Let me teach you how to make this nostalgic recipe for homemade spaghetti and meatballs with baked beef and pork meatballs, and poached, sliced sausage.
The spaghetti sauce cooks slowly starting on the stovetop then goes into the oven until the liquid has reduced. And although it can take a while for that to happen — between 2 and 3 hours — this recipe is 100% worth waiting for because of the way the spaghetti sauce’s flavor intensifies over time.
Recipe yields 2 quarts of sauce and 24-30 meatballs and freezes wonderfully!
If you're looking for other pasta dinner recipes, or just faster pasta recipes, check out my garlic parmesan pasta with chicken and this spicy chicken rigatoni pasta which are great on busy weeknights.
A Nostalgic Spaghetti & Meatballs with Sausage Recipe
I didn't grow up with a classic family spaghetti and meatballs recipe and never really had any nostalgic feelings for one. Which, honestly, turned out to be for the best because I married into one — Jimmy has strong feelings about his mom's homemade spaghetti and meatballs recipe.
Even back in college, when neither of us cooked much at all, Jimmy would occasionally make a huge batch of this spaghetti with meatballs and sausage and eat it for days. Over a decade later as full grown married adults, we still do this.
It's honestly just such a great make ahead spaghetti and meatballs recipe. A bit time intensive the day you make it, but worth it for several days of easy leftovers.
The spaghetti sauce is super rich with intense flavors, and making the meatballs with ground beef and ground pork and just the right amount of seasoned breadcrumbs gives them a lot of flavor and tenderness.
One of the best things about this recipe is that it makes a lot of sauce and a lot of meatballs.
If you're a family of five or six it'll make enough for a night or two of dinner plus some leftovers for lunch, depending on how hungry everyone is. If you're a family of two, or cooking just for yourself, buckle up because you'll have at least 4-6 days of spaghetti with meatballs and sausage to eat!
If you just can't imagine eating the same thing day after day, don't worry — the leftover meatballs and sauce can be frozen (separately) in the freezer for up to 3 months. Make a big batch now and you'll have quick and easy dinners ready to defrost later.
While this isn't the fastest spaghetti with meatballs and sausage recipe you'll ever make, the time is well spent for a big batch of spaghetti sauce and meatballs that can be easily reheated later.
This homemade spaghetti and meatballs recipe is the one my siblings and I make when we're feeling homesick. If someone told me I could never eat my mom’s spaghetti sauce again unless I ate a literal concrete brick, I would get out my blender and turn that brick into a smoothie.
This recipe, as my mom made it, used mostly powdered seasonings, dried herbs, jarred garlic, etc. It might not be traditional, but it makes sense. She was cooking for three kids; shelf-stable ingredients were a priority.
I've since put my own spin on her spaghetti with meatballs and sausage recipe, replacing some (but not all) of the dried ingredients with fresher counterparts. And instead of leaving it on the stove, I give it time to reduce in the oven to intensify the flavors.
There are a lot of ways to tailor this recipe to your own preferences. I keep the sauce meat-free until it's time to add the meatballs and sausage. My sister, however, takes a more ragu-style approach and adds lots of ground meat to hers.
We've each grown to love our own versions, and when you start making this recipe over and over again, adding your own tweaks, I know you'll love your own version of it too.
Here are the ingredients you'll need to make this spaghetti and meatballs with sausage recipe. I've broken them down into two separate lists, one for the spaghetti sauce and one for the meatballs because you can absolutely make them separately too!
You'll also need sweet or hot Italian sausage links (not pictured). Estimate about half a link per person.
Spaghetti Sauce Ingredients:
- Crushed Canned Tomatoes - You'll need two 28 ounce cans of crushed tomatoes. I always look for low sodium or salt free if they have it, just so I can add the amount of salt I want. The brands I usually use are Muir Glen, Cento, and San Merican Tomato. NOTE: The brand you see in these ingredient photos I actually don't love for this spaghetti sauce, their tomatoes are sweeter than I like.
- Whole Canned Tomatoes - You need one 28 ounce can of whole peeled canned San Marzano tomatoes. If you can find certified DOP tomatoes* that's ideal, but any whole peeled canned San Marzano tomato from California will also work. (See more about this in the FAQ).
