Italian Meat Sauce (Beef & Sausage)

Updated: Dec 30th, 2023 · By Bethany Kramer
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Italian meat sauce simmered for several hours with San Marzano tomatoes, ground beef, and sweet Italian sausage. It’s a hearty and rich sauce perfect for serving with pasta, layering into lasagnas, or adding to your favorite Italian dishes!

A cast iron pot with red Italian meat sauce in it. The pot is on a wooden background with fresh herbs and a small bowl of red pepper flakes placed around the pot.

Italian meat sauce is an essential part of many Italian dishes!

It’s a red sauce made with San Marzano tomatoes, ground beef, and sausage (you can also use pork or veal), and some aromatics to flavor the sauce. The tomatoes and meat are simmered for several hours to achieve a rich and naturally sweet tomato sauce that is layered with deep flavor. The meat adds protein, making it perfect for adding to your favorite dishes that need a little bit more heartiness!

I kept this recipe simple, making sure it had ingredients that most would have available to them. It’s nothing fancy, but it sure is delicious! And pairs perfectly with your favorite Italian dishes.

Recipe Highlights

SIMMERED LOW AND SLOW. The best method for a richly developed sauce is to simmer the tomatoes and ingredients low and slow. This is also how we cook our San Marzano tomato sauce. Cooking the sauce longer gives more time to develop a robust flavor! This also gives the carrot time to absorb acidity and sweeten the sauce naturally.

SIMPLE ITALIAN COOKING. This sauce is simple Italian cooking at its finest. It’s nothing complicated or fancy, but the result is a deeply flavored meat sauce to enjoy with your favorite Italian meals. Add everything to the pot and let the heat do all the work while it simmers away!

Ingredients

The ingredients for an Italian meat sauce are simple. A blend of pantry staples mixed with some meat, aromatics, and fresh herbs! Let’s go over all the details.

Ingredients for Italian meat sauce arranged on a wooden background. The meat is on brown butcher paper and the rest of the ingredients are placed whole, in small bowls, or are in cans that are open.

See the recipe card below for the full list of ingredients and exact measurements.

Meat – for the meat in the sauce, I used ground beef and sweet Italian sausage (pictured is bulk sausage, but you can also use sausage links with the casing removed).

Aromatics – for the base to add flavor to the sauce, you’ll need a large yellow onion and a handful of fresh garlic cloves. And you’ll need quality olive oil to saute both in!

Tomatoes – we like to use quality San Marzano Tomatoes for any sauce and tomato paste to thicken the sauce.

Seasonings – for flavoring the sauce, we like to use a little bit of red pepper flakes and fresh basil. You’ll also need salt and black pepper to draw out the flavor of the sauce ingredients!

How to Make Italian Meat Sauce

  1. 1

    Break up the tomatoes. Use your hands to break up the whole plum tomatoes into pieces.

  2. 2

    Sauté the onions and garlic. In a large heavy pot, sauté the diced onions in olive oil for 3-4 minutes, then add the minced garlic and sauté another minute.

  3. 3

    Cook the sausage and beef. Then add the ground beef and sausage, and cook until completely browned and no longer pink. Then add the tomato paste and red pepper flakes and cook with the meat for about 2 minutes.

A collage of three photos showing how to make Italian meat sauce. The first image, step one, is a hand crushing tomatoes in a large bowl. The second image, step two, is a wooden spoon stirring diced onions in a large black pot. The third image, step three, shows a wooden spoon stirring browned ground beef and sausage in the same black pot with the onions.
  1. 4

    Add the tomatoes and carrot. Next, add the crushed tomatoes and whole peeled carrot with the cooked beef. Sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt.

  2. 5

    Simmer low and slow. Partly cover the pot and simmer on low for 4 hours, stirring occasionally.

  3. 6

    Add the basil and season to taste. When the sauce is finished, add the chopped basil and season with salt and black pepper until the flavor is just right. Then serve and enjoy!

A collage of images showing how to make Italian meat sauce. The first image, step four, is showing canned tomatoes being added to cooked beef in a large black pot. The second image, step five, is showing all the tomatoes in the same black pot with a whole carrot in it. The third image, step six, is showing fresh chopped herbs being added to the finished sauce in the black pot.

The Best Tomatoes For Any Italian Sauce

We recommend using D.O.P-certified San Marzano Tomatoes grown in southern Italy for the best-tasting sauce. What sets these tomatoes apart from others is that they are sweeter in flavor, less acidic, and extremely tender, so they break down beautifully. The one key factor contributing to San Marzano tomatoes’ famous taste is the potassium-rich volcanic soil they’re grown in.

They are not only a staple in my family’s recipes but are considered to be the best tomatoes in the world!

To know you are using certified San Marzano tomatoes, the can should say “Pomodoro San Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese Necorino D.O.P.” This ensures the tomatoes are grown in the authentic region.

Five cans of San Marzano tomatoes stacked on top of each other in front of a dark background.
Tips for Success

Always use fresh herbs for tomato sauce. Not many meat sauces have herbs, but I think it’s necessary for a pop of bright basil flavor. I never recommend using dried herbs for sauce. Only fresh for the best flavor!

