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These Lentil Sloppy Joes are guaranteed to be a big hit on burger night! The lentils are cooked until soft and tender in a homemade sloppy joe sauce that's perfectly sweet and savory. Serve with simple burger toppings, creamy coleslaw, and your favorite potatoes on the side. 

Lentil sloppy joe mixture on fluffy buns with a slice of tomato.

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A Budget-Friendly Family Favorite

Sloppy joes is an American classic loved by the whole family for several reasons. It's hearty, filling, the perfect balance of sweet and savory, and the perfect pair for comforting starchy sides. It's the definition of an easy weeknight dinner and is even freezer friendly. 

The only problem is beef is NOT CHEAP.

In fact, in 2023, ground beef is now almost always over $5 per pound (significantly more for organic, grass fed) and feeds just 2-4 people. Lentils on the other hand are $1.42 per pound at my local Walmart and 1 pound of dry lentils can very comfortably feed 10 people.

Side by side prices of lentils and ground beef from Walmart.com
Price comparison between lentils and beef at Walmart in 2023

This means lentils will cost you $0.14/per person in your family whereas beef will cost your family about $1.99, making ground beef 14x more expensive than dry lentils!!

💲 Money saving tip! If you are trying to save money on groceries, swapping ground meat for lentils (or even replacing half of the beef with lentils) is a great way to make your budget go farther. Even more so when purchasing lentils in bulk!

Additionally, lentils are an excellent source of nutrition and health benefits, so you can enjoy this vegan sloppy joe recipe knowing you're getting a healthy dose of fiber, key nutrients, and plant-based protein. 

If you'd like to learn how to cook lentils for separate recipes, check out my How to Cook Lentils in Rice Cooker post!

Ingredients

  • Lentils: When making lentil sloppy joes, it's important to use lentils that are on the heartier side so that they will hold their texture and be more similar to the texture of classic sloppy joes. For this reason, the best lentils to use in this recipe are green lentils or brown lentils. Red lentils will be much too soft and will turn to mush and black lentils are too small and chewy! 
  • Onion + garlic: For the best flavor, I recommend using fresh onion and fresh garlic. I used a yellow onion, but a white onion or sweet onion will work well. If a fresh onion and clove of garlic is not possible, replace with a teaspoon of onion powder and a 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder.
  • Bell pepper: Bell pepper can be quite expensive. For this reason, I like to use a green bell pepper in this recipe (green peppers are less than half the price of red peppers!), but a red pepper is great too. Alternatively, you can use frozen bell pepper strips that have been chopped into bite-sized pieces. 
  • Brown sugar: ​The tomato sauce in a sloppy joes mixture is slightly sweet, similar to BBQ sauce. Depending on your personal preference, I recommend using 1-4 tablespoons. I like to use 3, but if you prefer a more savory sloppy joes recipe, opt for less. Additionally, coconut sugar is a fine substitute. 
  • Soy sauce: ​Adds umami flavor and savoriness. If you are gluten-free, replace with tamari. 
  • Apple cider vinegar: ​Adds necessary tanginess. If you do not have apple cider vinegar, try white vinegar. 
  • Spices: The spices in this sloppy joes recipe is important in that it adds depth of flavor and contributes to the savory flavor. If you prefer an extra smoky vegan lentil sloppy joes, use both smoked paprika and liquid smoke. 
Lentil sloppy joe mixture on fluffy buns with a slice of tomato.

How to Make Lentil Sloppy Joes

  1. Add all ingredients to the bowl of the slow cooker, except liquid smoke. ​Into the bowl of the slow cooker, add the rinsed and drained lentils, yellow onion, bell pepper, garlic, water, tomato puree, brown sugar, soy sauce, apple cider vinegar, cumin, chili powder, paprika, and salt. Stir well to combine. 
  2. Cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours. ​Once the recipe is done, the lentils should have absorbed all of the liquid with the lentils cooked through and tender. The mixture should be saucy. If for some reason the lentils are not tender, continue to cook for another 30 to 60 minutes. 
  3. Add the liquid smoke. ​Stir in the liquid smoke until well combined, then season with additional salt and black pepper to taste. If you prefer your sloppy joes a bit thicker, use a potato masher to lightly mash the mixture a few times. 
  4. Serve. Serve immediately on your favorite hamburger buns topped with coleslaw or other toppings, and enjoy! 
Cooked lentil sloppy joe mixture in slow cooker bowl.

Serving Suggestions

This lentil sloppy joe filling is delicious served on toasted white or whole grain buns for lunch or dinner with simple toppings like tomato slices, pickles, or Vegan Coleslaw. The filling is saucy enough where you likely won't need any additional condiments, but if you'd like, you can spread each sides of the bun with your favorite mayonnaise, ketchup, or mustard. 