- Onions - Yellow onions work best here. This recipe calls for one large onion minced and one whole onion cut into quarters. Half the minced onion goes in the sauce, but the other half you'll use in the meatballs.
- Carrot - One large peeled carrot. It adds sweetness to the sauce and is removed at the end of the cooking process.
- Red Pepper Flakes - Crushed red pepper flakes are used here mostly for a bit of flavor; this is not a spicy sauce.
- Oil - For cooking down the onions and garlic. Use a mild flavored olive oil or neutral oil like canola, vegetable, grapeseed, etc.
- Fresh Basil - Fresh basil, stems and leaves. The leaves will be finely minced and the stems will go in the sauce for flavor. Like the carrot and the quartered onion, they will be removed after the sauce has reduced.
- Fresh Parsley - Fresh parsley, finely minced. You can mince the stems as well here, no need to be super finicky about separating the leaves.
- Dried Oregano - Dried oregano has an intense but mild flavor compared to the sharper, more peppery flavor of fresh oregano which can overpower the sauce.
- Garlic - I always reach for the biggest garlic cloves I can find and turn them into a fine paste using a Microplane zester. But you can also use jarred garlic if you prefer.
- Bay Leaves - I use extra large Turkish bay leaves but whatever bay leaves you have on hand is fine. They add a subtle flavor and help deepen the other flavors in this spaghetti sauce and will be removed when the sauce has reduced.
- Salt and Pepper - I use Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt which half as salty as other brands. If you're using a different brand of salt, even a different brand of kosher salt, cut the amount of salt in half. For pepper you can use freshly cracked or pre-ground black pepper, either one will work.
*See FAQ below for more on DOP canned tomatoes.
- Ground Beef and Ground Pork - Look for ground beef mixtures with a higher percentage of fat for more tender meatballs. I like to use a 20/80 or 15/85 ground beef, and I avoid 99% lean ground beef here. The ground pork adds fat to the mix, so if you can only get 10/90 ground beef, you'll still be okay.
- Onion - Just like above, yellow onions work best here.
- Parmesan Cheese - The light, delicate texture of fresh finely grated parmesan cheese works best in these meatballs. I use a Microplane zester to grate it. But you can also use the powdery parmesan cheese if that's all of you have.
- Egg - One large egg helps bind the meatball mixture together.
- Fresh Basil & Fresh Parsley - You're using them in the sauce, so let's not let the rest go to waste. We'll be using minced fresh herbs in the meatballs too!
- Garlic - Just like in the sauce, I always use large garlic cloves and grate them using a Microplane zester. You can also use jarred garlic if you prefer.
- Breadcrumbs - Italian seasoned breadcrumbs help give these meatballs a super soft texture.
How to Make Spaghetti and Meatballs
This is not a short recipe. But, it is a fairly hands off recipe. Think of it as make ahead spaghetti and meatballs — a bunch of work on one day results in several days of easily reheated leftovers.
Spaghetti sauce is one of those recipes that can be eaten once you mix all the ingredients together and they're hot, but it's not truly perfected until the excess liquid has reduced and intensified the flavors.
It can take a while for that to happen. Once it does, you’ll be glad you waited.
This spaghetti sauce recipe starts in a big pot on the stove, then goes into the oven where it will reduce, allowing the flavors to meld and intensify.
Before you get started, preheat the oven to 325°F and arrange the oven racks so you have space to cook the meatballs while the sauce is cooking. I usually do the meatballs on the lowest oven rack and the sauce on a rack one or two notches above — the amount of space you need will depend on the height of your pot. Remember to include space for the lid to fit!
Sweat down the onions over a medium low heat until they're soft and slightly translucent. The goal is to for the onions to release their juices, not brown.
Add the garlic and cook one minute more. Garlic cooks faster than onions, so adding it last prevents it from burning.
Next, add both cans of crushed tomatoes. Then add the can of whole peeled tomatoes, squeezing each tomato in your hand before adding it to the pot. Add the remaining juices from the can to the pot.
You may want to wear an apron for this part btw! Squeezing tomatoes gets messy.
Now, we're going to add a bunch of stuff that will give the sauce flavor. Some of it will be removed at the end of cooking once it's infused the sauce, while the rest will stay mixed into the sauce.
