How to Make Rich and Flavorful Meat Sauce

Why choose this meat sauce? It’s not only lip-smacking delicious but also versatile and easy…And guess what? I’ve tirelessly refined this recipe numerous times to guarantee it’s the most outstanding option out there. 

A picture of meat sauce with ground beef and spaghetti

Meat Sauce is Not the Same As Bolognese

  • Meat – Bolognese traditionally uses a mix of ground beef and pork, while meat sauce can use any type of meat like beef, sausage, etc.

  • Ingredients – Bolognese contains carrots, celery and milk, giving it a hearty, complex flavor. Meat sauce has tomatoes as the main ingredient and vegetables just for aromatics.

  • Texture – Bolognese is a thick, creamy sauce emulsified by the milk proteins. Meat sauce is more of a chunky tomato-based sauce.

  • Flavor – Bolognese develops its flavor over hours of simmering, taking on a rich, deep taste. Meat sauce has a quicker cooking time and brighter tomato flavor.

  • Origin – Bolognese comes from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. Meat sauce has Italian-American roots.

  • Uses – Bolognese is traditionally used with wide, flat pasta like tagliatelle. Meat sauce is commonly paired with tube-shaped pasta like penne or rigatoni.

To sum it all up, Bolognese is a specific meat ragu from Italy that gets its silky texture from milk. Meat sauce is a quicker American-style tomato sauce bulked up with meat. Both versions make a delicious pasta sauce!

Why You Should Make this Meat Sauce 

Imagine a meat sauce that’s both rich and hearty, making every an absolute pleasure. Our secret? A mix of fresh and dry herbs and seasonings that dance harmoniously with crushed tomatoes, creating a symphony of taste. But here’s the real star: juicy ground beef, cooked to juicy perfection and seasoned just right.


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  1. First and foremost, it tastes absolutely amazing!!
  2. Flavorful blend of fresh basil, spices and herbs.
  3. Perfectly seasoned ground beef.
  4. Slow cooked for maximum taste.
  5. Thick and rich consistency.
  6. Quick and easy to make, perfect for busy weeknights.
  7. Can be paired with any type of pasta.
  8. Versatile and can be used as a base for other dishes.
  9. Large batch can be easily frozen for future meals.
  10. A healthier alternative to jarred spaghetti sauce.
  11. Budget Friendly
  12. Always a crowd-pleaser, perfect for feeding a large group of people.

With this meat sauce recipe, you’re in control. It’s easy to customize to fit into your meal plans. It’s budget-friendly, too, so you’re treating your taste buds without breaking the bank.

The Key Ingredients to Meat Sauce 

Here’s what you’ll need to make it: 

  • Olive oil
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • Minced fresh garlic
  • Yellow onion
  • Garlic cloves (minced)
  • Tomato paste
  • Crushed tomatoes
  • Water
  • Fresh basil 
  • Hint of Better than Bouillon beef base (for a little depth of flavor but don’t add too much) *optional 
  • Sugar 
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • Oregano
  • Crushed red peppers
  • Spaghetti

As you know, ground beef is perfect for this type of sauce. It has great flavor, and I usually have it on hand. Avoid using a lean ground beef. Use 80-85% fat ground beef.

As the sauce cooks down, the ground beef will make the sauce incredibly rich and  flavorful. 

A picture of spaghetti sauce with spaghetti on a plate.

How Many Cups of Sauce Does This Recipe Make

Based on the ingredients listed, this recipe should make around 8-10 cups of meat sauce.

When everything is combined and simmered together, the sauce reduces down a bit as the liquids cook off. But the meat, onions, tomatoes, paste and water altogether will total around 8-10 cups of finished sauce.

This should be plenty to thoroughly coat and sauce a 16 oz box of spaghetti, with some extra sauce left over. The recipe makes an ample batch for 4-6 servings. Leftovers can be refrigerated or frozen for future meals as well.

How to Make This into a Bulk Recipe 

The amount of meat sauce in this recipe may not be quite enough for anything more than a 16 oz box of spaghetti (unless you like your spaghetti dry). Here’s how to make it into a bulk recipe: 

  • This recipe makes about 8-10 cups of meat sauce.

  • A 16 oz box of spaghetti is about 2 cups dry. When cooked, it expands to 4-5 cups of cooked spaghetti.

  • For example, 3 lbs of spaghetti is 48 oz, which is about 6 cups dry. This will expand to approximately 12-15 cups of cooked spaghetti.

