Lentil Sloppy Joes

A naturally sweet, smoky, and spicy tomato sauce is the star of this easy lentil sloppy joes recipe. They’re made with a delicious sauce and tender, cooked lentils. Add your favorite toppings for another delicious vegan sandwich recipe!

Two buns sit on plates. There is a lentil sloppy Joe mixture in the buns. There are potato chips next to the front plate and a bowl with more lentil mixture by the back plate.

I have been a fan of Sloppy Joes for a long time. They’re a bit messy, but that’s about the only negative I can find for this tasty recipe. However, the question came to me, could I make Sloppy Joes vegan?

Of course, the sauce is naturally vegan, but what about the filling? I tried a variety of ingredients and landed on using lentils. The result? These vegetarian Sloppy Joes are so tasty, even my non-vegan friends love them!

Why This Recipe is a Winner

  • Using brown lentils makes the best texture for this recipe
  • Adding both diced tomatoes and tomato paste creates the perfect flavor and makes the sauce nice and thick
  • The perfect seasonings, including chili powder, will make this a favorite go-to recipe for years to come!

What You Need

You can find the full printable recipe, including ingredient quantities, below. But first, here are some explanations of ingredients and steps to help you make this recipe perfect every time.

Here are the ingredients you’ll need for this recipe:

  • Lentils — You’ll need some uncooked lentils (brown works best).
  • Bay leaf — Cooking lentils with a bay leaf infuses a subtle, savory flavor.
  • Carrots — We’ll add a few chopped carrots for texture.
  • Vegetable Oil — Any neutral oil, like olive oil, will work here.
  • Onion — I prefer using yellow onion because of its mild flavor and color. You can substitute white or even red onions.
  • Bell pepper —  Colorful bell peppers are best here, like red, orange, or yellow. Their mild flavor works best, however, green peppers are fine, too.
  • Garlic — A few chopped cloves of garlic adds a lot. You can substitute some tender garlic confit or in a pinch a teaspoon of dried garlic powder.
  • Tomatoes — You’ll need a 15-ounce can of diced tomatoes.
  • Tomato paste — We’ll be adding tomato paste to create a thicker sauce.
  • Seasonings — You’ll need chili powder, dried oregano, dried basil, and paprika
  • No Beef Bouillon — I love the flavor provided by No Beef Better than Bouillon. If you can’t get your hands on that, substitute a tablespoon of soy sauce.
  • Smoke sauce — This is ingredient is optional, but if you like a smoky flavor, adding a bit of smoke sauce is great.

Ingredient Spotlight

A close-up shot of brown lentils in a glass bowl.

What Lentils are Best for Sloppy Joes?

Brown lentils are the best all-around lentils to use for sloppy joes. They cook easily (without needing to be soaked) and they’re nutritious (offering up to 24 grams of protein and fiber per half cup of cooked lentils). In addition, they have a firmer texture than red lentils which can easily get mushy. They’re also affordable and accessible. You can cook dried lentils or buy canned cooked lentils at health food stores.

How to Make Lentil Sloppy Joes

It’s easy to make vegan lentil Sloppy Joes. Here are the steps:

  1. Add olive oil to a saucepan over medium heat and cook until it’s shimmering. Add the chopped onions, bell peppers, and carrots. Cook 3 to 5 minutes, until tender. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds to a minute.
  2. Stir in the lentils and then add the broth. Turn the heat up and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover with a tilted lid, and cook for 25 minutes.
  3. Stir in the remaining ingredients and simmer for another 10 minutes, until the sauce is thick.
  4. To serve, add lentil sloppy joe mixture to toasted buns with cooked confit onions, BBQ sauce, or your favorite toppings. 
  5. Keep any leftovers in a sealed container in the fridge. This will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days.

Here are more detailed step-by-step instructions.

Step One: Cook Lentils in Broth

  1. Add olive oil to a saucepan over medium heat and cook until it’s shimmering.
  2. Add the chopped onions, bell peppers, and carrots. Cook 3 to 5 minutes, until tender.
    Looking into a saucepan with chopped veggies, such as onions and red bell peppers, being cooked until tender.
  3. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds to a minute.
  4. Stir in the lentils and then add the broth.
  5. Turn the heat up and bring the mixture to a boil.
  6. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover with a tilted lid, and cook for 25 minutes.

Marly’s Tips

Making lentil sloppy joes with canned lentils? Simply leave out the broth and add the canned lentils to the pot with the tender veggies. Then proceed with the rest of this recipe.

