I have been making spaghetti and meat sauce for many years, and what I’ve learned is that before you focus on the pasta, you must cook the meat properly in order to create a delicious and flavorful sauce.
To help you bring spaghetti recipes to the next level, I will share some tips on making spaghetti meat so that it turns out perfectly every time.
- An 80/20 ground beef makes the best spaghetti meat.
- Spaghetti meat should be browned before being added to the sauce.
- Browning the meat adds flavor and helps to create a better color and texture.
A Few Words on Spaghetti
Spaghetti is a thin, long, cylindrical pasta of Italian origin. It is typically made from durum wheat semolina and water.
It is believed that spaghetti was introduced to Italy by Arabic and Moorish invaders. The Arabs brought a long, thin noodle called "itriyya," which may have been the predecessor of vermicelli and spaghetti .
Although you can serve spaghetti with pesto, amatriciana, or carbonara, it is most commonly topped with a tomato sauce, typically combined with ground beef.
Making Spaghetti Meat
Preparing the meat properly is the key to delicious spaghetti and meat sauce.
You can use any ground meat in your spaghetti recipe, but I prefer ground beef because it has a higher fat content. I find beef makes for a richer and more flavorful meat sauce.
The making of spaghetti meat is really a two-step process.
- First, you have to brown the ground beef. This will enhance the meat’s flavor and lock in the juices.
- Second, you should slow-cook the meat in a homemade sauce. This step makes the meat tender and juicy.
Here are some of my best tips on making spaghetti meat so that it turns out delicious:
- Use high-quality ground beef. This is important because the quality of the meat will directly affect the sauce's flavor. I recommend using meat with high-fat content, such as 80/20. If you choose a leaner meat mix, you can add some olive oil to the pan.
- Season the meat generously before cooking with salt, pepper, and your spices of choice. This will help to flavor the meat sauce and keep the beef from tasting bland.
- Cook the meat over medium-high heat. This will let you brown the meat without burning it but still creates a flavorful fond (the brown bits that form on the bottom of the pan).
- Use a wooden spoon or fork to break up the meat as it cooks. This will help to create smaller pieces that will be evenly distributed throughout the meat sauce. It also ensures that your meat is cooked to the same level of doneness throughout.
- Do not drain the fat from the pan. This may seem counterintuitive, but the beef's fat will help flavor the spaghetti sauce. If you are worried about adding excess fat to the final dish, you can skim the fat off the top of the meat sauce after it has simmered for a while.
- Add the meat to the tomato sauce and simmer until the sauce has thickened and the meat is fully cooked. This will allow the flavors to meld together and create a more cohesive dish.
- Watch the cooking time. The cooking time is recipe dependent and can take anywhere from 30 minutes on the stove to eight hours in a slow cooker.
Once the meat and sauce have finished heating, ladle it over your cooked spaghetti noodles and enjoy.
"Two tablespoons of a thick sauce or a quarter to a third of a cup of a liquid one should suffice per portion."
- The Atlantic Magazine
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Spaghetti Sauce Recipe
There are as many spaghetti sauce recipes as stars in the sky. But I have a go-to ground beef recipe when I need a meat sauce in a hurry and don’t want to simply pull out a jarred sauce and use the package directions.
This easy recipe for delicious spaghetti sauce can be on the table in 40 minutes, making it a great recipe when you don’t have a lot of meal prep time.
Ingredients for Spaghetti Recipe
- 1 pound ground beef
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 medium chopped onion
- 16 ounces crushed or diced tomatoes
- 6 ounces tomato paste
- 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1 Tablespoon dried parsley flakes
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- crushed red pepper flakes to taste
- 1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
- tender noodles or noodles cooked al dente
Instructions for Spaghetti Recipe
- Season the ground beef with salt and pepper.
- Over medium-high heat, add beef and onion to a large pot. Cook, frequently stirring, until the meat is thoroughly browned.
- Add the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, Italian seasoning, parsley, garlic powder, red pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and granulated sugar to the pot.
- Add water and bring the mixture to a boil while occasionally stirring to combine.
- Over medium-low heat, low simmer the sauce for 30 minutes. Add basil before serving over spaghetti noodles.
Spaghetti recipes can have variations, such as putting the sauce of zucchini noodles instead of the traditional pasta. You can also try gluten-free pasta instead of classic spaghetti.
You can add fresh mushrooms and cover with grated parmesan cheese when done. And finally, you can try ground turkey or chicken instead of beef in your meat sauce recipe.
You can store leftovers in an airtight container overnight in the fridge or for three months in the freezer.
Do You Brown the Meat Before Putting It in Spaghetti Sauce?
Yes, you should brown the meat before adding it in spaghetti sauce. Browning the ground beef ahead of time will give the homemade spaghetti sauce flavor and prevent the meat from overcooking.
Do You Put Oil in Spaghetti Meat?
There is no need to put oil in spaghetti meat if you use an 80/20 mix of ground beef. That fat content is sufficient to cook beef without it sticking. You may want to add some oil or beef broth if you use leaner beef.
Do You Add Water When Browning Ground Beef?
You do not add water when browning ground beef, but it can help to prevent the meat from sticking and burning. Salted water also can keep the meat moist and help it break into small chunks as it cooks.
Cook Your Spaghetti the Right Way
The above tips should help you feel confident in your ability to make spaghetti and meat sauce. You can add different spices, herbs, crushed tomatoes, and vegetables to the sauce to create a unique flavor, but having high-quality beef is the basis of any good Italian sauce.
Fortunately, you can get grass-fed, free-range beef for spaghetti sauce delivered directly to your home.
My honest vote goes to ButcherBox, a meat delivery service that’s made its mark by selling hormone and antibiotic-free meat. Ordering from this company means you’ll get free shipping on all orders, and you can also customize your boxes, which is an added bonus.