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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The Best Meat Sauce
- 2 tablespoons (3 tablespoons ) olive oil
- 8 ounces (226.8 g) ground beef
- 8 ounces (226.8 g) ground pork
- 8 ounces (226.8 g) ground veal
- 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 tablespoons dried basil
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- ½ cup (120 ml) red wine
- 2 28-ounce (1.59 kg) cans crushed tomatoes
- 1 28-ounce (793.79 g) can tomato puree
- 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.
- 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.
- Stir in the red wine and let simmer for about 1 minute, until mostly evaporated.
- 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.
- 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).
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]
This is my ultimate favorite sauce!
What is the Red Wine that you are talking about in this recipe?
Did this recipe used to have you simmer the sauce with pork chops in it? I have been looking all over for a meat sauce recipe I saw a long time ago where you simmered it with pork chops but can’t find it anywhere… I could have sworn it was here/
I was looking for a meat sauce recipe for lasagna but decided to make meatballs instead. I did everything exact aside for using crushed red pepper instead of black and had no red wine and used my Pinot. I’m not a heavy Basil user but put in the recommended amount this time. I thought it was too much for me but once it simmered, it was more subtle. I do agree with the combination of 2 crushed and 1 purée and used tuttorosso and the consistency was excellent! I may use a little less basil or fresh next time but this recipe is delicious!
Really love this recipe. It’s very easy to adjust to taste and I love to freestyle it. I’ll add carrots or more spices when I’m in the mood, and sometimes add more meat. I usually make this to serve over steamed white rice and it’s delicious. Great job!
Making this right now on Super Bowl Sunday to take to my daughters as part of your lasagna. First time boy it smells amazing.
Fantastic sauce, it help letting the meat simmer with the wine before adding the tomatoes. My family loved it. Joanie- NJ
Found this recipe by accident a few months ago. It has ben my go to ever since. It is so easy to follow and delicious!
Tried this last night I’m steaks and it was amazing!
i hate recipes that call for wine because I don’t drink any alcoholic beverages so I never what kind is best. all chefs say if you won’t drink it don’t cook with it. could you please tell me what kind of red wine I should buy.
You could try a Muscadine red wine as this goes well with beef.
How many cups of sauce does this make?
I’ve actually never measured it, but some quick math given the ingredients, I’m guessing somewhere around 15 to 20 cups?
I’ve been working from home since January due to the pandemic. I made your father in law’s meat sauce today. I used 2 lbs. of lean ground beef and 1 lb. of Italian pork sausage in mine since veal is not available in our area right now. It turned out absolutely delicious. I plan to package it up and freeze it in quart containers to use later. I have a recipe for a tomato vinaigrette for salads and I am going to freeze some cubes in silicone molds and put in zip lock bags to use for that in the freezer as well. Thank you for sharing such a great – and easy – recipe.
Very good recipe, and similar to my family recipe. Only difference, I put my tomatoes (I use whole San Marzano tomatoes) onions and garlic in the blender and then eliminate olive oil. We like a smoother sauce. I also use half that amount of basil and add 1 or 2 Bay leaves and 1 tablespoon of oregano.
I made this sauce last night. I have made sauce using my Italian grandmother’s recipe as long as I’ve been cooking. This sauce was good but, it wasn’t Italian sauce. I added a few more spices and some beef broth and threw in bay leaf. I let it simmer and it turned out well. I think that if I use this recipe again I will leave out the veal. It seemed to add more fat to the recipe and made it heavier than other sauces. My daughter loved it!
Love your column.
I urge you to read about how veal calves are raised and then forgo ever using it again.
I made this sauce last weekend (my first pot of sauce, ever!) and it was a huge hit. Friends (in my bubble) were putting the sauce alone in a cup eating it without any pasta. I am also not a fan of chunks in my sauce, so I swapped one can of crushed tomatoes for a can of plain tomato sauce. Also, instead of salt and pepper, I used Montreal steak seasoning. I am making it again this weekend.
This recipe really does make the best meat sauce. Followed your instructions, but cooked in my crockpot all afternoon, with the lid ajar. It thickened up nicely and had the best taste. I used a meatloaf mix that worked nicely and Tuttorosso puree and crushed tomatoes. My husband loved it, and we have leftovers for tomorrow night’s dinner. I also have two quarts to put in the freezer for another day. Thanks for sharing, always looking for a good meat sauce, now I’ve found the best.
I’m going to use this for lasagna I’m making for Christmas Eve. Tuttorosso is the best for sauces.
I also have my own family sauce recipe that has been passed down for at least 5 generations. My question is how did you come up with the nutritional values and is there a way to reduce the amount of sodium per serving? Your instructions call for “season to taste”, and the “meatloaf mix” I plan to use only has 90mg of sodium per serving with approximately 5 servings (450mg total) for 21.32oz of mix. I am curious as to what kicks up the sodium content? I’m going to make your sauce, nevertheless, as my mouth is watering! Thanks in advance for your response :)
this is a keeper! so yum – so easy! i used 2lbs of the meat mix though, 4 cloves of garlic, and fresh basil – hard to keep it even simmering for 2 hours it was that flavorful!!!!
Best meat sauce! Today I am cooking this using sausage as well (crumbles). Thank you!!
This is my most favourite recipe. I have made it with just ground beef, and with ground beef and ground chicken. I add extra vegetables like chopped spinach, carrots, celery, zucchini sometimes. Whatever I have in my fridge is a go. Even chopped up apple. I adjust the amount of crushed tomato and tomato paste to according to the amount of veggies I put in. Simply delicious!
