The best Homemade Meat Sauce is hearty, thick and easy to make! It uses a combination of lean ground beef and turkey plus pantry staples. Then use with family favorites like Instant Pot lasagna and easy spaghetti recipe.

Homemade meat sauce in white pot with bay leaves and fresh basil.

I feel like I finally perfected juicy, meaty and flavorful homemade meat sauce that every cook should have in their back pocket.

The prep time is 3 minutes, kids love it and it’s even easier than Instant Pot bolognese sauce. Easier is only this easy marinara sauce recipe.

Made from scratch meat sauce is easy for weeknight dinners and yet still a fancy Italian dish you could entertain with.

Skip the store bought jarred meat sauce and make this homemade pasta sauce. Then serve it over al dente pasta, spaghetti noodles garnished with Parmesan cheese, or in zucchini lasagna, and wait for the rave reviews!

Ingredients You Will Need

Ground turkey, ground beef, canned tomatoes, onion, olive oil, maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, garlic and spices.

This meat sauce is thick, chunky and flavorful, it’s perfect! Let’s break down the ingredients of what goes into the best meat sauce.

  • Ground beef and turkey: When it comes to meat for tomato meat sauce, I like a combination of grass fed or organic ground beef and lean tender ground turkey. I feel 1.5 lbs is perfect amount, where as 1 lb of meat is not enough.
  • Canned tomatoes: Low sodium diced tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato paste. You could use crusted tomatoes if that is what you have on hand. I use Costco brand. Each of them layers different texture on top of another texture making the best spaghetti meat sauce!
  • Onion and garlic: These sauteed veggies are the first layer of flavor.
  • Balsamic vinegar and rich olive oil: Both add richness and another layer of flavors.
  • Maple syrup: A little natural sugar balances the acidity of the tomatoes.
  • Seasonings: I add traditional dried herbs of oregano, basil, thyme and bay leaves plus salt and ground black pepper. You could use Italian seasoning mix instead.
  • Cinnamon: And one secret punch of flavor I got from my neighbor is a pinch of cinnamon. You will not believe that extra touch of sweetness and warmth it adds to this quick meat sauce. Just trust me!

How to Make Homemade Meat Sauce

The key to this meat sauce recipe is letting it simmer for 45 minutes to develop the rich flavors and tenderize the meat.

Browning ground beef and turkey then adding onion and spices.

Cook ground meat in a hot cast iron pot or large dutch oven over medium heat breaking and stirring with spatula constantly. Takes about 5 minutes.

Add onion, garlic and dried seasonings. Please note onion doesn’t need to brown but herbs benefit from high heat to release maximum flavors.

Adding tomatoes to large pot and pot covered on stovetop.

Add canned tomatoes and liquid seasonings. Stir, cover and cook on low-medium heat for about 30 minutes. Covering the pot prevents red splatters all over the stove.

A pot lid slightly open and hot homemade meat sauce in a pot.

To thicken meat sauce: Open the lid a little bit to the side and cook for 15 minutes. Moisture will evaporate making perfect hearty and thick meat sauce.


Mix it up and customize this meat sauce recipe to your tastes!

  • Slow cooker: For an easy hands off recipe, brown your meat, garlic and onion then transfer to a slow cooker and simmer on low all day or high for a few hours.
  • Homemade spaghetti sauce, no meat: For a vegetarian version, use your favorite plant based substitute, crumble tofu or tempeh, or use mushrooms for that ‘meaty’ texture.
  • Green peppers: Ues your garden bounty and add these with the onion.
  • Mushrooms: Adds some great texture, saute with onion.
  • Additional spices: Red pepper flakes can add some additional heat and crushed fennel seeds another layer of flavor.


How much spaghetti and meat sauce should I plan per person?

Plan on about 1 cup of sauce per person and then 1/2 – 1 cup of pasta. This recipe makes 8 servings of sauce, so for a family of four you will have leftovers for another night. Yeah!

How long does this meat sauce last?

This is great for meal prep as you can store it up to 5 days in the refrigerator or you can freeze it up to 3 months. That is why I love to double the recipe!

Why do I need to add a ‘sugar’ to the pasta sauce?

This balances the acidity of the tomatoes. I use natural sweeteners like honey or maple syrup when possible, but you could use what you have on hand including brown sugar.

What is the difference between bolognese and meat sauce?

Meat sauce usually will be more saucy than bolognese. Bolognese also has a base layer of flavor called a mirepoix (celery, carrots and onion).

Can I use Italian sausage?

Feel free to swap the beef for Italian sausage if you prefer. You may need to drain it depending on how ‘greasy’ it seems.

What to Serve with Meat Sauce?