These sloppy joes also pair well with simple sides such as:

Storage Instructions

Once cooked, this vegan recipe will keep for up to 5 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator. When ready to eat the next day, reheat leftovers in the microwave or in a small saucepan on the stovetop. If your sloppy joe mixture thickens considerably overnight, add a splash of water or vegetable broth to make saucy again. 

This recipe can also be prepped in advance. To do so, place all of the ingredients, except water and ingredients for serving, in a gallon-sized ziplock bag or reusable bag. Seal tightly removing as much excess air as possible.

Refrigerate for up to 5 days. When ready to cook this lentil sloppy joes recipe, dump contents of bag in slow cooker, add 2 cups of water, and cook as usual.

Can You Freeze Lentil Sloppy Joes?

Absolutely! These sloppy joes can be frozen before or after cooking.

To freeze before cooking: Place all of the ingredients, except water and ingredients for serving, in a gallon-sized ziplock bag. Seal tightly removing as much excess air as possible. Freeze for up to 3 months. When ready to cook, dump contents of bag in slow cooker, frozen, add 2 cups of water, and cook as usual.

To freeze after cooking: Allow the leftovers to cool completely to room temperature, then transfer into freezer safe containers. I like to freeze leftover lentil sloppy joes in 1-cup Souper cubes so I can defrost enough for just a single serving at a time. This reduces waste and allows people in my family to pick their own meals and what they want to eat on nights I am not cooking. 

Silicone Cubes

My favorite way to freeze individual portions and meals. Use code HOMECOOKEDROOTS10 for 10% off.

Lentil sloppy joe mixture on fluffy buns with a slice of tomato.

More Easy Lentil Recipes to Try

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Lentil Sloppy Joes Recipe

5 from 1 vote

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 8 hours
Total Time 8 hours 10 minutes
Cost: $5.11 per recipe / $0.85 per serving
These Lentil Sloppy Joes are guaranteed to be a big hit on burger night! The lentils are cooked until soft and tender in a homemade sloppy joe sauce that's perfectly sweet and savory. Serve with simple burger toppings, creamy coleslaw, and your favorite potatoes on the side. 

Equipment

Ingredients
 

  • 1 cup green lentils rinsed and drained, can substitute brown lentils ($0.88)
  • 1 yellow onion chopped ($0.60)
  • 1 green bell pepper chopped ($0.78)
  • 4 cloves garlic minced ($0.24)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 (14 ounce) can tomato puree ($0.81)
  • 1-4 tablespoons brown sugar I used 3 ($0.09)
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce ($0.26)
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar ($0.11)
  • 2 teaspoons cumin ($0.24)
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder ($0.12)
  • 1 teaspoon paprika ($0.12)
  • 1 teaspoon salt ($0.04)
  • 1 teaspoon liquid smoke ($0.10)

For serving

  • 4 burger buns ($0.72)

Instructions

  • Add all the ingredients except the liquid smoke to a slow cooker. Mix together and cook for 8 hours on low or 4 hours on high.
  • Once done, check that the liquid has all been absorbed and the lentils are cooked through. This may vary depending on your slow cooker. If not done, cook for another 30-60 minutes or until the lentils are cooked through and the mixture is thick.
  • Once done, add the liquid smoke and stir together. Season with additional salt and black pepper to taste. Optionally, use a potato masher to mash the mixture a few times if you prefer it is thicker.
  • Serve on hamburger buns with coleslaw and enjoy!

Meal Prep Instructions

  • Place all of the ingredients, except water and ingredients for serving, in a gallon-sized ziplock bag. Seal tightly removing as much excess air as possible. Refrigerate for up to 5 days.
  • When ready to cook, dump contents of bag in slow cooker, add 2 cups of water, and cook as usual.

Freezer Instructions

  • Place all of the ingredients, except water and ingredients for serving, in a gallon-sized ziplock bag. Seal tightly removing as much excess air as possible. Freeze for up to 3 months.
  • When ready to cook, dump contents of bag in slow cooker, frozen, add 2 cups of water, and cook as usual.
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Nutrition

Calories: 223kcal | Carbohydrates: 40g | Protein: 12g | Fat: 2g | Sodium: 881mg | Fiber: 11g | Sugar: 6g

Disclaimer: The Nutritional Information provided for this recipe is only an estimate. The accuracy of the facts listed is not and cannot be guaranteed.

Course Main Dish
Cuisine American

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5 from 1 vote
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5 from 1 vote (1 rating without comment)

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