 5 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.

4) Add tomato sauce, ketchup, brown sugar, and spices to veggies.  Stir and reduce heat to medium.  Bring mixture to a simmer.

5) Add tofu and stir to combine.  Simmer until thick, about 10 minutes.  Taste frequently and adjust for wanted spiciness or sweetness.

6) Serve on toasted buns and bring a fork!

Prepping the Tofu

My goal with the tofu was to get it as browned as possible which I was hoping would mimic the texture of browned ground beef. Turns out that it doesn’t really do that very well, but that’s not to say that it’s bad. It’s just not a perfect sub.

Anyway, the best thing to do is to set your block of tofu between a few paper towels and then set a cutting board on top of it along with something heavy. Let this sit for a few minutes to press out some of the extra water from the tofu.

Then just crumble it into bits on a plate!

tofu crumbled
Pressing it first would be ideal.

Next I added a few drizzles of oil into a non-stick pan and added all my tofu crumbles. Tofu has a tendency to stick to pans so I didn’t want to brown it in the same pot as the sauce, which is why this meal is a two pot meal.

Anyway, after a few minutes in the nonstick pan, the tofu should brown up pretty nicely.

The darker the better in my opinion.

As an aside, this also goes for if you’re using ground beef. Get that beef really nice and caramelized to give the Sloppy Joes good texture. If you were using beef you should definitely do this all in one pot though too keep all the flavors.

Texture is a good thing!

Meanwhile, chop up some veggies! I somehow managed to pack all my cutting boards so I had to borrow one from a neighbor…

Can’t go wrong with these.

Making the Sauce

To start the sauce just add a small amount (1-2 Tablespoons) of oil to your pan over medium-high heat and, once hot, add your veggies all at once! Cook until they are soft, about 5 minutes, and hit them with a small pinch of salt and pepper while they cook.

Then add the tomato sauce, ketchup, brown sugar, and spices and give it a good stir.

sauce making
Really simple people.

Let this simmer for a minute or two. If it’s cooking too fast, turn your heat down. You want just a light simmer. Then add in your tofu (or beef) and continue to cook until the mixture is thick.

Taste it regularly and adjust for any spices you want to add. If you want it spicier, maybe add some extra chili powder or maybe even a small pinch of cayenne. If it needs to be sweeter, hit it with another pinch of brown sugar or maybe some honey.

Just taste it and adjust it until it tastes realllly good.

This was my final slop.

sauce again
Nice and thick!

The important part

Besides making sure your sloppy joe mix is really flavorful, thick, and sloppy, the most important part of the sandwich is to make sure you toast the bun!

Then pile it high and enjoy!

sloppy joes
No beef necessary!

One of these was actually a pretty good meal for me along with a salad. You’ll need a fork to pick up the dropped bits though as it really is a sloppy situation.

Anyone else have any thoughts on a vegetarian sloppy joe? What changes would you make?!

27 Responses to “Vegetarian Sloppy Joes” Leave a comment

  1. They look amazing, but you lost me at tofu! I will make them with ground chicken or turkey! Thanks for sharing! :-)

  2. These sound great — I've never actually had a real sloppy Joe, though, which I guess is weird.

    I can dig your frustration with the tofu, and I think I would actually have used black beans instead of tofu — you can mash some of them to make a kind of sloppy, chunky paste (this suggestion might not mean anything coming from someone who's never had the Real McCoy).

  3. I love it Nick! I think that using a bean mix might have been awesome too – if one was not that into Tofu. Perhaps using silken tofu for a bit of binding/fullness, or lentils might also be a good substitute. In fact, I think I may give this a try on my staff the next time we do a sandwich day and see how it goes over!

  4. You are evil! This looks marvelous. Way to enjoy a vegetarian / vegan meal (says the veagn). I have made this with mushrooms and not tofu so I am going to give this a try! I like your layout. I had not been by in a while. :)

  5. Sounds absolutely delicious Nick! Quite timely as well. After all, it's "Tofuber" (October renamed). October is World Vegetarian Awareness Month. I plan on making your recipe. I, too, haven't been able to brown tofu in the past. For your recipe I plan on substituting TVP (textured vegetable protein) which more similarly resembles ground beef. Thanks for this and everyone of your posts! Keep up the great work.

  6. We have planned for this weekend a variant on my mother-in-law's sloppy joe recipe that replaces half the ground beef with black beans. This way you get the beans but no white spots in your sloppy. We call them Sloppy Jeans.

    Another thought for texture is to deep fat fry the tofu, which gives it a chewy texture. But that requires another pot and adds a lot of fat calories to the dish.

  7. I use meatless meat from Morning Star, Yves or Quorn. They all taste good! The beans sound like a good idea though, I will have to try that.

  8. Looks great to me. If you were to make it with beans, what kind of bean mix would you recommend? I, however, am a fan of tofu, so might just stick with that!

  9. If you freeze your tofu a few days before cooking with it, it'll have a much chewier texture, as opposed to tofu straight out of the package. It might help give your Joes a bit more meaty of a texture! That said, these look delish and I will definitely be making them! I'm not a vegetarian, but I keep meat to about once a week if that.

  10. Thank you for posting this Nick! I seem to recall needing a scratch sloppy joe recipe! :) This looks really good, although we will be using beef instead of tofu. Yum!

  11. As nice as this sloppy joe recipe is, I worry about eating to much tofu and soy. I'm currently following the Paleo diet and few of our ancient ancesestors ate this type of product in the amount that we incidentally consume today.

    There have been some studies done about soy being harmful to particular subtypes of the population as well as it being connected to various health problems.

    I think i'll just replace the tofu with good old fashion beef in my sloppy joes. lol

  12. So my sisters and I are doing a food themed photo challenge this month. Today's picture is "messy." I decided to make your Sloppy Joes for my picture. I also decided to do beef instead of tofu. omg… Best. Sloppy Joes. EVER! And my photos turned out pretty awesome too. I'll never, ever buy another can of Manwich!

  13. Tofu comes in so many different textures and varieties and every brand tastes and feels different. I love soft tofus.. so this sounds awesome to me. In fact, I’m going to try it this week. I’m always looking for easy-to-reheat lunches for my hubby.

    If you prefer thicker textures you may want to try ‘pressed tofu’ from an Asian market. You can’t get it at a regular grocer. It’s unbelievably thick and probably preferred by people who aren’t as into tofu.

  14. You can also freeze the tofu, thaw, then press. It gets more of the water out and the freezing changes the texture as well.

  15. The sloppy joe tofu in the picture LOOKS NOTHING AT ALL LIKE THE REAL DEAL. I rate this recipe a -100 out of 10.

  16. I’ve raved about this recipe more times than I can count. To anyone who will listen. It’s got to be my all time favorite and most used Macheesmo recipe. But since October, I’ve adopted a Paleo-inspired diet. For me it’s no grains, no sugar, no legumes. I’m thrilled to death that I’ve been able to take this recipe and make it paleo! It was easy, but still, I’m so happy about it! I miss eating it on a sandwich roll, but I could eat this stuff straight out of the pan, so who cares about bread?

    1. Thanks Erin! This is definitely an oldie but a goodie in my mind also. I should do a redo of it with new photos and stuff…. thanks for the comment!

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