The Best Meat Sauce: A Special Family Recipe

This amazing meat sauce recipe hails from my father-in-law’s kitchen and is everyone’s favorite. It’s thick, hearty, and has phenomenal flavor thanks to a combination of beef, veal, and pork.

A large pot of meat sauce with a wooden spoon in it.

I think every family has a bona fide people pleaser. My grandma was ours.

She always wanted to please everyone, even if it meant creating much more work for herself. Case in point: Sunday dinner. She often made different versions of the same dish in order to appease everyone’s (sometimes picky) taste preferences. Lasagna was one such dish, and her sauce was the other. To accommodate those who didn’t like chunks of anything in sauce, she typically made a simple marinara (and had spare ribs simmering in there for extra flavor); I always loved her sauce, even though I have a huge soft spot for a super chunky meat sauce.

Fast forward to my courtship with my husband. At some point in those early months, I had the chance to taste his dad’s meat sauce after it had spent a Sunday afternoon simmering away on the stove. I fell madly in love with that sauce.

I’ve been enjoying it for years, and the second time that I made it, my husband walked into the kitchen as I was just getting it to a simmer and said that it smelled like his parents’ house on a Sunday.

Success.

A pot with browned meat and seasoning sprinkled on top.

The sauce starts out with a mixture of ground beef, ground pork and ground veal, which is sometimes labeled “meatloaf mix”; it’s browned along with onions and garlic, and basil is thrown in for flavor. A good dose of red wine is stirred in to give the sauce some body and a little oomph. Then comes the tomatoes – two large cans of crushed tomatoes, along with a large can of tomato puree.

Now, let’s talk tomatoes. My father-in-law swears by a specific brand of crushed tomatoes and tomato puree – Tuttorosso. He said he loves it because both the crushed tomatoes and tomato puree are nice and thick, which makes for a heartier sauce. This brand is primarily sold in the Eastern part of the U.S. (and it’s not always available at my own grocery store, but is at Target), so if you can’t find it, feel free to use your favorite or whatever is available. He did note that he has found some brands of crushed tomatoes are a little watery compared to the Tuttorosso brand, so if this happens to be the case, you might want to add a small can of tomato paste to thicken up the sauce.

A bowl of spaghetti topped with meat sauce, with two forks in the bowl.

If you prefer a meatless sauce, you can simply omit the meat and make the sauce as directed below. I’ve done that multiple times when I’ve made baked ziti, and it’s just as fabulous.

I urge you to run, not walk, into the kitchen and get a pot of this started.

A close up photo of a pot of meat sauce, with a wooden spoon inside.

One year ago: The Best Shepherd’s Pie Recipe
Five years ago: Giant Chocolate-Peanut Butter Chip Cookies
Six years ago: Fried Green Tomatoes
Seven years ago: Frozen Hot Chocolate
Ten years ago: Butter Pecan Ice Cream

Watch How to Make Our Family’s Favorite Meat Sauce

The Best Meat Sauce

Servings 3 ½ quarts
Prep 15 minutes
Cook 3 hours
Total 3 hours 15 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Author: Michelle

This amazing meat sauce recipe hails from my father-in-law's kitchen and is everyone's favorite. It's thick, hearty, and has phenomenal flavor thanks to a combination of beef, veal, and pork.

Ingredients:

  • 2
    tablespoons 
    olive oil
  • 8
    ounces
    ground beef
  • 8
    ounces
    ground pork
  • 8
    ounces
    ground veal
  • 1
    large yellow onion
    (finely chopped)
  • 3
    cloves
    garlic
    (minced)
  • 4
    tablespoons
    dried basil
  • Salt and pepper
    (to taste)
  • ½
    cup
    red wine
  • 2
    28-ounce
    cans crushed tomatoes
  • 1
    28-ounce
    can tomato puree

Directions:

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. When it is shimmering, add the ground beef, pork and veal, and cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until the meat is browned.
  2. Add the onion and garlic to the meat mixture and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent, about 7 to 10 minutes. Stir in the dried basil and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Stir in the red wine and let simmer for about 1 minute, until mostly evaporated.
  4. Reduce the heat to low and add the crushed tomatoes and tomato puree to the pot, stirring to incorporate. Reduce the heat to the lowest simmer possible, and place a lid on the pot slightly ajar. Simmer for 2 to 3 hours, stirring occasionally.

Recipe Notes:

  • I have adjusted the amount of olive oil called for in this recipe. Many readers have commented that they found the sauce too oily (it originally called for 1/2 cup); after speaking with my father-in-law, I did a couple of batches with less olive oil and am now recommending 2 tablespoons (reflected in the recipe above).
Nutritional values are based on half a quart of sauce

Nutrition:

Calories: 877kcal
Fat: 42g
Saturated fat: 12g
Cholesterol: 163mg
Sodium: 944mg
Potassium: 3685mg
Carbohydrates: 70g
Fiber: 17g
Sugar: 37g
Protein: 58g
Vitamin A: 2525%
Vitamin C: 80.9%
Calcium: 390%
Iron: 19.8%

Did you make this recipe?

Leave a review below, then snap a picture and tag @thebrowneyedbaker on Instagram so I can see it!

Update Notes: This recipe was originally published in February 2014 and updated in July 2019 with new photos, a video, and additional recipe tips.

[photos by Ari of Well Seasoned]