Tuttoroso and Red PAck brands are from the same company. Tuttoroso is their medium quality brand, frankly I
don’t like it. Red Pack is their premium quality brand and I stock up on it when it is on sale.
I love this recipe! Would this work well in a slow cooker? If so, how long and would you change anything?
The only issue I see with a slow cooker is that this is meant to be simmered with the lid slightly ajar so some of the liquid can evaporate and the sauce can thicken.
Thanks for the reply! I made it in the slow cooker and did it on high for 1 hour with the top on and then i slide the lid ajar and turned it down to low for the remaining 2-3 hours. It was great! I’m not sure the slow cooker added anything specifically but it did make it easier, as I have a stovetop safe slowcooker so I could get everything going in there and then move the insert to the crockpot once it was ready to be simmered.
I LOVE your recipes and go to them when I want something special, especially cakes! I always use this meat sauce in my lasagna and just want to say thank you so much for sharing with us!
Looks absolutely wonderful! I was just contemplating my pantry and freezer and had decided to make a meat sauce. Perfect timing!
Its very good recipe thanks for sharing
How many will it serve?
Hi Mike, This will be enough for 3 to 4 pounds of pasta (depending on how saucy you like your pasta).
Been making this sauce for a few years now. It’s my go to and gets a lot of love from the wife and inlaws. I see some debates or points of contention so I’ll chime in:
I cook the onions and meat (meatloaf mix) virtually at the same time in the same pot but I start the meat just a minute or two earlier for a head start, then mix in the onion. It cooks/browns perfectly in sync. I do not add any olive oil, the meat generates enough juices and lately ive been adding 3-4 oz of diced pancetta, which only lessens the need for oil. There’s no need in my view but maybe I’m cheating myself the OO qualities? Seems just as good without it as I’ve tried both methods.
I add the pancetta and garlic together once the meat and onions are browned and softened. Cook all together for a few minutes more.
I also add fresh basil, not dried. I get one of those little plastic containers of fresh and rinse chop it then add that with the half cup of wine. Cook that off, add The crushed and purée tomatoes and simmer for 2-3 hours with lid on.
This recipe is awesome. Thanks!
I just came across this recipe and can’t wait to try it. I’m not a fan of chunks of tomato so was wondering if you can use hand emulsifier to de-chunk the tomatoes.
It’s not chunky at all. I’ve made it many times. Delicious. The only thing I change is the meats I use. I’m not a fan of lamb so I use two pounds of ground beef and one podiums of zesty hot ground sausage. Delicious!
Traci- she doesn’t use lamb… it’s beef and pork.
The recipe uses ground beef, italian sausage and veal (lamb). I didn’t add veal to mine. It’s expensive, I don’t like the taste, and I abhor how lambs are treated to create it. I just substituted an extra pound of ground beef to replace it.
Veal is not lamb. Lamb is baby sheep; veal is baby cow…
I am trying this tonight, it sounds amazing, I added mushrooms (no disrespect) and I didn’t use veal but I’m sure it is going to be great. Thank you
I was looking on your site for your grandmother’s marinara sauce recipe. It sounds interesting to include spare ribs for extra flavor. Is that recipe on your site? Could you point it out? I looked but could not find it. I will also try this meat sauce recipe. It sounds delicious! Thank you very much, love your site.
Hi Mary, It’s not on my site; it’s not a recipe she ever wrote down, unfortunately. I think my sister had made it with her before, so I’ll have to see if she could help me out!
hello, can you confirm 4 TBSP of dried basil?
Yes, I’ve made it numerous times based on the 4 tablespoons of basil. It actually isn’t a strong taste, esp. after simmering for 3 hours
Yes, it’s correct!
This was the best meat sauce I ever had. Thanks for sharing the recipe.
Tuttorosso tomato products are also available on Amazon.
I scored some Tuttoroso brand tomato puree at of all places, DOLLAR TREE.!
I find it a little to the sweet side but yummy, not to mention I like their label.
Red Gold, Tuttoroso and Red Pack are all processed at the same plant which is about an hour north of where I live. It’s next to impossible to find either Tuttoroso or Red Pack here. I use Red Gold exclusively and Ii’ve never been dissatisfied with the results. The Red Pack brand was James Beards’ favorite. In Beard on Pasta he said that they were second only to high quality fresh tomatoes.
If you’re not opposed to consuming wine but just don’t drink it at home, Sutter Home makes 4-packs of a variety of wines. I almost never drink wine at home, but do use it in cooking. I keep a 4-pack of both red and white wine to use for cooking. The bottles hold about 3/4 cup each.
This is my favorite recipe on your site! I make at least once a month. I also made it when visiting family out west & my mother-in-law commented a few times how great it was. She even put it over toast as a meal!
And the key really is the Tuttoroso brand. It adds a depth & flavor that other brands just don’t have.
Thanks to you & your father-in-law for sharing this!
This recipe is so good! I even have a video on my channel showing how I make it, if you are interested – https://youtu.be/llfas1q04dQ. This is my family’s go to marinara sauce recipe! It makes the best lasagna :)
No no no. You are not making sloppy Joe’s or Chili .
This Italian? Sauce recipe is American sauce recipe.
Can you provide an Italian sauce recipe then?
