Spaghetti and Meat Sauce

Spaghetti Meat Sauce Recipe

The secret to making a great spaghetti and meat sauce is to build layers of flavor (beyond the meat and tomatoes), and to allow them to meld together in a balanced way. It’s a fairly simple thing to do when you’re including dozens of ingredients and simmering them together for hours, but I wanted to make a sauce that anyone can throw together on a weeknight using less than a dozen basic ingredients.

By using a few flavor-enhancing time-saving techniques, this spaghetti sauce takes less than thirty minutes from start to finish without skimping on flavor. What you get is a well balanced pasta sauce that’s neither too tart nor too sweet, with a complex savory flavor that belies the quick preparation. If you’re new to the kitchen, save this page, because I’m going to show you some techniques that can be used in almost any dish to speed it up and make it taste better.

Best Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

Unlike what most jarred sauce manufacturers would have you believe, this dish is called spaghetti and MEAT sauce, not “spaghetti with tomatoes and a few crumbs of meat”. That’s why I add about as much meat as there is tomato into the sauce. That way, you’ll never be left wondering “Where’s the beef?”.

To create the meaty foundation for the sauce, I use two kinds of meat: bacon and beef. By browning them both, we take advantage of the Maillard reaction, creating new flavor compounds that give the dish depth. If you don’t eat pork, you can just increase the amount of ground beef by 100 grams, and then add a few salted anchovy fillets to make up for the flavor you lose by leaving out the bacon.

The next layer of flavor comes from a mirepoix of onions, garlic and carrots that is caramelized in the rendered fat form the meat. This not only brings out the natural sweetness of the aromatics, it creates a host of additional flavor compounds that makes the sauce taste far more complex than it is. It’s important to chop the onions small, and grate the carrot finely, as this not only speeds up the caramelization process, it hastens the release of the flavors into the sauce once the liquids are added.

For the next layer of flavor, I added some white wine. This not only introduces some fruit flavors, the liquid helps release the brown fond (caramelized meat and vegetable flavor) that forms on the bottom of the pan. By boiling the mixture until there’s almost no liquid remaining, you ensure that all the alcohol has evaporated, leaving a wonderful slurry of meat, vegetable and fruit flavors behind.

Since tomatoes used for canning are usually picked before they’re fully ripe, they tend to lack the sweetness of fresh vine ripened tomatoes. Adding a little ketchup to the sauce is a quick way to bolster the tomato flavor while balancing the acidity of the canned tomatoes with a hint of sweetness.

Left to stew together while the pasta is boiling, you’ll have a delicious homemade spaghetti sauce in less time than it would have taken to order take-out. But it’s not just about saving time. With a complex flavor profile that comes together in perfect harmony, this meat sauce will put most restaurant sauces to shame.

UPDATE: Here’s an awesome fan video by Big Stu who raps this recipe while showing you how it’s done.

Equipment you'll need:

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    Spaghetti and Meat Sauce
  • A quick, yet flavorful take on the classic spaghetti with meat sauce.
Prep TimeCook Time
4 minutes 25 minutes


  • 255 grams dried spaghetti
  • 100 grams bacon
  • 255 grams beef - ground
  • 1 small onion finely diced
  • 1/2 small carrot peeled and grated
  • 2 cloves garlic finely minced
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 400 grams canned whole tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon oregano


  1. Put a large pot of salted water on the stove over high heat. If you taste the water after dissolving the salt it should taste pretty salty. This flavors the pasta. Whatever you do, do not add oil to the water. This is done to keep the noodles from sticking together while boiling, but it will also keep your pasta sauce form sticking to the noodles when you eat it.
  2. Add the bacon to a pan over medium high heat and fry until a good amount of fat has rendered out of the bacon. Add the ground beef and brown it, breaking up the meat with a spatula until it's cooked. Transfer the meat to a bowl, leaving as much of the fat as you can in the pan.
  3. Turn down the heat to medium low. You should have about a tablespoon of rendered fat in the pan, if you have significantly more or less, dump some out or add some olive oil. Add the onions, carrot and garlic, and sauté until the onions are soft and the mixture is about 1/3 of its original volume. Depending on how small you diced your onions, this should take anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes. This is where your sauce gets a lot of its flavor, so don't skimp on time.
  4. Turn up the heat to high, then return the meat to the pan. Add the white wine and boil until there's almost no liquid left, stirring to prevent burning. This not only burns off the alcohol, it concentrates the flavor of the wine.
  5. Turn down the heat to medium-low and add the canned tomatoes, ketchup, salt and pepper. Put the oregano in the palm of your hand, and then use your other hand to rub the oregano in a circular motion to crush it into a powder before adding it to the pan. Us a spatula to break up the tomatoes, being careful not squirt tomato juice on yourself.
  6. By now your water should be boiling. Add your pasta and stir during the first few minutes of cooking to keep it from sticking together. I usually boil pasta for 1 minute less than what the package directions say (i.e. 8 minutes instead of 9).
  7. Your meat sauce is done when your pasta is done. You can either plate the pasta and top with sauce, or personally I like to dump the pasta straight into the sauce and toss it together before serving.
  • Denise

    Hi Marc, I cook this a lot using similar method to yours. I usually use red wine instead of white? Is dat ok? Oregano do you use fresh or dried ones?

