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Sunday Gravy - Whether you call this gravy or sauce - this authentic Italian recipe is pure comfort food!

Say the words Sunday Gravy and just about everyone has an opinion! Should this amazing tomato and meat sauce be called “gravy” or “sauce”?

Either way, sugo della domenica or Sunday’s sauce – is a general term among Italians for a ‘special mama’s sauce’. Here in America, Sunday Gravy is most commonly associated with a tomato-based sauce that is cooked with a variety of meats including meatballs, pork chops, spare ribs and sausage.

Sunday gravy takes hours to cook to achieve the rich, deep flavor that inspires the love that so many people have for this dish – and the sauce is typically served over pasta with meat on the side.

Sunday Gravy - Whether you call this gravy or sauce - this authentic Italian recipe is pure comfort food!

My husband Jack grew up eating Sunday Gravy – and in his family, they actually did call it sauce and not gravy! 🙂 Every Sunday, the entire family would gather at his grandparents’ house for Sunday supper – and a delicious meal was enjoyed including this Sunday Gravy over pasta, Grandma Genacco’s Beef Braciole, and other Italian family classics.

So whether you call this gravy or sauce – this Sunday Gravy recipe is pure, delicious Italian comfort food for the soul. Mangia!

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Sunday Gravy - A Family Feast

Sunday Gravy

  • Prep Time: 15 mins
  • Cook Time: 2 hours 30 mins
  • Total Time: 2 hours 45 minutes
  • Yield: 10-12 servings


We recommend preparing this on Saturday – the day before your Sunday meal – so the flavors can meld. Also – prep time listed does not include time to prep meatballs.


  • ½ of this recipe for Italian-Style Meatballs, see here
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 pound beef shin steak, or other bone-in beef cut
  • 1 ½ pounds lean bone in pork chops
  • 1 ¼ pounds pork spareribs (56 ribs)
  • 1 pound Italian sweet sausage
  • 2 cups chopped onions
  • 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh mint, divided
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh basil, divided
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, divided
  • 2 6-ounce cans tomato paste
  • 2 28-ounce cans crushed good quality tomato such as Cento or Pastene
  • 5 cups of water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


  1. Make raw meatballs according to recipe (see here) and roll into 12 even balls. Do not fry ahead but set aside refrigerated.
  2. In a large heavy bottomed pot or Dutch oven, heat ¼ cup of the olive oil over medium to medium high heat and brown all meat in three batches (except meatballs). Each batch should take about 3-4 minutes on each side. Do not crowd pan. As each batch is browned on both sides, remove to a platter.
  3. Add the remaining olive oil to the pan drippings and add onions, garlic, half of mint, half of basil and half of the red pepper flakes. Cook about three minutes or until onions are transparent scraping up all brown bits from the bottom.
  4. Add tomato paste and stir to combine. Add canned tomatoes and the water. Add salt and pepper and stir. Stir in the other half of the mint, basil and pepper flakes and place the pot over a heat diffuser.
  5. Add the cooked meat back in along with any juices collected from the platter and stir into the sauce.
  6. Gently place the meatballs over the top, spooning a little gravy over them and gently push them into the gravy.
  7. Get the heat to a medium simmer, cover and cook for one hour, occasionally making sure nothing sticks to the bottom with a large wooden spoon.
  8. After an hour, spoon out the meatballs and cook the gravy for an additional hour uncovered.
  9. After the full two hours, collect the fat that pools at the top and discard. Or chill the mixture overnight (better the next day) and pick off the fat that congeals at the top. Just before the meat is fully cooked, add the meatballs back in. Easier to spoon the fat off the top before placing the meatballs back in.
  10. Serve over spaghetti with a nice crusty Italian bread and grated Parmesan Reggiano cheese.

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  • SAM wrote:

    I made your gravy today. It is wonderful.! Thank you for sharing. From my part of the country we call it sauce. But here is my deal after making this. When I make my recipe, I will call it sauce. When I make yours it will be called Sunday Gravy. That way when family comes they will know that the gravy has different meats. Mine just has ground round and Sweet Italian Sausage or meatballs. (Just two meats). I used ox tail, sausage, and Country Ribs for the gravy today.. This was awesome. Next time I will make it on Sunday! Lol. Thank you!!! By the way, that man was horrible acting, sending that message. It takes time to be nasty. It takes less energy to be nice! Ugly goes to the bone!!!

    • Martha wrote:

      So glad you enjoyed the gravy Sam!

      (We get all kinds of readers here…the majority are quite nice, even if they don’t like a recipe. Every once in a while we get a nasty comment, but always know that their tone says more about them and their own unhappiness than anything else.)

  • tony w Woltmann wrote:

    Good sauce, family liked it, but you can achieve the same effect with ground hamburger or even beef bone. I don’t see any reason to go nuts and put as much meat in this as it calls for.

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks for your feedback Tony.

  • Karen wrote:

    Can u freeze this after it’s made? Thx!

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Karen – Yes, you can freeze this sauce.

