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Italian Meat Sauce has a mix of ground beef and sweet Italian sausage, plus onions, bell pepper, garlic and seasonings in a homemade tomato sauce. Serve this over your favorite pasta!
This easy, delicious Italian meat sauce takes just thirty minutes of hands-on prep to make, plus another hour+ of simmering away on the stove. (Your kitchen is going to smell AMAZING!)
Once it’s cooked, you’ll end up with a big pot of incredible meat sauce that can be served over pasta or added to a lasagna. We also like to keep some of this sauce in the freezer – in a plastic freezer bag or container – so at a moment’s notice we can thaw, then have a delicious meal on the table in no time.
What’s the difference between Italian Meat Sauce and Bolognese?
Both are a kind of ground meat ragù (which translates to meat sauce in Italian) made with ground beef and pork – but a Bolognese includes dairy, such as milk or cream (or both) along with the tomatoes in the sauce.
Both are simmered for hours until the meat and vegetables are super tender, but the Italian Meat Sauce has a bright and predominantly tomato flavor, while the dairy in the Bolognese yields a more mellow taste and a silky, creamy texture. (Check out our Bolognese recipe here.)
Why You’ll Love this Italian Meat Sauce
- The flavors are absolutely delicious and classically Italian!
- It takes just thirty minutes of hands-on preparation.
- You’ll have so many uses for this sauce – and it’s great to keep on hand for a quick weeknight dinner when schedules are busy or you don’t feel like cooking.
Key ingredients and Substitutions
- Ground Beef – Choose a lower-fat ground beef such as the 93/7 mix. You’ll include the juices released during the cooking process and this lower-fat ground beef will help prevent too much fat mingling with the delicious beefy flavors. If you use a higher fat ground beef, you’ll need to drain the excess fat – and you can end up draining off some of the flavors too.
- Sweet Italian Sausage – Look for packages of bulk Italian sausage. Or, buy the links and remove the sausage from the casings. If you want a spicier meat sauce, feel free to swap in hot Italian sausage instead.
- Vegetables –Use a combination of yellow onion, fresh garlic, and green bell pepper. This combination of aromatic vegetables is the foundation of many Italian sauces and other dishes.
- Seasonings – You’ll use a combination of herbs and spices to flavor the sauce including kosher salt, freshly cracked black pepper, fresh Italian parsley, dried oregano, basil, mint, and red pepper flakes.
- Tomatoes – Both canned tomato paste and crushed, kitchen-ready tomatoes are used in this sauce. Ideally, you want to use canned San Marzano tomatoes.
- Red Wine – For deglazing the pan (or use beef or chicken stock)
- Parmesan Cheese and Butter – To smooth out the finished sauce.
Special supplies needed
- Large Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot with a lid.
- Colander and large bowl, for draining the meat mixture.
How do I make Italian Meat Sauce?
- Sear meats in a Dutch oven, then pour into a colander with a bowl underneath to drain the cooking liquids.
- Cool the liquids to separate the fats from the juices as best as possible. (This separator works very well.) Discard the fat.
- Sauté peppers, onions and garlic in the pot along with tomato paste and red pepper flakes.
- Deglaze the pot with red wine.
- Add cooked beef, drained liquid without fat, canned tomatoes, half of the herbs, salt and pepper.
- Simmer partially covered for one hour. (Using a heat diffuser under your pot is a great idea – this will help prevent the bottom of the pan from scorching.)
- Add remaining herbs and fresh parsley and cook for 15 minutes longer.
- Stir in Parmesan and butter and serve immediately.
Chef’s Tip – After draining beef and skimming off fat, you should be left with two cups of liquid. This liquid is packed with flavor and will be added back in as the sauce cooks. The fat will be discarded. If the liquid is less than two cups, simply top off with water or beef stock.
Frequently asked Questions
Can I make Italian Meat Sauce ahead of time? Yes – in fact, this sauce tastes better the next day.
How do I store leftovers? Keep covered in the refrigerator for up to three days. Or place in a freezer-safe bag or container, then freeze for up to three months.
How do I reheat leftovers? Reheat in the microwave or in a pan on top of the stove.
Can I freeze? Yes, this sauce freezes very well. Place in a freezer bag and squeeze out as much excess air from the bag as you can before sealing. It’s helpful to lay the bag flat on a tray until fully frozen, then you can store in the freezer as usual. You can also use plastic freezer-safe lidded containers – just be sure to fill the container to the top to avoid freezer burn.
Can I make this sauce in the slow cooker? Technically yes, but – since a slow cooker is covered – the meat sauce won’t reduce and the flavors won’t intensify as they do when this sauce is simmered on the stove. (Plus the cooking time will be much longer in the slow cooker.)
You may like these other classic Italian Sauces
1/2 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil, divided
3 pounds lean ground beef (93/7 if possible)
2 pounds sweet Italian sausage removed from casings
2 cups yellow onion diced, about 2-3 small onions
2 cups green bell pepper diced, about one large bell pepper
2 tablespoons fresh garlic, minced
1 6–ounce can tomato paste
1 large pinch red pepper flakes
1/4 cup strong red wine such as Merlot
2 28–ounce cans crushed tomatoes
4 teaspoons fresh basil chopped or half that of dry, divided
2 teaspoons fresh mint chopped or half that of dry, divided
2 teaspoons dry oregano, divided
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped
1/2 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons butter
In a large Dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot, over medium high heat, add two tablespoons of the olive oil and once hot, add both the ground beef and Italian sausage meat.
Cook and stir breaking up the pieces until fully browned with no pink showing.
Place a colander over a large bowl and scoop the meat along with the liquid into the colander to drain. Do not discard the liquid.
While the meat drains, place the remaining olive oil into the same pot and once hot, add the onions and peppers and cook for three minutes, stirring often.
Add the garlic, tomato paste and red pepper flakes and cook and stir for two minutes.
Add the wine and stir to deglaze and evaporate the wine, about one minute.
Add the drained cooked beef back in along with the canned tomatoes, half the basil, half the mint, half the oregano and all of the salt and pepper.
Take the strained liquid and skim off and discard the fat that is floating on top. You should be left with two cups of liquid. If not quite two cups, top off with a little water.
Add this liquid to the pot and stir the contents and bring to a fast bubble.
Remove from the burner and place a heat diffuser over the burner then set the pot back on with a lid covered partially.
Bring the heat to a low to medium simmer and cook, stirring occasionally for one hour.
After one hour add the remaining basil, mint and oregano along with the fresh parsley and return to heat partially covered for 15 minutes.
Remove from heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese and butter and serve the finished meat sauce over your favorite pasta.
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If you like your meat sauce thick and chunky, there is nothing else you need to do once cooked. However, if you like it saucy, feel free to add additional tomato sauce to the finished meat sauce.