    • manayl

      Yes u r right

  • Ann Stolzman

    Why, oh why, ketchup? Brown sugar and double concentrated tomato paste add a much better flavor profile than ketchup…

    • Marc Matsumoto

      In most cases I would agree with you, but the whole point of this recipe is to be quick and easy, using a dozen ingredients that most people already have around their house. Stay tuned for my 3 hour bolognese :-)

      • Ann Stolzman

        I look forward to the 3 hour bolognese. I adore bolognese. I wish I’d spent time more talking food with you back when you & I both worked at that red envelope company…

        • Marc Matsumoto

          I knew your name looked familiar! Perhaps an ex-netflixer potluck/reunion is in order:-)

          • manayl

            who r u

  • FreeRangeNan

    I know this sounds odd, but I usually add a little fresh ginger to my mirepoix. Also, I sometimes add a bit of Ceylon cinnamon (true Ceylon cinnamon is more subtle and complex than the the cassia cinnamon most commonly available in the US). Both ginger and cinnamon go well with tomato.

  • KD

    Marc, thank you for the 12 ingredient approach! What would you do for a non-beef version? Hubby won’t eat beef (or any critter on 4 legs), only fish, fowl, vegetables & fruit. I’m thinking minced chicken thighs, italian chicken sausage or turkey bacon & red wine?

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Chicken thigh would be a fine substitute, but it’s not going to give the same meaty flavor. I’d suggest making some shiitake mushroom powder by grating dried shiitake mushrooms on a microplane and adding that alone with some italian anchovies. If you can get ahold of it, a black cardamom pod would also make a good addition as it has a smoky flavor. Personally I steer clear of turkey bacon because it’s so processed, but chicken sausage may be a good addition too.

      • Soh Lili

        I have a similar question, which is that I don’t eat beef, but I’m fine with pork and chicken, so do you think that cooking this with minced pork and bacon would be too repetitive?

        • Marc Matsumoto

          Ground pork would be delicious, and nope, I don’t think it would
          be repetitive as bacon has a very different flavor profile from uncured unsmoked pork.

          • Soh Lili

            Thank you! Looking forward to making bolognese that I can eat! :)

          • manayl

            Who r u girl

  • Benedictus First

    man o man i just made this, so good. i love the stripped down approach to this. marc, what i do is i take recipes and make them into raps.., permission to put this into a rap? i of course would give you credits and a shout out in it

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Hahahha love it! Send me an email (use the contact link above or “marc” at this websites, URL).

    • manayl

      who r u yar tu kon hai yar

  • Jennifer von Ebers

    That sounds amazing Marc!! I make pasta every week, but I will try your version soon!

  • Christine

    Marc, I keep coming back to this one and I’m not even a huge pasta fan. The difference in YOUR blog (to many others I follow) is the background about WHY it works. I feel like I’m truly learning about cooking in a manner that will allow me (over time) to become a better cook. Thank you for the inspiration!!

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Awesome! That’s great to hear because that’s exactly what I hope my posts will do:-)

      • manayl

        WHO r u

  • Welcome to my kitchen

    I had fun with this recipe. My son-in-law is a big meat eater so I added four links of sweet Italian sausage. I also put in a jar of Trader Joe’s Puttanesce sauce in addition to a big can of peeled, diced tomatoes. One last thing I did was add chili sauce instead of ketchup. No salt or pepper as the seasoning from the sauce took care of it. It is now simmering on the back burner in my Le Cruset pot. I have not been in the mood to cook for a long time due to two knee surgeries so today was a great day ,

  • Monica

    This was a big hit for dinner tonight! I added mushrooms when sauteeing the onions garlic and carrots only coz we love mushrooms with our meat sauce. Other than that followed everything as outlined and it was awesome

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Glad to hear it! Also love the idea of adding mushrooms. I often shave some dried porcini or shiitake mushrooms into the sauce with a microplane for an added boost of umami.

      • Cano Manuel

        How much of mushrooms are needed?

        • Marc Matsumoto

          Mushrooms are one of those ingredient where you don’t need to measure the quantity. Add as many as you like. Just be sure to sauté
          them with the onion until there’s no liquid coming out of the mushrooms.

