The Best Make Ahead Lasagna

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The Best Make Ahead Lasagna has three kinds of cheese, two different meats, one fantastic homemade sauce, and oodles of real noodles that require absolutely zero boiling. It all adds up to an award-winning, freezer-friendly recipe I’ve been making (and loving) for over a decade. 

The best make ahead lasagna slice on a white plate.

Over the years, I tweaked this recipe to get everything exactly right. Here’s what I love about it:

You can make it ahead. The lasagna needs at least 5 hours to chill and let the sauce soften the noodles, but you can definitely make it the night before (even 3 days before) and bake it when you need it. Want your own freezer lasagna? Wrap it up in foil once you assemble it, no need to bake it beforehand. Then stash it away for dinner emergencies.

It uses real lasagna noodles. I’ve always hated the “oven-ready,” pre-boiled, no-boil lasagna noodles, which fall apart in the pan. Real noodles taste better, period. And with this recipe, you don’t even cook or soak them.

Homemade meat sauce. A quick and easy, 20-minute meat sauce loaded with ground beef and Italian sausage.

Recipe ingredients

Labeled ingredients for the best make ahead lasagna.

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: I prefer 1 pound each of ground beef and Italian sausage (2 pounds total). Or use just ground beef, just ground Italian sausage, or choose another ground meat entirely (such as ground turkey).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Ricotta cheese: Make your own ricotta with just 4 ingredients: Milk, lemon juice, vinegar, and salt.
  • Lasagna noodles. NOT “oven ready” or “no-boil noodles.” Those pre-cooked noodles will shred on your fork in the most unappetizing way, while the “real” noodles will soften in the fridge in just 5 hours

Step-by-step instructions

Recipe revision: I updated this Lasagna recipe to make just the amount you need (2 quarts). In the past, my recipe made a quart of extra sauce. You can download a PDF of the original lasagna recipe ( <– click this link) if you are looking for that.

To make the meat sauce:

  1. In a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, add beef (or sausage) and onion, and cook until mostly browned, about 5 minutes. Drain if desired. Stir in garlic until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Ground beef and onion cooked in a saucepan.
  1. Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, sugar, basil, Italian seasoning, and fennel seeds. Simmer uncovered for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt and pepper (I like 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper). You should have about 2 quarts of sauce.
Italian meat sauce in a saucepan.

To make the cheese filling:

  1. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine ricotta cheese with egg, parsley, and salt. Chill until the sauce is finished.
Ricotta cheese mixture for lasagna.

To assemble and bake the lasagna:

  1. In the bottom of a 9-inch x 13-inch baking dish, spread 2 cups meat sauce. Arrange a single layer of uncooked noodles over the meat sauce (I sometimes do 3 full-size noodles lengthwise and then a partial noodle crosswise).
The best make ahead lasagna being assembled in a white baking dish.
  1. Spread with a heaping 2/3 cup of the ricotta mixture. Top with about 1 ½ cups (5 ounces) of mozzarella. Sprinkle with ⅓ cup Parmesan cheese.
The best make ahead lasagna in a white baking dish.
  1. Spoon 2 cups meat sauce over the cheese. Make another layer of noodles, ricotta mixture (heaping 2/3 cup), mozzarella (1 ½ cups) and Parmesan (⅓ cup). Repeat layers 1 more time, for a total of 3 layers. Spray a large piece of foil with nonstick spray and cover baking dish. Refrigerate at least 5 hours or overnight.
The best make ahead lasagna in a white baking dish before being baked.
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake, covered with foil, for 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake an until hot and bubbly, about 25 minutes longer. Cool 5 minutes, then garnish with parsley before serving if desired.
The best make ahead lasagna in a white baking dish.

Recipe tips and variations

  • Yield: As written, the lasagna is made in a 9” by 13” baking dish, enough for 12 servings.
  • Storage: Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
  • Make ahead: Make this recipe up to 3 days before you need it and keep it in the refrigerator.
  • Freezer: Wrap the unbaked lasagna tightly in plastic wrap and freeze it for up to 2 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then bake as directed (preheat oven to 375 degrees, bake 25 minutes with foil, 25 minutes without foil). To bake the frozen lasagna straight from the freezer, bake 1 hour covered with foil and 24 minutes without the foil (the lasagna must reach 165 degrees on an internal thermometer).
  • Store-bought sauce: You’ll need 2 quarts of sauce for one pan of lasagna. You might want to add a little extra water if the sauce is on the thick side. This lasagna recipe uses a wet sauce so the noodles can soften in the liquid.
  • Disposable aluminum pans: I’ve made this in aluminum pans without a problem. They’re just fine!
  • Pesto: Got a jar of pesto in the pantry, or homemade pesto in the refrigerator? Add a surprise layer somewhere for lots of extra flavor.
  • Lasagna as a soup: Dinner in 30 minutes with my stove top Lasagna Soup, or set and forget my Slow Cooker Lasagna Soup with only 10 minutes of prep.
The best make ahead lasagna in a white baking dish with one piece removed.

Recipe FAQs

Do I have to use no-boil noodles?

No-boil noodles shred on the end of your fork in the most unappetizing way, so this recipe uses traditional dry lasagna noodles that soften in the source in a matter of hours. It takes a little bit of planning, but it’s fool-proof!

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The best make ahead lasagna slice on a white plate.

