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Classic Italian Meat Sauce

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This Classic Italian Meat Sauce simmers all afternoon, fills your house with a marvelous aroma and will elicit groans of pleasure from all who indulge.

This is the Best Spaghetti Sauce Recipe I’ve ever made and definitely worth the wait!

Classic Italian Meat Sauce in white bowl garnished with basil

Classic Italian Meat Sauce

My typical spaghetti sauce recipe requires no recipe. It’s tasty, and on occasion even memorable. But I toss in cans of tomatoes, tomato paste, and sauce. Sprinkle in some Italian herbs and a few glugs of red wine if there’s an open bottle.

Usually, I add Italian sausage and sometimes meatballs. It’s never the same twice in a row. Then there are easy recipes like this Italian Chicken Bake, for another quick and easy alternative with the same fabulous flavor profile. And if you’re looking for a simple meatless sauce, this simple Homemade Tomato Basil Sauce looks terrific, too.

But on a chilly Sunday when I’m home for the afternoon, I pull out all the stops. That’s when I make a classic Italian meat sauce and simmer a pot of gravy-like a real Italian mama. Starting with country ribs and sausage, there are layers upon layers of flavor that only intensify as the pot slowly cooks for hours. Those Italians knew what they were doing—this is a winner!

Classic Italian Meat Sauce over pasta on a white platter

What’s the Difference Between Italian Pasta Sauce and Gravy?

I grew up in Iowa, daughter of a German father and Irish mother.  It was “sauce” that topped our spaghetti, not gravy. Until I met foodies from across the US via the Internet, I never realized there was a sauce vs. gravy debate.

It seemed to me that those of Italian heritage called this tomato-based sauce a gravy, especially in the northeast states. For what it’s worth, there is no Italian word that translates to gravy, which is a sauce made from meat juices and something added to thicken, like flour.  Whatever your preference for what to call this recipe, I know you’ll love this Spaghetti Sauce Recipe. It’s the perfect way to warm up on a chilly night.

Overhead view of Classic Italian Meat Sauce over pasta and meatballs in a white bowl

Tips for How to Make Spaghetti Sauce:

This is a recipe that can’t be hurried along. Perfect to make on a lazy Sunday afternoon when there’s nothing on your agenda.

  • PRO-Tip: Bone-in ribs provide a flavor that can’t be beat. It’s the bones that are key, so don’t buy boneless ribs and expect the same results.
  • Good Italian sausage also contributes with an irresistible combination of flavors from the spices and fat.
  • Don’t skip the red wine unless it’s for health reasons. Almost all the alcohol cooks off, so it’s safe for children to eat. PRO-Tip: Did you know that alcohol, like salt, is a flavor enhancer?
  • Simmering this Italian meat sauce for 3 hours helps all the flavors develop and concentrate. Simmering is not the same as boiling. You do not want to see the sauce bubbling vigorously.
  • Simmer with the lid askew so steam can escape. If the sauce gets too thick, add some water. Stir on occasion so the bottom does not burn.
  • If you’re going to go through the trouble of making a fabulous Italian gravy, use the best ingredients available. Canned San Marzano tomato products outshine their competitors. I buy my Italian sausage from our butcher shop, but if you have an Italian market, give them a try.
  • When cooking the garlic, do not brown. Just cook until fragrant. Browning the tomato paste helps caramelize the sugars and concentrate the flavors.

My family also loves this Creamy Chicken Marsala, Italian Skillet Sausage and Peppers, Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs, Classic Italian Meat Sauce, and Chicken Piccata Pasta. Plus check out all my Pasta Recipes for more inspiration. 

Spaghetti with Sunday Gravy | Slowly simmered Sunday gravy made the Italian way!

Classic Italian Meat Sauce

This classic slow cooked Italian Meat Sauce is adapted from Vita Greco

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 3 hours
Total Time 3 hours 20 minutes
Yield 8 servings


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 country style pork ribs
  • 1 pound Italian sausage links, may slice or keep whole

For meatballs:

  • 1 pound meatball mix (equal parts ground beef, ground pork, and ground veal) or all ground beef
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 cup grated Romano cheese (or Parmesan)
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

For meat sauce:

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • 2 large cans crushed tomatoes
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • A few pinches of Romano or Parmesan
  • 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1 small can tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1 small can water


  1. In a Dutch oven, brown Italian sausage and pork ribs in a bit of olive oil. Pierce the sausage casings while the first side is browning. Remove and set aside.
  2. Make meatballs by mixing all ingredients. Scoop out tablespoons of mixture and form into balls. Brown in oil left in the Dutch oven, adding more if needed. Remove when browned but not cooked through.
  3. Add garlic to Dutch oven and sauté till fragrant; do not brown. Add tomato paste and cook for a few minutes. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients and bring to a simmer. Add meats. Simmer for about 3 hours with the lid partially covering the pan. Stir every half hour or so to prevent the bottom from burning.
  4. Serve over spaghetti.

Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:


Amount Per Serving: Calories: 707Total Fat: 49gSaturated Fat: 17gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 32gCholesterol: 198mgSodium: 1317mgCarbohydrates: 18gFiber: 3gSugar: 6gProtein: 46g


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31 comments on “Classic Italian Meat Sauce”

  1. I love long cooking meals that make the house smell great! As you say, perfect for colder weather:@)

  2. This recipe makes me nostalgic. Years ago I had a boyfriend that was obsessed with Sopranos, so much so he invested in the cookbook and prepared me every single one of the dishes. My absolute fave was the spaghetti & meatballs. Such a classic, but he really nailed it. 🙂

  3. IT was always sauce in my house too – gravy is more of flour based sauce – not tomato based! This recipe sounds like something my boyfriend would love!!

  4. Your meatballs are perfection!! I love that they are not wimpy little things, three is a perfect count for a delicious meal!

  5. I think I would feel so Italian after this dish, I’d be singing opera! Liz, this is a lovely hearty dish, perfect to chase away the Autumn chill in the air.

  6. I love a slow cooked tomato sauce with complex flavours as your beautiful recipe. The meatballs look delicious too. Gorgeous pictures.

  7. Spaghetti and meat sauce is a family favourite, and it looks like you’ve got an amazing recipe. Now I’m wishing I had the ingredients on hand so I could make it for dinner!

  8. I love a good meat sauce and can’t wait to try this one!

  9. Meh depends what region the Italians are in–Michael and I are both Italian and it’s always sauce. I never heard it referred to as gravy until I went to NY.

    I digress. This sauce looks phenomenal, so hearty and meaty and I can practically smell how amazing it is!

  10. Yum, love meat sauce made the slow way 🙂

  11. This sauce is clearly worth the extra effort!

  12. This looks incredible! Meatballs are such a perfect dinner.

  13. We decided on Spaghetti for dinner after seeing yours! I’ll have to try your meatballs soon! The kids always love meatballs and there’s no better excuse then a new recipe!

  14. I’m with you, my typically spaghetti sauce is a thrown together affair that is never the same twice. But this sounds like a recipe worth taking the time for and repeating over and over!

  15. When I open a can of my marinara and add meat or veggies too it or just toss it with pasta I call it sauce. When I use an all day simmer with several different meats, I call it gravy. When I look at yours and read the recipe, I call it delicioius

  16. I love the depth and richness of this recipe. Too often I throw in a bit of this and that along with a ‘glug of wine’ when make sauce — can’t wait to put on sweats one Sunday afternoon and let this simmer all afternoon — and yes, the sweats are so I have plenty of room to enjoy!

  17. Your typical sauce sounds just like mine! This looks delicious. I absolutely love your photos.

  18. Wonderful, delicious recipe dear Liz! Actually (you probably know this), native Italians don’t have a meatballs pasta dish in their classic cuisine. This is something Italian-Americans cooked. Of course it’s a delicious dish and KUDOS to whoever discovered it:)
    We often make Bolognese style sauce ourselves and it’s been quite sometime since we a had a meatball sauce. So, your recipe is next in line to be used (probably on Sunday).
    Thank you for the delicious dish Liz!
    Lots of hugs!

  19. Not sure if it’s the same over there, but the meatballs at Ikea in S’pore is very popular too 😀

  20. This is a great way to greet the cooler fall weather! I’d love have the aroma of good sauce filling the house for hours.

  21. Is this one similar to the Sunday Gravy (?) recipe? Boy that was good and I make it at least once during the holiday season.

    • YES, you’re exactly right! It’s my Sunday gravy just tweaked a bit! I think you and I were the only ones who saw that old post! Thanks for being such a loyal and long time foodie friend 🙂

  22. Great looking pasta recipe!

  23. A classic indeed – long slow cooking always great to bring out the flavors.

  24. I can see why they aren’t any ordinary meat balls. Home cooking is best, Liz! xoxo

  25. Lizzy,
    Gravy, Gravy, Gravy!!! My hubby would love your meatballs – he loves the three types of chopped meat in the meatballs. My meat gravy doesn’t really have a recipe either but I need to get the ingredients written down, so I post my version.

  26. Oh Liz, this looks so delicious. I want a big plate of this right now!!

  27. I could eat this every night of the week. So YUM!

  28. thats really a great recipe the ingredients you have used its really affordable and easy to get from the grocerries main course is always been the toughest but this is what you make easiest for us thanks 🙂

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