Hey Linda — Where in this article is the meat sauce called Italian? Why are there so many mean people on the Web? This is a great recipe!
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
(And your F-I-L) this recipe is the bomb!
Never, ever wasting my time making any other recipe for “meat sauce”. This IS that good!
I made this EXACTLY as your recipe says and it’s the best I’ve tried. Thank you again!
BTW, mine looks exactly like your picture and I only ever use Tuttorosso canned tomatoes!
Can this meat sauce be canned for later?
Hi Ann, I can’t recommend that, as I have no idea if the acidity is correct for long-term storage.
I am trying this now as I write. Thank you.
P.S. But,,, a little on the chunky side with the onions and garlic, threw in some hot sausage as well.
I have made this recipe time and time again and it’s loces by all!!! However, I have a request from a friend to put more vegetables in like peppers and mushrooms. I just think this sauce is so perfect as is. Have you tried this before?
Hi Karin, I’ve never tried adding any vegetables to this particular sauce. You could try sautéing with the onions if you go that route.
I love your recipes and your darling family!
I don’t t drink wine, so what can I sub for it?
Can’t wait to make this delicious sauce!
Hi Kathy, Thank you so much! You can omit the wine since it cooks down. I hope you enjoy the sauce!
Can you leave out the veal and just put 12oz of sausage and 12oz ground beef?
Hi Deborah, Yes you could totally do that! In fact, that’s my favorite way to make the sauce if I’m using it for lasagna :)
Easy and delious I made this for my egplant receipe.
Is there a specific wine you use?
Hi Debbie, My father-in-law also makes wine, and I usually use his cabernet sauvignon. I hope that helps!
Under which Pinterest board is your Best Eggplant recipe found, by your father-in-law?
Hi Linda, here you go! https://www.pinterest.com/pin/230879918381133914/
If you’re looking for the actual recipe, it’s here: https://www.browneyedbaker.com/eggplant-parmesan/
Made the “Best Ever Meat Sauce” today for the first time. OMG… it was amazing! Got the pasta roller attachments for my Kitchen Aid for Christmas and needed a good homemade sauce to go with. It was so, so good! Made a small change… hubby and I don’t care for veal, so I used a mixture of 50% beef and 50% pork. This is now my “go-to” sauce recipe! Thanks to your father-in-law for sharing!
Can you suggest how much salt and pepper to use. Not sure when you say to taste. Thank you.
Hi Randi, I have never, ever measured…. literally do a light sprinkle of salt over the surface of the pot, and maybe a dozen turns of the pepper grinder. I hope that helps!
that was, by far, the best meat sauce gravy I ever had! My family is sooo grateful! A neighbor also came by for just a moment and as he was leaving he thanked me for letting him smell such wonderful food😊
I made this last night. I followed the recipe exactly as written. I found it to be a bit acidic, but it’s a great sauce. Next time, I will add some sugar to it to take the edge off of the tomatoes.
Maybe I missed it, but don’t you drain the grease from browning the ground meats? Even with reduced olive oil, it seems like it would be greasy.
Otherwise it looks like something worth trying.
Hi Ed, No, I don’t drain after browning the meats, and don’t find the sauce greasy, but if you’re concerned about it you definitely could.
Sauce came out delicious! I added parmesan cheese and Italian sausage. Thanks for sharing!!
You’re welcome Lisa! The sausage sounds great, so glad you enjoyed it!
Hey Michelle! I am planning to make this recipe tonight and I thought I had everything, but I am a little confused. What is tomato puree?? Are you meaning tomato sauce? Tomato passata? I am assuming you don’t mean tomato paste? I am just not sure what to buy for this recipe. Thanks so much.
Hi Aimee, Tomato puree is thicker than tomato sauce but not nearly as concentrated as tomato paste. There are many brands that sell it, but here is an example: https://www.redpacktomatoes.com/products/detail/redpack-tomato-puree. You’ll find it right next to the cans of crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, etc.
made this for lunch today for friends and they really enjoyed now they are asking for a copy of the recipes.
Made this for in laws last night while vacationing in New Zealand. No Tuutorosso, no ground veal in local supermarkets. I substituted Italian sausage & simply removed it from the casing. I added a lot of oregano & basil too as this is just personal preference.
This is a great recipe and holds up to modifications, or change ups based on personal preference. And it’s easy-chopping and browning’ only. A true winner!!
This sauce is so delicious!!!! I will definitely be making this over and over again.
I’ve been wanting to make this meat sauce for a while now. For the tomatoes, I used the brand Cento and found the sauce to be acidic. Is there any way to fix this? I have quite a lot leftover! Thank you 😊
Hi Karen, You could definitely add some pinches of sugar. I would start with 1/4 teaspoon and then add more if needed.
I fry and/or bake meatballs and they’re too crusty. So I simmer them in my sauce and they’re good. do need a good meatloaf recipe.
I’m making the meat loaf mix right now with my own sauce. My sauce recipe is similar except for the last years I’ve been using a 106-oz (!) can of San Marzano tomatoes we buy at Costco. I also cook the garlic in oil first in my sauce pot and add the tomatoes and brown the meat in a separate pan – I drain off a bit of the fat but keep some of it to add into the sauce. They’re whole tomatoes so after cooking for 30 minutes or so I use a hand blender to smooth them down and add the meat after that. I also use some oregano along with the basil, and don’t put onion in my sauce. Always use (ahem) 2/3 or 3/4 cup of red wine and couple dashes of Franks – only Franks – hot sauce along with about 1/2 tablespoon of kosher salt and about 1 tablespoon of sugar. That’s my go-to recipe along with usually just ground beef, will be interesting with the meat loaf mix! Our recipe has been honed over the years for sure, my husband says he likes my sauce better than his mom’s (heart). Thanks for the post!
