A simple tomato or marinara sauce is a staple in many Italian recipes, but sometimes you want something a little more robust. The best Italian Meat Sauce recipe starts with a mix of ground beef and Italian sausage and just gets better from there. This spaghetti meat sauce is rich, flavorful and the perfect combination of ground meat, aromatics and tangy,sweet tomatoes.
Pasta is my go-to for quick and simple weeknight meals. Topped with homemade meat sauce, it becomes a hearty meal that's not only delicious but filling and satisfying. This homemade pasta sauce is similar to a traditional Bolognese sauce but a more easy recipe that cooks quicker.
My Italian meat sauce recipe is flavorful, thick and robust. It's perfect for topping any kind of perfectly cooked pasta or spaghetti squash. You can even layer it in lasagna or other casseroles.
Best of all, it's easy to make! I always double this great recipe and freeze the extras to have on hand on those nights when I need a comfort food meal in a hurry.
- Italian Sausage – use bulk ground sausage or links with the casings removed. You can use sweet, mild or spicy Italian sausage.
- Ground Beef – Use 85% lean ground beef for the best flavor.
- Olive Oil – Select any light, neutral flavored oil. You don't need your fancy extra virgin olive oil here.
- Aromatics - Chopped onion and fresh, minced fresh garlic add flavor and aroma.
- Canned Tomatoes – Crushed tomatoes are preferred over tomato sauce for flavor and texture.
- Herbs – Dried Italian seasoning has a nice flavor, but I like to enhance it by adding a bit more dried basil.
- Tomato Paste – Look for tomato paste in a tube. You can also freeze leftover, unused tomato paste from a can.
- Salt and Pepper – Season to taste with kosher salt or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
See recipe card for quantities.
How to Make Italian Meat Sauce
Saute sausage and ground beef on medium-high heat until no longer pink, breaking up with a wooden spoon. Drain the extra grease.
Add the olive oil and aromatics and cook until softened. Stir in the crushed tomatoes and bring to a simmer on medium heat.
Reduce the heat and add Italian seasoning, dried basil and tomato paste. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper then cook longer uncovered until sauce is to desired thickness.
Stir in some fresh herbs if desired and serve with pasta.
Hint: Use a fine mesh sieve or colander to drain the excess grease from the meat. Reserve it in a bowl and discard with your trash rather than running it down the drain.
- Add Wine - A glug or two of white wine or red wine added just before you add the tomatoes gives a full, rich flavor.
- Swap The Meat - I love the combination of beef and sausage in this sauce, but you can stick with all sausage or all beef if you prefer. You can also substitute ground chicken, ground turkey and ground pork or venison.
- Make it Spicy- Add some red pepper flakes for a more spicy meat sauce.
- Vegetarian - If you want a similar texture that beef and sausage give this sauce but prefer something plant based, saute chopped mushrooms to use as the base of the sauce.
When it comes to cooking a batch of this Italian meat sauce recipe, I prefer to use a nice big pot with a lid. An enameled cast iron pot or large Dutch oven is ideal, but any large pot will do, especially one with a heavy bottom that heat evenly. This will prevent burning from hot spots, and the lid helps to control splatter as the sauce simmers.
Storing and Freezing Pasta Meat Sauce
This spaghetti meat sauce stores in the fridge for up to 4 days in an airtight container.
It's also great to freeze and make ahead of time because it lasts up to 6 months in the freezer. I always make a double batch of this delicious Italian meat sauce. Freeze it in pint or quart containers or zip top freezer bags. I like to portion them out into 2 ½ cups per container as that is close to the equivalent to one jar of pasta sauce.
Best Cooking Tips
- Don't drain the grease down your drain. Reserve it in a bowl and discard it with the trash.
- San Marzano tomatoes from Italy are a bit more expensive but have a robust flavor.
- You can use a blender or immersion blender to crush whole tomatoes.
- For a thinner sauce, add additional sauce or a bit of chicken stock.
- For a thicker sauce, simmer a little longer.
- Prepare the sauce a day ahead and reheat for serving and the flavors will have come together beautifully.
- Add more flavor by stirring in fresh herbs just before serving.
The beauty of meat sauce is that is adds substance to thinner pasta like spaghetti but holds up well with chunky pasta and pasta shapes. Pour it over a bowl of tagliatelle, and I am in heaven.
Yes. To prepare this in a slow cooker, you will need to brown the meat and cook the onions and garlic separately. Add them to the slow cooker, then add the remaining ingredients. Cover and cook on HIGH for 2 to 3 hours or on LOW for 4 to 6 hours.
This meat sauce is hearty and flavorful. It pairs well with different types of pasta and can be layered in casseroles. I really like it over tortellini for a hearty dinner and I always serve it with Parmesan cheese. For a low carb meal, serve over zoodles (zucchini noodles) or spaghetti squash. Add a salad or some steamed vegetables to make it a full meal.
These are my favorite side dishes to serve with pasta and the Best Italian Meat Sauce:
- Farmers Market Tomato Salad
- Avocado, Tomato and Arugula Salad with Cilantro Vinaigrette
- Air Fryer Broccoli
If you like this Pasta Meat Sauce recipe, please leave a 5-star rating.
Best Italian Meat Sauce
- 12 ounces Italian sausage (bulk or casings removed)
- 16 ounces ground beef (85% lean)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ cup chopped onion
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cans (28 ounces each) crushed tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
- 1 tablespoon dried basil
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Saute sausage and ground beef on medium high heat in a large pot or dutch oven until no longer pink. Remove or drain the extra grease.
- Add the olive oil, onion and garlic and cook for a few minutes until softened. Pour in the crushed tomatoes and stir well. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to medium- low. Add Italian seasoning, dried basil and tomato paste. Mix well.
- Cover the pot and simmer for 20 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Cook for another 15 minutes uncovered or until sauce is to desired thickness.
- Stir in some fresh herbs if desired and serve with pasta.
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This meat sauce looks so good! I can't wait to make this for a weeknight dinner!
My kids love meat sauce, they ask for it once a week! Looking forward to trying this recipe and satisfying their craving!
My husband is Italian and he makes something incredibly similar. Calls it the quick sauce. There is a Sunday version that takes all day, but this is what we usually eat on pasta night!
I love a good hearty sauce on pasta, especially if I use zoodles. It makes all the difference! This one is definitely worth trying!
I really enjoyed this with the two different meats. The sausage really does make all the difference, and the sauce was so thick and hearty.
This is so hearty and delicious! Classic Italian Sunday sauce that'll stick to your ribs.
Love the recipe but instead of ground beef try ground pork. We accidentally bought ground port instead of ground beef and decided to try it anyways. It was AMAZING. The ground pork adds a bit of sweetness to the sauce and enhances it's overall flavor. I bet if you try it you won't go back to the ground beef again.
I have used ground pork before and it makes a great sauce too. But since this has sausage in it already, I decided to go with beef.