How To Thicken Sloppy Joes 5 Easy Ways

Sloppy joes are time-saving and simple to feed your hungry family. But sometimes, things go wrong. In the scramble to have dinner ready on time, your sloppy joe filling can end up runnier than it’s supposed to be.

sloppy joes

There are various ways to thicken sloppy joes. You can thicken your sloppy joe mix using cornstarch, flour, or potato starch or by letting it simmer and reduce. The most effective thickening method is to use cornstarch mixed with water and add it slowly into your filling.

If the filling for your sloppy joes is thinner than you’d like, don’t worry, you can keep your title as the dinner hero. You won’t have to order in if it is almost dinner time. There are several quick and easy methods for saving your sloppy joes by thickening them up.

Why Thicken Sloppy Joes Anyway?

You might be wondering, can I just leave my sloppy joes as is? The extra “juice” still tastes good, right?

Well yes, it does taste okay, but you still may want to thicken it up. Here’s why:

  • If there is too much juice, it will soak into the bun and make for a soggy mess
  • That juice can also run out onto your hands, tablecloth and easily make for a disaster with kids
  • Reducing your sauce to thicken it actually makes for more complex flavors—so everyone will love the sloppy joes even more

5 Ways To Thicken Sloppy Joes

If a recipe has done you wrong and you’ve ended up with a sloppier joe than you like, there are ways to remedy the situation. By now I’m sure you’re ready to dig into the exact methods for thickening your sloppy joes.

So let’s take a closer look!

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Tip #1: Add Cornstarch

Cornstarch, also known as corn flour, is commonly used as a thickening agent in foods. You can find cornstarch quite easily at any grocery store. If your filling ends up with a runnier consistency than you would have preferred, add some cornstarch to thicken it. It’s easy and won’t change the look – or taste – of your filling.

Typically for every two to three cups of filling you’re making, you’ll need to mix a tablespoon of tepid water and a tablespoon of cornstarch. Do this in a separate bowl and mix thoroughly to avoid lumps.

If you end up with lumps, they’re easy to get rid of. You can do this by pressing any clumps of cornstarch against the wall of the container you are using. This will make the slurry easier to mix with fewer lumps.

It’s best to mix your cornstarch with water before adding it to your filling. There is a good reason for this. Adding cornstarch directly to your filling will create lumps that are almost impossible to remove. These lumps do not absorb any of the water in your filling. This means that your filling will have unappetizing lumps and won’t be able to thicken.

Once you have your cornstarch mixture, you can slowly add it to your filling. While stirring, bring the sloppy joe filling to a simmer to allow the cornstarch to mix in completely. After you have mixed the cornstarch into your filling, let it simmer for a couple of minutes. The cornstarch taste should be gone when it’s completely mixed in, and your filling should be slightly thicker.

Tip #2: Add Flour

Flour is a common ingredient in most pantries, so you won’t have to run to the store to save dinner! Flour is another great ingredient you can use to thicken a sauce or filling. It also contains starch, which is a great substitute when you don’t have cornstarch or other thickening agents.

Flour is not pure starch like cornstarch but contains a large portion of this ingredient. Because it contains less starch, you will need to use twice as much flour as you would cornstarch. So, if you find that your sloppy joe filling is runnier than you want it, you just have to mix flour with tepid water and slowly add that mixture to your filling.

The process for mixing flour and water is almost identical to when using cornstarch. However, when using flour, you would use two tablespoons of flour for every tablespoon of water. The ratio of this mixture to filling is the same. For about every two cups of filling, you would combine one measure of the mixture. Like cornstarch, make sure to mix it well to avoid lumps.

Bring the heat to a boil and stir the mixture in slowly. The downside of using flour is that it can create a specific taste. To get rid of this taste, keep stirring your filling and keep it at a simmer until it is thoroughly mixed. If your filling is still not thick enough, you can do it again until you have the correct thickness. Let it simmer for a short while before serving.

Tip #3: Add Potato Starch

Potato starch, sometimes called potato flour, is another great alternative to cornstarch. Potato starch can be a healthier option as well! Many potato starch variations are free from gluten, GMOs, dairy, and soy. Potato starch also has fewer calories and carbohydrates than cornstarch.

Gluten and dairy-free products are becoming more and more popular. In some cases, these options are necessary. For example, people may simply want a healthier alternative, have dietary restrictions, or have food allergies.

The method of adding potato starch to your sloppy joe filling is the same as adding cornstarch. Mix a tablespoon of this starch with a tablespoon of water for every two to three cups of filling you’ve made. Make sure to mix it well, so there are no lumps before adding it to your filling.

Starch typically can’t withstand higher temperatures, so it is recommended that it is added to warm food. The starch will start to break down at higher temperatures, and your filling won’t be able to thicken. Potato starch, however, can withstand higher temperatures than cornstarch. So, if your filling is still hot and you can see that it isn’t thick enough, try using potato starch instead!

Tip #4: Reduce Your Filling By Letting It Simmer

If you don’t have any thickeners handy, another method is to take the lid off the pot and let it reduce. To reduce your filling to a thicker consistency, leave the lid off, bring it to a simmer, and stir often. Doing this will allow some of the excess moisture to evaporate. Stirring often is important if you don’t want your filling burning or sticking to the pot.

This method also works for a variety of soups and sauces, including marinara, salsa, baked beans, tomato soup, and gumbo.

Tip #5: Add Peanut Butter

This may not be the first thing that comes to your mind, but believe it or not, peanut butter can work to thicken sloppy joes! As peanut butter melts into your sauce, it will change the consistency and thicken it.

In order to thicken sloppy joes with peanut butter, add a few tablespoons and let it completely dissolve. Allow it to simmer for 10-15 minutes to ensure this happens.

Once done, you will love the consistency, and you won’t even be able to taste the peanut butter!

More Questions About Thickening Sloppy Joes

Can You Use Arrowroot To Thicken Sloppy Joes?

Yes. Arrowroot starch is a gluten-free alternative to cornstarch. Arrowroot leaves no taste after mixing it with your sloppy joe filling.

How Long Does Starch Take To Thicken?

Starch takes one to two minutes to thicken. To fully activate starch’s thickening effect, the filling needs to be brought to a boil. You’ll need to add your starch and then bring the heat to a boil while stirring in the mixture.

When your sloppy joe mix reaches a boil, you can simmer it for a minute or two until your filling has thickened. Remember not to leave it simmering for too long, as your filling will lose its moisture and can start to thin again.

Do You Mix Cornstarch With Hot Or Cold Water?

It would be best if you mixed cornstarch with cold water. Hot water will break down the starch molecules, and it won’t be able to thicken your filling. Rather, add starch to cold water and mix it well. Once the mixture is smooth, you can stir the filling while slowly adding it to the warm filling.

Is Starch Vegan?

Yes. Starch is a plant-based ingredient that is made from corn. Because there are no animal products or additives, and the only ingredient is starch made from corn, it is safe for vegans and vegetarians.


Sloppy joes are a delicious family meal for any night! However, if you find your sloppy joe mixture has gotten too runny, you may need to fix it. Using a starch you have on hand, or reducing the mixture, are both great options! I hope you found this article helpful. Good luck with your next sloppy joe meal!

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