Thanks so much for sharing!! I want to give that a try!
Would this sauce be an item that could be canned?
Hi Ronda, I would not recommend that, as there are very specific requirements for ensuring the safety of a recipe for long-term storage, and I have no way of knowing if this meets those specifications.
I am somewhat confused…. in the video, it appears that you are using an 8 or perhaps 16 oz glass measure cup for the tomato puree, and the recipe is calling for 28 oz…I have only ever seen tomato paste in the 6 oz tin sizing. Please confirm that you are really using 28 oz and who is the brand that you are using…am I mixed up with the tomato paste being different from the tomato puree? Thanks.
Hi Alana, This recipe does not call for tomato paste, it calls for tomato puree and crushed tomatoes. There are 4 cup (32-oz) measuring glasses, which is what’s used in the video. I typically use RedPack brand tomato puree.
This is almost identical to my nannys meat suave! The only difference is she also cooked raw pork shoulder and veal and pork meatballs in it for a day :)
i can print other recipes from your site but NOT this one.
when i try to print it gives the link but not the actual recipe
Hi Gary, My apologies, there was a funky line of code in there for some reason, and that seems to have fixed it. Please let me know if you continue to have issues!
They are lovely! I made this meat sauce recently! They worked very well and tasted just as good the next day as well. My family would go crazy over this! Thanks for the share.
This looks amazing but seems like a Bolognese sauce to me? What is the difference in sauces? Carrots?
Hi Patti, A true bolognese is typically much less saucy and almost all meat (just a little sauce), plus it usually does include things like carrots and celery. I hope that helps!
OMG THIS *IS* THE BEST SAUCE EVER!!!
I don’t drink wine so I don’t have any. Are there any acceptable replacement for it?
Hi Valerie, You can just omit it without an issue. Enjoy! :)
I will be making “THE BEST MEAT SAUCE EVER.” I can only get the Tuttorosso Crushed Tomatoes WITH BASIL through Amazon in time to make for my friend’s birthday. I’m assuming I would not want to add an additional 4 TABLESPOONS of Dried Basil. Please let me know if this is the case. I CANNOT get their TOMATO PUREE in time, SO I’LL HAVE TO USE ANOTHER BRAND. RECOMMENDATIONS, PLEASE. Thanks in advance, Randy
Hi Randy, That’s the only type of crushed tomatoes I’ve ever been able to get, so that’s what I use. You could certainly dial back the dried basil if you’d like, though! As for tomato puree, I really don’t have a brand that I stick with, so I don’t have a definitive recommendation!
Thanks so much for replying. My three meats are in the bowl to mix right now!!
I plan to send my review on Wednesday after our Lasagna Dinner tomorrow night!
I love this basic meat sauce and it makes so much that I freeze a lot of it. I’ve also used it in lasagna rather than making separate meat and sauce layers.
It works well in the crock pot if you don’t want to be stuck in the house while it simmers. I just brown the meat and drain it, saute the onion and then add it all to the crock pot.
Michelle, I’ve left comments about this several times on your blog! It is my go-to sauce recipe and it is ALWAYS a hit. I swear you should have trade marked it, bottle and sell it. It is SOOOOO tasty! My favorite weekend dinners include a big pot of this on the stove with your Baked Italian Meatballs simmering with it! I’ve also used it to make meatball subs and with a great local hot Italian sausage that is sold in Hazelton, PA (Tyrone’s) which is a couple of hours away from me in Harrisburg but so worth the trip. I also use this when I make your stuffed pepper recipe (Which I do tweak! I serve them open faced, I do not use the rice because I HATE rice, and I switch out the beef broth for the tomato sauce) Can you tell yet I’m a tad obsessed with your recipes?? lol. Anyways, this is my long-winded way of saying thank you (and thank your FIL) for this amazing sauce recipe :) I feel so old-school Italian every time I whip it up and I”m sure my ancestors are proud!
This is my go to sauce now! I’ve made it numerous times since I found it. Thank you!
Thank you for sharing a family recipe! I think they are the best types of recipes because they hold memories and bring joy every time they are made.
Made this twice and a great sauce indeed. Have the third batch on low simmer now. Don’t want a full meal tonight so I’ll make some parmesan garlic toast with french bread and just dip it and enjoy.
Thanks for sharing, one of the best.
Hi Michelle. Your father-in-law’s meat sauce recipe looks wonderful. I however have a few questions on the quantities of two of the ingredients. The recipe says to use one half cup of olive oil to brown the meats and saute the onions and garlic. One half cup seems to be way too much. One individual commented on the amount saying, “Horrible not to mention it couldn’t be more greasy. Cooking the meat in 1/2 cup of oil cant be a good idea”. Can you please confirm that one half cup of olive oil is the correct amount? I was thinking more like one or two tablespoons total. My second question is in regards to the amount of onion. The recipe says to use one large onion. Can you please state what measurable quantity that you use? I am guessing the approximate amount of one large onion would be one, one and a half, or two cups? Thanks for your time and assistance with this. I am very excited to try this recipe.
