This Ragu alla Bolognese is delicious and slow cooked just like the one my Italian Grandmother used to make. This sauce is so easy & delicious! It really is the best bolognese sauce. Ragu alla Bolognese This ragu alla bolognese recipe was a total labor of love. I have to preface this by saying that my husband is Italian, and like all good italian sons, swears that his mom makes the best ragu alla bolognese. We also have an italian nanny from northern italy who swears that her husband makes the best sauce you will ever taste, but using different ingredients then my italian mother in law. In an attempt to make the best Italian meat sauce, I ended up making 9 batches all slightly different using varying ingredients, quantities and methods and each time took in feedback from my two italian taste testers with very strong opinions. 

Ragu alla Bolognese

What Is Ragù alla Bolognese?

All bolognese sauce is ragu, but not all ragu is bolognese. Confusing right? Ragu is a term used to describe an italian meat-based sauce, whereas bolognese is a term used to describe anything associated with the city of Bologna in the Emilia-Romagna region in Northern Italy. So the term Ragu alla Bolognese means a meat sauce in the style of bologna. Recipes for ragu alla bolognese have great regional variations but a traditional bolognese sauce contains soffritto (onion, carrots and celery), minced beef plus pork or veal, milk, wine (some use white while others use red) and tomatoes. Another common feature of all bolognese sauce recipes is the cooking process, slow cooking the sauce for a long time (anywhere from 1 hours to 6 hours). Other common variations you can find in a traditional recipe include the addition of pancetta or streaky bacon, chicken liver blended in with the ground meat, béchamel sauce stirred in in place of milk for a creamy consistency and the type of tomato used (fresh tomatoes vs tomato purée vs canned tomatoes vs tomato sauce).


Ragu alla Bolognese

Why This Is The Best Ragu alla Bolognese 

  • This slow-cooked meat sauce is crumbly, rich, creamy and so comforting. Served over a bowl of pasta, this really is the ultimate comfort food.
  • Unlike other ragu alla bolognese recipes you can find online, this one uses a secret trick to ensure a super crumbly texture, and a unique ingredient (courtesy of my Italian mother-in-law) to give the sauce a wonderful underlying warmth of flavor. 
  • This will quickly become your go-to recipe for bolognese. It uses easy to find ingredients and is very low fuss make. 
  • The process of adding wine and letting it cook off before adding in milk and then tomatoes makes one of the biggest differences to the final sauce
  • This Bolognese sauce is Paleo, Grain Free, Gluten Free, Dairy Free, and Specific Carbohydrate Diet Legal.


Ingredients You Need To Make This Ragu alla Bolognese 

  • Ground Beef: I recommend using ground beef chuck which is 20% fat which will give the sauce a lot of flavor. 
  • Ground Pork: I prefer using ground pork, but if you do not eat pork then it can be replaced with ground turkey, chicken or veal. Alternatively you can substitute the ground pork for minced pancetta or crumbled italian sausage. 
  • Carrots, Celery and Onion: the combination of yellow onion, carrots and celery in Italian cooking is called soffritto and is the base for a variety of italian dishes including sauces, soups and stews. While traditional ragu alla bolognese recipes call for the soffritto to be hand chopped into small pieces, I prefer to place the onion, carrots and celery in a food processor and pulse into small bits. Pulsing the vegetables into such small pieces enables them to melt into the sauce as they cook. 
  • Red Wine: Some Ragu alla Bolognese recipes use white wine while others use red wine. I prefer the richness that red wine brings to the sauce. The key is to add the red wine and then let it cook down, this will cause the alcohol to evaporate and prevent the sauce from having too strong a wine taste. Look for a dry red wine such as cabernet or merlot, but any type of red wine such as pinot noir or shiraz will work. 
  • Milk: The fuller fat the milk used, the creamier the sauce will be. As a dairy option I recommend using whole milk or heavy cream, and for a plant based milk be sure to use an unsweetened milk such as almond or cashew. 
  • Tomato Paste: the helps to thicken the sauce. 
  • Canned Tomatoes: This is slightly controversial, while some people use canned tomatoes, others use jars of tomato puree. I personally like the small chunks of tomato in the sauce that cook down and help to create a thick sauce. When choosing canned tomatoes, ideally look for canned san marzano tomatoes which are deemed the best quality tomatoes. If you can’t find those then be sure to use canned whole tomatoes which are always better quality tomatoes then canned crushed or diced tomatoes. 
  • Cinnamon: This is an ingredient that you likely won’t find in any other ragu alla bolognese sauce online and what I think really makes the recipe. This is a secret ingredient that my Italian mother-in-law always adds to her sauce and a trick that I have since adopted. I have never been a huge fan of nutmeg which is an ingredient that you find in most authentic ragù recipes as I find that it has a distinct flavor that overpowers the sauce. Cinnamon adds a subtle warmth to the pasta sauce that I think you will really enjoy. 
  • Beef Broth: Use good quality beef stock for the best flavor. In the past if I do not have beef broth I have used an alternative hearty meat broth such as lamb rather than a light broth like chicken stock to help enhance the depth of flavor in this hearty meat sauce. 


