I’ve been making this homemade spaghetti meat sauce for 40 years. No one will let me change a thing. It’s thick, rich and delicious. And freezes perfectly, making it an easy meal for a busy weeknight.
It’s hearty with a nice balance of meat and tomato sauce. Comfort food at its best. And definitely one of my Italian son-in-law’s favorite meals.
This meat sauce recipe was a regular in my home, then and now, and I and my whole family love it. I know I’m biased, but whenever I serve it to company, it gets rave reviews.
Just follow the recipe and I promise you’ll be successful. The reason I think this homemade pasta sauce works so well is because I use tomato sauce (instead of diced or crushed tomatoes) and tomato paste. These two things help create a thicker richer sauce in less time. No thin-tasting watery sauce here 🙂
I think it’s a great homemade spaghetti sauce recipe, not fancy, just easy, satisfying and really delicious.
Ingredients – tailored to your taste
Ground beef: If you like, you can combine the ground beef with some ground turkey or Italian sausage.
Vegetables: I keep the meat sauce easy and simple with just onions, but feel free to add chopped bell pepper, mushrooms, carrots and/or celery. The carrots and celery are typical in a bolognese sauce.
Seasoning: Vary the amount of Italian seasonings (oregano, chili powder, chili flakes, salt and pepper) to your liking. In fact you can use an Italian seasoning blend if you like instead. I suggest that you check the ingredients of the tomato sauce for added onions, garlic, basil, etc and adjust accordingly. You can also add a half cup red wine (or white wine) after sautéing the meat and onions.
- I prefer to use plain basic tomato sauce and add my own seasonings, but use what suits you or what you have on hand. Sometimes I use the White Linen Marinara sauce from Costco. A great basic tomato sauce.
- Or if you’re feeling energetic, try out our homemade San Marzano Tomato Sauce. Even better.
- If you don’t have tomato sauce, use tomato purée instead. Or use diced tomatoes as a substitute. Omit the water or use just half. Alternatively, cook the sauce for an extra 30-50 minutes.
Pasta: Instead of serving the sauce with spaghetti, use any of your favorite pasta noodles.
Step by step instructions
First, gather your ingredients: ground beef, onions, fresh garlic, tomato sauce, tomato paste, bay leaves, oregano, chili powder, salt, pepper, pinch of sugar. (yellow prepared mustard is optional).
I often add a dab of yellow mustard to the meat sauce. Anyone from Montreal out there who loved Piazza Tomasso’s spaghetti as a kid will recognize the taste. Optional and delish!
- If you are making a double batch (or even a single one) and too lazy to chop onions, use a food processor.
- Many recipes simmer the sauce for 2-3 hours. For this one, an hour is plenty to achieve a thick robust meat sauce.
- To cut the time in about half, make the meat sauce in an Instant Pot (instructions are in the recipe card below)
- This sauce will keep in the fridge for 5-6 days.
- Freeze it in a gallon freezer bag or any air-tight container in portions for up to 4 months. The sauce can also be frozen mixed with cooked spaghetti.
For many, the terms meat sauce and bolognese are interchangeable, but there are subtle differences. They are both meat based. Bolognese has less tomatoes and typically includes wine and milk (in authentic versions). Bolognese is most often served with a flatter wider pasta or in lasagna. Meat sauce is most often served over spaghetti.
Yes, you can make a vegetarian/vegan version . We have a wonderful vegan bolognese – a plant based version with Beyond Meat you can try. You will not be able to tell the difference between a traditional steaming bowl of pasta with meat sauce and our quicker vegetarian bolognese sauce made with plant-based meat in an Instant Pot (or stove top). Same taste, texture and deliciousness.
You certainly can add meatballs to the sauce. Instructions are in the recipe notes. Alternatively, make a batch of our Italian Meatballs. This will stretch the amount of people you can serve with this recipe. By the way, you will never find meatballs served with spaghetti and meat sauce in Italy. It’s an American invention 🙂
Other than with spaghetti, you can use the meat sauce to make lasagna, sloppy Joe’s, stuffed pasta shells and a meat version of our stove top tomato spinach pasta.
