As I write, a warm, 70-degree breeze is coming through my window, and but for the steady stream of falling leaves, you would never guess that this is October. Our schedules speak another story, however, as our lives have become filled with school, church and sporting activities.

Oftentimes these events are accompanied by a request for food, which means that the season for large-batch comfort food has arrived, and my grandmother's sloppy Joes are one of our go-to favorites.

Sloppy Joes are a loose meat sandwich made with ground beef and served in a bun, but these are about the only similarities in common with its more composed cousin, the hamburger. Depending on the recipe, a sloppy Joe can be sweet, savory, spicy or even (sadly) bland. They can appear in a range of colors, including bright orange, burnt sienna, ruby red, rich mahogany and dull brown. But no matter the flavor or color profile, a sloppy Joe should always be sloppy. My family's classic recipe still remains my favorite version.

These sloppy Joes (also called "beefburger barbecues" in our family) are wonderfully savory, with a zesty tang and just a hint of sweetness that comes from the addition of 1 tablespoon of sugar. My aunt Margie insists that the sugar is the key to this recipe, and after making it one time without it, I have to agree.

In addition to ground beef and sugar, other flavor-building ingredients include chopped onion, tomato sauce, ketchup, white vinegar and Worcestershire, or "W," sauce. A quarter-cup each of chopped green pepper and celery provides a welcome crunch and also adds a boost of color.

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There are some foods that should just be in your freezer, ready to go for an event or friend in need, and sloppy Joe mix is definitely on that list. After all, it's just as easy to brown 3 pounds of meat as it is 1, and if you're already cutting part of an onion and bell pepper, why not just keep dicing another minute to get it all done? For this recipe, I triple everything except for the tablespoon of sugar, which I only double.

Often when we volunteer to bring food to an event, we have the option of choosing between a main course, salad or dessert. I like to keep a batch of buttermilk brownies in our freezer for this purpose, as well as basil pesto, which I freeze in ice cube trays and use to make an easy pesto pasta salad whenever needed.

One of my favorite tricks for freezing soups and other liquid-based foods is to store them in a plastic freezer bag and put the bag into a medium-sized bowl, which I then place in my freezer. Once completely frozen, the bowl can be removed, and the bag is perfectly shaped to fit into a saucepan for easy thawing. To thaw, simply fill a saucepan with an inch or two of water, place the freezer bag in the pan over medium-low heat and simmer until fully thawed, about 15 minutes. Then, reheat the beef mixture in the same pan (after draining the water), or the microwave.

These sloppy Joes are easy to make and always a crowd pleaser, and we hope you'll enjoy them as much as we do. You can find the recipes mentioned here on our blog, along with a list of our favorite large-batch dishes and freezer tips.

Mathison Family Sloppy Joes (aka Beefburger Barbecues)

Makes: 6 to 8 sandwiches (can be easily doubled, tripled, etc.)


1 pound ground beef

½ cup yellow onions, small-diced

¼ cup green pepper, small-diced

¼ cup celery, small-diced

8-ounce can tomato sauce

¼ cup ketchup

1 tablespoon white vinegar

1 tablespoon white sugar

1½ teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper


In a medium or large frying pan, cook the ground beef with the onions over medium heat until the meat is browned and onions translucent. Drain any excess fat from the pan. Add the remaining ingredients, except the salt and pepper, and simmer over medium-low heat for 20 minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired.If mixture is too thick, add a bit of water; if too thin, keep cooking until desired consistency is achieved. Serve immediately in toasted buns or freeze for up to 3 months. Can be refrigerated for several days.

For large batches: If doubling the recipe, add 1½ tablespoons of sugar; if tripling, add 2 tablespoons.

To freeze: Cool beef mixture completely. Pour into a large plastic freezer bag, place bag in a medium bowl and freeze (once frozen, bowl can be removed). To thaw, simply place the bag in a large saucepan filled with 1 to 2 inches of water and heat over medium-low heat until thawed. Reheat mixture on the stovetop or in the microwave before serving.

"Home With the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 12-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at All previous recipes can be found at