Sunday Sauce

updated Aug 14, 2023
Sunday Sauce Recipe

This slow-simmered, meaty Italian American sauce is best served with spaghetti, of course.

Serves10 to 12

Prep10 minutes

Cook4 hours to 4 hours 30 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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A photo of spaghetti with red sauce and cut up sausages fork on the plate and a sprig of basil on the side.
Credit: Laura Rege

Nothing beats the smell of Sunday sauce simmering on the stovetop. It was an all-too-familiar smell in my Italian American household when I was growing up, and an indication that a tasty family dinner was up ahead.

Not familiar with Sunday sauce? This dish goes by other names like Sunday gravy or sugo and is a rich marinara-like sauce that has been cooked with meat — usually beef, pork, or lamb — for several hours on the stovetop, creating both a pasta sauce with lots of depth and braised pieces of meat in tow. 

How Do You Make Sunday Sauce?

Every household prepares Sunday sauce differently. My mother, father, and grandmother would prepare the sauce for me, each with a slight variation in flavor due to different choices regarding the meat they added in or tomatoes, but all following the same basic principles:

  • No holding back on olive oil
  • High-quality canned Italian tomatoes (or fresh!)
  • Browned meat
  • Several hours on the stovetop

This recipe combines the best of my family’s tips, but it isn’t so strict that it has to be followed to a T to get one of the best sauces you’ve ever had. So like this sauce passed down from generations and the sauces of other Italian families, start with my recipe and, over time, find a way to make it your own (perhaps served with some favorite pasta side dishes).

Why Is It Called Sunday Sauce?

Traditionally, due to its longer cooking time, this sauce has been prepared during the day on the weekends — in particular, Sundays — and served at a family-style dinner that evening.

Credit: Laura Rege

How to Serve Sunday Sauce

Over pasta! Shred or cut the meat and serve in the sauce like a ragù, or keep the meat whole or cut into pieces and serve alongside on a platter (like we do in my family), letting everyone decide what type and how much meat they like. 

What Is the Difference Between Sunday Sauce and Bolognese? 

Both are braised meat and tomato sauces, but Bolognese starts with ground meat, usually ground beef, pork, and/or veal, and Sunday sauce leans on tougher cuts that become silky-tender after cooking in the sauce.

How to Make Sunday Sauce Thicker

Simmering thickens the sauce, so it’s just a matter of a little extra time on the stovetop. If it’s not thickening up fast enough, open the lid more or remove it all together. Adding meat on the bone will also help thicken the sauce.

What Other Meat Can I Put in Sunday Sauce?

Choose meats that can handle a nice, slow braise. Our recipe follows my family’s go-tos are beef chuck and Italian sausage, but here are some other options:

  • Use oxtail, beef chuck ribs, or pricier short ribs instead of chuck (you’ll have less shreddy meat with meat on the bone, but an immensely delicious flavored thick sauce).
  • Swap the beef out with pork shoulder or butt or add it in addition to the beef.
  • Meatballs are also a fantastic addition to Sunday sauce.

The more meat, the richer and thicker the sauce, but make sure it all fits in by adhering to our general weight.

Sunday Sauce Recipe

This slow-simmered, meaty Italian American sauce is best served with spaghetti, of course.

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 4 hours to 4 hours 30 minutes

Serves 10 to 12

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds

    boneless beef chuck roast

  • 4 tablespoons

    olive oil, divided

  • 1 pound

    uncooked sweet or hot Italian sausage links

  • 5 cloves

    garlic

  • 3 to 4 large sprigs

    fresh basil

  • 3 tablespoons

    tomato paste

  • 2 (28-ounce) cans

    whole peeled tomatoes, preferably San Marzano

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    kosher salt, plus more as needed

  • 1 teaspoon

    granulated sugar, plus more as needed

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed

  • Cooked spaghetti, for serving

    Instructions

    1. Cut 2 pounds boneless beef chuck into 4 pieces. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the chuck and sear until golden-brown all over, 8 to 10 minutes total. Transfer to a plate.

    2. Reduce the heat to medium. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and 1 pound uncooked sweet or hot Italian sausage links to the pot. Sear until golden-brown all over, about 5 minutes total. Transfer to the plate with the chuck.

    3. Remove the pot from heat and let cool slightly, about 2 minutes. Meanwhile, finely chop 5 garlic cloves (about 2 tablespoons) and pick the leaves from 3 to 4 large fresh basil sprigs until you get 1/4 packed cup.

    4. Return the pot to medium heat, add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, and heat until shimmering. Add the garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until light golden-brown, about 1 minute. Add 3 tablespoons tomato paste and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the tomato paste has darkened in color, about 1 minute.

    5. Pour 2 (28-ounce) cans whole peeled tomatoes and their juices. Fill half of one of the empty tomato cans with water and pour the water into the pot. Using a wooden spoon or potato masher, break up the tomatoes into small bits. Add the basil leaves and season with 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1 teaspoon granulated sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.

    6. Increase heat to medium-high and bring the sauce to a rapid simmer. Return the chuck, sausages, and any accumulated juices to the pot. Reduce the heat to low and partially cover the pot. Gently simmer, stirring occasionally, until the chuck is falling apart, 3 1/2 to 4 hours.

    7. Transfer the chuck and sausages to a clean cutting board or plate. Shred the chuck with two forks into bite-sized pieces and cut the sausages into thick slices on a slight diagonal; return both to the sauce. (Alternatively, leave the meat whole and transfer to a platter, and use the sauce to sauce the pasta, serving the meat on the side for individuals to add to their plate and shred or cut as they want.)

    8. Taste and season the sauce with more kosher salt and black pepper as needed. If the sauce tastes too tangy or acidic, add more granulated sugar 1/2 teaspoon at a time. Serve the sauce over cooked spaghetti.

    Recipe Notes

    Storage: The sauce can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before rewarming.