A typical portion of spaghetti is 2 ounces (56 g) per person. A common box of spaghetti in North America will hold 375 g or 10-12 ounces. This will serve 4-5 portions.
What to serve with spaghetti meat sauce
I stick to cliché. Caesar salad (or regular salad) with garlic bread on the side. And don’t forget to pass the freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
If you like this recipe, please leave a 5 star rating 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟in the recipe card below. And if you REALLY like it, consider a review in the comments. Thanks very much!
Homemade Spaghetti Meat Sauce (The Best)
- 2 teaspoon olive oil
- 1 pound ground beef I use lean
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped (4 teaspoons)
- 1 28-ounce can (835 ml) or jar of plain tomato sauce (regular or thick)
- 1 6-ounce can tomato paste (12 tbsp or 3/4 cup)
- 1/2 teaspoon prepared mustard (optional)
- 1 1/2 cups water
- Garnish: Fresh grated Parmesan cheese optional
- 1 1/2 tablespoon oregano
- 1 teaspoon chili powder (or 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes)
- 1 teaspoon sugar (or more to taste)
- 1 teaspoon each, salt and black pepper
- 3 bay leaves
- SAUTÉ GROUND BEEF AND ONIONS: Heat oil to medium-high heat in a medium-large pot and sauté onions for 3 minutes until translucent. Add ground beef and separate with a wooden spoon. Sauté meat for 3-4 minutes until all pink is gone. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute.
- SIMMER MEAT SAUCE: Add tomato sauce, tomato paste, mustard (if using) and all seasonings. Add 1 1/2 cups/355ml water. Stir to combine. Simmer over medium-low heat (about 3 out of 10) for 1 hour, partially covered, with the lid slightly ajar. As sauce cooks, stir half way through to make sure sauce is not burning on bottom of the pot. Taste and adjust seasonings. If sauce is too thick, add a splash of water.
- TO SERVE WITH SPAGHETTI: Cook spaghetti to al dente (or softer if preferred) in salted water according to package directions. A typical box of 375 g (10-12 oz) will serve 4-6 people. Drain. Place portions of spaghetti on plates or bowls and generously ladle on the sauce. Or toss spaghetti with meat sauce and serve in a large family-sized bowl. Pass freshly grated Parmesan cheese as a topping.
- Substitutes and variations:
- Ground beef: You can combine the ground beef with some ground turkey or Italian sausage.
- Vegetables: I keep the meat sauce easy and simple with just onions, but feel free to add a chopped bell pepper, mushrooms, carrots and/or celery.
- Seasoning: Vary the amount of Italian seasonings (oregano, chili powder, chili flakes, salt and pepper) to your liking. Or substitute an Italian seasoning blend if you like instead. You can also add a 1/2 cup/118ml red wine (or white wine) after sautéing the meat and onions.
- Tomato sauce: I prefer to use plain basic tomato sauce and add my own seasonings, but use what suits you or what you have on hand. White Linen Marinara sauce from Costco is a great option. Or if you’re feeling energetic, try out our homemade San Marzano Tomato Sauce. If you don’t have tomato sauce, use tomato purée instead. If you only have diced tomatoes, omit the water or use just half. Alternatively, cook the sauce for an extra 30-50 minutes.
- To add meatballs when making the sauce: Buy an extra half pound of ground beef and mix it with 1/2 an egg, 1/4 cup/27 grams bread crumbs, salt, pepper and a bit of onion powder. I form the mixture into little 1 1/2 inch meatballs and drop them into the simmering sauce. Then I stir and let them cook along with the sauce.
- How to make meat sauce in an instant pot: Sauté beef in oil until browned, then add chopped onion and sauté until translucent (another 3 minutes). Turn off. Add in the rest of the ingredients. Set Pressure to 15 minutes on high. When finished, do a quick release. If not thick enough, turn on sauté and cook it uncovered for 5-10 minutes.
- To Make Ahead or Freeze:
- This sauce will keep in the fridge for 5-6 days.
- Freeze it in a gallon freezer bag or any airtight container in portions for up to 4 months.
- The sauce can also be frozen mixed with cooked spaghetti.