This Homemade Meat Sauce is an updated version of the Versatile Red Sauce recipe included in my first ebook As Seen on IG. Remember the post I wrote announcing it? Oh, how things have changed in a couple of years! It was one of the most praised recipes in the book and I personally love it, so I knew I wanted it to be one of the very first recipes I transitioned to the website when I retired the books earlier this month.
The recipe instructions have been fleshed out – I get better at writing recipes every day! – and I’ve adjusted some ingredients amount slightly. It was originally called Versatile because it really is. It’s wonderful cooked at different temperatures and for different amounts of time, it goes great with or in anything you’d use meat sauce for traditionally, and it tastes great with vegetarian substitutes for the meat. I’ll be posting the vegan version of this sauce in the upcoming months so be on the lookout for that.
Homemade Meat Sauce Ingredients + Equipment
Feel free to jump to the full recipe, but here are useful notes about the ingredients you will need to make this Homemade Meat Sauce recipe:
- Crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste: This is our star trio! If you have issues finding tomato sauce you can use tomato puree in its place with little difference in the final sauce.
- Lean ground beef: I like to let the meat char a bit before I break it up for some extra flavor – and Butcher Box‘s Ground Sirloin is my favorite ground beef to use. I have mixed the meats called for before, substituting the second pound for ground lamb, turkey sausage, and spicy Italian sausage removed from the casing.
- Diced onion, garlic: Our standard aromatic babies. Use Vidalia onions, if you can find ’em. I’ve also been known to add green bell peppers, too.
- Parmesan rind: We let this simmer until it softens and pretty much breaks apart, infusing the sauce with a nice umami flavor.
- Olive oil: Only a touch, for sauteeing.
- Kosher salt: The amount called for is an estimate of course. You’ll use a hefty pinch to sautee the aromatics, to season the ground beef, and to bring out the flavors in the sauce multiple times throughout the cooking process.
- Light brown sugar: I do not like sweet pasta sauce, so that’s not what this is for. I like to use brown sugar to temper the acidity in this Homemade Meat sauce when it’s needed. It seems to meld into the other flavors better than regular granulated sugar, but that works too. Depending on the tomato products you use – and your taste buds – you might not need it. Alternative: Shred a medium-sized carrot and sauteed that along with the diced onion at the beginning. The carrot will provide some subtle, natural sweetness.
- Crushed red pepper flakes, Italian seasoning, ground oregano, cayenne pepper, dried oregano, dried parsley, fennel seeds, herbs de Provence: Yes, there are a lot of them. They’re all necessary except the cayenne pepper and I stand by it! Reduce the crushed red pepper flakes to limit the heat if you need to. I don’t think this sauce is spicy, especially not after the long cook time, but remember my family laughs at Scoville Units so we’re not to be trusted in this regard.
- Fresh basil: I’ve used dried basil in a pinch and it’s not the same. It’ll do, but it’s not the best.
- Balsamic red wine vinegar, Worcestershire sauce: The vinegar will add a touch of sweetness – and tang – and the Worchestershire will elevate some of the deeper umami flavors.
- Water: About half a cup or so. Add it to one of the empty tomato sauce cans and shake the can gently to rinse the sides. Add it to the soup. If you’re like me you can pour it from tomato can to tomato can and rinse them all: no waste!
- Equipment: An enameled cast-iron dutch oven is by far my favorite vessel for this soup, but any heavy-bottomed pot that can hold 5-6 quarts will work. Just make sure it has a tight-fitting lid, or use a universal one. Here’s what I used plus some recommended alternatives:
How to Make Homemade Meat Sauce
Full instructions are included in the recipe below, but here is a basic overview of what you’ll need to do, along with some important tidbits to help you make the most of this Homemade Meat Sauce recipe:
- Saute your aromatics. Heat the olive oil in your dutch oven over medium heat. Once it’s shimmering, add your onions. Cook until they begin to soften.
- Brown the ground beef. Push the onions to the side and add the ground beef. Season with salt and pepper and use a wooden spoon to break it up into small pieces. Cook until no pink remains. After the meat is entirely browned, drain the fat off and set the meat and onions aside.
- Bloom the paste. Add more oil to the pot and toss in the garlic. Cook for 2 minutes, then add the tomato paste. Stir the tomato paste around, allowing it to coat the garlic. It should start to deepen in color and become very fragrant. Move the paste and garlic over a bit and add the fennel seeds. Allow them to toast, stirring the entire time, for just a minute or two.
- Build the sauce. Add the meat mixture back to the pot, along with the crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, water, Worcestershire, and balsamic red wine vinegar. Stir it all together, then stir in all of the dry seasonings, basil, and parmesan rind.
- Adjust to your tastes. Taste it. Depending on your preference and on the tomatoes used, it might taste unbalanced: bitter, or acidic. If so, add 1 tbsp of the light brown sugar. You can add more or less: the amount I add varies with almost every batch I make. Add a little more salt if you think it needs it, then cover with a lid and reduce the heat to medium-low.
- Simmer. After an hour give it a stir and taste it again. Add more sugar and salt if you see fit, then cover and continue cooking for 2 more hours, until the sauce has reduced and thickened to your preferred consistency. Remove the parmesan rind, and stir.
- Optional: Simmer more. I have cooked this Homemade Meat Sauce on medium-low for 2-4 hours, on low for 6-18 hours, and in a 250°F for 8 hours (the last option required skimming off oil and a stovetop finish). It is very flexible in that way, making it perfect for putting on before starting the workday to make that night’s dinner a breeze.
How To Serve Homemade Meat Sauce
There are so many meals that you can make even better with this Homemade Meat Sauce recipe! Here are a couple of my favorites:
Let me know what you think of this recipe if you try it! Here are the Pinterest pins: