Beef Ragu

This Beef Ragu recipe is cozy, elevated comfort food to rival any restaurant, easy to make, and tastes even better the next day for make-ahead magic!

This Beef Ragu Sauce is a must-have/must-make recipe for every home cook!  It’s rich, hearty, saucy and satisfying, exploding with bright tomato, basil, garlic flavors and spoon tender shredded beef.  This Beef Ragu recipe may look fancy, but is super easy to make, most of the time is hand’s off simmering!  Chuck roast is cooked low and slow in a bath of San Marzano tomatoes, garlic, onions, carrots, celery, and fresh basil until melt-in-your-mouth tender, then shredded and piled on buttery, chewy pappardelle with a showering of Parmesan cheese. This ragu sauce is also make-ahead and freezer friendly so you can always have it on hand. Serve it with Caesar Salad and Garlic Bread or Breadsticks for a comforting dinner everyone will love.

Pasta dinners are favorites of adults and kids alike – especially with beef! Some of our favorites beef pasta recipes include: Bolognese, Lasagna, Lasagna Soup, Manicotti, and Baked Penne.

How to Make Beef ragu recipe Video

top view showing how to serve beef ragu with pappardelle in a bowl with Parmesan and fresh basil

Beef Ragu FAQS

What is Ragu?

Ragu is a meat-based Italian sauce made with any type of protein (veal, beef, lamb, pork, fish or poultry), onions, carrots, celery and often pancetta with a minimal amount of tomato sauce. The recipe I’m sharing with you today is a Beef Ragu recipe made with chuck roast that’s been braised until fall-apart tender. 

How is Ragu different from Bolognese?

Ragu is an umbrella term for a meat-based Italian tomato sauce made with any type of protein (veal, beef, lamb, pork, fish or poultry), onions, carrots, celery and often pancetta. Bolognese is a popular type of ragu sauce characterized by its use of beef.  So, all Bolognese recipes are a type of ragu, but not all ragu recipes are Bolognese.  If you’re looking for a sensational Bolognese sauce, see this recipe.

WHAT’S THE BEST CUT OF BEEF FOR RAGU? 

Boneless chuck roast (which can also be labeled as a shoulder roast, chuck eye roast, or arm chuck roast) is the best cut of beef for fall apart tender ragu.  It boasts a succulent, beefy flavor and melt-in-your mouth texture due to its rich marbling. The marbling melts as it slow cooks, creating a self-basting effect that drips over the meat, keeping it extra juicy and infusing it with a coveted depth of flavor.  It is guaranteed to become fall apart tender when cooked long enough.

DO I HAVE TO USE CHUCK ROAST?

Chuck roast is the best choice for shredding, although many other tough cuts such as brisket, rump roast, round roast and even flank and skirt steak can be used as long as they are cooked long enough, but they won’t be as flavorful. Take care that whatever beef cut you choose has rich marbling (fat=flavor and tenderness) because these cuts are already leaner than chuck roast.

up close of twirling beef ragu recipe on a fork showing the saucy ragu sauce

Beef Ragu Ingredients

Homemade Beef Ragu tastes gourmet, but it comes together easily with ingredients I almost always have on hand. Exact measurements can be found in the recipe card at the end of this post, but here’s an overview of what’s needed to make ragu sauce from scratch: 