          • Cano Manuel

            Thank you very much! Sorry for the late reply. :)

        • manayl

          WHO R U DARLING

  • Joyce

    I can’t use dry white wine because of some health issues. What will be the best substitute for it? Please help me ASAP! Thanks!

    • Marc Matsumoto

      If your issue is with alcohol, it will all burn off as it cooks. If you really want to avoid it just leave it out all together and go straight to the step 5 after returning the meat to the pan.

    • carrie

      you could also use chicken broth instead of wine also

  • suze

    its yummyand offcourse tasty!!!!

    • manayl

      Nice wallpaper

  • M. Michel

    I now make this weekly and then visited my parents who now also make this often. Also, the notion of deglazing the pan with wine has now become standard practice whenever I am experimenting with stuff in my kitchen. Thanks Marc….keep doing what you’re doing. I also LUUUUUUUV the Japanese Hamburger recipe…delicious.

  • Dapsha

    I’d like to know what will be the equivalent of a 400g can of diced tomatoes?
    As I’d like to use fresh tomatoes.
    Thank you!

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Dapsha, while good fresh tomatoes can taste better, it’s not a straight substitution. You’ll need to use a lot more and cook the sauce significantly longer as fresh tomatoes have a much higher water content. How much fresh tomato you need to add depends on the type of tomatoes you’re using if they are very watery, you’ll need more and you’ll need to cook the sauce even longer, if they have less water you can get away with using less and cooking for a shorter time. Try using about 600 grams. First you need to blanche and peel the tomatoes. then dice them up and add them in after you’ve burned off the wine. Your sauce will be very watery at first, but just keep cooking it until it thickens up.

  • Holy Yummy Spaghetti Batman!!

    Wow!! This recipe is awesome. The best part about this recipe is that it is easily adaptable to substitutions. I am not a fan of carrots at all so that went out the window for me. Also since I had some Barilla rustic tomato sauce hanging around, I couldn’t justify buying diced tomatoes.I used bacon but I only had maple bacon. But it didn’t matter since the recipe accepts just about anything you put in it. Thanks for the heads up on using white wine in a red sauce recipe. And I would never have thought to use bacon! It was fantastic!! Marc thanks so much for what you do and for making it easy for us non-chefs!! :)

  • Jem

    Just cooked you recipe…… All the family said it was the best….not bad for a novice cook (dad) even the wife was really impressed….top marks to you

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  • Shirley

    This was not my favorite thing, but not terrible. I think I like my sauces a little more tomato-y so I ended up dropping in a little can of tomato sauce at the end, but I still think it was missing something. But it was easy enough to make after a day at work!

  • turd


  • TanteJan

    Cooked for my ex the perfect spaghetti and sauce and she wants me back – Thank you so much

    • quejodiendaaa

      Lol okay???

  • acc

    Recipe looks great! Love the use of carrots. Can you recommend how to adjust the recipe to be used for a lasagna filling this weekend? Also, how can I make the recipe using tomato paste and brown sugar instead of ketchup? Thanks for the guidance!

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Hi acc, I actually have a lasagne recipe, which will probably meet your needs better since the sauce is portioned appropriately and there’s no ketchup.

  • GRS

    Really good!!! I made it, tastes really good. By the way I’m a ten-year-old.

  • Nica, Virtual Assistant

    What can I substitute fresh tomatoes for the canned tomatoes?

    • Marc Matsumoto

      You can substitute fresh tomatoes, but unless your tomatoes are very ripe and sweet, chances are this will taste better with canned tomatoes. Also keep in mind that canned tomatoes are precooked and have had some of the liquid evaporated so you’re going to have to use more tomatoes than the recipe specifies and cook them for longer to get the same consistency.

      • Nica, Virtual Assistant

        Just made this — like 15 minutes ago — and the kids love it!! My daughter said I should make more and she’s my worst critic!

  • guest20

    What can I substitute for the white wine? Not quite 21 years yet so no wine for me!

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Chicken or beef stock should work fine—
      Sent from Mailbox for iPad

  • manayl

    I like this spigitti reply me :)

  • Mike

    Could I substitute white wine to red? And use tomato sauce instead of canned tomatoes?

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Mike, yep, that would certainly work for a smoother, less chunky sauce.

  • Natsume

    What do I do if I don’t like cooked onion or carrots?

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Natsume, that’s a tough one. The carrots, are pureed into the sauce so you really wouldn’t know they are there unless someone told you, but if you still want to omit them you can just add some sugar or honey as they’re purpose is to sweeten the sauce. As for the onions, you could leave them out, but it’s going to make your sauce taste very bland. For that matter, I think you’d be pretty hard pressed to find a meat sauce without any onions as it’s something that’s always added.


I'm Marc, and I want to teach you some basic techniques and give you the confidence and inspiration so that you can cook without recipes too!