Traditional Ragu Meat Sauce

Embark on a delightful Sicilian culinary adventure with my Mother-in-law’s Traditional Ragu Meat Sauce! This cherished recipe, hailing from the heart of Sicily, combines slow-simmered tomatoes, savory ground meat, and aromatic spices. Indulge in a flavorful journey that captures the essence of family comfort in every bite!

Two bowls of pasta with ragu meat sauce on a table.

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What Makes This The Best Ragu Sauce Recipe?

  • Hearty Meatiness: This ragu meat sauce recipe stands out with its generous portion of savory ground meat, creating a rich and satisfying texture that sets it apart from others.
  • Authentic Sicilian Touch: Rooted in Sicilian tradition, this recipe brings an authentic taste of the region’s culinary heritage to your table.
  • Perfectly Simmered Tomatoes: My ragu tomato sauce is simmered over hours allowing the ground tomatoes to release their flavors gradually, resulting in a robust and well-balanced taste.
  • Aromatic Spice Blend: Carefully selected herbs enhance the overall flavor profile, adding depth and complexity to every spoonful.
  • Versatile Pairing: Whether it’s pasta, polenta, or any favorite dish, this homemade ragu sauce complements a variety of dishes, making it a versatile and flavorful addition to your meals.
  • Family-Tested Tradition: Passed down through generations, this recipe carries the love and expertise of my Sicilian in-laws, ensuring a time-tested and delicious experience.
A table with two bowls of pasta topped with a ragu sauce recipe and a pot of ragu in the back with a glass of red wine.

What is the difference between a Ragu and Bolognese?

I wondered this myself when trying to figure out what to call this recipe other than “Sauce”.  In my house, we just know what “Sauce” is because there is no other sauce we care about.

Both sauces are made with meat but the difference is really in the ratio of meat to tomatoes and sometimes the meat used itself.  Ragu can also be made with vegetables but other than onions we don’t use any in our recipe. 

Many people like to add finely chopped celery, carrots and or mushrooms. I do not.  If you would like to do this, cut back on the meat a tiny bit and sweat the added vegetables until soft along with the onions and garlic.

Bolognese sauce also typically does not use beef or pork but instead uses chicken, veal, lamb, rabbit or even goose. 

Ingredients for Ragu tomato sauce with meat.

Ingredients To Make Ragu Meat Sauce

  • Strained Crushed Tomatoes (from Italy preferred) or I am lucky to get crushed Roma tomatoes my mother jars every fall. Mutti crushed tomatoes are my go-to when she runs out.
  • Lean ground beef
  • Garlic and onion
  • Olive oil, used to sautee the garlic and onion in
  • Fresh basil and parsley, finely chopped. You can use dried as well just remember that 3 tsp of fresh herbs typically equals 1 tsp of dried herbs.
  • Dried oregano, in reverse you can use fresh oregano it is just more difficult to find year-round.
  • Sugar – cuts down the acidity of the tomatoes to create greater balance.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1.  Add ground beef to the pan on medium heat and break it up into small pieces with a spoon. Continue to cook until the beef is no longer pink. Drain the fat and add to a deep heavy-bottomed stock pot.
  2. Finely chop the onion and garlic and sautee in the pan with the olive oil on medium-low heat until the onions become translucent being sure not to burn the garlic.
  1. Add the crushed tomatoes to the pot along with the sugar, oregano, chopped parsley, and basil.
  2. Stir the ingredients into the sauce well. Cover the pot allowing a crack so the steam can escape and simmer on medium=low heat simmer for 2 -3 hours or until sauce reaches the consistency desired.

How Thick Should Ragu Sauce Be?

The sauce is ready when it is thick like oatmeal or chili and if you drop it in a bowl there is not much if any liquid pulling away from the sauce. You can make it as thick or as thin as you like though.

To make it thicker you can simmer for longer or you can add more meat and or vegetables.

To make it thinner, add a little more water or simmer for a bit less time.

Ragu Sauce Recipe Variations

  • Spicy – Add A Teaspoon of Chili Flakes while the sauce is simmering.
  • Vegetarian – instead of adding meat, you could add soya mince or lentils.
  • Mix it up so it is half ground pork and half ground beef.
  • Leave out the beef and toss in some sausage links to cook and simmer with the sauce.
To bowls of pasta with homemade ragu sauce on a dinner table with salami and  glass of red wine.