The Best Make Ahead Lasagna

The best Make Ahead Lasagna has three kinds of cheese, two different meats, one fantastic homemade sauce, and oodles of real noodles that require absolutely zero boiling.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 20 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Servings 12 servings
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Calories 498
4.98 from 622 votes

Ingredients 

For the meat sauce:

For the cheese filling:

For assembly:

Instructions 

To make the meat sauce:

  • In a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, add beef (or 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, and fennel seeds. Simmer uncovered for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt and pepper (I like 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper). You should have about 2 quarts of sauce.

To make the cheese filling:

  • Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine ricotta cheese with egg, parsley, and salt. Chill until the sauce is finished.

To assemble and bake the lasagna:

  • In the bottom of a 9-inch x 13-inch baking dish, spread 2 cups meat sauce. Arrange a single layer of uncooked noodles over the meat sauce (I sometimes do 3 full-size noodles lengthwise and then a partial noodle crosswise). Spread with a heaping 2/3 cup of the ricotta mixture. Top with about 1 ½ cups (5 ounces) of mozzarella. Sprinkle with ⅓ cup Parmesan cheese.
  • Spoon 2 cups meat sauce over the cheese. Make another layer of noodles, ricotta mixture (heaping 2/3 cup), mozzarella (1 ½ cups) and Parmesan (⅓ cup). Repeat layers 1 more time, for a total of 3 layers.
  • Spray a large piece of foil with nonstick spray and cover baking dish. Refrigerate at least 5 hours or overnight.
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake, covered with foil, for 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake an until hot and bubbly, about 25 minutes longer. Cool 5 minutes, then garnish with parsley before serving if desired.

Recipe Video

Notes

  1. Ground meat: I prefer 1 pound each of ground beef and Italian sausage (2 pounds total). Or use just ground beef, just ground Italian sausage, or choose another ground meat entirely (such as ground turkey).
  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. Ricotta cheese: Make your own ricotta with just 4 ingredients: Milk, lemon juice, vinegar, and salt.
  6. Lasagna noodles. NOT “oven ready” or “no-boil noodles.” Those pre-cooked noodles will shred on your fork in the most unappetizing way, while the “real” noodles will soften in the fridge in just 5 hours
  7. Yield: As written, the lasagna is made in a 9” by 13” baking dish, enough for 12 servings.
  8. Storage: Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
  9. Make ahead: Make this recipe up to 3 days before you need it and keep it in the refrigerator.
  10. Freezer: Wrap the unbaked lasagna tightly in plastic wrap and freeze it for up to 2 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then bake as directed (preheat oven to 375 degrees, bake 25 minutes with foil, 25 minutes without foil). To bake the frozen lasagna straight from the freezer, bake 1 hour covered with foil and 24 minutes without the foil (the lasagna must reach 165 degrees on an internal thermometer).
  11. Store-bought sauce: You’ll need 2 quarts of sauce for one pan of lasagna. You might want to add a little extra water if the sauce is on the thick side. This lasagna recipe uses a wet sauce so the noodles can soften in the liquid.
  12. Disposable aluminum pans: I’ve made this in aluminum pans without a problem. They’re just fine!
  13. Pesto: Got a jar of pesto in the pantry, or homemade pesto in the refrigerator? Add a surprise layer somewhere for lots of extra flavor.

Nutrition

Serving: 1sliceCalories: 498kcalCarbohydrates: 33gProtein: 30gFat: 27gSaturated Fat: 12gCholesterol: 105mgSodium: 528mgPotassium: 351mgFiber: 2gSugar: 4gVitamin A: 343IUVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 325mgIron: 3mg
Did you make this recipe?Tag @culinaryhill on Instagram so we can admire your masterpiece! #culinaryhill
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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. Hi Elena, yes! Readers have shared that they will bake as directed and freeze leftover servings. I hope you enjoy this lasagna! – Meggan

  1. I love this technique of assembling in advance and baking it later. Question-can I omit the meat altogether? I don’t want to have any meat or meat like product in there, but I’m wondering if the noodles will be the right texture or if it will be moist enough. What do you think? Thanks!

    1. Hi Jane, thank you for your question! You absolutely can, the only change to the sauce will be to add some olive oil to the Dutch oven and bring it to a shimmer before adding the onion in step 1, so it doesn’t scorch. I hope you love it! – Meggan

  2. Hell! Iā€™m wondering if this can be baked in a smaller proportion and if so, does that change the baking time? What kind of pan would you suggest if I cut the recipe in half?

    Thank you so much!:)

    1. Hi Lindsay, thank you so much for your question! Absolutely, yes! This can be halved. I would use a 9″x9″ baking dish. (You could use an 8″x8″ one, but it will likely overflow, or you’ll have a.) I would still bake for 25 minutes with the foil on, and after removing the foil, I would check it starting at the 10 to 15 minute mark to see if the center is hot and bubbly. I hope you love it! – Meggan

  3. Love this recipe so much!
    Has anyone made this with gluten free noodles? Do they work the same way?
    Thank you so much for developing this recipe that enables me to better enjoy my guests and still treat them to culinary delight!5 stars

    1. Hi June, thank you so much! I’m so happy you love it! One reader uses Barilla gluten-free no boil noodles and bakes or freezes right away, and another reader wrote that they make this with gluten-free brown rice lasagna noodles, par cooking the noodles first to set the dough before assembling the lasagna and then baking right away. Please let me know if you have any more questions, Iā€™m happy to help! – Meggan

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