How To Make This Ragu alla Bolognese 

Cut the carrots, onion and celery into chunks and then place them all in a food processor and pulse until everything is broken into small pieces. 

  1. Heat the olive oil and butter in a dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot on medium heat and then add in the pulsed vegetables and leave them to cook for a few minutes until they begin to soften.
  2. Add in the ground meat and use a wooden spoon to break the large chunks of meat. Cook for a few minutes before adding in the wine. 
  3. Use a wooden spoon to break the brown bits off the bottom of the pot and leave the wine to cook off for approximately 20 minutes (you may need to increase the heat to high heat to help the wine cook down). 
  4. Add the milk and leave on a gentle simmer for a few minutes before stirring in the canned tomatoes, cinnamon, bay leaves and cinnamon. Leave the sauce on a slow simmer for 90 minutes on medium low heat. 
  5. Serve over your favorite pasta shapes with a sprinkle of fresh parmesan cheese overtop. 

(you can find more detailed step-by-step instructions in the recipe card below)



Can I Use A Different Mix Of Meat?

You can! I tested out all beef, a half and half beef to pork ratio as well as beef and veal and found that 2 parts beef and 1 part pork resulted in the best texture. That being said if you don’t eat pork it can be substituted for ground chicken, turkey or veal for equally good results.


Why Add Milk To The Ragu alla Bolognese Sauce

There are two reasons why authentic bolognese sauce contains milk. Firstly because the addition of milk helps to cut through the acidity of the tomato sauce and wine and give the rich sauce a creamier consistency. The second reason for the use of milk in real bolognese sauce is to help to tenderize the meat as it cooks.


How Long Should I Leave The Sauce To Simmer

In the recipe I state 60-90 minutes, but if you have time, I recommend simmering it for up to 3 hours. The longer you leave the sauce to simmer, the richer the flavor will be and the sauce will take on a tender crumbly texture (although my shortcut of using a potato masher helps to achieve this even with a shorter cooking time). A longer simmer equals better flavor. 


Can I Make This Ragu alla Bolognese In An Instant Pot

It is very easy to make this flavorful bolognese sauce in an instant pot. Simply turn the instant pot on to saute and follow the recipe from steps 1-5. Once everything has been added to the instant pot, turn it on to high pressure and cook for 30 minutes. Once that is done, quick release and then turn the instant pot to saute and leave it cook for a little bit of time (anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes) until the sauce has reduced and thickened. 

Can I Make This Ragu alla Bolognese In A Slow Cooker

If preparing this bolognese sauce recipe in a slow cooker, I recommend starting the sauce in a large heavy pot on the stove top. Saute the soffritto, cook the meat and add in the milk, wine, canned tomatoes, cinnamon and bay leaf and follow the recipe up to the end of step 5. Transfer everything to a slow cooker (be sure to use a wooden spoon to scrape off all of the bits from the bottom of the pan to add to the slow cooker). Turn the slow cooker on and cook on low heat for 8 hours or high heat for 4 hours. If you find that the ragu is too liquidy after cooking, you may need to transfer it back to the pot and bring to a boil in medium high heat for 15 minutes to allow it to thicken and reduce.


