Move over green lentils, because tofu is here to create the ultimate Vegan Sloppy Joes. You'll be blown away by how meaty the tofu is after baking and rehydrating it. The marinade ramps things up with a big hit of umami goodness and the vegan sloppy joe sauce couldn't be much simpler. Perfect for lovers of tofu recipes.
🌟 Why this recipe works
An all-time American classic, veganized - this vegan sloppy joes recipe delivers all the feel good flavours of the family favorite but with a completely plant based recipe. It's a great recipe to make with kids. The tofu provides the perfect texture that could fool even the most dedicated meat eaters. And the sauce has all the sweetness and tomato rich flavor that makes it so good. They're also much lower in saturated fat than regular sloppy joes.
The ultimate tofu method - have you tried dehydrating and rehydrating tofu before? Don't worry, you don't need a dehydrator (just an oven), and it might sound counterintuitive, but trust us. The process of drying out the tofu changes the texture, so you can then add liquid and it sucks up all the flavors and creates a perfect alternative to ground meat.
We've been experimenting with this method of preparing tofu for quite a while. It's not just great for creating a ground meat texture but also for vegan meat slices, like beef strips and doner kebab! These vegan sloppy joes are a great place to start if you're intrigued. We think it makes a better finished dish than using green lentils.
Super simple sauce - after you're done making the ultimate tofu ground beef you might not be able to wait to tuck in, so we've created the easiest but most delicious vegan sloppy joes sauce imaginable. Once the vegan ground beef is ready you're only minutes away from serving up your vegan sloppy joe mixture into burger buns and enjoying your not-so-hard work.
🤔 What is a sloppy joe?
Traditional sloppy joes are a sandwich or burger made up of ground beef, chopped onion, a rich tomato sauce, plus seasonings and spices. In the case of vegan sloppy joes, the meat is often switched out for cooked lentils or a shop bought vegan meat alternative. We've opted to create an amazing tofu based version, which we think makes the ultimate vegan sloppy joes.
There are various theories about the origins of classic sloppy joes. One suggests that they may have originated in Havana, Cuba, and involves Ernest Hemingway! Find out more about where sloppy Joes originated.
While sloppy joe is the most popular name, it's a sandwich that goes by many other names. Slushburgers, steamers, yum yums and chopped meat sandwiches are all regional names that you might know them by.
They're sometimes also known as a Manwich, thanks to the popular premade canned sloppy joe sauce. Did you know that Manwich sauce is vegan friendly? If you're a fan you could use it in place of the sauce from this recipe and rehydrate the tofu ground meat in it for an even easier vegan sloppy joe.
📋 Ingredient notes
Super-firm tofu - super-firm tofu has the least water content in it so is going to bake quicker in the oven. Firm and extra-firm tofu would also work, they might just take a little longer during the baking/dehydrating step of the recipe. Try pressing the tofu in a tofu press, which removes excess liquid within the block, this speeds up the cooking process. Do this one hour before cooking. Super-firm tofu is also great for air fryer tofu nuggets, gochujang tofu and balsamic grilled tofu
Vegan beef stock - for this recipe we crumble a vegan beef Oxo cube into the marinade mix, but any vegan beef-style stock would work. Better Than Bouillon No Beef Base or Massel Beef Stock Ptrzowder would both be great choices. Using this type of plant based products allow us to easily reproduce a beefy flavor. And they are readily available, so we're big fans! They create the perfect base flavor for making vegetarian sloppy joes.
Marmite - marmite is the most popular brand of yeast extract here in the UK, but any yeast extract is fine. Vegemite or supermarket own brand yeast extracts are both great options. If you've not tried yeast extract before, it's a thick spread that's made from brewer's yeast. It's actually made from a by-product so it would otherwise go to wast
In the UK we spread it on toast, but it's an acquired taste and Marmite's own slogan is "you either love it or hate it". However, when using it in a recipe you won't notice the divisive taste, but it will add a big punch of umami flavor to the dish - perfect for vegan sloppy joes.
Vegan Worcestershire sauce - Worcestershire sauce traditionally contains anchovies so find a vegan version or use the similar tasting Henderson's Relish. It packs a heavy dose of umami and tanginess, so the recipe only needs a little. But it's a great ingredient to have for adding to vegan recipes like soups, stews and sauces, like in this vegan beef stew or this lentil bolognese.
🔪 Vegan sloppy joes step-by-step instructions
This is a step-by-step overview with photos for making vegan sloppy joes. The full recipe, along with measurements and detailed instructions can be found in the recipe card at the bottom of the page.
For the vegan ground beef:
1. Preheat oven to 190°c / gas mark 5. Crumble the tofu into small pieces to replicate ground beef.
2. Mix the marinade ingredients together.
3. Pour the marinade over the tofu and stir well to coat.
4. Spread the marinated tofu out on a lined baking sheet and bake for ~30 minutes
5. It's done when the tofu is mostly dry and starts to crisp and brown a little on the edges.
For the vegan sloppy joes:
6. First make the tomato sauce. Add a splash of oil to a frying pan over medium heat. Pop in the onion and pepper and fry for 4-5 minutes until the onion is soft.
7. Add the garlic for 30 seconds then stir in the tomato paste.
8. Pour in the rest of the ingredients and stir well.
9. Add in the vegan ground beef, stir well and cover with a lid. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
10. Once the mix has reached your preferred level of sloppiness (there should be minimal excess liquid), serve on toasted buns.
