Homemade Spaghetti Sauce


Homemade spaghetti sauce is a crowd pleaser. Make a large batch, and freeze for future quick and easy meals.

Southern Living Spaghetti Sauce plated serving over spaghetti with the pan of sauce beside

Caitlin Bensel; Food Stylist: Torie Cox

Active Time:
10 mins
Total Time:
1 hrs

Homemade spaghetti sauce is the ultimate comfort food. It's rich, hearty, warm, and appeals to kids and grown-ups alike.

You can serve it over a variety of pasta, use it as a sauce for lasagna, top it over baked squash or potatoes, or even make a quick and easy pizza using toasted baguettes and melted cheese.

No matter how you serve it, you’ll love this easy spaghetti sauce recipe, which makes plenty for a 16-ounce box of spaghetti. Make this sauce even better by following our tips, below.

Marinara vs. Spaghetti Sauce

There are a lot of tomato-based sauces out there, all perfect for topping pasta, pizza, and lasagna. So, what’s the difference between marinara, spaghetti, and bolognese sauce?

Marinara tends to be a simpler sauce, often just tomato sauce flavored with garlic, basil, salt, and pepper.

Spaghetti sauce has more complex flavors and textures. A traditional spaghetti sauce uses onions, spices, and often ground beef or sausage (like our version).

Bolognese sauce often includes carrots or fennel, wine, cream, and sometimes a bit of bacon. 

What's the Right Type of Tomato for Spaghetti Sauce?

Though you can use any type of canned tomatoes for your sauce, the best flavor comes from San Marzano tomatoes. This variety of plum tomatoes is a bit sweeter, with a deeper and less acidic flavor than other varieties. You can easily find San Marzano tomatoes at the grocery store (they are usually very clearly labeled).

If you can only find whole tomatoes, simply crush them in your hands before adding them to the sauce.

If you can’t find San Marzano or have a large stockpile of other tomatoes in your cupboard already, you might want to add an additional pinch of white sugar to your recipe to balance out the acidity and sweetness.

Southern Living Homemade Spaghetti Sauce ingredients

Caitlin Bensel; Food Stylist: Torie Cox

What Meat Should You Use in Spaghetti Sauce?

Our spaghetti sauce uses ground beef, but you can change up the protein depending on your flavor preferences or what you have on hand:

  • Feel free to use any fat content of ground beef, since you drain off excess grease after cooking.
  • Try using half ground beef and half ground Italian sausage.
  • For a leaner option, use ground turkey.
  • Some folks eliminate the ground beef, and top their homemade spaghetti sauce with meatballs.
  • If you want a vegetarian-friendly dish, swap out the meat entirely with sliced mushrooms. Either cook fresh, sliced mushrooms with the onions until they release their juices and soften or for a super quick fix, add two (6-ounce) cans of drained sliced mushrooms when you add the tomato sauce.

How To Make Spaghetti Sauce Better

You can play around with the flavors and customize this basic recipe to your preference. Try Italian seasoning instead of the oregano and basil. Or add a pinch of fennel seeds or red pepper flakes to the sauce.

A splash of balsamic vinegar after the sauce is completely cooked helps to perfectly blend the final flavors. Using a high-quality balsamic vinegar will get you the best results (and is fun to use in other dishes, like vinaigrette, or even dipping your bread into alongside a nice olive oil). 

Also, don't forget the garlic bread!

Southern Living Spaghetti Sauce ready to serve with garlic bread

Caitlin Bensel; Food Stylist: Torie Cox

Slow Cook Spaghetti Sauce for a Richer Flavor

For a richer sauce, simmer it on the stovetop for up to two hours, making sure you stir it often and keeping an eye on it so the bottom of the pot doesn’t scorch.

Or, transfer the sauce to your slow cooker for a fuss-free dinner; simmer on high for 4 to 5 hours.

If you don't have the time for a long simmer, you can still get a richly flavored sauce in a quick cook of only 30 minutes. The longer you simmer the sauce, the thicker it will get. If your sauce is a bit too thin for your tastes, simmer it a bit longer. If you let it go too long and need to loosen up the consistency, add a splash of chicken or beef broth.

In our opinion, spaghetti sauce always tastes better the day after cooking, once it has time for the flavors to meld in the fridge overnight. 

How To Reheat and Freeze Spaghetti Sauce

Spaghetti sauce is the perfect meal to make ahead of time. Either store it in your fridge for up to 4 days, or freeze it for up to 6 months.

Before you freeze the sauce, make sure to cool it completely. Then scoop out portions (depending on how large your family is and how much they eat) into gallon-sized plastic freezer bags. Squeeze out as much air as possible, seal, and lay the bags flat on a baking sheet.

Once frozen solid, you can rearrange the bags in your freezer to take up less space. Thaw your frozen spaghetti sauce overnight in the fridge and reheat it on the stovetop or in the microwave.


  • 1 lb. ground beef

  • 1 medium sweet onion, finely chopped (about 3/4 cup)

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced

  • 2 tsp. dried oregano

  • 2 tsp. dried basil

  • 1/2 tsp. salt

  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper

  • 1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste

  • 1 (28 oz.) can diced tomatoes

  • 1 (16 oz.) can tomato sauce

  • 1 Tbsp. granulated sugar

  • 1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar (optional)

  • 1 (16 oz.) package spaghetti, cooked according to package instructions and kept warm, to serve


  1. Brown meat:

    Add the beef and onions to a Dutch over medium-high heat.

    Southern Living Homemade Spaghetti Sauce beef and onions cooking in dutch oven

    Caitlin Bensel; Food Stylist: Torie Cox

    Cook, breaking up the beef into very small pieces, until the beef is browned and the onions are tender, about 6 minutes.

    Southern Living Homemade Spaghetti Sauce cooking beef and onions together

    Caitlin Bensel; Food Stylist: Torie Cox

    Drain off any grease, if necessary. Stir in the garlic, oregano, and basil, and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

    Southern Living Homemade Spaghetti Sauce adding the seasoning and garlic

    Caitlin Bensel; Food Stylist: Torie Cox

    Season with salt and pepper.

    Southern Living Homemade Spaghetti Sauce seasoning with salt and pepper

    Caitlin Bensel; Food Stylist: Torie Cox

  2. Add tomatoes:

    Stir in the tomato paste until well incorporated.

    Southern Living Homemade Spaghetti Sauce adding the tomato paste

    Caitlin Bensel; Food Stylist: Torie Cox

    Add the diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and sugar.

    Southern Living Homemade Spaghetti Sauce adding the tomatoes

    Caitlin Bensel; Food Stylist: Torie Cox

    Bring to a low boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer the sauce for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

    Southern Living Homemade Spaghetti Sauce

    Caitlin Bensel; Food Stylist: Torie Cox

    Taste the sauce and add the balsamic vinegar and more sugar, salt, and pepper, as needed.

    Southern Living Homemade Spaghetti Sauce ready to serve

    Caitlin Bensel; Food Stylist: Torie Cox

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