When it comes to pasta for meat sauce, the default is spaghetti noodles. My personal preference in healthy pasta dishes is short pasta with holes or grooves to scoop up the sauce. Like penne, rigatoni, corkscrew or even macaroni. Serve with some easy sides for an entire Italian spread.

Tips for Making Ahead, Storing and Freezing

Store leftovers in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Reheat meat sauce in a skillet or saucepan with a splash of water for another easy dinner. Simmer on low, half-covered with a lid to prevent splashing and stirring occasionally. Shouldn’t take more than 5-7 minutes.

Freeze: Meat sauce is perfect for freezing because it doesn’t contain cooked starches or watery vegetables that become soggy once thawed. So make sure you don’t mix it with cooked spaghetti.

Freeze up to 3 months in an airtight container. I prefer glass for health reasons and the environment as much as I can. But real life strikes, I get it.

I promise you can make the best homemade meat sauce yourself!

More Italian Recipes to Try

Homemade meat sauce served over penne pasta garnished with basil and Parmesan.
Homemade meat sauce in a white pot with basil.

Homemade Meat Sauce

The best Homemade Meat Sauce is hearty, thick and flavorful! Easy to make with a combination of lean ground beef and turkey plus pantry staples.
5 from 23 votes
Servings 8 servings
Calories 180
Diet Gluten Free
Prep Time 3 minutes
Cook Time 55 minutes
Total Time 58 minutes



  • Preheat large dutch oven or heavy bottom pot on high heat and add ground beef and turkey. Cook breaking into small pieces and stirring with spatula constantly, for about 5 minutes.
  • Add onion, garlic, oregano, basil, thyme, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Cook for about 2 minutes , stirring a few times. Please note onion doesn’t need to brown but herbs benefit from high heat to release maximum flavors.
  • Add olive oil, balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste and bay leaves. Stir, cover and cook on low-medium heat for about 30 minutes. Covering the pot prevents red splatters all over the stove.
  • Open the lid a little bit to the side and cook for another 15 minutes. Moisture will evaporate making perfect hearty and thick meat sauce.
  • Stir and serve hot over whole grain spaghetti or any tubular pasta, garnished with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.



  • Store: Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
  • Freeze: Fully cook, cool completely and freeze in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight or on a stovetop covered on low.
  • Ground meat: You can use all ground beef or all ground turkey if you wish.
  • Pasta: Cook pasta in salted water to prevent sticking.


Serving: 1cup | Calories: 180kcal | Carbohydrates: 15g | Protein: 23g | Fat: 4g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 47mg | Sodium: 550mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 9g
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: Italian
Author: Olena Osipov
Did you make this recipe?Mention @ifoodreal or tag #ifoodreal!

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About Olena

Welcome! I grew up in Ukraine watching my grandma cook with simple ingredients. I have spent the last 11 years making it my mission to help you cook quick and easy meals for your family!

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  1. 5 stars
    Hi Olena,

    Have you tried to do this or have any suggestions to do this in the Instant Pot? I am refusing to make anything in the oven or stove due to the summer heat. Thanks!

  2. 5 stars
    Hi Olena,

    Hello from very wet Washington State. This recipe is yet another home run from your Website. I’ve never considered adding maple syrup or cinnamon to a meat sauce, but it is rich tasting and delicious!!! My husband and I loved it! Thanks again for sharing your recipes. When I’m not sure what to make for dinner, I go straight to your website now!


    1. Hi Amy. I live on very wet Vancouver island haha. I’m so happy your family loved the recipe. Thanks for sharing that with me!

  3. 5 stars
    I made this and it was a big hit with the whole family. We don’t usually care for mixing cinnamon in with our savory dishes but its presence in this dish was so mild that it really just increased the depth of flavor instead of being an obvious cinnamon taste.

  4. 5 stars
    I give it a 5, I myself loved it just the way it was. However, my family is not a huge fan of cinnamon in meat (never have been) which is why I didn’t even use the full 1/8 tsp of it in the recipe. They still picked it out. ? I thought it was wonderful, but in the interest of everyone else I will probably leave it out next time. It’s delicious over spaghetti squash!!

    1. Of course. I understand. My family used to be like that and now they are used to cinnamon. I broke them haha. Thank you for your wonderful review, Kim!

  5. 5 stars
    I made this last night and it was fantastic. I used the leftovers and made your one pot chili Mac with beer…so delicious too!

  6. 5 stars
    I came across your blog the other day and decided to make this recipe first as my youngest girl (16) is crazy about pasta. I cooked it today and it definitely got her approval. She loved it and so did we. It’s very tasteful. I’ll definitely cook it again. For now I have a large portion to go into the freezer. Thanks for sharing! Greetings from The Netherlands, Ingrid

  7. 5 stars
    In the instructions you mention adding bay leaves yet the ingredients do not include them
    Should there be bay leaves?

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