If I say “ragù,” and you think “jar,” then I beg of you – read up on Easy Italian Meat Sauce before you “jump to recipe.” We reveal all the secrets behind this robust pasta sauce with meat and fire-roasted tomatoes, so you can make authentic, rich gravy at home instead of hitting up your local trattoria. (’cause they’re definitely not sharing their sauce recipe!).
If there is anything I want you to walk away from Our Salty Kitchen with, it’s an arsenal. From veggie sides to one pot wonders to crafty cocktails, I want you to be prepared for any meal at any moment.
While this meaty gravy may not be as “special” as my Sunday Sauce, it’s just as vital to maintaining a healthy trove of tomato sauce recipes. (Which I conveniently provide for you at the bottom of this post.)
You may ask, “Danielle, isn’t this all just variations on the same sauce?” To which I’d reply, “Yeah. The variations are the point.” And I don’t mean this to sound snobby at all, but if you don’t yet appreciate the differences between red sauce made with fresh tomatos vs canned tomatoes, or spaghetti sauce made with meat or meat-on-the-bone, then you’re missing out.
You wouldn’t question the nuances between different types of curries, so while tomato sauce may seem pedestrian, there are many different preparations and variations within those preparations – all of which are worthy of a place at your dinner table. (If they weren’t, there wouldn’t be a whole aisle dedicated to this stuff at the grocery store.)
This particular meat sauce recipe is basically a marriage of my Sunday Sauce and Marinara sauce recipes. And it’s important to understand what sets this combination-variation apart, and why you’re never gonna get ragù like this in a jar.
For a more concise post, click to view the web story for this red sauce recipe!
What Makes This Meat Sauce SO Good
You have a lot of flexibility with this meat sauce recipe, but the key is to use at least 2 types of meat. We prefer ground beef and Italian sausage since both are friendly and forgiving.
The beef can be lean, or not. You could also opt for bison, or half beef and half turkey or ground pork.
Use either sweet (mild) or spicy Italian sausage, or a combination of both. You can use turkey sausage but I wouldn’t go 100% turkey to preserve best flavor in your meaty pasta sauce. If you do use turkey sausage to make this sauce leaner, opt for ground meat with more fat.
The quality of the tomatoes matters nowhere more than in tomato sauce. We exclusively use Muir Glen canned tomatoes for all of the recipes on this site. Their fire-roasted tomatoes yield the absolute best flavor in (relatively) quick-cooking recipes.
Swirl a bit of water (about 2 tbsp) in the cans to release any clinging tomatoes or sauce.
Crushed tomatoes keep the sauce relatively smooth, while diced tomatoes will yield a chunkier sauce. Whole canned tomatoes can be used, but they won’t break down in 30 minutes – you’ll have to check the sauce periodically and use the back of a wood spoon to crush them as the sauce simmers. Be gentle – they’ll burst when they’re ready!
I also use a full can of tomato paste to punch up the flavor and thicken the meat sauce.
The Acidity (or lack thereof)
First, if you’re using canned fire roasted tomatoes, you’re already well on your way to creating a less acidic sauce. These tomatoes are sweeter than regular canned tomatoes.
There are 2 additional ways to dilute or mask the acidity in tomatoes: sugar, or baking soda.
If using sugar, we like brown sugar over white sugar (it has a more complex flavor). Start with 1 tablespoon and add it along with the dried herbs and seasonings. This sauce can “handle” up to 3 tablespoons, but I find that way too sweet.
Or add ½ tsp baking soda along with the herbs. Baking soda’s alkaline pH works the same way to neutralize the acid in spaghetti meat sauce that it does in your stomach. (Alka seltzer, anyone?) Note you will use significantly less soda than sugar and it won’t impact the flavor (although it will fizz a bit when it hits the tomatoes).
This Italian meat sauce is really forgiving. You’ll want to simmer it at least 30 minutes, or until the sauce is substantially thickened (see the photos below in the “how to make” section). Even after 30 minutes, this yields a quick meat sauce that is still robust and complex.
For an even richer tomato sauce, simmer up to 90 minutes, or prepare in a crockpot and let it slow cook all day (See notes below.) If cooking for longer than 30 minutes on the stovetop, cover the sauce after 30 minutes – by then, enough water content will have evaporated to thicken the pasta sauce and any further evaporation will cause it to become way too thick and muddy.
How to Make Homemade Meat Sauce
Perfect your pasta with Homemade Italian Meat Sauce. This hearty tomato sauce with sausage and ground beef is specially seasoned and slow simmered for authentic taste with less acid. Makes enough for a small crowd in as little as 30 minutes, but freezes beautifully for future meals.
- MEAT & ONIONS. Combine ground beef, sausage, and onion in a dutch oven or large soup pot. Cook over medium high heat until the meat is no longer pink and the onion is translucent. Add the garlic towards the end and cook 1 minute more.