  • Jenn p wrote:

    Delicious everyone loved it! Was nervous to make it for first time for a big group, but it was amazing .

    • Martha wrote:

      So glad the recipe was a hit Jenn!

  • Randy J Rich wrote:

    Man, That was pretty rude Mr. John Scott. I come from a family of off the boat Italians. Came here and made the American Dream come true. High steel welders, even Shoe Makers. And you’re complaining that she used the word gravy. Well it is GRAVY !! You have a lot of nerve. Call it what you want n let others do the same.

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks Randy!

  • shannon wrote:

    Martha and Jack,
    I’m Irish and Polish and grew up in an Italian neighborhood in a Boston Suburb. I know exactly what you are talking about! My mother made Spaghetti and Meatballs weekly and calls it Spaghetti Sauce when just referring to a tomato sauce that may or may not have meatballs or sausages. And I, too, have never heard anyone insist or even refer to a type of tomato sauce as gravy, …but I do believe it and do not want to challenge that whatsoever! I love how food travels with us through time and collides with families, friend, and cultures as we do. But, within one region or one family living in the same house, there are countless names and pronunciations of dishes, and variations of our mothers’ mothers’ dishes according to preference, availability of ingredients, resources, and dietary considerations. I LOVE your response to one recent reviewer about that. I’m marrying into an Italian (American) family and am constantly challenged to defend my recipe titles, food choices, ingredients, recipe lineage, consistency of sauces, pronunciation of cheeses…meats…Omg it’s exhausting 🙂 and I just don’t really understand that hostility. (I say Keilbasa…my mother says Kibahsee….so what?) I refer to this type of sauce here as a “tomato sauce” since I prefer to use a different type of pasta than spaghetti. And I recently started calling it a “Sunday Sauce,” although I’ve never heard it referred ato as such until recently. I really like the images and smells and sounds and it evokes, so I say let’s make a “Sunday Sauce” when I want to bring back those memories. Thank you for this recipe! (my mother is out of town and doesn’t write anything down anyway!)

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks so much for your note Shannon – I think this happens in every family/culture, etc. My family is Polish and we have a “Kapusta” recipe here on our site from my grandmother whom we called “Babci” – you’ll see in the comments on that post that I’ve been corrected many times – that it should be “Babcia” and kapusta is really just the word for cabbage, and our recipe should be called Kapuniak. 🙂 We write about what we know and what we grew up with – never claiming to be the experts, just sharing our family recipes and experiences. We hope you enjoy the recipe and it’s half as delicious as your mother’s sauce!

  • Eric H. wrote:

    I made this last week exactly as written. It was insanely delicious! My partner, who comes from a traditional Italian family said it was the BEST he ever had!

    • Martha wrote:

      Wow Eric – that’s quite the compliment! So glad you both enjoyed the recipe.

  • Dave wrote:

    Thank you very much for your recipe. I made it yesterday and it was great. I appreciate your posting it.

    • Martha wrote:

      You’re very welcome Dave – we’re glad you enjoyed the recipe.

  • Dru wrote:

    I made this yesterday and it was DELISH. I used short ribs, country style pork ribs, and my own canned tomatoes. The rest of the recipe as is. I will make this again for sure. So good!

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks Dru – So glad the recipe was a hit!

  • John Scott wrote:

    No chef ever refers sauce as gravy. If you’re going to be a credible source, can you please used the right word! It’s SAUCE!
    Gravy is what on put on a roast, turkey and chicken!

    • Jack wrote:


      Funny thing is, I grew up calling it sauce. When I was younger, I was the director of food service in a large school system in a Boston suburb. The area is predominantly Italian including most of the school lunch ladies. I had an office in the school administration building but would tour each of the 12 schools daily. Most of the major food production was done at the high school with about 30 older Italian ladies. On my very first day there, we had a pasta dish on the menu with a meat filled tomato sauce and I made the mistake of calling it sauce. I was quickly corrected that if it had meat in it or if it was made from meat bones, it was a gravy and if there was no meat, it was a sauce. I didn’t argue with 30 ladies that all looked like my grandmother so I let it be. I worked in RI with a group of people that were mostly French Canadian and when I called it gravy, not one of them even knew what I was talking about.
      I think culinary terms are part cultural and part regional and in some cases, part language mash-ups. Look at the milk, ice cream and syrup drink. Is it a malted, a shake or a frappe? Is a roll a bulky or a hoagie roll? If it’s a long roll is it a sub or a grinder?
      Anyway, I know your comment was meant to get a rise out of me but it didn’t. We always take the high road here on a family feast.
      Good luck and happy cooking,

  • Theresa Shaver wrote:

    This is very similar to the way my italian family makes our sauce, a staple for holidays and weekends. I use pork hocks or “hockies” as my 90-year-old gram calls them. So I used pork hocks, pork ribs, sausage, chuck roast, and of course, your recipe for meatballs (almost identical to my moms). The only difference is I have not used mint (this is a first) and I have added red wine (not to yours, but when I have made my own). Also, my mom always fried the meatballs first. I did not fry them, I followed your advice. I do not like meatballs myself but my husband and son enjoyed them! Thank you, I will be making your traditional lasagna tomorrow using my Sunday sauce (your tip was the sauce is better the next day, so I also followed that). Thank you for your wonderful recipes! Happy Easter!

