Canned Sloppy Joe Sauces, Ranked Worst To Best

various cans of sloppy Joe sauce
various cans of sloppy Joe sauce - Steven Luna/Mashed

One of the most underrated heroes of the easy-suppertime cooking club, sloppy Joes, is a humble, hearty, and thoroughly delicious dish anyone can throw together in a matter of minutes to satisfy a room full of hungry eaters. If you're enterprising in the kitchen, you can whip up a mean homemade sloppy Joe sauce that you throw in with your crumbled ground beef or vegan hamburger to get things cooking at home. But isn't it comforting to know a slew of food companies have put together canned sloppy Joe sauce that makes the work much easier? Anything that can save you time and money while providing a saucy good time at the dinner table is a worthwhile investment.

Which of the canned sloppy Joe sauces will draw rave reviews from your pickiest eaters and which options are likely to result in a supper table revolt? I did a supermarket sweep to pick up a collection of the most readily available canned sloppy Joe sauces as well as ordering a few online so we could help you make the determination without you having to try them all yourself. It's just one more way we assist curious shoppers in finding the best purchases for their food dollars. Settle in and take a glance at my comprehensive canned sloppy Joe sauce ranking to see where your old stand-by selection or new favorite resides on the charts.

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8. Great Value

Great Value canned sloppy Joe sauce
Great Value canned sloppy Joe sauce - Steven Luna/Mashed

Walmart made a major misstep with its Great Value canned sloppy Joe sauce, a rare error for a store brand that usually stands up pretty well against major-name competitors. This time, there's too much missing from the recipe to qualify as a viable replacement for more familiar labels. I was surprised to see how closely the contents of the can resemble thinned-down tomato sauce. Then I read the ingredients listing and saw that the contents are largely tomato paste, water, high fructose corn syrup, and vinegar. It all made sense then.

Despite claiming to have dried bell peppers, chili powder, and carrot fiber — blech — the resulting sauce was very thin-tasting and almost fishy, with nothing bold to offer the protein crumble it was intended to flavor. At under $1.00, Great Value may offer the most affordable canned sloppy Joe sauce, but without a fair amount of doctoring to bring it up to speed, it's a low-rent option you can easily leave off your shopping list.

7. Manwich Original

Manwich Original canned sloppy Joe sauce
Manwich Original canned sloppy Joe sauce - Steven Luna/Mashed

The old-timer of the group makes an appearance in a can of Manwich Original, the first sandwich said to eat like a meal. The heartiness can't be denied; nor can the heritage of the sauce that started it all. But it's been a while since my grown-up taste buds have sampled Manwich in any form. I couldn't help wondering if it would have the same impact now as it did when I was younger, or if my adult palate would find it as undesirable as SpaghettiOs and Chef Boyardee Beef Ravioli.

Well, both my inner kid and my outer adult found Manwich to be disappointingly plain and relatively unnoteworthy. Beyond the basics of tomato sauce, high fructose corn syrup, vinegar, and a few undetectable vegetable flavorings, this can also used guar gum and xanthan gum as thickeners. A bit more real tomato in the recipe would render that unnecessary. It's too bad Manwich is taking the cheaper route to make this sauce saucier.

6. Kroger

Kroger canned sloppy Joe sauce
Kroger canned sloppy Joe sauce - Steven Luna/Mashed

How well does a store-brand sloppy Joe sauce in a can hold up in a comparison where the national brand is one of the best-known prepared foods in the land? If it's Kroger canned sloppy Joe sauce, it had better come to the table with its boots on. I'm usually impressed with how faithfully Kroger reproduces the flavors it's aiming for in its store-label offerings. It was reasonable to think sloppy Joe sauce would be equally impressive, considering the simplicity of the formula. How hard could it be to mix tomatoes, vegetables, and spices to come up with a signature brand sauce?

Pretty hard, as it turns out. The bland flavor barely even registered a tomato taste and would require a hard dose of additional spices. The one aspect that puts it higher on the list than Manwich is the fact that the recipe uses only one thickening agent, xanthan gum, rather than two. Even at an affordable price point of just over $1.00, I'd be hard-pressed to repeat the Kroger sloppy Joe experience. I'd rather spend the extra to concoct my own version.

5. Signature Select

Signature Select canned sloppy Joe sauce
Signature Select canned sloppy Joe sauce - Steven Luna/Mashed

Why wouldn't Albertsons jump into the fray with its own saucy entry? It's a fair fight on the shelves among Signature Select sloppy Joe sauce and all the other brands staking out space on the aisle. This house brand is known for offering superior formulations that sometimes exceed the original product, providing better-priced analogs that stand up to the big names. But the more I tried the sauce in the cans, the more I realized how challenging it is for companies to get the balance right. Surely they aren't falling short on purpose, but could a store brand actually succeed intentionally by making a little more effort with its creativity?

It turns out that Signature Select comes as close as possible. This canned sauce produced a plausible version of Sloppy Joe that depends on tomato sauce more than anything. The difference I noticed on the ingredients list is the lack of water, allowing it to be as thick as necessary for a sturdy finished dish. Beef or plant-based crumble soaked in this sauce would go well in a hot dog bun as a sloppy Joe grinder-style sandwich. Pile on onions, fresh tomatoes, and diced peppers and it could almost make you believe you're eating a restaurant-level Joe.