Why leave the rest in the sauce? Have you ever tried removing crushed red pepper flakes and dried or fresh minced herbs from a sauce? You can't. So we won't. It's flavor, baby!
Add the quartered onion, peeled carrot, bay leaves, basil stems, fresh basil and parsley, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Give them a good stir.
Bring the sauce to a low boil.
Cover the pot with the lid slightly ajar to allow steam to escape. If you don't have a lid, use loose fitting aluminum foil with one or two holes poked in it.
Now it's time for the oven.
The sauce goes into the oven for 2-3 hours total. Stir it every hour or so to scrape down the sides of the pot and make sure nothing is burning on the bottom.
You may have noticed that no salt has gone into the sauce yet. This is on purpose! If you add salt at the beginning and then the sauce reduces, you risk ending up with an overly salted spaghetti sauce. Instead, we'll add the salt at the end when the sauce is done cooking.
While the sauce cooks in the oven, it's time to make the meatballs. I know not everyone has the time to make homemade spaghetti sauce and homemade meatballs on the same night. If you're in a pinch, frozen meatballs will get the job done. But they just don't taste as good.
Why Make Homemade Meatballs
For this recipe we're making meatballs with ground beef and ground pork from scratch. But more importantly, when you make your own meatballs you control the most important variable: bread.
Meatballs usually have some sort of breading in them, whether it’s literally bits of bread or some sort of breadcrumbs. Pre-made frozen meatballs can range in quality and lower quality ones will have more bread in them. We prefer meatier meatballs, so we make them from scratch.
If you don't have time to make meatballs and sauce from scratch on the same night, you can always make the meatballs ahead of time. Fully cooked, they'll stay good in the fridge for 3-5 days and in the freezer up to 3 months.
Combine the ground meat, onions and garlic, fresh herbs, egg, parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs, salt, and pepper.
Mix with your hands or a spatula just until everything is evenly combined. Try not to overwork the meatball mixture.
Overworked ground meatball mixture = tough meatballs. No one wants that.
You can certainly weigh and divide the meatball mixture to be precise, but I usually just eyeball the meatball sizes. You should get about 28 golf ball sized meatballs out of this meatball mixture.
Arrange the meatballs in rows on a foil lined sheet pan to make cleanup easier. Slide them onto the oven rack below the sauce to bake for about 20 minutes.
When the meatballs are done cooking they will be lightly browned and fully cooked through — absolutely safe to eat with no further cooking needed.
I usually bake the meatballs during the first hour of cooking the sauce and set them aside to cool while the sauce finishes. But you can also wait and make them during the last hour of the sauce cooking instead, or even make them the day before, depending on your schedule.
Adding Meatballs and Sausage
When the sauce has reduced by about a third to half and taken on a darker red color, it's done. Remove the quartered onions, carrot, basil stems, and bay leaves from the pot and discard them.
It's time to add the cooked meatballs and poach the sausage. Place the pot back on the stove over low heat, just enough to keep it warm.
Taste the sauce and add salt 1 teaspoon at a time, tasting between additions until it's how you like it.
Finally, add the number of meatballs and sausages you want for dinner that night into the spaghetti sauce.
If the sauce has reduced more than you'd like or doesn't completely cover the meatballs and sausage, stir in a bit of water, just enough to cover them. There's so much flavor in that reduced sauce that adding a bit of water won't really dilute it.
Poach the meatballs and sausage for about 20 minutes, then remove the sausages from the pot and pat them dry with a paper towel.
Pan fry the sausages over medium heat until crisp and browned on all sides. Remove from the skillet, let rest for 5 minutes, then slice them up and add them to the sauce.
Poaching the sausages whole in the sauce gives them a chance to absorb lots of delicious tomato-y flavor from the sauce and vice versa. They also get a jump start on cooking, so pan-frying them after is mostly just to get nice browning and crispiness on the outside.
When you make this, it's really up to you if you want just meatballs, just sausage, or both. We usually do both, because Jimmy doesn't mind the extra steps or washing the extra pan from searing the sausage. But if that's not your vibe, you certainly don't need to do it this way.