Best pot to use for meat sauce – I recommend using a heavier enamel pot for best results. I have always used stainless steel pots for sauce, which you can use. However, I have found that a heavy cast iron pot produces more heat, perfect for cooking a meat sauce like this one. Using a cast iron pot with an enamel lining is very important. The enamel coats the inside of the pot, allowing you to cook anything in it – including acidic tomato sauces such as this one.

Salt to taste at the end. Because the sauce isn’t cooked when you add the tomatoes, it’s hard to know how much salt needs to be added. I like to add most of the salt at the end when I can taste the sauce. Salting is essential for a really flavorful result! You can always add more salt later, so it’s best to under-season it at the beginning rather than over-season it.

Recipe Variations

Meats to use in Italian meat sauce – aside from ground beef and Italian sausage, you can add ground pork, ground veal, or spicy Italian sauce to meat sauce.

Add red wine – many meat sauce recipes call for red wine to add robust flavor. But not everyone drinks or has wine always readily available in their pantry, so I opted to leave it out to make things simpler. But you can add 1/4 cup of red wine once the meat is cooked and cook off the alcohol for a few minutes. Use any red wine that isn’t sweet, such as Cabernet or Merlot!

Simmer with a parmesan rind – to add a rich, umami flavor, simmer this sauce with a small-to-medium-sized parmesan cheese rind. This is the harder outer shell that the cheese is aged in. The rind won’t melt but will infuse the sauce with delicious flavor!

A white bowl of small shaped pasta mixed with Italian meat sauce and topped with fresh basil. The plate is arranged on a wooden background with fresh herbs around the plate.

What to Serve with Italian Meat Sauce

Pasta. Of course, pasta is the most popular item to serve with Italian meat sauce! You can serve it with any shape you like, but I like shapes that can catch all the meat and sauce in its shapes. Such as reginetti, radiatori, fussili, rotini, or rigatoni.

Baked pasta. This sauce is perfect for baked pasta such as our three-cheese baked rigatoni or baked ziti or lasagna such as our spinach lasagna, zucchini, or eggplant lasagna for added protein.

Toppings. To add to the sauce, such as toppings, we love serving this sauce with lots of freshly chopped basil or oregano and lots of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

Make it Ahead

Of course this sauce tastes delicious and rich once it’s cooked, but the secret that most Italians will tell you is meat sauce tastes even better the longer it sits. While the sauce is refrigerated the flavors marinate and deepen even more! I recommend making it no more than 3 days ahead of time to maintain the freshness of the ingredients.

A wooden spoon stirring a pot of red tomato sauce with meat in it in a black pot.

More Italian Tomato Sauce Recipes to Try

If you love cooking homemade tomato sauce, we have a handful of recipes that our readers love! Such as our San Marzano Tomato Sauce, Arrabbiata sauce, roasted cherry tomato sauce, or fresh tomato sauce.

Freeze or Refrigerate Leftovers

Leftover meat sauce can be refrigerated no longer than 5-7 days. This sauce also freezes great! I like to keep it in a freezer-friendly ziplock bag (air removed) and lay it flat. You can freeze it for 2-3 months.

Italian Meat Sauce

Italian meat sauce simmered for several hours with San Marzano tomatoes, ground beef, and sweet Italian sausage. It's a hearty and rich sauce perfect for serving with pasta, layering into lasagnas, or adding to your favorite Italian dishes!
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 4 hours
Serves 10

Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 6 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 lb sweet Italian sausage
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
  • 5 cans 28 oz San Marzano tomatoes, with juices
  • 1 carrot, end cut off, peeled, and left whole
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh basil, finely chopped
  • salt & black pepper to taste

Instructions

  • Use your hands to crush the tomatoes: we like to crush the tomatoes the old Italian way, using our hands. Place the tomatoes in a large bowl and use your hands to break them into smaller pieces. This will result in a chunkier sauce!
  • Saute the onions and garlic: In a large, heavy pot, saute the diced onions in olive oil for about 3-4 minutes with a healthy pinch of salt. Then add the minced garlic and saute with the onions for 1 minute.
  • Cook the meat: Add the ground beef and the sausage (removed from the casing) to the onions and garlic. Use a wooden spoon to break the meat into smaller pieces and cook until browned with a healthy pinch of salt. Then add the red pepper flakes and tomato paste and cook for several minutes with the meat. Note: if you want to add red wine, add it after the tomato paste and cook off the alcohol for a few minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes and simmer: Next, add the tomatoes with the juices with the meat, as well as the whole peeled carrot. Season with another healthy pinch of salt and black pepper then partially cover and simmer for 4 hours, stirring occasionally.
  • Add the herbs, and season to taste: When the sauce is finished, add the chopped fresh basil, then season to taste with salt & black pepper until the flavor is just right. Then serve and enjoy!
Course Side Dish
Cuisine American, Italian
Keyword Italian meat sauce
Freezer Friendly Yes

Nutrition

Serving: 1cup | Calories: 167kcal | Carbohydrates: 6.5g | Protein: 17.8g | Fat: 8g | Saturated Fat: 2.5g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.7g | Monounsaturated Fat: 4.1g | Trans Fat: 0g | Cholesterol: 39.7mg | Sodium: 617mg | Fiber: 2.2g | Sugar: 3.3g | Vitamin A: 3IU | Vitamin C: 16mg | Iron: 13mg

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