The best Homemade Meat Sauce is hearty, thick and easy to make! It uses a combination of lean ground beef and turkey plus pantry staples. Then use with family favorites like Instant Pot lasagna and easy spaghetti recipe.
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I feel like I finally perfected juicy, meaty and flavorful homemade meat sauce that every cook should have in their back pocket.
Made from scratch meat sauce is easy for weeknight dinners and yet still a fancy Italian dish you could entertain with.
Skip the store bought jarred meat sauce and make this homemade pasta sauce. Then serve it over al dente pasta, spaghetti garnished with Parmesan cheese, or in zucchini lasagna, and wait for the rave reviews!
Ingredients You Will Need
This meat sauce is thick, chunky and flavorful, it’s perfect! Let’s break down the ingredients of what goes into the best meat sauce.
- Ground beef and turkey: When it comes to meat for tomato meat sauce, I like a combination of grass fed or organic ground beef and lean tender ground turkey. I feel 1.5 lbs is perfect amount, where as 1 lb of meat is not enough.
- Canned tomatoes: Low sodium diced tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato paste. You could use crusted tomatoes if that is what you have on hand. I use Costco brand. Each of them layers different texture on top of another texture making the best spaghetti meat sauce!
- Onion and garlic: These sauteed veggies are the first layer of flavor.
- Balsamic vinegar and rich olive oil: Both add richness and another layer of flavors.
- Maple syrup: A little natural sugar balances the acidity of the tomatoes.
- Seasonings: I add traditional dried herbs of oregano, basil, thyme and bay leaves plus salt and ground black pepper. You could use Italian seasoning mix instead.
- Cinnamon: And one secret punch of flavor I got from my neighbor is a pinch of cinnamon. You will not believe that extra touch of sweetness and warmth it adds to this quick meat sauce. Just trust me!
How to Make Homemade Meat Sauce
The key to this meat sauce recipe is letting it simmer for 45 minutes to develop the rich flavors and tenderize the meat.
Cook ground meat in a hot cast iron pot or large dutch oven over medium heat breaking and stirring with spatula constantly. Takes about 5 minutes.
Add onion, garlic and dried seasonings. Please note onion doesn’t need to brown but herbs benefit from high heat to release maximum flavors.
Add canned tomatoes and liquid seasonings. Stir, cover and cook on low-medium heat for about 30 minutes. Covering the pot prevents red splatters all over the stove.
To thicken meat sauce: Open the lid a little bit to the side and cook for 15 minutes. Moisture will evaporate making perfect hearty and thick meat sauce.
Mix it up and customize this meat sauce recipe to your tastes!
- Slow cooker: For an easy hands off recipe, brown your meat, garlic and onion then transfer to a slow cooker and simmer on low all day or high for a few hours.
- Homemade spaghetti sauce, no meat: For a vegetarian version, use your favorite plant based substitute, crumble tofu or tempeh, or use mushrooms for that ‘meaty’ texture.
- Green peppers: Ues your garden bounty and add these with the onion.
- Mushrooms: Adds some great texture, saute with onion.
- Additional spices: Red pepper flakes can add some additional heat and crushed fennel seeds another layer of flavor.
Plan on about 1 cup of sauce per person and then 1/2 – 1 cup of pasta. This recipe makes 8 servings of sauce, so for a family of four you will have leftovers for another night. Yeah!
This is great for meal prep as you can store it up to 5 days in the refrigerator or you can freeze it up to 3 months. That is why I love to double the recipe!
This balances the acidity of the tomatoes. I use natural sweeteners like honey or maple syrup when possible, but you could use what you have on hand including brown sugar.
Meat sauce usually will be more saucy than bolognese. Bolognese also has a base layer of flavor called a mirepoix (celery, carrots and onion).
Feel free to swap the beef for Italian sausage if you prefer. You may need to drain it depending on how ‘greasy’ it seems.
What to Serve with Meat Sauce?
When it comes to pasta for meat sauce, the default is spaghetti noodles. My personal preference in healthy pasta dishes is short pasta with holes or grooves to scoop up the sauce. Like penne, rigatoni, corkscrew or even macaroni. Serve with some easy sides for an entire Italian spread.
- Bread: A loaf of warm bread with garlic olive oil bread dip is restaurant quality deliciousness.
- Salad: Italian chopped salad or tomato mozzarella avocado salad are our go-to salads.
- Roasted vegetables: Roasted cauliflower with Parmesan cheese is a family favorite.
Tips for Making Ahead, Storing and Freezing
Store leftovers in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
Reheat meat sauce in a skillet or saucepan with a splash of water for another easy dinner. Simmer on low, half-covered with a lid to prevent splashing and stirring occasionally. Shouldn’t take more than 5-7 minutes.
Freeze: Meat sauce is perfect for freezing because it doesn’t contain cooked starches or watery vegetables that become soggy once thawed. So make sure you don’t mix it with cooked spaghetti.
Freeze up to 3 months in an airtight container. I prefer glass for health reasons and the environment as much as I can. But real life strikes, I get it.
I promise you can make the best homemade meat sauce yourself!
More Italian Recipes to Try
- Ground turkey and broccoli pasta
- Broccoli and penne pasta recipe
- Instant Pot lasagna
- Healthy pasta bake
- Instant Pot spaghetti
- One pot spaghetti
Homemade Meat Sauce
- 1.5 lbs mix of ground beef and turkey
- 1 large onion chopped
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 1 tbsp oregano dried
- 1 tbsp basil dried
- 1 tsp thyme dried
- 1/8 tsp cinnamon
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- Ground black pepper to taste
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 tbsp olive oil extra virgin
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 tbsp maple syrup or honey
- 28 oz can diced tomatoes low sodium
- 14 oz can tomato sauce low sodium
- 6 oz can tomato paste low sodium
- Parmesan cheese for garnish
- Whole grain pasta for serving
- Preheat large dutch oven or heavy bottom pot on high heat and add ground beef and turkey. Cook breaking into small pieces and stirring with spatula constantly, for about 5 minutes.
- Add onion, garlic, oregano, basil, thyme, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Cook for about 2 minutes , stirring a few times. Please note onion doesn’t need to brown but herbs benefit from high heat to release maximum flavors.
- Add olive oil, balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste and bay leaves. Stir, cover and cook on low-medium heat for about 30 minutes. Covering the pot prevents red splatters all over the stove.
- Open the lid a little bit to the side and cook for another 15 minutes. Moisture will evaporate making perfect hearty and thick meat sauce.
- Stir and serve hot over whole grain spaghetti or any tubular pasta, garnished with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
- Store: Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
- Freeze: Fully cook, cool completely and freeze in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight or on a stovetop covered on low.
- Ground meat: You can use all ground beef or all ground turkey if you wish.
- Pasta: Cook pasta in salted water to prevent sticking.