If you're in a rush, or if you're cooking for vegetarian or vegan guests, you can jump straight to pan-frying the sausages so they can be added separately instead of cooking them in the sauce, but if you have the time to poach the sausages, I do think it's worth it.
Storage, Freezing, and Reheating Leftovers
If eating leftovers within a few days, store any leftover meatballs in a large resealable gallon bag or airtight container the fridge, separate from the sauce. Store the sauce in a large, airtight container. If any sliced sausages are still in the sauce when you go to store the leftovers you can leave them in the sauce.
Why store the meatballs and sauce separately? If you leave the meatballs in the spaghetti sauce overnight, I find they start to develop a weird texture and reheat unevenly.
When you reheat the spaghetti and meatball sauce on the stove each night for leftovers, add however many meatballs everyone plans to eat and poach fresh sausages in the sauce as it reheats on the stove, then brown the sausages in a pan and slice them up and add them back in before serving.
You can also microwave the sauce and meatballs separately and skip adding sausages on leftovers nights, but I find you get better flavor if you reheat the meatballs in the sauce so they can absorb some of the spaghetti sauce flavor!
I usually make this spaghetti and meatball sauce in a large 7 quart Dutch oven. I reheat the sauce and meatballs in a medium sized sauce pot on the stove because it's deeper and can fit more meatballs and sausage inside.
When choosing the right pot for making the sauce remember:
- The size and shape of your pot will affect how quickly the sauce reduces in the oven.
- The bigger the pot and the more surface area the sauce has, the quicker it will reduce.
Spaghetti and Meatball Variations
You can absolutely customize this spaghetti and meatball sauce to suit your own tastes. Here's some suggestions to get you started!
- Spicy - Add up to 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes to the sauce, add ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes to the meatball mixture, and/or use hot Italian sausage in the sauce.
- Vegan - Serve without meatballs and sausage or use frozen vegan meatballs and vegan sausage!
- Sweeter/More Vegetables - Instead of a whole peeled carrot that you remove from the sauce, finely grate the carrot and cook it with the onions and garlic. It will make for a sweeter sauce with more vegetables in it.
Spaghetti and meatballs FAQ
You can keep the pot on the stove at a low simmer for 2-3 hours instead. Make sure you stir it every 20-30 minutes or so since the heat is only coming from the bottom and you don't want anything to burn!
When it comes to spaghetti sauces, you'll often see people recommend using Italian DOP-certified San Marzano tomatoes. This sauce is no exception — they're fantastic tomatoes for making spaghetti sauce.
However, if you're worried that people will judge you for not buying speciality canned tomatoes from Italy, don't worry. (Okay, Italians might judge you, but they’re working from a different playbook when it comes to spaghetti sauce).
San Marzano tomatoes are really great, but finding official DOP San Marzano tomatoes can be a major challenge here in the United States, if not impossible. It depends on where you live and how well stocked your grocery store is.
The good news is certain regions in California have the same climate as the San Marzano region of Italy (though the San Marzano region of Italy would disagree). The San Marzano tomatoes grown in California are a great option too.
At the end of the day, any canned, peeled whole plum tomatoes will work just fine. If you like a particular brand, or one of them is on sale that week, just go for it. You’ll enjoy it. Don’t let pretentious food jerks make you feel like your sauce isn’t worth it. It's your sauce. Own it.
It's great for making chicken parmesan, the sauce works well for pizzas, meatball subs, and more. Basically anything you'd use marinara sauce for!
Homemade Spaghetti & Meatballs with Sausage
- Large oven-safe pot
- Heavy-duty aluminum foil
For the Sauce
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion (quartered)
- ½ large yellow onion (minced, save the other half for the meatballs)
- 6 cloves garlic (minced)
- 2 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes
- 1 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes (San Marzano if you can find them, but any plum tomato variety will do)
- 1 large carrot (peeled and cut in half)
- 2 stems fresh basil (save the leaves for later)
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- ½-1 teaspoons diamond crystal kosher salt (to taste)
- ¼ cup fresh parsley (chopped)
- ¼ cup fresh basil (chopped)
For the Meatballs and Sausage
- 1 lb ground beef (20/80 or 15/85 ideally)
- 1 lb ground pork
- 1 package Italian sausage (assume ½ sausage per person)
- ½ large yellow onion (minced, the other half of the onion from the sauce)
- 3 cloves garlic (minced)
- ¼ cup fresh parsley (chopped)
- 3 tablespoons fresh basil (chopped)
- ¼ cup finely grated parmesan cheese
- ⅓-½ cups Italian bread crumbs (use the larger amount of bread crumbs for softer meatballs)
- 1 large egg
- ½ teaspoon diamond crystal kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon olive oil (for searing the sausage)
For the Pasta
- Pasta (whatever shape you want, however much you need to feed however many people are eating, cooked according to package directions)
- Preheat oven to 325°F with one rack on lowest setting for the meatballs and the other one or two notches above it.
