Homemade Meat Sauce

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The BEST Homemade Meat Sauce has both beef and Italian sausage. It’s perfect for lasagna, spaghetti, or zoodles, and it comes together with easy pantry ingredients.

Meat sauce in a silver pot.


 

This homemade spaghetti sauce recipe is made from scratch and worth getting excited about. First of all, it beats anything out of the jar. You can breeze right through the pasta sauce aisle, knowing that your homemade meat sauce is worlds better. Galaxies, even.

Then put your luscious sauce to work with your next batch of Spaghetti and Meatballs, Lasagna, or Baked Ziti. Cutting carbs? This meat sauce is a critical element in our Zucchini Lasagna and Zucchini Parmesan, and I bet you could make it work with Stuffed Zucchini, too.

Or, just toss it with spaghetti noodles and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Easy and delicious!

Recipe ingredients

Labeled ingredients for homemade meat sauce.

At a Glance: Here is a quick snapshot of what ingredients are in this recipe.
Please see the recipe card below for specific quantities.

Ingredient notes

  • Ground meat: You can do 2 pounds of ground beef, 2 pounds of ground Italian sausage, or 1 pound of each. Choose lean ground beef if that’s important to you.
  • Sugar: Even a tablespoon is too much for some people. If you don’t like the sound of sugar in your meat sauce, please leave it out. In my family, people add ¼ cup or even up to ½ cup.
  • Italian seasoning: It’s easy to make your own homemade Italian seasoning with dried basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme and marjoram. Fresh herbs are delicious if you have them.
  • Fennel seeds: The seeds make the Italian sausage flavors pop. If you love the taste of a sweet tomato sauce, use just ground beef (no sausage), at least ¼ cup sugar, and omit the fennel seeds.

Step-by-step instructions

  1. In a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, add beef, sausage, and onion and cook until mostly browned, about 5 minutes. Break up clumps with a wooden spoon. Drain the grease if desired. Stir in garlic until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Ground beef and onions in a silver pot.
  1. To the bottom of the pot, add crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, sugar, basil, Italian seasoning, fennel seeds, and bay leaf. Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt and pepper (I like 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper).
Meat sauce in a silver pot.

Recipe tips and variations

  • Yield: This recipe makes 2 quarts (8 cups), enough for 16 servings, ½ cup each.
  • Storage: Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days.
  • Freezer: The sauce can be cooled and packed into freezer-safe containers (I like glass pint jars). Leave 1/2-inch headspace for expansion. Label, date, and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
  • Customize your sauce: Change up this sauce to your personal preference. For a lighter sauce, use ground chicken or turkey instead of beef and ground pork sausage. For a spicier sauce, add red pepper flakes (a pinch of a handful, whatever you love!).
  • Meatless: For a hearty meatless marinara sauce, try my Quick Tomato Sauce. This one makes a great pizza sauce, too!
  • Bolognese sauce: Use a mixture of ground beef and pork with mirepoix, a mixture of onion, carrots, and celery sautéed in olive oil. Then, add tomato paste, white wine, and milk, and simmer. To me, the most noticeable factor of bolognese is that it doesn’t contain garlic.
  • Lasagna: This meat sauce is a key component in my Make-Ahead Lasagna, a creative recipe where standard lasagna noodles (not no-boil) go into the pan dry and soften in the sauce.
  • Spaghetti Sauce: If you prefer a meat sauce with just beef instead of the beef/sausage mixture, try my homemade Spaghetti meat sauce recipe.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you make homemade meat sauce in a slow cooker?

Yes, you sure can! Transfer the browned meat, onion, and garlic mixture to a slow cooker. Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, sugar, basil, Italian seasoning, fennel seeds, and bay leaf, then cover and cook on HIGH for 2 to 3 hours or LOW for 4 to 6 hours.

How can I customize my homemade meat sauce?

Mix up your mix-ins by stirring in chopped green peppers or sliced mushrooms with the onions. Substitute fire-roasted tomatoes for the crushed tomatoes. Or, add chili flakes (a pinch or a lot!) for extra heat.

More Italian favorites

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Meat sauce in a silver pot.