Hi Ed, The amount of olive oil is correct, but you can certainly reduce it without an issue if you’d like – I’ve done that before, especially if I don’t use meat. As for the onion – it usually comes out to about 1.5 cups. I hope you enjoy the sauce!
Hi Michelle, I just revisited your father-in-law’s meat sauce after seeing it again on “Ask Me Anything.” Do you leave the browned meat in the pan after you’ve added the onions? It seems like it would get pretty dried up and crispy during the extra time the onions need, or does the moisture from the onions keep the meat tender?
(who loved reading AMA, by the way. Thanks for doing that again!)
Hi Bettina, You’re welcome, I’m glad you enjoyed it! As for the sauce, yes, leave the meat in the pan. There is more than enough olive oil and rendered juice from the meat to keep it from drying out. It stays nice and tender. Enjoy!
Hello, I have a question. I don’t really drink and I have no idea what kind of wine to buy or use. Can you please give me some names that I should look for to use in this recipe?
Thank you, I’m very excited to try this recipe.
Hi Judy, A cabernet sauvignon or pinot noir would both work just fine in sauce!
I want to make this with and also without meat sauce, do you still use the olive oil as you do for meat sauce recipe?
Thank you….. Joy
Hi Joyce, You could probably cut it in half!
I’m a pasta lover and always looking for new recipes. I’m definitely going to try this.
This is the first non-sweet recipe of yours i have tried… i made the sauce super late last night (so i could make your classic lasagna recipe) and it was quite tasty! I used to make meat sauce with my dad growing up (different than this) but this was my first time making one in probably 12/13 years so I appreciated its simplicity and complete tastiness… no i didn’t eat a bowl of pasta at 12:30 am to eat leftover sauce
I made this sauce today & had it for dinner tonight. It was freakin delish. I’m from New York & know good sauce. I did cut the basil to 3 TBSP because I used canned tomatoes with basil. The basil is not over powering. I did not drain the meat mix & the sauce was not greasy. Next time that I make it, I will add another pound of the meat mix because I thought there wasn’t enough and it IS a meat sauce. You definitely need to add the wine. I also added a 1/4 cup of grated locatelli cheese. This sauce recipe is going into my recipe box-yum!
Tuttorossa tomato products are available at Walmart’s with large food sections..
Thank you for reposting this recipe as part of your Sunday dinner menu. I have a pot simmering on the stove right now. I took a cue from your grandmother and used spare ribs to flavor the sauce. I just wish I had some crusty bread to dunk in it!
Your father in law made his sauce like my grandma who was born in Palmero Italy. Always use the meat mixture, and you are right about the brand it is thicker, there is a difference, I always stock up especially since our Publix has them , I recently bought the San Marzano Alessi brand and they are wonderful, worth the extra penny that brand seems to always have quality especially there balsamic vinegar
I can’t find any Tuttorosso brand products in this area, but I can find Red Gold brand, which is on the Tuttorosso site as one of their products. I’ll be making this when my food stamps hit tomorrow. Both the Tuttorosso and Red Gold sites have a lot of mouth-watering recipes.
Made this sauce following recipe exactly except adding 1T dried Oregano. I bought all the ground meats from a butcher and used San Marzano tomatoes. It was incredible!! son said it was the best meat sauce I’d ever made. Freezes beautifully. The second time I made it, I tried to save a little money, bought everything from Safeway. Good but not as good. Go the extra mile; you wont be disappointed.
Hi! How do I substitute tomato sauce for the crushed tomatoes since it’s what I have on hand? Thank you so much! :)
Hi Nicole, They’re really not interchangeable – totally different textures and slightly different flavors. I would definitely get crushed tomatoes for this recipe if you can!
We don’t drink any alcohol in our home, so it’s there a substitute for the red wine I can use?
Hi Jennifer, You can just omit it.
Hi Michelle, I don’t have a Dutch oven and I don’t have a pot big enough to cook this. However, I do have a 6 quart slow-cooker that I love, after browning the meat, sautéing the onions and garlic, then letting the red wine evaporate could I pop it in the slow-cooker? I wasn’t sure if it would thicken up as good in the slow-cooker or effect the outcome of the sauce in any other way.
Hi Faye, I’ve never done it, but I think that would work just fine.
My fiance and I are in the process of making it now and we love it!!!!!!!
Thank you for this delicious recipe!
If using fresh basil, how much should be used to equal 4 dried tablespoons in recipe?
Would you suggest using fresh basil? I have found that fresh and dried basil have completely different flavors and I usually use fresh.
Hi Miriam, Definitely prefer fresh if you have access to it!
I have made this sauce numerous times and this time was lucky enough to score on a ton of fresh basil….this was the first time I have had access to that at the same time as sauce day….BEST SAUCE EVER!!!! Hands down….amazing!
I used red gold tomato products instead of tuttorosso. Horrible not to mention it couldn’t be more greasy. Cooking the meat in 1/2 cup of oil cant be a good idea.
I just made this sauce tonight. I was worried about 4 TBLS. of basil. I thought it had to be a typo . I went ahead with the 4 TBLS. It was simply delicious! My 11 year old son Ben loved it and ate two large helpings. I will definetly be making this again and again! Thanks for a great recipe!
I cannot wait to try this sauce but there is one concern holding me back. I am a recovering alcoholic, sober 12 years this May and am very curious if anything could “replace” the red wine in the recipe.. Stock? Anything?? Please help, I REFUSE to consume any kind of alcohol. Thank you
Hi Elaine, I asked my father-in-law and he said you could simply omit the wine. Enjoy!