Step Two: Add Tomato Sauce and Seasonings

  1. Stir in the remaining ingredients.
    Looking down on a saucepan full of lentils and veggies in a tomato sauce. A green spatula is in the pot for stirring.
  2. Simmer for another 10 minutes, until the sauce is thick.

Storage Tips

Keep any leftovers in a sealed container in the fridge. This will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days. It can be frozen in freezer-safe containers for up to 2 months.

Vegan Sloppy Joes

Do you prefer vegan sloppy joes without lentils? There are a variety of ingredients you can use to make them, I just happened to use lentils for this recipe. Here are some alternative ingredients you can combine with this sauce:

  • Veggie Crumbles. There are a variety of different store-bought veggie crumbles that could be added to this sauce to make a tasty vegan sloppy joe recipe with a meat-like texture
  • Tofu. Cook up some tofu using my Tofu Scramble Recipe, and use a spatula to break it down into small pieces. Add that to this sauce instead of the lentils to make tofu sloppy joes.
  • TVP. Textured Vegetable Protein is available in health food stores and is relatively inexpensive. Cook it according to the package directions and add it in place of the lentils to the sauce to make TVP sloppy joes.
  • Tempeh. Finally, you can use tempeh to make sloppy joes. I would begin by steaming the tempeh first, for about 10 minutes. Then cook it in a skillet with a tablespoon of oil and use a spatula to break it down into small bits. Then add that to the sauce to make tempeh sloppy joes.

There are so many great options for meatless sloppy joes!

Frequently-Asked Questions

Is Manwich vegan?

Manwich is a sauce made of tomatoes and spices and is vegan. That means you can use Manwich sauce combined with your favorite vegetarian filler, like veggie crumbles, lentils, etc, to create vegan Manwich Sloppy Joes!

Can you freeze lentil sloppy joes?

You can freeze this vegan sloppy Joe mix in a freezer-safe container for up to 2 months. To serve, transfer the container to the fridge overnight to thaw and then heat it in the microwave or transfer it to a saucepan and cook it until heated through.

Looking down on a plate with a vegan sloppy Joe mixture on a bun, with the top bun to the side. There are potato chips on the plate, too. Next to the plate is a bowl with more of the vegan mixture with a spoon in in it.

Serving Suggestions

Serve this vegan Sloppy Joe mixture on toasted buns with any of the following as condiments:

You can also serve these tasty vegan side dishes along with your sandwiches:

Lentil Sloppy Joes Cost

The good news is there are lots of vegan dishes that are not only tasty but affordable, too. This one, veggie Sloppy Joes, happens to be one of my favorites. Here’s the breakdown of the cost:

  • Bag of dry lentils — $1.00
  • Olive oil — $.10
  • Tomato paste, Tomato Sauce & Ketchup — $.70
  • carrots — $1.00
  • Onion & Garlic — $.30
  • Red Bell Pepper & Carrots — $1.00
  • Spices & Brown Sugar — $.50
  • Broth — $.50
  • Package of buns — $1.50

So, there you go. It would cost you less than $7 to make this batch of Vegan Sloppy Joes, and that’s only if you don’t already have some of these ingredients on hand. And this is a batch that will make 8 to 12 Sloppy Joe Sandwiches (depending on how much mix you pile on each sandwich). That amounts to about $.88 per sandwich.

More Sandwiches

If you love this lentil sloppy joes, here’s even more great vegan sandwiches you’ll like:

Two buns sit on plates. There is a lentil sloppy Joe mixture in the buns. There are potato chips next to the front plate and a bowl with more lentil mixture by the back plate.

That’s it for these Lentil Sloppy Joes!

A bun holds lentil sloppy joes on a plate next to potato chips. There's another plate with the same sandwich in the background.

Lentil Sloppy Joes

Try these delicious Lentil Sloppy Joes on the next Meatless Monday or any day of the week for a satisfying, healthy meal.
5 from 2 votes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Servings: 16
Calories: 81kcal
Author: Namely Marly

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • ½ cup chopped carrots
  • 1 cup chopped bell pepper (green, yellow, or red)
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup brown lentils
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • ¼ cup ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon vegan Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon liquid smoke (optional)

Instructions

  • Add olive oil to a saucepan over medium heat and cook until it's shimmering. Add the chopped onions, bell peppers, and carrots. Cook 3 to 5 minutes, until tender. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds to a minute.
  • Stir in the lentils and then add the broth. Turn the heat up and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover with a tilted lid, and cook for 25 minutes.
  • Stir in the remaining ingredients and simmer for another 10 minutes, until the sauce is thick.
  • To serve, add lentil sloppy joe mixture to toasted buns with cooked confit onions, BBQ sauce, or your favorite toppings.
  • Keep any leftovers in a sealed container in the fridge. This will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days.

