A homemade meat sauce recipe provides countless meal options when you’re craving Italian food. I use beef and pork to elevate a rich tomato-based sauce. Simmering different canned tomato products with protein intensifies the savory flavor in a short period of time.
My hearty meat sauce recipe is essentially a classic marinara sauce but on the next level. I always make a big batch to pair with pasta, vegetables or use in a baked casserole. The flavor becomes even more developed over time, so you can prepare it days ahead or freeze it for a tasty meal whenever the craving strikes.
The tomato sauce technique is straightforward: saute and simmer. The goal is to build layers of flavor with each ingredient. I brown the meat first and then add the other items. When fresh ripe tomatoes aren’t available, various canned products come in handy to instantly provide an intense fruit taste.
Difference between bolognese and meat sauce
Bolognese, also known as ragù bolognese, may contain milk or cream, the meat is either minced, ground, or chopped, and only a minimal amount of tomato is used for a stew-like consistency. Gelatin may be added to provide a velvety texture. White wine and tomatoes cut some of the richness. It’s often served with thicker noodles like tagliatelle and pappardelle or layered in between sheets of lasagna.
Meat sauce, or ragù alla napoletana, has a more pronounced tomato base and contains no dairy. It has chunky pieces of meat or is braised with large cuts, which are removed before serving. Red wine is typically swapped for white wine. More herbs are used, especially fresh basil. My version is similar to this style.
The secret to better flavor
Meat sauce can be kept as simple as ground beef (I prefer 85% ground round or 90% ground sirloin). However, I also add Italian sausage. The flavor from the pork, fat, and seasonings adds more depth and variety to the taste. The small chewy bites are a nice contrast. I use double the amount of beef-to-pork for a balance of textures.
Can other types of protein be used?
Yes! Ground turkey or chicken, as well as chicken sausage, are delicious options. Ground veal is also a traditional addition to pork and beef. You often see this combination in meatballs or meatloaf. It has a more delicate flavor and tender texture compared to ground beef. I recommend using equal parts when creating this meat trio.
Leveraging canned tomatoes
Canned tomatoes are typically processed at their peak ripeness which provides a powerful base. I use four types for a hearty consistency that clings to your food: paste, crushed, diced, and sauce. The paste provides a concentrated sweetness and thickness. Crushed and diced tomatoes add body and interesting, juicy bites. To thin the mixture without diluting the flavor, add tomato sauce or puree.
This vessel can do multiple methods
A dutch oven is the optimal large pot for making a sauce. It provides plenty of space and high sides to execute multiple cooking methods. You can sear the surface of the meat to develop aromas and flavors. And the capacity is perfect for adding in the other liquid products. Finally, everything simmers in one pot to marry all of the ingredients together.
Layering in these ingredients
Sauteeing aromatics like chopped onions, minced garlic, and dried Italian seasoning in the rendered fat and olive oil coaxes out the savory notes. Adding in dry red wine provides acidity and depth, which simmers until evaporated. For a spicier sauce, you can add in a small amount of red pepper flakes. Just a little has a big impact!
Briefly simmer the sauce
Simmering the sauce for several hours is not uncommon. Why is this? The steady cooking draws out the water and fat-soluble flavor compounds, making them more noticeable and infusing them together. Also, the natural acids in the tomatoes help tenderize the meat. Over time, the moisture evaporates, concentrating the flavors while creating a very thick and hearty consistency.
I find you can reduce the process to about 30 minutes. Since the meat is broken down into smaller pieces, it provides more surface area to extract flavor in less time. Although, I have noticed that the longer the sauce simmers, the more complex it becomes. I like to give it an hour or longer on those kicked-back weekends when time isn’t an issue. Adjust with a little water or beef stock to thin the consistency if it gets a bit too dry.
Ways to use the homemade meat sauce
- Make a cheesy manicotti
- It’s a with baked ziti
- Pour on top of any type of Italian pasta like rigatoni or pappardelle
- Top it on spaghetti squash
- Toss with zucchini noodles
Add wine or this other fermented product
Wine is my secret weapon. It adds bright acidic notes to complement the rich meats and provides some toasted oaky aromas. Cooking the wine until it evaporates prevents the sauce from tasting too boozy. A bottle of chianti, cabernet sauvignon, or merlot works well. But if you don’t have vino on hand, add 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. It’s a little sweeter, and the concentrated pungency provides a similar taste.
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Homemade Meat Sauce
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 pound ground beef, 85 to 90% lean
- ½ pound Italian sausage, casings removed
- ½ cup yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning, dried
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ cup red wine
- ¼ cup tomato paste
- 28 ounces crushed tomatoes
- 14.5 ounces diced tomatoes, do not drain
- 1 cup tomato sauce, or tomato puree
- Heat olive oil in a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat. Add ground beef and sausage. Immediately use a spoon to break the meat into smaller pieces. Cook and stir for about 5 to 6 minutes until browned and most of the moisture has evaporated.
- Add in onion, garlic, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper. Cook and stir for 3 minutes or until the onion is tender.
- Add the wine. Stir and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes or until the liquid evaporates.
- Add tomato paste. Cook for 1 minute.
- Add crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, and tomato sauce. Simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally for at least 30 minutes to an hour. The longer the sauce simmers, the more tender the meat will be and the more flavorful the sauce.
- Adjust the consistency with water or beef stock if needed. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Recipe Yield: 6 cups of sauce. Good for at least 1 pound of dried pasta (about 8 cups cooked pasta).
- Serving Size: 1 cup of sauce
- Storing and Reheating: The sauce can be refrigerated for up to 5 days. Cover and reheat individual servings on high power in the microwave until warmed through, about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.
- Freezing: Store in a resealable bag, and defrost in the refrigerator overnight or under cool running water until no longer solid. Reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop.
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