I don’t see that anyone else posted this, so I will. :-) I noticed that Tuttorosso and Red Gold are made by the same company. Here in WI, Red Gold is readily available…so we’re going to use that. We do have some specialty markets that we might be able to get the Tuttorosso brand, but that’ll take some phone calls and some warmer weather…when it isn’t 0 with -11 wind chill! Thank your FIL for being so kind as to share his recipe – we’re getting the ingredients tomorrow and will have it for dinner tomorrow night!
How many people does this recipe serve? enough sauce for 5-6?
Hi CK, In terms of pasta, it makes enough for about 3 pounds of pasta, with a little left over.
I rarely comment on anything on the interwebs, but I have to rave about this fabulous recipe! This sauce is rich, complex, and delicious. The combination of meats adds a fantastic flavor and hint of sweetness (that veal, am I right?!?). My husband craves this, and I make it at least twice a month! I will say that the quality of wine does make a difference. I use a nice, rich chianti and it turns out delicious every time.
I have made this sauce 3 times now. I was a little skeptical…but let me tell you it is FANTASTIC! my grown up children, grandchildren, friends love the taste texture and the full body this sauce has. My son said well this sauce is the star of this meal. You know how we all think we need to add something to a recipe ok I am guilty I added a piece of pancetta once but truly you need to add only ingredients listed to have perfect sauce.
Made this tonight with all veal – got a deal on it at the store; saw several posters unable to even find veal! All veal gives the velvety flavor of beef without overpowering. Looking forward to freezing and enjoying it later. p.s. saw lots of questions about wine – I used a cheapo pinot noir (one that I enjoy drinking) and it came out great!
This looks absolutely amazing! My sister is having a dinner with some friends and cousins tomorrow, and left me in charge of lasagna – this is a lifesaver, thanks to you and your father-in-law. One question: can the pork be omitted? My family doesn’t have it, we’re a Muslim family.
Hi Zoya, You can definitely leave out the pork and just do a beef/veal mix or just do beef. Enjoy!! :)
Thanks so much, but one more thing, about the wine… can it be replaced by another liquid such as chicken stock?
Hi Zoya, Yes, although the sauce won’t taste as full-bodied as if you had used the wine.
Thanks for sharing your recipes! Can the wine be left out? Is there a non-alcoholic substitute when recipes call for wine? Have a wonderful day.
Hi Jai, You can just omit it.
I have been searching for a good tomato sauce recipe, and this one is perfect! It works with or without meat. I like southern red wines which tend to be sweeter, so I used my favorite Carolina red and it really complemented the flavors perfectly. This sauce and the pizza sauce recipe under the Chicago style pizza have become my favorite sauce recipes! They always come out perfectly and when you use higher quality crushed tomatoes, you can definitely tell a difference.
Yum, in a very serious way! I made this for dinner last night. It’s now my go to sauce recipe. Thank you, thank you! So, so good.
I just made this sauce today!! It’s simmering now as I write this. Can’t wait to try it a bit later. I’m also going to attempt homemade lasagne noodles – thanks for all of the wonderful ideas!
This sounds delicious and I will definitely be trying it. I live in Oz so no Tuttorusso tomatoes here but definitely agree there is variance between brands…Italian brands are best. Also so happy that some one mentioned Ina’s tomato and basil soup, I have been looking for a recipe for this forever and after checking it out, it sounds perfect. So love your blog and look forward to your emails.
I found your recipe while surfing my home page on Pinterest and I follow your website as well. I’m excited to taste the final project which is your Lasagna Bolognese. I’ve got a pot of your sauce on right now. Thank you for such great recipes. They’ve never failed me. And thank your father-in-law too!
Um, yum. Family recipes are the best!
Now I know what I’m cooking this weekend, thanks to you and your father-in-law!
Hi all, can the leftover sauce be frozen? Thank you!
Yes, meat sauce can be frozen in a freezer safe container. Leave at least 1/2 inch of space in container, because sauce will expand when frozen. Also, be sure sauce has cooled to room temperature before you put the lid on the container. You can store it in freezer up to 4 months. The night before you plan to use it, move it to the refrigerator to thaw.
Hi Lauren, Yes, definitely! We freeze it all the time!
I notice there’s no salt added. Does the sauce need any salt to flavor it at all ?
Hi, How is the basil flavor in this is it strong? I’m not a big basil fan I can tolerate it I like it for flavor but I don’t not like it to be so strong I can in point he basil.
I made this sauce tonight…. It’s good… But I do think there is a lot of basil. I think you could get away with half. Plus the crushed tomatoes I used – Tuttorosso- were with basil. BTW for the local SWPA folks, I found the Tuttorosso at Giant Eagle, on sale, with a coupon.
Hi Kayla, If you are not a basil fan, then I would cut back on the basil, probably in half.
Thanks for sharing a family recipe-looks yummy!