What Pasta Is Best With Ragu?

When it comes to pairing a traditional Ragu recipe, you want pasta that can handle all that meaty goodness. Think broad and hearty!

Pappardelle is a champion that hugs meat, while tagliatelle and fettuccine soak up sauce like sponges. Rigatoni and penne rigate have got those ridges for extra sauce-grabbing power, and orecchiette? Well, they’re like tasty little bowls that cradle every chunk of meat. Take your pick and let the saucy goodness begin! Oh and don’t forget to add some parmesan cheese on top!

A bowl of pasta with traditional ragu sauce.

Can this recipe be made in advance?

Yes, this is one of those recipes that develop more flavor after a day or two! I love making this pasta sauce recipe as it feeds our family for four meals!  It can stay fresh in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 3 days.

If you are freezing, let the sauce cool completely and then transfer the sauce into separate containers with tight-fitting lids and then freeze it for up to 6 months. Then when I need it I take it out the night before in the fridge, leave it to thaw on the counter or in a hurry release it from the frozen container with a rinse under hot water and then thaw it on low in the sauce pot.

If you thaw in the sauce pot make sure to cover it with a lid, stirring occasionally and flip the block of sauce over once in a while to keep the sauce from burning and also to speed up the thawing process.

More authentic Italian Recipes to try

Overhead shot of tomato sauce in pot

Traditional Ragu Meat Sauce

Alisa Infanti | The Delicious Spoon
Easy homemade Ragu Sauce – meaty and full of flavour just like Nonna makes!
4.84 from 12 votes
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 3 hours
Total Time 3 hours 20 minutes
Course Dinner
Cuisine Italian
Servings 12 servings
Calories 290 kcal


  • 100 oz crushed tomatoes
  • 1 ½ lbs lean ground beef
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 large yellow onion minced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp fresh basil finely chopped
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp sugar


  • Add crushed tomatoes to a heavy bottomed stock pot.
  • In a pan cook ground beef thoroughly breaking up into small pieces.  When done drain the fat and add to stock pot.
  • Add olive oil to the same pan and heat on medium-low.  Add the onions and garlic and sautee until the onions become translucent.  Add to stock pot.
  • Add parsley, basil, oregano and sugar to stock pot.  Stir well.  Cover slightly and simmer on low for 2-3 hours or until sauce reduces to the consistency you prefer.
  • Serve or store in fridge when completely cooked in sealed containers until a later date. Freeze for up to 3 months.


Serving: 1servingCalories: 290kcalCarbohydrates: 30.7gProtein: 23.3gFat: 10.6gSaturated Fat: 3.6gPolyunsaturated Fat: 0.9gMonounsaturated Fat: 4.3gTrans Fat: 0.3gCholesterol: 50mgSodium: 180mgPotassium: 2037mgFiber: 6.7gSugar: 20.2gVitamin A: 1250IUVitamin C: 25.6mgCalcium: 80mgIron: 6.7mg


This recipe is for a large batch of sauce that I make to store for 3 additional family meals.  I usually use 2-3 cups of sauce for 1 bag of spaghetti for the family which usually provides some leftovers for lunch.  Then I split the remaining sauce about 6 cups between 2 containers and store in the freezer to make at another time.
The serving size is based the sauce for this pot of spaghetti being shared between 4 people. The nutritional info does not include the pasta.
Please Note:

The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.

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Tip:  Does your family like their sauce spicy? Add a tsp of chili flakes while the sauce is simmering.

So there you have it…now you will have sauce for a few meals.  Making this on a weekend is the best idea because it takes a bit to make as you can see but once it is done you have sauce ready to go anytime for a quick weeknight meal.  Thaw in the fridge the night before or warm up on law in a medium covered pot while the pasta is cooking!

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Overhead shot of tomato sauce in pot

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  1. 5 stars
    This is great, thank you for the explanation between sauce names. I love that this simmered for a long time to develop much richer flavour than jarred. Thanks for the great recipe !

  2. This looks delicious!! Thank you so much for having a “jump to the recipe” link, that makes so easy when you are shopping for the ingredients. I wish all food bloggers did that.

    1. Your very welcome… I usually jump to recipe too especially when I am rushing to make dinner!

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