This easy spaghetti and meat sauce recipe takes just a few minutes of prep and then a low simmer on the stove for a deep, meaty-flavored, homemade spaghetti for the best family favorite dinner.
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When I finished college and moved into my first apartment, I wrote down my mom’s recipe for our favorite family dinner and plopped it into my tattered recipe binder. Eventually I’d made it so many times I committed it to memory. But as time passed, it didn’t taste quite as good as my mom’s, a fact I didn’t actually realize until she made us all her original version when my sister was visiting. My sister texted me a picture of her copy of my mom’s spaghetti recipe, as seen below. The splatters and drips are proof that my sister is this recipe’s number one fan—and it looks like she’s also quite the stellar recipe tester.
I realized I was missing one crucial ingredient that makes this spaghetti and meat sauce better than all the rest. It isn’t often found in spaghetti sauce. Have you spied it yet? I’ll reveal in a minute, but first, let’s talk basics…
What’s In This Homemade Spaghetti And Meat Sauce
While I have several quick and easy spaghetti recipes like my pasta pomodoro or spaghetti carbonara that are ready in minutes, this spaghetti and meat sauce recipe is the ultimate Sunday, long-simmer dinner.
This is the type of pasta dinner recipe you can easily have at the ready thanks to a simply stocked pantry and a few foundation refrigerator ingredients I can always find at my local Smith’s Marketplace / Kroger store.
My Mom’s spaghetti recipe is both Italian in its inspiration and American in its popularity. It doesn’t call for anything extraordinary. In fact, it’s totally basic, and that’s what makes it all the better.
Here’s what’s in this spaghetti and meat sauce:
- Ground Beef. I use 85% lean ground angus beef for my sauce so it still has flavor but not a lot of fat. My sister has taken to using ground turkey, also a great option.
- Tomato sauce. Plain is best to create a tomato bath for the other ingredients to infuse.
- Diced tomatoes. You could use canned whole tomatoes and then crush with your hands and fingers. But mom’s recipe says diced so that’s what I do.
- Tomato paste. This gives the sauce body and also a little sweetness.
- Beef broth. Another layer of meatiness. My sister amended her recipe to use condensed, but I used regular here.
- Canned mushrooms. Typically I will always use fresh mushrooms in recipes, but this is one time I never, ever, ever do. There’s just something about the canned version that becomes my favorite part of the sauce, and the reason I typically double the amount the recipe calls for.
- A splash of wine. Mom says to use the empty mushroom can as your measurement guide. The key to cooking with wine is to purchase one that is of the same quality you’d be willing to drink. I’d say look for a bottle that costs around $10 or so (I tend to use a blended red or Pinot noir in this spaghetti recipe).
- Onion, celery and fresh garlic. They’re always lollying around the refrigerator crisper waiting to be used.
- Dried herbs, kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of sugar for sweetness. Don’t skip out on the bay leaves, they make a huge difference.
- Dried whole cloves! My mom learned this trick from her friend Virginia, and adding a few whole cloves was the secret ingredient I’d been missing lo these many years. My mom uses 5-6 cloves but my husband prefers four. The cloves give it an earthy, spiced flavor that’s not often easy to place. It’s a total surprise when I tell people they’re in there, or if they discover one on their own hidden in their spaghetti-sauced bite if I forget or can’t find them to fish them out before serving.
How to Make This Spaghetti and Meat Sauce
Truly fantastic homemade spaghetti sauce is easier to make than you’d think, but it does take time.
Brown the beef. Drain off any excess fat, then, throw in the chopped celery, onion, and garlic and cook until the vegetables soften.
Boil and simmer. Dump the rest of the homemade pasta sauce ingredients into the pot and bring the mixture to a boil. Once the spaghetti sauce is boiling, reduce the heat and let it simmer on the stove for 3 hours. I know 3 hours sounds like forever, but that’s how long it takes to make a rich, flavorful meat sauce. Just do what the Italians do, (fuhgetaboutit).
Cook your noodles. Once the homemade spaghetti sauce has had time to simmer, all that’s left to do is boiling the spaghetti noodles according to package instructions and dish it up!
The Difference Between Spaghetti Meat Sauce and Bolognese
Bolognese (a slow-cooked ragu from the Northern Italian cit of Bologna) is a mixture of ground beef and/or pork, tenderized with milk and sautéed with soffrito (an essential flavor base of most Italian recipes, consisting of a mixture of onion, carrots, and celery). While it does have tomatoes, it’s not as saucy or tomato-forward as spaghetti and meat sauce. A traditional bolognese is more meat-forward, less tomato-heavy, richer and more delicate in flavor than most spaghetti and meat sauce recipes. And in case you’re wondering, I love them both equally, don’t make me choose!