Yum…I just made ravioli last week stuffed with my meatballs and ricotta. I used my version of a bolognese. Meat sauces are so versatile. Just some tips I’ve found: I always add in some heavy cream to smooth it out towards the end. If I have leftover ham, I will throw in the bone since it adds depth to the sauce but this isn’t necessary (I’m going to have to try the spare ribs now). Using different types of meats like pork or veal or ground Italian sausage add depth that ground beef by itself doesn’t have. Wine can be dry or not – these sauces can handle some sweetness (I’ve seen people add a little honey or sugar even), but just no cooking wine. Depending on what you are using it for, you can easily switch things. For example, when I make meatball subs, I make a pepperonata in the pan first by frying bell peppers, onions, and garlic and then following the rest of the recipe. It’s super easy and more flavorful if you make this in one big pot while not draining anything. Roasting your own tomatoes with spices like thyme and bay leaves is yummy too (just keep the juices from the pan you roast them in). For those wanting a spice blend, I enjoy 2-1-1 ratio of fresh basil, oregano, and parsley. I add a little crushed fennel too and sometimes red pepper flakes if I want some heat. For those with children, these sauces are perfect for hiding veggies. Start out with a mirepoix: grating carrots, dicing onions, and dicing celery (optional) to the pan and then follow the recipe. I even add in grated zucchini and finish off with some spinach when I want to hide extra veggies. The kids don’t notice but they are getting a lot of healthy things mixed in.
Sorry for the novel, but I grew up in a French-Italian family and learned a lot of tricks to making meat sauces. It’s also been my go to since I can easily hide veggies for the kids, can improvise if I don’t have all of the ingredients (though I usually have most on hand), and can alter the recipe for my vegan relatives.
I have been looking for a really good meat sauce, so I have to try this! I have a spaghetti squash in the fridge waiting for it ;)
This looks really yummy!! I am anxious to try it. But like Daphne, I am wondering if I can freeze this. I am just a nice single person!!!
Hi Gwyn, Yes, you can definitely freeze this!
Thank you Michelle and others especially that diced bacon. I was telling my husband about this sauce last night. Going to give in a try in a few weeks. Not sure if anyone asked, Does it freeze well if made in advance of family visits?
Hi Daphne, Yes! We freeze this all the time. Just let it cool completely and then transfer to freezer-safe containers. I’ve found that if you use containers that you can fill just about to the top, that keeps ice from forming on top of the sauce. You don’t want too much space for air.
This looks incredible! I would love you to link up to #tastytuesdays if you fancied it: http://honestmum.com/papa-gs-prawns-with-feta/
This recipe is almost identical to the one my mom passed down to me (minus the veal). The “secret” to our sauce is the addition of 3 slices of diced bacon during the meat browning portion of the recipe…sooooo good!
I can never find veal. is it ok with just pork and beef?
Hi Darlene, Absolutely! Also, you may want to check the meat department for pre-mixed packages of “meatloaf mix” – this is what is typically available in my grocery store.
I live in St. Pete, FL now and their idea of meatloaf mix is beef and pork. Can’t find ground veal at all and not much of any kind of veal really. wonder about subbing ground turkey.
The only crushed tuttorosso tomatoes I can find are already seasoned with basil. Would these be okay to use? Thank you.
Hi Kathy, Sure you can use that, you may just want to cut the basil in the recipe by half.
I’m wondering about making this sauce sans meat and canning it. Does anyone have any experience with canning pasta sauce? I’d love to be able to make a double or triple recipe on a weekend I have time and then have it on hand to just grab a jar without using one of those ‘swear words’ kinds of sauce. :-)
This looks perfect!
Sounds very similar to the one I make but I use more spices and add sugar.
I will have to try yours. Sounds good.
Our family sauce has meatballs, Italian sausage, pork ribs and chicken thighs simmering for hours to infuse flavors. I bet it’ll be even better with red wine!
Please tell your father-in-law THANK YOU!!!
I can’t wait to make this sauce! My favorite brand of tomato puree is Tuttorosso. I can only find it in one of our Chicagoland area stores, and always stock up when I do. It was at the top of America’s Test Kitchen’s taste testing on one of their episodes a few years ago.
I love a good red sauce recipe, and happy to hear your Grandma used to use spare ribs too, that gives it great flavor!
Your father-in-law and my mother must have had the same cooking teacher! This is exactly what I grew up with (in Pittsburgh, the best hometown ever, by the way) and have passed on to my own daughter. “Are we having red sauce tonight?” was the dinner question of our house, often with her friends at the door or on the other end of the phone waiting for the answer! Thank you for sharing this and for the warm, breezy, inviting way of your blog. It’s a favorite of mine, Pittsburgh prejudice aside!
I can’t wait to try this recipe! I bought rigatoni the other day because I hadn’t had it for awhile, and that is what I’m going to cook for this sauce! What kind of red wine should I buy? I know people always say to cook with what you’d drink, but I don’t know what that would be. Thanks!
Hi Denise, I used cabernet sauvignon since I had an open bottle. I think that’s a pretty good red wine to keep on hand for cooking.
Oak-aged Barbera would also go nicely with a tomato meat sauce.
So I notice there is no oregano, nor anything sweet to take the edge off the tomato flavor. If making traditional spaghetti would you add any other spices?
Forgot to ask about the wine. Whenever a recipe calls for wine, I throw in whatever we have on hand. The problem is we don’t drink much so when we do we splurge on expensive wine. When I add expensive wine to a sauce, it has two effects: First, my husband has a conniption ;) … and Second, the sauce is often overwhelmed by the wine (I see this mainly with red wine).
