BEST Spaghetti Meat Sauce (Crock Pot Recipe)

The best homemade spaghetti meat sauce cooks in the slow cooker and feeds a crowd. This easy recipe uses ground beef, takes just 5 minutes to prep, and the crock pot does all the work. It’s perfect for an Italian dinner party, holiday gatherings, or casual get-togethers. 

white plate with spaghetti and meat sauce garnished with fresh basil leaves and bread on the side.

Can you have homemade meat sauce that’s easy to make? You bet you can!

My go-to recipe is adapted from Jim’s Spaghetti House, and it’s a crowd pleaser! It has a hint of heat and a bit of sweet to balance out the acidity of the tomatoes.

The slow cooking process means the ingredients have time to blend and marry together so you get deep flavor. And the meat cooks down to a fine texture, meaning it covers your pasta in every nook and cranny!

overhead view of spaghetti and meat sauce on white plate, garnished with basil leaves and bread on the side.

Spaghetti Sauce for a Crowd

When you’re looking for the perfect dish for a dinner party menu, spaghetti is always a winner. Especially when it’s served with this ground beef meat sauce that’s made from scratch.

One thing that makes this recipe unique (and easy) is that you don’t brown the meat beforehand. Chopping onion is the most work you have to do.

You can get about 12 servings from the recipe as is, but we often cut it in half for family meals. Or you can simply freeze the leftovers for another time.

Why It’s So Good

American meat sauce is similar to traditional Italian bolognese but it’s quicker and easier to prepare, the ingredients are a bit different, and there’s no cream added. Here’s what you’ll love about this restaurant style sauce.

  • Freezer friendly.
  • Fix it in the morning and be ready to eat in the evening. That means entertaining is easy, even on a weeknight!
  • Because it makes a big batch, it’s the perfect meal to serve when you’re hosting a large group.
  • Feeds a full house such as overnight guests, Christmas Eve dinner with relatives, or an Italian dinner party.
  • It’s a hot and hearty comfort meal.
raw ground beef and ingredients for pasta sauce inside crock pot.

How to Make Slow Cooker Meat Sauce

My husband grew up in West Virginia where there’s a restaurant called Jim’s Spaghetti House, famous for it’s sauce, and this is a copycat recipe. The thing that makes this sauce unique is the fact that you DO NOT pre-cook the ground beef.

  1. You’ll need a 6-quart size slow cooker to fit everything into.
  2. Use lean meat since you won’t be able to drain any fat off. I start with 93% lean ground beef.
  3. The raw meat is combined with the rest of the ingredients and cooked on low for several hours. This gives a very fine texture to the finished sauce, which we prefer over big chunks of meat using the traditional pre-browning method.
  4. Use your hands as tools to completely integrate all the ingredients together until smooth.
  5. A little sugar adds a touch of sweetness to the sauce. If you’ve never added sugar to your sauce, whether homemade or jarred, then you are missing out. This is a trick I learned in college. It balances out the acidity of the tomatoes and creates a rich flavor.
  6. Serve over your favorite pasta, including spaghetti, pappardelle, tagliatelle, fettuccini, linguini, cheese tortellini, use in lasagna, baked ziti or penne.

EXPERT TIP: Use lean meat for this recipe Since there’s no draining involved, you don’t want it to be greasy.

plate of spaghetti and meat sauce on table with red wine, olive oil and bread.

How Long to Cook It

Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours. Never cook it on high the whole time.

TIP: Want to serve spaghetti and meatballs? Stir in a few frozen meatballs when you have 2 or 3 hours left on the cooking time.

What to do with leftover sauce?

You can refrigerate it for 3 to 4 days, or freeze it for later.
Make lasagna with it.
Make my baked spaghetti recipe using this sauce instead of the meat and sauce called for.
Serve it over a baked potato for lunch or a light dinner.
Use it to make my layered penne pasta bake.
Spoon some over crinkle cut fries and sprinkle cheddar cheese on top.

Can you freeze meat sauce?

Absolutely! Meat sauce is one of the best things to make ahead and freeze for later. Simply put the cooled sauce into large mason jars or gallon size freezer storage bags, close securely and freeze for up to 3 months.
I find that using a large ladle or 1-cup measuring cup works well to transfer the sauce into the jars or bags. Lay bags flat to freeze so they can be stacked if necessary.
Let thaw in the fridge overnight and then reheat to serve.

plate of spaghetti and meat sauce with olive oil drizzling over top.

EXPERT TIP: Make it a day ahead and refrigerate overnight. The flavors will be even better! Reheat in the slow cooker for a couple of hours or on the stove when ready to serve.

What to Serve with Spaghetti

  • Green salad. My favorite pairing for this is spinach and arugula with tomatoes & goat cheese.
  • Parmesan cheese. Grate it fresh from a wedge of parmigiano reggiano, or add a bowl of grated parmesan on the table, with a spoon for serving.
  • Bread. Crusty Italian bread, focaccia, sour dough or French baguette are all divine.
  • EVOO. Eat pasta like the Italians and drizzle some high quality extra virgin olive oil over the pasta and sauce. It takes it to another level. 
  • Texas Pete. My family’s favorite addition is a few drops of Texas Pete on top of our prepared plate. It adds a sweet heat that’s brand specific.
  • Red pepper flakes. Add a pinch of red pepper flakes on top for a little zing.
  • Cheese board. Put a party cheese board or charcuterie board in the center of the table for a nice complement to the dinner. Or serve charcuterie skewers as an appetizer.
  • Fresh crudites platter. For a super easy meal you can place a platter of fresh cut vegetables to go along with the pasta. It’s light, nutritious, and no cooking involved.
  • Roasted vegetables. As an alternative to the fresh veggies, you can roast some root vegetables like beets and carrots, or sliced zucchini, yellow squash, bell peppers, brussels sprouts, or broccoli.

Start planning a dinner party with crock pot spaghetti meat sauce on the menu and your guests will love you for it!

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white plate with spaghetti and meat sauce garnished with fresh basil leaves and bread on the side.

Spaghetti Meat Sauce (Crock Pot)

Yield: 12 servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 6 hours
Total Time: 6 hours 5 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds 93% lean ground beef
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 1/2 large onions, chopped
  • 1 (29 ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 3 teaspoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder (not garlic salt)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

Instructions

  1. DO NOT brown the meat first.
  2. Combine all ingredients together, except bay leaves, in a large slow cooker. Use your hands to completely integrate all the ingredients together until mixed well.
  3. Add bay leaves on top of mixture and place lid on.
  4. Cook on low heat for 6-8 hours.
  5. Remove bay leaves, stir, and serve over cooked spaghetti noodles.

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7 Comments

    1. Not at all, Mary. It’s got a sweet-savory flavor. We actually like a little heat so we add a few dashes of Texas Pete on our prepared plate.

  1. Oooh, love this easy sauce! Perfect for the holidays is right, but it would also be excellent for a football watching gathering!

  2. Thank you for this great sounding recipe One question though. I love more sauce on my pasta. Is it possible to add more liquid in some form to make it saucier and which liquid would you add? Can’t wait to try this. Thanks again.

    1. Do you mean more sauce than meat? I would probably start by reducing the amount of ground beef rather than increasing the liquid ingredients since the recipe calls for standard can sizes.

  3. Yum!! I love how quickly this goes together and that it serves a crowd…perfect for the busy holiday season!