(The products above contain sponsored links to products we use and recommend)

Notes

You can substitute canned lentils by leaving out the broth. This means you can skip the boiling, as well. Simply cook all the ingredients together until the sauce has thickened.
 
Nutrition Facts
Lentil Sloppy Joes
Amount Per Serving
Calories 81 Calories from Fat 9
% Daily Value*
Fat 1g2%
Saturated Fat 1g5%
Sodium 308mg13%
Potassium 292mg8%
Carbohydrates 14g5%
Fiber 5g20%
Sugar 5g6%
Protein 4g8%
Vitamin A 1474IU29%
Vitamin C 16mg19%
Calcium 23mg2%
Iron 2mg11%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

The nutrition information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator and should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.

This post was originally published in 2012 and was updated to include new photos, new text, and an updated recipe in 2020.

32 Responses to Lentil Sloppy Joes

  1. Avatar thumbnail image for MarlyAggie Reply

    Im so happy you shared this recipe. Last weekend I made my husband his favorite dinner, sloppy joes (the meaty kind). Now I don’t normally eat a ton of meat, but it looked so good…I indulged. I was sick for 2 days 🙁 I am going to make these the next time I have a craving for it. I’m thinking they’ll freeze well too so I can have them handy when the rest of the fam wants sloppybjoes, I’ll have my own 🙂

    Looks so so delicious, especially with that pickle slice.

    Hope you are well!! And I feel like such a slacker right now watching the Olympics. Haha

  2. Avatar thumbnail image for MarlyRicha Reply

    woah.. these look fabulous!

  3. Avatar thumbnail image for MarlySunny Reply

    What’s the “Smoke Sauce” that you use?

    • Avatar thumbnail image for MarlyMarly

      Hi Sunny
      This is the liquid smoke sauce I use:

      It’s good stuff!
      Marly

  4. Avatar thumbnail image for MarlyMaggie Reply

    Hi Marly, I’m wanting to cook this for dinner tonight, but I’m confused at the end of your directions you say to “Add this to the Sloppy Joe mix, stir it in a bit, and you’re done!”. What is considered the Sloppy Joe mix at this point? It looks to me that everything has already been combined…? Am I missing something?

    • Avatar thumbnail image for MarlyMarly

      Hi Maggie. Thanks for your comment. I changed the directions to say “add this to the lentil mix…” Hopefully that clarifies any confusion. Hope you enjoy it as much as we have!

  5. Avatar thumbnail image for MarlyKathy Reply

    Wonderful!! Thank you so much for sharing this recipe.:)
    Is it 3 cups of cooked lentils or 3 cups dried lentils?

    • Avatar thumbnail image for MarlyMarly

      Hi Kathy
      It’s 3 cups of cooked lentils…which is so easy to do. I love lentils. Do they make bumper stickers that say that?
      Marly

  6. Avatar thumbnail image for MarlyHolly Reply

    Oh wow, I just made three cups of lentils, cooked – which made about eight cups of cooked lentils! :-O

  7. Avatar thumbnail image for MarlyJordan Reply

    Just made these tonight and they were excellent! I used fresh tomatoes instead of canned, which I didn’t have, and used a little more sauce than was called for. Delicious! Thank you for the healthful recipe 🙂

  8. Avatar thumbnail image for MarlyMichelle R. Reply

    I’m delighted to see that other people use phrases like “so all the ingredients get to know each other a little better” in their recipes! It makes it all seem a little more comfortable, like we’re sitting around each other’s kitchens, rather than making a vain attempt at securing a coveted space at the Cordon Bleu (which, by all means, if that’s your passion, go for it!).

    I just needed the basic idea of what goes into lentil sloppy joe’s, so finding this post at the top of Google’s hit list was perfect for me – Thanks a bunch!

  9. Avatar thumbnail image for MarlyChantel Reply

    Just a quick question-
    In the ingredients list it calls for tomato sauce. But in the directions it says add tomato paste. Is it sauce or paste that I should be using?

    • Avatar thumbnail image for MarlyMarly

      Hi Chantel
      Great catch! I changed the list of ingredients to call for tomato paste instead of tomato sauce. That paste keeps the sloppy joes on the thick side which is what we like. That said, I’m always finding myself out of this ingredient or that. If all you have on hand is sauce and you don’t want to run to the store, use the sauce and just cook the recipe a little longer or add a little cornmeal to help it thicken. I hope that helps!

