This easy homemade meat sauce is incredibly flavorful, yet surprisingly easy to prepare! It tastes just like an Italian meat sauce that you’d order with pasta at a restaurant. However, all of the ingredients are very basic. My version uses both ground beef and Italian sausage. The key to an amazing meat sauce recipe is to let it simmer on the stove top for at least an hour, allowing the flavors to truly mingle.
Just recently, I was having a conversation with a friend about Italian restaurants in DC. I don’t actually like most of them, even the ones that are considered “the best of the best.”
I tend to think of these places as simply the most expensive of the expensive. Also, there are usually too many flavors jumbled together.
Perhaps I feel this way because when it comes to Italian food, I love the basics. Give me bolognese, lasagna, linguine with clam sauce, pizza, a solid caesar salad, and killer garlic bread. Sorry connoisseurs, that’s what excites me.
Now, I’m not saying that this recipe is going to instantly read as “authentic Italian meat sauce.” No, I can’t claim that for one second. The dried herbs and brown sugar seem like ingredients that might cause someone’s Italian grandmother to yell at me.
However, I can tell you one thing for certain: this meat sauce recipe is addictive. It’s rich, bursting with flavor, and surprisingly easy to make. You want to let it simmer for at least an hour, but that’s inactive time.
How to Make Meat Sauce
Here are my top tips for making homemade meat sauce:
- Use good quality Italian sausage. If your grocery store has a meat counter, see if they sell sausage prepared in-house, as opposed to purchasing a national brand. It can make a big difference in the flavor! Avoid using low fat chicken sausages; go for pork or beef.
- After browning the meat, drain the fat thoroughly. There will be plenty of flavor from the fat infused into the meat itself, and the sauce will also have fat from olive oil. I place a round colander over a large bowl to drain the fat while I cook the vegetables. Don’t let the fat run down your drain! It will clog your pipes.
- I personally prefer using spicy Italian sausage over mild. The spice level typically isn’t too intense, but it adds an extra something special.
- Any brand of canned tomatoes will work, but I’m especially partial to San Marzano canned tomatoes, if you can find them.
Looking For More Sauce Recipes?
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 1 1/2 pounds mild or Spicy Italian sausage, casing removed
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, diced (approximately 2 cups)
- 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- 1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
- 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper, or to taste
- Optional: 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
Place a large Dutch oven or heavy bottom saucepan over medium-low heat. Render some fat from the ground beef and sausage, allowing a thin layer to form on the bottom of the pan while using a spatula to break the meat into small pieces, 1-2 minutes. Turn the heat up to medium and brown the meat until it’s no longer pink, 3-5 minutes. Drain through a colander and discard the fat. Set the meat aside.
Wipe down the pot briefly to remove any excess fat, but don’t clean it. Heat the olive oil over medium heat, then add the onion along with a pinch of salt. Cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring, until soft. Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute while stirring.
Return the meat to the pan. Add the tomato paste, crushed and diced tomatoes, basil, oregano, and brown sugar, stirring to combine. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low and cover, leaving the lid slightly ajar to let steam escape. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 60-90 minutes (longer will give the flavors more time to mingle, but 60 minutes will do the trick).
- Stir in the salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes if using. Taste and adjust seasonings if desired.
Serve over freshly cooked pasta (I like topping with some sliced basil and freshly grated parmesan).
- Sauce will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
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About the Author
Jennifer graduated from the Culinary Arts program at L’Academie de Cuisine in Maryland, and has worked professionally as a line cook, pastry chef, and cooking instructor. Her cookbook, The Gourmet Kitchen, was published in 2016 by Simon & Schuster.