Even though many recipes call for red wine, they are not specific, even though it can cause wide variances in the taste. It can be really frustrating. Michelle, can you please help us out by giving us a wine in cooking primer? I’m sure i am not the only one with this problem. :)
Kathy from Minneapolis
Hi Kathy, I used cabernet sauvignon since we had an open bottle. I think that’s a good all-purpose red wine to keep on hand for cooking.
the only red wine I have is a sweet red // will that work???
Hi Libby, I have not used a sweet wine, so I can’t say for sure how it would affect the flavor, but I tend to think it should be okay.
They have small 4 packs of wine (6-8 oz. per bottle) now that are perfect for cooking. You can get white and red and keep on hand without it going bad. Make sure you pick the real wine not wine coolers in the refrigerator section.
Hi Kathy, Nope, I wouldn’t change a thing! (I’ve actually never added oregano to sauce.)
Just found your web site and wanted to comment. Tuttorosso is available here in Charlotte NC —-I am transplanted from New Jersey years ago. It is the brand that I use myself. I do, however, use the whole tomatoes and pulse in the food processor as I like to make my sauce thick. Also, I do add oregano along with the basil. As far as wine goes, a good dry chianti or Barolo is what I prefer. Excellent recipe and thanks for sharing.
Definitely going to try this making meatballs with the meatloaf mix due to that picky cousin of yours. Where locally does he buy that brand of tomatoes?
Haha! He said he has found them at Giant Eagle in New Ken and Community Market, but that he hasn’t seen the tomato puree in awhile.
I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, and this is the sauce recipe I have made for 60 years. Maybe the Pgh. grandmothers shared this recipe decades ago. I agree with your father-in-law about the brand of tomatoes – they are thicker, sweeter, and often the cheapest brand in the store! I now live down south and “meatloaf” mix is not something they know about here. If I can’t find ground veal I just go with the beef and pork, and it’s still wonderful.
Don’t have Tuttorosso brand here in Utah. It needs to be said however, that using brand-name tomato products DEFINITELY makes a difference – you get what you pay for! Thanks, Michelle :)
Quick search found Tuttorosso crushed tomatoes on Amazon. Might be the only option for those of us on the West Coast…..or a road trip?
I had no idea what to make for dinner tonite, but now I do… That sauce looks AMAZING!! Can’t wait to try it.
Do you have the recipe for the chunky meat sauce with short ribs that you talked about? That sounds like my husband’s version of heaven!
Hi Katie, It wasn’t actually a meat sauce. My grandma would just simmer spare ribs in her “plain” sauce, and then take them out before she served the sauce.
This looks so good! A lot simpler than the one I usually make — I tend to throw in a lot more spices. Can’t wait to give this a try!
I am not one to typically cook with any wine. What do you recommend for this recipe?
Hi Brandy, I use whatever red wine I already have open. For this pot, I used a cabernet sauvignon.
I’m not the author but wanted to suggest Paisano wine. I use in many Italian dishes. Not heavy or bitter like Chianti. Not expensive either. FWIW!
I’ve never made my own sauce before, but this looks fantastic!!
Isn’t it fynny how the smell of certain foods stays with you long after you’ve last had it? I remember my grandma also making spaghetti sauce that was oh so delicious. 15 years later my dad found a recipe that smelled and tasted just like hers did.
Ahh, I just made sauce last night! Does his family call it gravy, too? We like Tuttorosso or Contadina in a pinch. Ours is very similar to yours procedurally except that instead of having loose ground meat, we sear off porkchops, beef for braccioli, and pre-baked meatballs to give the sauce its meaty flavor, and we’ve never put onion in it except when we’re doing marinara. Where in Italy is his family from?
Hi Melanie, Definitely do not call it gravy (my family doesn’t either). His family is from Bagheria, Sicily.
This looks AMAZING! I’m not a big fan of pasta, but I will definitely be trying this one!
Your father-in-law is “right on” stating he prefers Tuttorosso crushed tomatoes. They are thick, have a delicious taste, and America’s Test Kitchen likes them, too. Another plus, is they are cheaper (at least here in Northern Ohio) than other brands. My husband uses them to make his homemade tomato soup (Ina recipe), but I will definitely use them when making this pasta sauce.
This looks soooo tasty. I cannot wait to give this one a try! Thank you for sharing as always!
Thanks for posting this family recipe. It looks terrific. I use the same brand of tomato products. If you are lucky to be in the New York/New Jersey area after the first of the year, Shop Rite our local supermarket has a can-can sale which usually features this brand at really good prices.
I use this same combination of meat (ground beef, ground pork and ground veal) for my meatloaf and it is the best! I will have try it for my meat sauce as well. Thanks for the idea!
Thanks for sharing, looks amazing!
I’ll be running to the kitchen after I buy the ingredients! thanks to you and your father-in-law for this great recipe :)
Love this recipe, Michelle! Thanks for sharing. :) Pinning!
Looks Delicious! I think you definitely found the right family for your in-laws :)
This is a great traditional meat sauce recipe that I and untold thousands of Italians have used for years. It’s best meat sauce recipe in existence .Thanks for bringing it to everyone’s attention .If they try it they will love it !
Can’t wait to try it!
This looks divine!
I’ve been craving pasta for days and this has just about sent me over the edge!
The Macadame. xx
This looks amazing. I do have a question…..I always drain the grease after browning my meat. Do you do this? If not, is it greasy?
I can’t wait to try it. Thanks!
Hi Marla, I do not drain the meat. I don’t find it to be too greasy, but you could definitely drain it if you prefer to remove all of the grease.