If you need 3 lbs of cooked spaghetti, you will need around 15 cups of sauce to properly coat and sauce the noodles.

With this recipe making 8-10 cups of sauce, you may want to either:

  • Double the recipe to ensure you have enough sauce for 3 lbs spaghetti. This will yield 16-20 cups of sauce.

  • Make 1.5x the recipe. This would give you 12-15 cups of sauce, which should be just enough for 3 lbs pasta.

  • Or cook the 3 lbs spaghetti in two separate batches, using the full recipe for each 1.5 lb portion.

Doubling the recipe is probably the easiest way to ensure you’ll have plenty of meat sauce for 3 lbs of spaghetti.

How To Make It In Advance: 

Here are some tips for making this meat sauce recipe in advance:

  • Make the sauce 1-2 days ahead. Let it fully cool, then transfer to airtight containers and refrigerate until needed.

  • You can also freeze the sauce for longer term storage. Let cool completely, then transfer to freezable containers or bags. Freeze for up to 3 months.

  • When reheating from the refrigerator, place the sauce in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir frequently until heated through. Add a splash of water if needed to thin.

  • To reheat from frozen, transfer frozen sauce to a saucepan and gently heat over medium-low, stirring often. Do not thaw before reheating.

  • For best flavor, season again with salt, pepper, herbs before serving. You may also want to add a splash of red wine vinegar. 

  • Cook the pasta just before serving. For best texture, don’t cook and refrigerate the pasta in advance.

  • Consider making a double batch and freezing half for an easy future meal! Portion into reusable containers.

Letting the flavors meld makes this sauce even better after a day or two. Advanced prep and freezing ensures you always have a hearty meat sauce ready to go!

What Type of Tomatoes Do I Need to Make this 

For this meat sauce recipe, you’ll want to use a high-quality crushed tomato product. Here are some good options:

  • Canned Crushed Tomatoes – Look for Hunt’s crushed tomatoes. Avoid purees or tomato ‘sauces’ with added seasonings.

To make this meat sauce, you will use 2 tbsp of tomato paste and a large can (28 oz) of crushed tomatoes.

A picture of a pot of meat sauce

What Kind Of Herbs to Use 

If you have fresh basil, use it! I can’t stress how much better this spaghetti sauce will taste.

Basil makes the spaghetti sauce so fresh and flavorful, but if you can’t find it, use slightly dried basil. Dried basil it works in a pinch. Remember, this is an easy recipe. There’s certainly no need to stress about the ingredients.

Pro tip: Better Than Bouillon Beef Base

For a flavor shortcut, a small amount of Better Than Bouillon Beef Base packs a big punch.

Just a teaspoon or two quickly enhances the meaty taste of the sauce without lengthy simmering.

The beef base provides deep savory flavor in a fraction of the time. So while not essential, it’s a quick trick for boosting the flavor if you have it on hand!

Adding beef base is optional – Feel free to use it to boost savory flavor if you have it, but the sauce will still taste great without it.

Don’t worry if you need to skip this ingredient – it’s just an optional flavor enhancer!


I know, sugar in a recipe for meat sauce seems counterintuitive but it’s a really important ingredient. This is why adding a small amount of sugar to meat sauce can be beneficial:

  • Balances acidity – The sugar helps balance and mellow the acidity from the tomatoes. This prevents the sauce from tasting too tart.

  • Enhances sweetness – It brings out the natural sweetness of the tomatoes and other ingredients without making the sauce taste sugary.

  • Adds depth – Just a pinch of sugar rounds out the other flavors and adds a subtle depth and complexity.

  • Thickens the sauce – As the sugar cooks down, it contributes to the body and thickness of the sauce.

The key is to add just a small amount, often 1/2 teaspoon or more if necessary. This enhances the sauce without making it taste like dessert. As long as it’s used in moderation, sugar can help make a well-balanced, scrumptious meat sauce.

How To Sweeten Meat Sauce Naturally

Here are some tips for adding natural sweetness to meat sauce without using plain white sugar:

  • Caramelized onions – Cook down sliced onions very slowly until they are jammy, sweet and golden brown.

  • Roasted garlic and shallots – Roast whole bulbs of garlic and shallots to bring out their natural sugars and sweetness.

  • Sweet peppers – Red bell peppers, either roasted or sauteed, will impart a touch of sweetness.

  • Carrots – Cook diced carrots well until very soft and sweet. Can also puree briefly at the end for sweetness without grit.

  • Tomato paste/puree – Has concentrated natural sugars from ripe tomatoes. A tablespoon or two adds sweet depth.