How to Reheat Spaghetti
If you wind up with leftovers from this homemade spaghetti recipe, you can easily reheat them the next day. I recommend reheating leftover spaghetti in a covered saucepan over medium-low heat. You may need to add a splash of beef broth to loosen up the pasta.
Can I Omit the Wine?
Technically, yes, but I highly recommend adding it to the homemade spaghetti sauce since it adds so much flavor. Remember: the alcohol cooks out of the sauce and is only a flavoring.
However, if you’re out of wine or are opposed to using it, you can add 1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar instead to add a little acid and umami.
Tips for Making Spaghetti and Meat Sauce
While the easy homemade spaghetti sauce cooks low and slow for 3 hours, stir it occasionally. You don’t want anything sticking to the bottom of the pot and burning, adding a bitter flavor to the meat sauce.
Serve this meat sauce with regular spaghetti noodles. It would be just as good with any other twirly pasta, tortellini, ravioli or even as a filler for lasagna.
This homemade spaghetti recipe makes a lot so it’s great for serving to a crowd or a big family. If you’re making for two or a few, it makes excellent leftovers for lunch all week long or divide the sauce into gallon freezer and save for later.
How to Freeze Meat Sauce
Freeze the homemade spaghetti sauce separately and then make fresh spaghetti noodles when you’re about to eat it. Defrost the sauce in the refrigerator for 1 day, or, add to a large pot, cover, and heat on medium to medium-low until thawed.
To make this spaghetti sauce for meal prep, freeze the sauce in gallon freezer bags. Lay them down flat so you can stack them flat or upright side by side in the freezer.
What to Serve with Spaghetti and Meat Sauce
We always serve this with a super crunchy iceberg salad tossed with sliced cucumbers and tomatoes and dressed in my favorite red wine vinaigrette and a few slices of buttery garlic bread. If you’re looking for a little bit more, here are a few recipe ideas to make your meal.
- Caesar Salad With Garlic Croutons
- Killer Garlic Rolls
- Easy 5-Minute Parmesan Zucchini
- Arugula Salad With Shaved Parmesan Three Ways
- The Best Caprese Salad (Plus A DIY Caprese Salad Bar)
- How To Make Classic Tiramisu
- Wine. Plenty of wine.
If you try this recipe, please let me know! Bookmark this recipe and leave a comment below, or take a photo and tag it on Instagram with #foodiecrusheats.
My Mom's Homemade Spaghetti and Meat Sauce
- 1 pound 85% lean ground beef
- 1 yellow onion chopped
- 4 stalks celery chopped
- 4 garlic cloves minced or pressed
- 1 29- ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1 29- ounce can tomato sauce
- 1 6- ounce can tomato paste
- 2 7- ounce cans sliced mushrooms
- 1 cup red wine
- 1 15- ounce can beef broth
- 5-6 whole cloves
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley or 4 teaspoons dried
- 1 teaspoon basil
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound dried spaghetti noodles
- grated Parmesan cheese
- In a large heavy bottomed stock pot over medium high heat, cook the ground beef until browned, about 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain the rendered fat and add the meat back to the pot.
- Add the chopped onion, celery and garlic and cook until the vegetables soften, about 5-7 more minutes.
- Add the rest of the ingredients (except the spaghtti noodles and Parmesan), stir, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer, stir and cover with a lid, and cook for at least three hours on medium low heat, stirring occasionally.
- Cook the spaghetti according to the package directions in generously salted water. Drain and mix into the spaghetti sauce.
- Serve with grated or ground Parmesan cheese and chopped fresh parsley if desired.
More Italian Recipe Ideas
- Pasta Pomodoro Sauce — the authentic sauce I learned how to make in Italy!
- Linguine Con Vongole (Linguine With Clam Sauce)
- Easy Homemade Pesto Pasta Recipe
- Gnocchi With Pomodoro Sauce — a total time saver made with jarred sauce
- Crab Spaghetti With Lemon Gremolata
- How To Make Homemade Chicken Parmesan
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This post is in partnership with Kroger. As always, thank you for reading and for supporting companies I partner with, which allows me to create more unique content and recipes for you. All opinions are always my own.