Ways To Modify this Ragu alla Bolognese Recipe

  • Use Italian sausage in place of ground pork for even more flavor. 
  • Use heavy cream to make the sauce extra creamy
  • Add a pinch of red pepper flakes to give the sauce a kick of heat
  • Use finely chopped chicken livers in place of ground pork for a really richly flavored sauce that closely resembles an authentic bolognese recipe
  • Add finely diced porcini mushrooms in with the soffritto 

What To Serve With This Ragu alla Bolognese 

In North America it is quite common to serve bolognese sauce with spaghetti (spaghetti alla bolognese) but in Italy bolognese ragu is traditionally served over fresh tagliatelle or pappardelle. Truthfully the sauce is so delicious that any type of pasta (either dry pasta or fresh pasta) works.  Another great way to serve this ragu is over grilled sliced of polenta which you can often find sold in tubes at the grocery store. Alternatively if you are on a grain free diet you can serve this over spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles. I also like to use this sauce to make lasagna, either with lasagna noodles or thin slices of butternut squash in this recipe. 


Ragu alla Bolognese

Can I Make This In Advance?

Definitely! This ragù bolognese will last for up to 5 days stored in an airtight container in the fridge and I find that the flavors only improve the next day. Reheat any leftover bolognese sauce in the microwave or in a large pot on medium-high heat until the sauce is warmed through. You made need to add a splash of water or beef stock to prevent the sauce from burning. 

Can I Freeze This Ragu alla Bolognese

Absolutely! I have an entire drawer in my freezer filled with portions of this Bolognese sauce. It is perfect for an easy dinner when you are short on time and craving something warm and comforting. This authentic bolognese recipe makes a big batch of sauce that can be divided up and frozen into 4 or 5 batches of dinners for two people. There is no added effort that goes into the preparation of the sauce if you make more, so I recommend always making a double batch so you can enjoy some and have lots leftover to freeze. 


Ragu alla Bolognese

Here are a few pasta dishes that you might enjoy:

If you make this recipe let me know in the comment section below, I would love to hear what you think or take a photo and tag me (@everylastbite_) on Instagram, I love seeing your photos!

Ragu alla Bolognese

Every Last Bite
A delicious slow cooked sauce that is just like the one my Italian Grandmother used to make, so easy & delicious!
4.46 from 11 votes
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 45 minutes
Total Time 2 hours 5 minutes
Diets Dairy Free, Gluten Free, Grain Free, Nut Free, Paleo, Refined Sugar Free, Specific Carbohydrate Diet Legal, Whole30
Servings 6
Calories 369 kcal


  • 1 large carrot peeled and top removed
  • 1 large celery stick
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lbs ground beef
  • ½ lbs ground pork
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 28oz can whole tomatoes
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup beef stock


  • Cut the celery and carrot into 1 inch pieces and the onion in half and then into wedges. Place the carrots, celery and onion in the food processor and pulse until everything is broken into a small pieces
  • Add the olive oil and butter to a large pot on medium high heat and then add in the celery/carrots and onion. Saute for 3-4 minutes until the vegetables begin to soften
  • Next add in the ground beef and pork and use a wooden spoon to break the meat up. Cook for 5-6 minutes until it begins to lose its pink color (don’t brown the meat)
  • Add the red wine and simmer uncovered until the majority has evaporated (about 15-20 minutes)
  • Add the milk and simmer for 10-15 minutes before adding the in the tomato paste, canned tomatoes, cinnamon, bay leaves and beef stock.
  • Leave to simmer for 60-90 minutes on low heat. Half way through cooking, place a potato masher in the pot and move it around the pot, pressing down to break up any remaining chunks of tomato or meat.If the sauce seems too liquidy, increase the heat and leave it to continue to simmer until it reduces


Slow Cooker - to make this in a crockpot/slow cooker, use the saute/sear function for steps 1-3. For step 4 put it on low heat and leave to cook for 3 hours on high heat or 6 hours on low heat. 
Calories: 369kcalCarbohydrates: 5gProtein: 20gFat: 27gSaturated Fat: 9gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 81mgSodium: 234mgPotassium: 413mgFiber: 1gSugar: 2gCalcium: 84mgIron: 2mg
Tried this recipe?Leave a comment below and let us know how it was!


This post was originally published on November 18, 2016, and updated with new photos and copy on April 8, 2024. Updated against on May 31, 2024.