4. Manwich Thick & Chunky

Manwich Thick and Chunky sloppy Joe
Manwich Thick and Chunky sloppy Joe - Steven Luna/Mashed

How much more texture could Manwich possibly pack into what is already considered a substantial recipe? After trying the original version, it was easy to see that something more was needed, and not in the form of more thickeners. What could bring Manwich Thick & Chunky the acclaim it strives for is actually vegetables — tomato sauce and diced pieces of real peppers and onions that help the sauce hold its own among the crumbles while adding flavor and texture. I wasn't convinced the brand was up for the occasion.

So what persuaded me to place this questionable can at the center of the list? Certainly not the addition of potato starch and locust bean gum as extra thickeners, in addition to guar gum and xanthan gum from the basic recipe; those kept it from taking a higher spot. But the barbecue-like flavor thanks to chili and garlic powders and the more substantial cling of the sauce elevates this version of Manwich to a more rarified, if not entirely ideal, level. There are also chunks of bell pepper present that merge nicely with the crumbles to provide added toothiness to the blend. If Manwich could just ditch the gum, this one would be a top-three contender. But no.

3. Sprague Plant-Based

Sprague vegan canned sloppy Joe sauce
Sprague vegan canned sloppy Joe sauce - Steven Luna/Mashed

Plant-eaters deserve a plateful of sloppy Joe, too, and thanks to Sprague Plant-Based sloppy Joe, there's a heat-and-eat vegan sloppy Joe option that comes with the faux meat already included. I found this can at Walmart, priced around $3.00 and was intrigued by the fact that it was a fully finished dish rather than just a sauce.

This is an inspired invention loaded with lentils that captures the hardiness and flavor of a beefy sloppy Joe, right down to the seasoning and the texture. It's perfect on its own and amazing on a bun, though it could easily hold up on a tougher roll or a sesame seed bun. It also bears enough resemblance to vegan chili that you could use it to top either plant-based or real hotdogs for a double-duty can of delicious topping. Though it's at the higher end of the price spectrum for the canned versions, it's worth the additional expense to have a complete sloppy Joe in a can you can heat and eat whenever your appetite hits, but your desire to cook doesn't.

2. Manwich Bold

Manwich Bold canned sloppy Joe sauce
Manwich Bold canned sloppy Joe sauce - Steven Luna/Mashed

Manwich Bold sloppy Joe sauce makes a mighty big claim on the label that requires something truly special to back it up. It also could have ended up being the third strike for the company that kicked off the whole canned sauce continuum but relies on weird ingredients rather than real food to up the ante in every new recipe. I was leery of finding more disappointment in the can and on the label, so I steeled myself as I stewed up a sample.

Thankfully, Manwich was able to come through with a sauce that elicited delighted sighs as soon as the aroma wafted through my kitchen. There are indeed more flavoring ingredients added, hearty palate-pleasers like white wine, Worcestershire sauce powder, mustard seed, and mesquite smoke. There are also fewer thickeners, which pleased my whole food-preferring sensibilities. What comes through on the plate is a rich, barbecue-like flavor that feels thorough, a quality I'd been hoping to find in at least one can. It's good to know the OG can come through in the clinch with a canned sauce that lives up to the Manwich reputation. Still, it wasn't the best on the list.

1. Stonewall Kitchen

Stonewall Kitchen jarred sloppy Joe sauce
Stonewall Kitchen jarred sloppy Joe sauce - Steven Luna/Mashed

The handwritten label and pasta-jar presentation of sloppy Joe sauce from Stonewall Kitchen suggest a more homemade approach and a fresher taste than what might come in a can. It's easy to slap a label on a jar and call it an artisan creation, however. Making sure what's under the lid is as special as the packaging is an entirely different task. I was dubious about the possibility of having a gourmet sloppy Joe sauce that could justify the $16.49 price I found on Amazon. It would have to be as phenomenal a sauce as it promised in order to top the ranking.

Fortunately, promises made are promises kept with this proficient sloppy Joe sauce, a superior preparation, bar none. Stonewall Kitchen takes the trouble to make your simple ground crumbles feel like full-blown chili, thanks to visible chunks of red and green bell peppers, onions, and garlic. There's also a generous essence of Dijon mustard and Worcestershire sauce, with balsamic vinegar, and apple cider vinegar to add tang. With a bit of beef broth concentrate for umami charm merging with ancho and chipotle peppers to bring in smoky notes, you have a well-rounded flavor profile none of the other cans can match. Yes, it's expensive, and yes, it's worth it. But it's also a generous 19-ounce jar that lets you enjoy the experience on repeat. For a supreme version of canned sloppy Joe sauce, that's a pretty neat feat.

How I Ranked These Sauces

cans of sloppy Joe sauce
cans of sloppy Joe sauce - Steven Luna/Mashed

Every sauce demanded a taste on its own, but that would have made for a lot of sloppy Joe for me to finish. Instead of making full batches for each can, I crumbled and browned a package of Impossible Burgers and separated it into quarters, then added the sauce and sampled the flavors. This made it easy to keep track of which was which while getting a solid feel for what the brands had to offer. And while my palate was on watch for the traditional flavor notes that make sloppy Joe a dinnertime masterwork, I was also on watch for odd ingredients like thickeners that let companies cheat customers out of real vegetables. There were quite a few on display here.

When I got down to the nitty-gritty of taste testing, I let flavor complexity and authenticity guide me, paying attention to how close these cans came to a classic sloppy Joe experience and determining what made the distinction for each. Aside from the few deserving low-rankers, every can lent something special to the dish, with quality that seemed to fall in line with the price point. In other words, as with everything else in the world, you get what you pay for when it comes to canned sloppy Joe sauces.

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