    • Martha wrote:

      You’re very welcome – Happy Easter to you too Theresa!

  • Angie wrote:

    This recipe looks great,I was wondering what do you do with the meat that you put in gravy? Do you strain out the meat or leave it in gravy?

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Angie – Most people eat the meat along with the sauce.

  • Frankie Wong wrote:

    Happy New Year! First off thanks for all of the wonderful recipes!
    Q: just wondering if this Sunday gravy/sauce is freeze-able? I have 4 kids and if it takes so much time to make it I’d like to make more and freeze for last minute lunch ideas and dinners (between school, soccer, ballet, golf lessons, etc. we are sometimes (aka. many times) don’t have much time for meal preparation or forget to take something out for lunch the next day. Much thanks!

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Frankie – Absolutely! We freeze our sauce all of the time in zipper seal freezer bags. We lay them flat on a baking sheet, and squeeze out as much air as possible. Once they are frozen you can stack them up in your freezer.

  • Heather Lampman wrote:

    PLEASE don’t use a diffuser if you have a flat top stove or cook top! It would scratch the heck out of it!

    • Martha wrote:

      Great point Heather – there are diffusers that are specially made for use with flat top stoves/cook tops so if you have one, definitely look for that type. Thanks!

  • Kathleen Bovio wrote:

    Hi, your recipes sound delicious, I can’t wait to make the Sunday Gravy with all the meat!! One question: I didn’t even know what a diffuser was, thanks for highlighting it. Can you use them on electric stoves? Unfortunately that’s what I have, I prefer gas through. Thankyou for sharing your recipes along with the lovely stories!

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Kathleen – Yes! Amazon sells diffusers for both gas and electric stoves. This is one that would work for either and it’s inexpensive: – hope you enjoy the recipe!

  • Michele wrote:

    I don’t send where you added the water. Maybe I missed it.

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Michele – See step 4 – it says “Add canned tomatoes and water”. Hope that helps!

  • Jessi wrote:

    This looks amazing!! Question, though…. do you ever cut the meat up or remove the same? Or do you serve whole pieces?

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Jessi – You could remove to bones to make it easier to eat, but the bones do add great flavor and traditionally the meat is cooked on the bone in a Sunday Gravy. Hope that helps!

  • Joe I Marsiglia wrote:

    My dad was born in Cefalu, Sicily and came to America in 1920 on a boat called the “SS Madona”. We were a family of 7 and had Sugo every Sunday. Your recipe is almost identical except we did not use mint AND we put 1/4 cup white sugar to offset the tomato acidity. It seems like a lot of sugar but it’s not sweet at all. We also put in all types of meat but my favorite was the Italian Sausage with fennel. I am now 60 years old and in perfect health because I have stuck with the Mediterranean diet. Thanks, you’re article brings back many good memories.

    • Martha wrote:

      Thank you Joe! What great memories! (The sausage is one of my favorites too!). Thank you for writing to us today.

  • Amanda @ The Kitcheneer wrote:

    I actually grew up making Sunday Gravy for my big Italian family! I guess I had a knack for it and they had me make it at every family gathering! So, you can say I am a bit of a fan 😉

  • Angie | Big Bear’s Wife wrote:

    mm haha I call it sauce but no matter what you call it, I want it!

    • Tony wrote:

      This is a back & forth Debate (Sauce or Gravy) all my life LOL. But a fact is when you add Meat to a Marinara Sauce it becomes a Gravy so behold thats why in Italy its called Gravy!!

      • Martha wrote:

        Thanks Tony!

  • [email protected] Mom wrote:

    I have to admit my Italian Dad who comes from Rome never called it gravy, it’s always been sauce but whatever it’s called this one looks and sounds amazing!

  • Colleen (Souffle Bombay) wrote:

    The title of your post made me smile and the rest…well I am seriously drooling…Good Lord do I want this pot full of deliciousness right now…on a Monday morning!

  • Cookin Canuck wrote:

    Now that is a proper Sunday gravy! I can picture a large family sitting around the table, digging into this hearty dish and chatting away about life. That’s definitely the way food is meant to be enjoyed!

  • Paula – bell’alimento wrote:

    You can’t beat a good Sunday sauce recipe.

  • Lana | Never Enough Thyme wrote:

    I’ve never made an authentic “Sunday gravy” and it’s high time I did! Going on my to make list for when I recover from spine surgery.

    • Martha wrote:

      Oh my goodness Lana! I hope your recovery is quick and speedy! I hope you enjoy the recipe!

  • Lauren Kelly Nutrition wrote:

    This looks like the ultimate comfort food!

  • Kirsten/ComfortablyDomestic wrote:

    Holy cow! I’m pretty sure that I could eat a pot of Sunday Gravy with a crusty loaf of bread. Pinned!

    • Martha wrote:

      LOL – me too Kirsten!

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