- TOMATO PASTE & TOMATOES. Stir tomato paste into the meat mixture. Cook 2-3 minutes, until it’s completely worked in and no visible chunks remain. Add the canned tomatoes and stir.
- ADJUST FOR ACIDITY (optional). If you’re sensitive to acid, add ½ tsp baking soda or up to 2 tablespoons brown sugar.
- SEASON. Season with italian seasoning, crushed red pepper, salt and pepper. Give everything a good stir.
- SIMMER. Bring the sauce to a simmer and adjust the heat to maintain a slow, consistent simmer. Cook at least 30 minutes and up to 90 minutes, stirring occasionally, as sauce thickens.
- SERVE. Stir in fresh basil and serve over pasta.
- Stir, stir, stir. Red sauces can easily scald. Stir the sauce while simmering every 20 minutes or so to prevent scalding.
- Layer those herbs. Add dried herbs prior to simmering, and fresh herbs just before serving. The combination of both contributes both complexity and brightness to the cooked sauce.
- Tomatoes need a lot of salt – my personal rule of thumb is 1 tablespoon kosher salt per 28-ounce can of tomatoes.
- Spice it up! Use spicy Italian sausage and add crushed red pepper flakes.
- Pasta water. Use that liquid gold! Stir in ¼ to ½ cup pasta water to the sauce after simmering to give it more body, or to thin the sauce if it’s too thick.
The Best Pasta for Meat Sauce
I know that spaghetti and meat sauce is a classic, but hear me out – I firmly believe that short, ridged pasta makes the best base for thicker sauces. The ridges in rigatoni, penne, etc. provide the friction the sauce needs to properly cling to the macaroni.
But wait! There’s more… this robust Italian meat sauce is also perfect for homemade lasagna! No separate meaty layer required – unless, of course, you want more meat. And if you made the sauce, you might as well make the ricotta too!
And Don’t Forget to Garnish!
- Ricotta Cheese
- Grated or finely shaved parmesan cheese
- Fresh basil and/or parsley
- Ground pepper
Slow Cooker Meat Sauce
Prepare as directed through step 5. Transfer to the slow cooker and cook up to 8 hours on low.
Storing and Reheating
Fridge: store pasta meat sauce in the fridge for up to 4 days in a tightly sealed container. Reheat on the stove over medium heat until warmed through and starting to simmer around the edges. Stir occasionally.
Freezer: this is an excellent freezer stash. Store in a tightly sealed container in the freezer for up to 6 months. Defrost in the fridge overnight, then reheat as directed above. I like to store 4-cup portions of this sauce in gallon sized freezer bags – I freeze them flat, then transfer to our chest fridge for more compact storage.
Our Best Tomato Sauce Recipes
- Sunday Sauce with Homemade Meatballs
- Whole30 Marinara Sauce
- Fresh Tomato Sauce
- Vegan Mushroom Bolognese
- Tomato Cream Sauce
- Crockpot Bolognese
Did you make my homemade italian meat sauce? I’d love to know how it turned out! Leave a comment and a rating below.
Italian Meat Sauce RecipePrint Recipe Rate this Recipe Pin Recipe
- 1 lb ground beef, or bison
- 1 lb italian sausage, mild or spicy
- 1 medium yellow or sweet onion, diced to ½″
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 6-oz can tomato paste
- 2 28-oz cans crushed tomatoes, fire roasted if available
- 2 tsp italian seasoning
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp ground pepper
- pinch red pepper flakes, optional
- ½ tsp baking soda, optional
- 2 tbsp light brown sugar, optional
- 1 tbsp fresh chopped basil
- Heat a 6-quart dutch oven or other heavy bottomed pot over medium high heat. Add the ground beef, italian sausage, and onion. Cook until the meat is no longer pink and the onion is translucent, breaking up the meat with a wood spoon as it cooks.
- Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute more.
- Add the tomato paste to the pot and stir into the meat mixture. Cook 2-3 minutes, or until the flavor deepens slightly and the tomato paste is completely worked in and no visible chunks remain.
- Add the canned tomatoes to the pot. Pour 2 tablespoons water into each can, swirl to release any clinging tomatoes, then pour the mixture into the pot.
- Add the italian seasoning, salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper, if using. Optional – if you’re sensitive to acid, add ½ tsp baking soda or up to 2 tablespoons brown sugar. Stir to combine all ingredients.
- Increase the heat to bring the sauce to barely boiling, then adjust the heat to maintain a low, steady simmer (look for bubbles in the sauce that pop once every few seconds). Simmer at least 30 minutes and up to 90 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent scalding. The sauce should thicken considerably.
- Stir in the fresh basil and serve over your favorite pasta. This sauce serves at least 8; freeze half for later use, or store in the fridge for another purpose (it makes an excellent base for lasagna!).