  10. Avatar thumbnail image for MarlyMichelle Reply

    Yum! Btw: WHERE do you buy vegan hamburger buns for $1.50?! At my healthfood store, they cost $5.00 (or more). Still, this recipe is worth a try!

    • Avatar thumbnail image for MarlyMarly

      Hi Michelle! We buy a brand of buns that are sold at our local grocery store. It’s sort of like a store brand knock-off variety. But they taste fine and we checked the ingredients and they’re vegan! How lucky is that! I guess you could call me A Vegan On A Budget! Besides, I’d rather save our money for really good chocolate. I love this Lentil Sloppy Joe recipe because it makes a lot and serves lots of tasty leftovers!

  11. Avatar thumbnail image for MarlySarah Reply

    SO, I am trying to get my husband to eat healthier and kind of move away from beef. I told him today that I am making “sloppy joes” and whenever he looks at the computer, he thinks I am making a certain recipe from food network. I do not know if that is mean or not, but I know if he knew I was really making this recipe, he probably would not try it. He has not caught on yet and is awaiting lunch. This recipe looks amazing and I can not wait to try it in about 30 minutes!

    • Avatar thumbnail image for MarlySarah

      BY the way, my husband LOVED it! I was completely amazed and very happy 🙂

    • Avatar thumbnail image for MarlyMarly

      Awesome!!!

    • Avatar thumbnail image for MarlyMarly

      My hubby was a meat and potatoes kinda guy for most of his life. Not only that, but he has been (and continues to be at times) a picky eater. What vegan won’t eat mushrooms? Agghh! Anyway, this isn’t about me, right? Right! I do that kind of thing all the time, Sarah! People will ask me, “What’s in this?” and I will respond, “Don’t ask unless you really want to know!” 😉 Who would have thought that lentils could be the filling for Sloppy Joes but it works…and works quite well!

  12. Avatar thumbnail image for MarlyJolene Reply

    Just made this tonight! It was wonderful, thanks for the recipe.

  13. Avatar thumbnail image for MarlyHeidi Reply

    I just made these and they are SO good! I love recipes that don’t make me miss meat. Thanks so much for the awesome recipe.

  14. Avatar thumbnail image for MarlyWhitney Reply

    If you cannot find/afford the smoke sauce, can it be left out? Thanks!

    • Avatar thumbnail image for MarlyMarly

      Absolutely you can leave it out! In fact, you could replace that with a little bit of smoke-flavored BBQ sauce if you’d like. Let me know how it goes!

  15. Avatar thumbnail image for MarlyKathryn Reply

    Does it matter what kind of lentils you use – red or green??

    • Avatar thumbnail image for MarlyMarly

      I haven’t had any bad experiences with using different kinds of lentils. I am particularly fond of red lentils, but they all should work well!

  16. Avatar thumbnail image for MarlyRuthanne Reply

    I use cocoa powder and soy sauce in my vegan chili to create a smokey flavor, think that would work with this recipe (that has left me with a serious craving!!!)?

    • Avatar thumbnail image for MarlyMarly

      I love adding cocoa powder and soy sauce. What a great idea!

  17. Avatar thumbnail image for MarlyTimaree Reply

    This sounds good. I noticed the date is about 2 years ago. That’s how much lentils cost then. Now they are $1.49. I know that off the top of my head but not the other ingredients. Food keeps going up so finding a budget meal is great and I hope this tastes good. I make lentil tacos my son loves but they leave me wanting my beef ones. I hope this works out and then I can try them on my son.

    • Avatar thumbnail image for MarlyMarly

      Yes, the price of everything is always going up it seems, but at least lentils are not as bad as some. I can still find a bag of lentils for less than dollar…on sale!! Gotta love sale prices!

  18. Avatar thumbnail image for MarlyRobert Reply

    Just for future posts, it may be helpful to include the cooking directions for the lentils. Just saying it would be a time saver and people won’t have to “google it”.

  19. Avatar thumbnail image for MarlyYVETTE Reply

    For me, this had no flavor, and even after I put salt in, it just wasn’t good.

    • Avatar thumbnail image for MarlyMarly

      Hi Yvette. I’m sorry you didn’t like the flavor of this recipe. It may be an area where taste buds differ. I love the flavors in this recipe, but it may not be the right one for you.

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