There’s nothing like a classic meat sauce recipe. My version is low-carb, paleo, and whole30 compliant. Make this meat sauce recipe in your slow cooker or Instant Pot.
What Is Meat Sauce?
Meat sauce is a tomato-based sauce that has a spice blend and ground meat (usually beef, pork, or Italian sausage) added to it to make it heartier. This sauce is great on pasta, veggie spirals, or rice when you need to make something quick and easy. Each person’s homemade meat sauce is just a little bit different, but the basics are meat, onions, garlic, tomatoes, and spices such as thyme, oregano, and bay leaf. You can make meat sauce in the Instant Pot for a quick meal if you really need to, but letting this sauce simmer in your slow cooker really adds a depth to the flavors that only patience can bring. To sum it up, meat sauce is a rich red sauce that is made with tomatoes, meat, and a blend of spices that has a variety of delicious uses. Rest assured, no matter what you call it or how you make it, this recipe will become a long time favorite that you will find yourself wanting for dinner all the time.
Meat Sauce vs. Bolognese
I’ve been asked before if meat sauce and Bolognese are the same thing, and I totally understand that confusion. If you are also confused about the difference between meat sauce and Bolognese sauce, you should know that you are not alone. While some people use these two terms to describe the same dish, there is a difference between the two. Meat sauce and Bolognese sauce, both being tomato and meat based, have similarities when it comes to ingredients and flavors, but there are some particularly important differences between them that make the distinction important. Meat sauce, like Bolognese sauce, has tomatoes, spices and broth in it, and meat sauce sticks with and develops those flavors alone. It also typically sticks to just one type of meat whereas a traditional Bolognese sauce usually has beef, pork sausage, and pancetta. Bolognese adds in many different ingredients that meat sauce does not, like carrots and celery cooked until they’re almost caramelized, to add more depth of flavor. Some sort of milk or cream is usually added at the end of a Bolognese to give it a rich creaminess. Another key ingredient in Bolognese sauce is dry white wine, which I choose to leave out when I make it.
Meat sauce starts…meat! Yup. I use all ground beef. A good variation would be to use half ground beef, half ground sausage. You could choose to take this meat sauce up a notch by using stew meat for chunks of beef that are fork-tender and flavorful when slow simmered in the tomatoes, broth, and herbs.
Other meat sauce or meatball recipes you might enjoy:
How To Serve Meat Sauce
What do you serve this meat sauce over? The traditional way is spaghetti noodles of course! A good low-carb, paleo, and whole30 substitute for spaghetti noodles are zoodles (zucchini noodles) or even spaghetti squash. Meat sauce is even good served over a baked potato that has been split open.
Storing the Leftovers
One of my favorite things about this meat sauce recipe is just how EASY it is to save your leftovers! If you are anything like me, you might plan ahead and make a large batch of a recipe like this so that you can portion it out to save leftovers to make a few easy meals on stressful nights. This meat sauce recipe is perfect for doing just that, and it reheats well, too. You can store your leftovers in reusable storage containers or glass jars to save space. Meat sauce will save in the refrigerator for up to five days in good airtight storage or in the freezer for up to three months in freezer safe storage. You need to make sure any container you use to freeze food in is freezer safe or else you run the risk of the food going bad or getting freezer burn. There is nothing worse than getting excited for a delicious dinner with some leftovers only to find that they’ve gone bad before you can eat them. Reheating meat sauce is easy, too. You can go straight from the refrigerator to either the microwave or a pot on the stovetop. If you freeze your leftovers, I recommend thawing the sauce in the refrigerator overnight or at least four to six hours first.
- 2 pounds ground beef
- 2 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
- 1 cup low-sodium beef broth
- 1 small onion, diced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 5 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (or more)
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 2 bay leaves
- In a large skillet, add ground beef and cook over medium-high heat until browned. Drain grease. Add the ground beef to the slow cooker.
- Add all remaining ingredients to the slow cooker. Stir to mix well.
- Cook HIGH 3-4 hours or low 6-8.
- Remove bay leaf before serving.
- Turn on the pressure cooker and select sauté. Once hot add the oil, ground beef, and onion. Cook 5-7 minutes until the ground beef is browned and the onion is soft. Crumble the ground beef as it cooks. Add garlic and cook an additional minute. Drain excess grease from the pressure cooker if needed.
- Add broth, tomato paste, oregano, salt, thyme, basil, pepper, and red pepper flakes (if using). Stir to mix well.
- Pour crushed tomatoes on top. Top with bay leaves. Do not stir.
- Close lid and seal valve. Cook high pressure for 20 minutes. Natural release pressure for 5 minutes then quick release any remaining pressure.
- Remove bay leaves & stir.