👩🍳 Expert tips
Make a big batch - you can make up big batches of the vegan sloppy joe mixture for gatherings or to batch cook your meals for the week. Check out our storage recommendations below. The same goes for the vegan ground beef which can be made up in a big batch and used in different dishes and sauces as needed.
Storage - any leftover sloppy joe mixture will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days in an airtight container and can be reheated in a pan with a little water to loosen it back up. It can be stored in the freezer for up to 3 months. If freezing, defrost it fully before reheating and add a little water if needed. Once piping hot, serve in toasted burger buns - such an easy midweek lunch!
Versatile tofu ground beef - the process of dehydrating and rehydrating the tofu crumbles is incredibly versatile and useful for other recipes too, not just vegan sloppy joes! We've used it in pasta dishes, on nachos and in stir fries. It can be rehydrated in any kind of sauce, or even just in water. It's best not to use it in anything that is too salty, for example a soy sauce heavy stir fry, because the vegan ground beef is already quite salty as it is.
Make it gluten free - there are a couple of easy substitutions you can make to this great recipe to make it gluten free. Firstly, switch out the hamburger bun for a gluten free alternative. Then find a gluten free yeast extract - Marmite contains gluten, but a lot of own brand versions do not and Vegemite also offer one without gluten. The final switch is to make sure your vegan Worcestershire sauce is gluten free, or use Henderson's Relish which is already suitable.
You can make vegan sloppy joes using any plant based ground beef alternative. Our top choice is making vegan ground beef with tofu and then a sloppy joe mixture with the classic sweet, tomato sauce. It's absolutely delicious!
Yes, Manwich sloppy joes sauce is suitable for vegetarians and vegans. It's a great easy option to go with the tofu ground beef in our vegan sloppy joes recipe.
Manwich is a brand of pre-made sloppy joe sauce, so it is sometimes also used as a name for the sandwich. Sloppy joe's is the name of the actual sandwich.
🍛 Serving suggestions & substitutions
Some of our favourite ways to serve our homemade sloppy joes are:
- Topped with grated vegan cheese, vegan cheese slices or even vegan mac and cheese (pictured)!
- With a baked potato, fries or potato wedges.
- Add sliced dill pickles, coleslaw or vegan bacon.
- Add more chili powder if you like it spicy.
Here are some easy ingredient substitutions you can make if you're missing anything or looking to avoid certain ingredients:
Brown sugar - can be switched for maple syrup if you're avoiding processed sugars.
Ketchup - switch it for BBQ sauce to mix things up and add a nice BBQ sauce flavor to the sloppy joes.
Garlic - try switching it for garlic powder to save time chopping or if you're just out of garlic.
Green bell pepper - we really like the flavor of the slightly more bitter green bell pepper, but you could try yellow or red bell pepper, or just omit altogether.
Yellow onion - brown or white would work in place of yellow onion.
Whole wheat bun - instead of burger buns or brioche buns, try a whole wheat bun. We prefer whole wheat generally, it works well.
🍴 More tofu recipes to try
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Vegan Sloppy Joes
For the vegan ground beef:
- 200 g super-firm tofu
- ¼ cup hot water
- 1 vegan beef oxo cube
- 2 tablespoon nooch
- 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon marmite
- 1 teaspoon liquid smoke
- 1 teaspoon vegan Worcestershire sauce
- 1 pinch Msg - optional
For the vegan sloppy joes:
- 1 teaspoon olive oil - any neutral oil
- All of the vegan ground beef (as above)
- 2 hamburger buns - or vegan brioche buns
- ¼ yellow onion
- ¼ green pepper
- 1 clove garlic
- 0.5 tablespoon tomato paste
- ¼ cup water
- ¼ cup ketchup
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon American mustard
- ¼ teaspoon chili powder
- Ground black pepper - to taste
For the vegan ground beef:
- Preheat oven to 190°c / gas mark 5.
- Crumble the tofu into small pieces to replicate ground beef.200 g super-firm tofu
- Mix the marinade ingredients together then pour over the tofu and stir well to coat.¼ cup hot water, 1 vegan beef oxo cube, 2 tablespoon nooch, 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, 1 teaspoon marmite, 1 teaspoon liquid smoke, 1 teaspoon vegan Worcestershire sauce, 1 pinch Msg
- Spread the marinated tofu out on a lined baking sheet and bake for ~30 minutes until the tofu is mostly dry and starts to crisp and brown a little on the edges.
For the vegan sloppy joes:
- First make the tomato sauce. Add a splash of oil to a frying pan over medium heat.1 teaspoon olive oil
- Pop in the onion and pepper and fry for 4-5 minutes until the onion is soft.¼ yellow onion, ¼ green pepper
- Add the garlic for 30 seconds then stir in the tomato paste.1 clove garlic
- Pour in the rest of the ingredients including the vegan ground beef, stir well and cover with a lid. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.All of the vegan ground beef, 0.5 tablespoon tomato paste, ¼ cup water, ¼ cup ketchup, 1 teaspoon brown sugar, 1 teaspoon American mustard, ¼ teaspoon chili powder, Ground black pepper
- Once the mix has reached your preferred level of sloppiness (there should be minimal excess liquid), serve on toasted buns.2 hamburger buns