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Here’s How to Thicken Sloppy Joes

Sloppy Joes are one of America’s favorite messy burgers, but how messy is too messy? Here’s what to do when your sloppy-joe sauce is runny.

No matter where you stand on this, one thing’s for sure: wet sloppy joes are more of a mess than what the average burger should be. 

If watery sloppy joes are a problem, then you need to add a little more tender love and care to thicken up the sauce. (Which is exactly what we’ll be showing you how to do in this article.)

So, what are some ways to add thickness to the sloppy joe sauce?

The best way to thicken the sauce for sloppy joes is to remove the lid and let it thicken. If you want it to thicken quickly, you can make a roux, add cornstarch, or even mix the sloppy joes with peanut butter instead.

We know, you may be thinking, “peanut butter???” Yes, we will explain all the methods, including peanut butter, and how they are used to thicken wet sloppy joes and any sauces.

The art of cooking is grounded in the science of chemistry, and we will show you how it all works by not getting too technical and breaking it down for everyone.

Reasons to Thicken Sloppy Joe Sauce

The whole point of sloppy joes is in the title; it is meant to be sloppy and fun to eat at the same time. However, it is not a good thing when the sauce is watery because it can be least to say tricky to eat (it’s called a burger, and not soup in a bun, for a reason).

Below is a list of reasons you want to have a thick consistency to the sauce: 

  • It is harder to control in keeping the meat on the bun;
  • There will not be as much meat in each spoon serving as you pour the sloppy joes on the bun, as it will all runoff; 
  • Too much liquid on the bread will cause the bun to soak up the juice, making it soggy and fall apart; 
  • A thicker sauce has a bolder flavor, whereas wet sloppy joes will have more of a watered-down taste.

The Different Ways to Thicken the Sauce

There is no need to panic if you find that the sloppy joe sauce is too watery. We can show you how to fix it with some simple advice and a little bit of chemistry.

Sloppy joe sauce is made from the Manmwich Meal canned sauce, packs of seasoning and powdered mixture, or from one’s own secret ingredient sauces that are homemade from scratch.

Make sure all the ground beef or pork is completely drained from the fat. At the Home Cook World test kitchen, we use a sieve to do so before building the burger with the sauce. Otherwise, the juices will make it overly difficult to control the sauce’s consistency.


If all seems hopeless, thicken your sloppy joes with cornstarch. Depending on how much liquid is in the pot, start with a tablespoon and stir it in the liquid. There will be lumps of cornstarch in the pot, so use a spoon to dissolve them all.

If you fail to break everything up from the cornstarch mixture, the sauce will not thicken, and the clumped-up pieces will turn into dumplings in the sauce that will become chewy.

It is critical to stir continuously for this reason until all is dissolved in the sauce. If you find the sauce is still not thick enough, add another tablespoon of cornstarch and follow the same steps to dissolve. 

Flour or Roux

Some people may not have cornstarch in their cabinets, but most people will have All-Purpose Flour. Two tablespoons of flour may be used in place of one tablespoon of cornstarch. Flour is used to make a roux to thicken sauces or darken them.

Like cornstarch, stirring frequently and breaking up the clumps is critical when thickening the sauce. It is also crucial to have everything dissolved in the sauce before consuming it. Be very careful not to burn the sauce or let it stick with the flour, or it will ruin the entire pot of sloppy joes.

Equal parts of flour to oil cooked down makes a roux that can also thicken sauces. This is done in a separate pot or skillet to make the base and is best with no more than two tablespoons of flour and cooking oil.

Roux has a rich flavor that’s prone to overtaking everything else. So it is critical not to use too much when adding to the sloppy joes.

Turn Up the Heat to Evaporate the Liquid

This method is probably the best way to solve the wet sloppy joes issue. In a way, it is also the quickest way to thicken the sauce without worrying about losing flavor or adding more ingredients. Bringing the sauce to a high boil and continuously stirring the sloppy joes will cause the liquid to evaporate, thus thickening the sauce.

It is also advised to stay on top of the stirring because the sauce will burn quickly. As you stir the pot, the sauce will thicken, and you must lower the heat back to the desired simmer once the desired consistency is reached. The sauce should be almost like a pasta sauce that will hold the sloppy joes together for each serving, still with a bit of liquid for juiciness.  

Why Peanut Butter?

As we mentioned in the introduction, peanut butter is an excellent thickener for any sauce. The science behind it is simple. The peanut butter is melted with the sauce, and as it melts with the juice, it thickens it with greater consistency.

Using butter and flour is nothing new in the cooking industry, but people never think of it when mixing ingredients. However, peanut butter stands alone as an acting agent to create a paste within the consistency of a sauce. Many people use peanut butter as a secret ingredient in chili to thicken it for the judges and their families and friends alike.

Peanut butter has a unique flavor, but like cooking wines, as the temperature rises in the pot, the taste of the peanut butter is completely dissolved. That’s right, folks, you will never taste the peanut butter, and you will only have the thickness of the sauce in your mouth, without the sticking, of course.

As the peanut butter is melted, the peanut oil inside the peanut butter also acts as a tenderizer which will help with the ground beef or pork added in the sloppy joes.

The final thing that most people will appreciate is that peanut butter has so many excellent nutrients for the body, beginning with protein. Besides olive oil, peanut oil is also the healthiest oil sold on the market.

N.B.: For the peanut butter to work correctly, it must be wholly dissolved without a trace or glimpse of it in the sauce. If one peanut butter spot is seen, then it may have a hint of its flavor. It takes about 15 minutes to fully dissolve on a simmering low to medium heat. 

Enjoying the Meal

As you and the family sit down to enjoy sloppy joes’ quick and easy meal, it is essential to keep the sauce thick. It holds the boldness necessary to stick to the ribs and put a smile on everyone’s face.

All the tricks mentioned work, but it is up to the one stirring the pot on which method to use. Cornstarch is always the first pick, but keep in mind, it may remove some seasonings, so be careful.