  • Balsamic vinegar – Adds a touch of sweetness along with acidity. Opt for good quality aged balsamic.

  • Dried fruits – A small amount of chopped prunes, apricots, dates or raisins blended in work well.

  • Honey or maple syrup – Use just a teaspoon or so for subtle sweetness without overt sugary flavor.

  • Allow onions, celery, peppers and garlic to cook down well to develop their natural sugars.

The key is allowing the ingredients time to caramelize and break down during the simmering process. This brings out their inherent sweetness.

What to Add to Meat Sauce

Don’t forget about the importance of seasoning when it comes to your sauce.

Salt and pepper are important to bring out the flavors of the ground beef, but also don’t be afraid to add other herbs and spices such as red pepper flakes, thyme, and parsley to give your sauce an extra flavor.

This meat sauce recipe calls for a variety of tasty spices.

Garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, crushed red peppers, bay leaf, hint of sugar, crushed red peppers, salt and black pepper all make for a beautiful, bright blend. 

Why Type of Meat Should I Use? 

There’s something so comforting about meat sauce especially when it’s used with spaghetti. 

We make  our spaghetti sauce with ground beef, however, ground pork, ground turkey, or even a combination of different meats are also great choices. 

Each type of meat will give your spaghetti sauce a different flavor profile, so feel free to experiment with different types of meats to find the one that you like best.

A photo of meat sauce with spaghetti on a plate

How to Make It

  • To make this this meat sauce, in a large skillet or dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat. Once hot, add the onions and ground beef. Cook until it’s no longer pink. Add minced garlic. Cook until garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds.

  • To make the sauce, add the water, tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, Better than Bouillon Beef Base, oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, basil, bay leaf, butter, sugar, salt and pepper to the pot with the ground beef. With your wooden spoon, mix well. 

  • Cook on low heat for about 30 minutes. 

  • Use 1 box (16 oz) of spaghetti. Cook until al dente
  • Serve meat sauce over spaghetti and top with fresh herbs like basil or fresh parsley. Top with Parmesan cheese if you like.

A closeup picture of meat sauce in a pot

Pro Quick Tips:

  • Use high-quality ingredients, such as fresh herbs, for the best flavor.

  • Choose 80/20 or 85/15 ground beef with a higher fat ratio for more flavor and moisture. Lean ground beef can dry out.

  • Use can use a mixture of ground beef and pork for a more complex flavor.
    Use Italian sausage or ground pork along with beef for more depth of flavor.

  • Deglaze the pan with a bit of wine or broth to pull up the browned bits. This adds a lot of richness.

  • Stir in a knob of butter or a tablespoon of heavy cream at the end for a smooth, luxurious texture.

  • Simmer and blend – If you have some time, letting the sauce simmer for 1-2 hours allows the flavors to develop fully and meld together beautifully. However, if you’re short on time, you can still achieve great flavor with just 30 minutes of simmering. This meat sauce will be rich and delicious even with a shorter cook time.

  • Cook pasta al dente. Save some pasta water to add to the sauce. Toss pasta with sauce and finish with parsley, olive oil and more cheese.

  • Let the meat sauce simmer for at least 30 minutes, but it can simmer for up to 2 hours for a more rich and developed flavor.

  • If the sauce is too thick, add beef broth or water as needed.

  • Make extra – Meat sauce freezes well for later! Portion it out and freeze for quick meals in the future.

  • Store leftover sauce in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

How do I lower the acidity of the tomatoes?

With so much tomato in meat sauce, especially when using crushed tomatoes and a can of tomato paste, it’s no surprise there’s lots of acidity.

This can give your sauce a bit of a bitter flavor, and it can be hard on your stomach. To lower the acidity of the tomatoes in meat and tomato sauce and to add just a little bit of sweetness, add a little bit of sugar. It’s not only good for flavor, it’s good for balance.

How to Reheat Meat Sauce 

Reheating meat sauce is very simple and quick.

To reheat from the fridge,  I like to just toss it in the microwave. It heats up in about 90 seconds or less. Make sure to give the sauce a little stir a couple times so that it can heat evenly.

You can also pour it into a saucepan and heat it on the stovetop over low to medium heat, add a bit of water and stir occasionally until it’s heated through. Stir occasionally so that the bottom of the pan doesn’t burn.

How to Freeze: 

To use the spaghetti sauce for future use you can freeze it. Make sure the sauce it cooled down to room temperature first. Do not place hot sauce into the container and freeze. Once it’s cool, put it in a freezer-safe container.