- Heat large oven safe pot or Dutch oven over medium-low heat on the stove. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and swirl it around. When it starts to shimmer, add the minced onions and sauté until translucent, stirring occasionally. Add the minced garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for 1 minute more.
- Add the canned crushed tomatoes and stir to combine. One at a time, add the whole peeled tomatoes, squeezing each tomato in your hand over the pot before gently dropping it in. Once all the tomatoes are in, pour the remaining liquid from the can into the pot and stir.
- Add the carrot, onion quarters, bay leaves, basil stems, red pepper flakes, dried oregano, and pepper to the pot. Stir until everything is submerged.
- Put the lid on the pot at a slight angle so that steam can escape, and place it in the oven for 2-3 hours until it has reduced by ⅓ and is deep red in color. Stir every hour. NOTE: If making meatballs, now is a good time to do so!
- When the sauce has reduced and taken on a dark red color, take the pot out of the oven and remove and discard the carrot, onion quarters, bay leaves, and basil stems. Stir in chopped fresh basil and parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- If eating immediately, keep the pot on the stove on low heat to poach the sausages and heat the meatballs. Add only the number you plan to eat that night.If prepping ahead, let the sauce cool before transferring to an airtight container and placing in the fridge or freezer.
- Combine ground meat, onion, garlic, parsley, basil, breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, egg, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Mix with your hands just until combined. Do not overwork it.
- Shape golf ball sized meatballs and arrange them in rows on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet. Bake at 325°F for 20 minutes.
- If using immediately, add desired number of meatballs to finished spaghetti sauce and poach for an additional 20 minutes.
- If prepping ahead, let cool on the sheet pan before transferring to an airtight container in the fridge or freezer. Reheat by placing in warm spaghetti sauce on the stove for 20-30 minutes before eating.
- Heat spaghetti sauce on the stove until warmed through. Submerge the sausages in the sauce for 20 minutes at medium-low heat.
- In the last few minutes of poaching, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a medium skillet over medium heat until shimmering.
- Remove the sausages from the sauce, being careful not to tear the delicate outer skin. Gently shake or scrape the excess sauce back into the sauce pot. Pat the sausages dry with a paper towel.
- Place the sausages in the skillet and cook 3½ minutes on each side.NOTE: The sausages will brown quickly because of the sugars from the tomato sauce, but if the sausages start smoking, lower the heat.
- Remove sausages from pan and let rest on a cutting board for 5 minutes.
- Slice into rounds and add back into the spaghetti sauce.
- Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and return to pot. Toss pasta with a few tablespoons of spaghetti sauce, just enough to lightly coat the noodles so they don’t stick together.
- Heat (or reheat) sauce over medium-low heat. Add desired number of meatballs. Poach, pan-fry, and slice sausage according to directions above. Add sausage back to sauce.
- Serve sauce over noodles in bowls, OR place the pasta and sauce (with meat or with meat on the side) in separate serving bowls on the table and let diners serve themselves.
- Garnish with additional grated parmesan cheese and thinly sliced fresh basil if desired.
- Both the sauce and the meatballs will stay good in the fridge 3-5 days and in the freezer up to 3 months. Meatballs can be defrosted in the sauce from frozen.
- The sausages can be poached all at once and then refrigerated in an airtight container. Pan fry, rest, and slice before adding to the sauce. DO NOT freeze the sausages after poaching.
- Adding the cooked meatballs and sausage to the sauce before serving is mostly to get them up to temperature and to give them a chance to absorb some tomato-y flavor. Since they’re fully cooked, however, you can serve them on the side if you need to.