Homemade Meat Sauce

The BEST Homemade Meat Sauce has both beef and Italian sausage. It's perfect for lasagna, spaghetti, or zoodles, and it comes together with easy pantry ingredients.
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes
Servings 16 servings (½ cup each)
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Calories 171
4.96 from 295 votes

Ingredients 

Instructions 

  • In a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, add beef, sausage, and onion and cook until mostly browned, about 5 minutes. Drain if desired. Stir in garlic until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  • Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, sugar, basil, Italian seasoning, fennel seeds, and bay leaf. Simmer uncovered for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt and pepper (I like 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper).

Recipe Video

Notes

  1. Ground meat: You can do 2 pounds of ground beef, 2 pounds of ground Italian sausage, or 1 pound of each.
  2. Sugar: Even a tablespoon is too much for some people. If you don’t like the sound of sugar in your meat sauce, please leave it out. In my family, people add ¼ cup or even up to ½ cup.
  3. Italian seasoning: It’s easy to make your own homemade Italian seasoning with dried basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme and marjoram.
  4. Fennel seeds: The seeds make the Italian sausage flavors pop. If you love the taste of a sweet tomato sauce, use just ground beef (no sausage), at least ¼ cup sugar, and omit the fennel seeds.
  5. Yield: This recipe makes 2 quarts (8 cups), enough for 16 servings, ½ cup each.
  6. Storage: Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
  7. Freezer: The sauce can be cooled and packed into freezer-safe containers (I like glass pint jars). Leave 1/2-inch headspace for expansion. Label, date, and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator.

Nutrition

Serving: 0.5cupCalories: 171kcalCarbohydrates: 6gProtein: 11gFat: 12gSaturated Fat: 4gPolyunsaturated Fat: 0.4gMonounsaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 40mgSodium: 105mgPotassium: 319mgFiber: 1gSugar: 4gVitamin A: 111IUVitamin C: 5mgCalcium: 36mgIron: 2mg
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Meggan Hill is a classically-trained chef and professional writer. Her meticulously-tested recipes and detailed tutorials bring confidence and success to home cooks everywhere. Meggan has been featured on NPR, HuffPost, FoxNews, LA Times, and more.

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Comments

  1. This sauce is Fabulous tasting and easy to make! I make mine a day before so the flavors can mingle together. I also leave the meat out but add more olive oil to compensate.
    I love this recipe!!!❤️❤️5 stars

    1. Hi Marie, thanks for your question! You can absolutely use whole sausage. The sauce will have a different texture, but some people prefer it. Please let me know if you have anymore questions! – Meggan

  2. I love this meat sauce. It’s my go to every single time. I should have it memorized, but I’m old. Lol
    The fennel seeds are so good. I do chop mine up just a bit. Thanks for sharing such a great recipe!5 stars

    1. You’re so welcome, Lynn! I’m so thrilled that you love it! Take care and please write again! – Meggan

  3. I’ve made this.
    1st time I reduced the amount of Fennel by 1/4. Never cooked w/ fennel so, wanted to test its intensity.
    Turned out great.
    My kid said, “You put ur foot in that one!”
    I guess thats good…lol
    Doing it again today with Full amount of Fennel and maybe extra garlic.

  4. Made this tonight.
    Turned out great, only use 1/2 for the fennel; 1st time using it, unsure of its intensity in flavor profile.
    Served with Angel Hair, Garlic bread & salad.5 stars

  5. I have made this recipe numerous times; it is a family favorite!!! I omit the sugar and use one pound of ground beef and one pound of Italian sausage and it is perfect.5 stars

  6. Love this recipe. Putting a spin on it, I add 1/2 cup of red wine and a bit of Worcestershire sauce. I don’t use sugar and I like just a bit of crushed red pepper in there too. I simmer partially covered for 40mins and uncovered for 15-20 mins. At the end I add about a tablespoon of butter to get the sauce velvety and add pasta water until it gets to the right consistency. Thanks for the inspiration!

  7. YUM! Never have I ever put that much sugar into my meat sauce-but I really enjoyed it! Didn’t need any extra salt. I didn’t have tomato sauce on hand and it didn’t even matter! Made about 3-4 good helpings on top of 1 lb of spaghetti. So tasty.5 stars

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