Label it with the date you made it and put it in your freezer. Bam! Just like that you have frozen meat and tomato sauce! It should stay good for about 4-6 months.

How long does it last in the fridge? 

Stored in an airtight container, meat sauce will last up to a week in the fridge. It will be at its freshest for a couple of days, and after a week it could start to get moldy.

I promise this sauce won’t last that long, though, because everyone in your house will be begging for leftovers!

Other Uses For Meat Sauce

This sauce is a great recipe because it can be used in so many different recipes. Make a big batch so you can use it in all of your favorite meat sauce recipes. 

I used this spaghetti sauce in one of my favorite recipes (Lazy Lasagna). It’s such an easy meal with simple ingredients.

This spaghetti sauce is perfect with:

  • Over pappardelle noodles
  • Meatball subs
  • On top of ravioli 
  • Chicken Parmesan
  • Lasagna 
  • Over angel hair spaghetti 

These are just some of the ways to enjoy this recipe. As I mentioned earlier, this sauce is perfect with all kinds of pasta dishes

This meat sauce is a delicious and versatile sauce that can be used in a variety of dishes. By following this recipe and adding your own unique touches you can create the best spaghetti sauce. 

Remember, the key to better than restaurant meat sauce is to use high-quality ingredients. If you have time, let it simmer for a long period of time to allow the flavors to fully develop. If you don’t have time, make sure you let it simmer for at least 30 mins. Both are delicious! Enjoy!

If you try this meat sauce certainly let me know in the comments below! 

A close up photo of meat sauce on a plate


A closeup picture of spaghetti sauce with ground beef

How to Make Rich and Flavorful Meat Sauce

April Boller Wright
Why choose this meat sauce? It's not only lip-smacking delicious but also versatile and easy…And guess what? I've tirelessly refined this recipe numerous times to guarantee it's the most outstanding option out there
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Course Dinner
Cuisine American
Servings 4 people


  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb ground beef chuck Use 80% fat
  • 1 cup yellow onions diced
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste I used Cento brand
  • 28 oz can crushed tomatoes Hunts brand
  • 1/4 tsp beef base I used Better than Bouillon beef base
  • 1/2 tbsp dried oregano
  • 3/4 tsp garlic powder or more for taste
  • 3/4 tsp onion powder or more for taste
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red peppers or more for taste
  • 1 tbsp fresh basil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 1/2 tsp granulated white sugar Or up to 1 tbsp or more for taste (this helps to balance the flavor of the tomato sauce)
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt This is an estimate. I usually add a bit more.
  • 1/2 tsp pepper or more for taste
  • 16 oz box of spaghetti cooked al dente and drained


  • In a large pot or dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat. Once hot, add the onions and ground beef. Cook until it's no longer pink. Add minced garlic. Cook until garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  • Add the water, tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, Better than Bouillon Beef Base, oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, basil, bay leaf, butter, sugar, salt and pepper to the pot.
  • Mix well and cover with a tight fitted lid. Cook for about 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings if you like. Serve hot over spaghetti. Enjoy!



Ground beef: 

I used chuck ground beef 80%. 

Meat Sauce: 

I used Hunts tomato sauce 
Recipe was slightly updated 3/11/2022
Keyword best meat sauce, best spaghetti sauce, meat sauce, spaghetti sauce
Like this? Leave a comment below!Let us know how it was!

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  1. I made your recipe for ground beef with egg noodles. It was really good but now I can’t find it on the website. Could you help me find the recipe!

  2. This was an amazing recipe. Everyone loved it! I doubled the recipe so I world have leftovers. This will be a staple in our house. I’ll never buy jar sauce again.5 stars

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words! I’m happy that you enjoyed the spaghetti recipe and that it’s becoming a staple in your household. Doubling the meatsauce for leftovers is a great idea, and I’m glad to hear you’re ditching jar sauce!

  3. Loved it! One of the things that impressed me the most was how well the flavors of the sauce came together. My family is already asking when I am going to make this again. It was a huge hit and it will now become a staple in our home. I am glad I found you on Tiktok. This sauce was truly delicious and I highly recommend it. No more store bought sauces for me! Thanks for sharing your recipe.5 stars

  4. I have not made this meat sauce YET, but I did make your meatloaf and I have too tell it was FANTASTIC !!! I usually do NOT like meatloaf BUT YOURS WAS OIT OF THIS WORLD!!! Thank you so very much!!