Seasoned, saucy, and tomato-fueled, Sloppy Joes are ground beef fun on a bun.
But we like to play with our food, so we couldn’t resist a few tweaks. The result is a Tex-Mex casserole version that adds spicy flavor and a presentation twist.
Kids will love these. But maybe have Margaritas on hand for the grownups in the room.
The original Sloppy Joe is a mix of ground beef, onions, tomato sauce (and/or ketchup), usually combined with green bell pepper and seasonings (often including Worcestershire sauce). This savory, sweetish mix is served on a hamburger bun (toasted or not – your preference).
Our recipe contains many elements of the original. But because we’ve turned this into cobbler, we replace the hamburger bun with a topping of cornmeal drop biscuits. (We usually associate cobblers with desserts, but there’s no reason they can’t be savory too).
We also replace the green bell pepper with a green Mexican-style chile pepper (mild or medium hot; we favor poblano, but Anaheim works too – or whatever else you favor). And we add seasonings appropriate to a Tex-Mex dish (chile powder, cumin, ground coriander).
Prep time for this dish is about 10 minutes. Then you’ll need 15 to 20 minutes of stovetop time as you sauté the onions and brown the ground beef. Finally, add 10 to 12 minutes of oven time so the biscuit topping can bake. So figure maybe 45 minutes start to finish.
This recipe yields 4 to 6 servings. It’s easy to double if you’re serving a crowd (see Notes).
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 mild or medium green Mexican-style chile (like poblano), cleaned and finely diced
- 1 jalapeño pepper, finely diced (optional)
- salt to taste (we start with ½ teaspoon kosher salt, then add more as we proceed; see Notes)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 to 1½ pounds lean ground beef (we prefer 90% lean for this dish; see Notes)
- 1 tablespoon mild or medium chile powder (for mild, we prefer ancho; for medium, a New Mexican one)
- 1 to 2 teaspoons chipotle chile powder (to taste; optional)
- 2 to 3 teaspoons ground cumin (to taste)
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 1 batch Cornmeal Drop Biscuits
- ~1 tablespoon brown sugar (very optional; see Notes)
- garnish of grated cheddar cheese (optional; see Notes)
- Preheat the oven to 450° F.
- Place a large, ovenproof frying pan over medium stovetop heat. When hot, add the cooking oil. When the oil has heated (about 15 seconds; it’ll shimmer), add the chopped onion and chile pepper(s). Season to taste with salt, then sauté until the onion is just translucent (about 5 minutes).
- Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Then push the onion/pepper/garlic mixture to the sides of the pan and add the ground beef. Salt the beef to taste (we use about 1 teaspoon kosher salt) and cook until the beef is thoroughly brown (about 5 minutes).
- Spoon off the excess grease if you wish (if your beef is 90% lean, there won’t be much). Add the chile powder(s), cumin, coriander, and oregano, then mix them in completely. Add the crushed tomato and mix again. Simmer until the flavors are thoroughly combined (10 to 15 minutes) and the sauce is thick (because this is a cobbler, you don’t want the sauce to be thin and runny).
- While you’re simmering the beef mixture, mix the cornmeal drop biscuits.
- After the meat mixture has cooked for 10 to 15 minutes, taste it and adjust the seasoning if necessary. If you prefer a sweeter dish (we don’t, but see Notes), add brown sugar to taste.
- Turn off the stovetop heat. Drop spoonfuls of biscuit dough over the top of the meat mixture (we like to use rather large “biscuits” for this dish, but make them any size you fancy). Pop the frying pan into the oven, then bake until the biscuits are golden and done (10 to 12 minutes).
- Remove the pan from the oven. Dish up and garnish (if you wish) with grated cheddar
- You don’t really need garnish for this dish, but shredded cheddar cheese adds flavor and color. We also like to garnish with diced onion and/or slices of jalapeño pepper.
- For this dish, we like to use ground beef that is 90% lean because it makes for less excessive grease (so there’s less to spoon off).
- Our instructions call for sautéing the onion and browning the beef in the same pan. But if we’re in a hurry, we’ll cook the onion in the frying pan that’s headed for the oven, while browning the beef in another frying pan. Then, when the beef is done, we add it to the onion. That cuts about 5 minutes off the cooking time – but you’ll have another pan to wash.
- If you’re doubling or tripling this recipe, we suggest using a casserole dish that measures about 9” x 13”. Cook the meat mixture on top of the stove, then scrape it into the casserole dish. Top with biscuit dough and bake in the oven until done.
- If there are only 2 of you, you might want to bake only half the recipe and save the rest for later. When we made this recipe, we placed about half the meat mixture into a small frying pan (the 7½” one that appears in the photos), then covered it with half the biscuit dough and baked. We froze the rest of the meat and biscuit dough for another meal.
- Traditional Sloppy Joes are on the sweet side. If you want that flavor profile, add the optional brown sugar. We prefer this dish without, but you may disagree.
- You could probably substitute Mexican chorizo for ground beef (in that case, we’d skip the cumin, coriander, and oregano).
- We like to use cornmeal drop biscuits for this dish because corn and Tex-Mex just go together.
- But you can use any biscuit dough you like. You could even opt for those tubes of biscuit dough you find in the dairy case at the grocery store – not as good as homemade biscuits, but not bad. And easy to use.
- We use kosher salt in cooking. It’s less salty by volume than regular table salt (the crystals are larger and more irregular, so they pack a measure less tightly). If you’re using table salt, start with about half the amount we suggest. But always season to your taste, not ours.
“Neat twist on a classic,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “Despite being sloppy.”
“Glad I cobbled this together!” I said.
“That joke needed a bit longer in the oven,” said Mrs K R. “It’s half baked.”
“Appropriately juvenile, though,” I said. “Especially since Sloppy Joes were my favorite on the lunchroom menu when I was a kid.”
“When you were a kid?” said Mrs K R. “Did that era ever end?”
“At least I’ve moved past the food-fight stage,” I said.
“Good thing I have, too,” said Mrs K R. “Otherwise, things could get messy when I have a beef with your humor.”
Yeah, my jokes might get a chile reception.
You may also enjoy reading about: