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 busy weeknights.
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.
I think it’s a great recipe, not fancy, just an easy homemade spaghetti sauce that I hope you’ll try and love.
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.
Tips for Success
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 tomatoes) and tomato paste. These two things help create a thicker richer sauce in less time. No thin-tasting watery sauce here.
One other tip. I often add a dab of yellow mustard. Anyone from Montreal out there who loved Piazza Tomasso’s spaghetti as a kid will recognize the taste. Optional and delish!
Is there a difference between meat sauce and bolognese?
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.
Can I make a vegetarian version?
Yes. We have a wonderful vegetarian 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.
Can I use a pressure cooker or instant pot for this recipe?
Absolutely. The instructions are in the recipe notes.
Should I add meatballs?
You certainly can. Instructions are in the recipe notes. Alternatively, make a batch of our All-Purpose 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 🙂
How else can I use this simple meat sauce recipe?
Other than over spaghetti, you can use it to make make lasagna, sloppy Joe’s, stuffed pasta shells and a meat version of our stove top tomato spinach pasta.
How much spaghetti do I need per serving?
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 should I serve with spaghetti and meat sauce?
I stick to cliche. Caesar salad (or regular salad) with garlic bread on the side. And don’t forget to pass the freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
Tailor To Your Taste
- Vegetables: I keep the meat sauce easy and simple with just onions, but feel free to add chopped peppers, mushrooms, carrots and/or celery. The carrots and celery are typical in a bolognese.
- 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.
- 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. 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.
- Instead of serving the sauce with spaghetti, use any of your favorite pasta noodles.
- 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 in recipe)
- This sauce will keep in the fridge for 5-6 days.
- Freeze it in freezer ziplocs in portions or in a freezer friendly container for up to 4 months. The sauce can also be frozen mixed with cooked spaghetti.
How to make homemade spaghetti meat sauce
Gather your ingredients: ground beef, onions, garlic, tomato sauce, tomato paste, bay leaves, oregano, chili powder, salt, pepper, pinch of sugar. (Yellow mustard is optional).
Homemade Spaghetti Meat Sauce (The Best)
- 2 teaspoon olive oil
- 1 pound ground beef I use lean
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 4 fresh garlic cloves, 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
- SAUTE 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 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.
This spaghetti meat sauce recipe, originally published in 2017 as been updated with new information, picture edits and instant pot instructions.