  • Beef: Use chuck roast for its rich marbling which creates the most tender, flavorful ragu sauce. You can use 2 1/2-3 pounds, the more meat, the less “saucy” and vice versa. The roast is cut into smaller equal pieces to reduce the cooking time and for additional flavor.
  • Vegetables: The best sauces begin with a sofrito of onions, celery and carrots. I suggest using a food processor to quickly chop the veggies.
  • Oil: You’ll use olive oil to sauté the sofrito mixture, and vegetable oil (which has a higher smoke point) to sear the chuck roast. 
  • Crushed tomatoes: You will need one 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes (often called crushed tomatoes in puree). Take care your crushed tomatoes don’t have any additional seasonings or added salt. I recommend high-quality San Marzano tomatoes for their sweet, intense tomatoey flavor and lower acidity. I recommend the brands San Marzano, Cento and Muir Glen. San Marzano tomatoes are usually sold “whole” so you will want to pour them into a bowl and crush them first. If you don’t use San Marzano tomatoes, be prepared to add additional sugar to the sauce after simmering.
  • Tomato paste: Just a couple tablespoons of tomato paste deliver the intense tomato flavor we’re looking for.   
  • Tomato sauce: Using one can of tomato sauce instead of broth creates a richer, more flavorful sauce.
  • Garlic: I use 8 garlic cloves but you can use more or less depending on your garlic love. 
  • Sugar: The acidity of the tomatoes is balanced with one teaspoon or so of sugar. The amount of sugar will depend on the actual acidity of the tomatoes and personal preference. I actually find I add a different amount of sugar every time!
  • Basil:  You can use fresh basil and add it at the end of cooking (otherwise the potency wears off), or dried which you will add before simmering the ragu.
  • Seasonings: In addition to the basil, aromatic onions and garlic, this ragu sauce is seasoned with red pepper flakes, oregano, thyme, salt, pepper and a bay leaf.
  • Beef bouillon:  This adds a depth of concentrated beefy flavor which makes the ragu sauce taste like it’s been simmering all day – it is the KEY ingredient to flavorful ragu!  You can use beef base (as seen in the video) such as Zoup! or Better Than Bouillon, granulated beef bouillon, or cubes, all in equal amounts.  Add the bouillon directly to the pot, don’t dissolve in water first. If using cubes, make sure to crush them first.
showing how to make ragu sauce with shredded beef

HOW TO MAKE Beef Ragu

I’ve provided two methods for cooking the ragu in the recipe card below. You can either simmer the sauce on the stove, or bake it in the oven. Both methods produce stellar Beef Ragu that’s studded with tender shredded beef; however, I prefer the oven method for more even cooking.  Let’s review how to make it (full recipe in the printable recipe card at the bottom of the post):

  • Step 1: Prepare the sofrito. Roughly chop the onion, celery, and carrots just so they fit in your food processor. Pulse until finely chopped (about 12 pulses), or chop by hand if desired. 
  • Step 2: Sear the beef. Pat the beef dry using paper towels, drizzle with oil, then evenly sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat the vegetable oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat. Once hot, add the beef and sear on all sides until deeply browned. It will not be cooked through at this point, but that’s what you want! 
a collage showing how to make beef ragu with ragu sauce by seasoning chuck roast with salt and pepper then searing in a Dutch oven
  • Step 3: Sauté the aromatics. Remove the beef from the pan, then sauté the chopped sofrito in the drippings until softened. Briefly sauté the tomato paste to remove the tin-like taste, then add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for 30 more seconds.
showing how to make beef ragu recipe by sautéing the onions, carrots and celery with garlic and red pepper flakes
  • Step 4: Add the remaining ingredients. Return the beef back to the pot along with crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, beef bouillon and spices. Bring to a simmer, then continue to cook on the stove or in the oven. 
showing how to make beef ragu by making ragu sauce with braised beef, crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, onions, garlic, basil and sofrito
  • Step 5: Cook the sauce. Simmer the ragu sauce on the stove or bake it in the oven for about 2 ½ hours. Skim the fat off the surface of the sauce.  
showing how to make ragu recipe by simmering beef until tender
  • Step 6: Shred the beef. Remove beef to a cutting board and shred with 2 forks. Return the beef to the pot.
a collage showing how to make beef ragu by shredding the beef and returning to the ragu sauce
  • Step 7: Finish the sauce. Stir in fresh basil. Adjust seasonings as desired. Serve the Beef Ragu with pasta and plenty of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
up close of twirling beef ragu recipe on a fork showing the saucy ragu sauce
  • Use the right pot.  The best pots to cook tomato sauces in are stainless steel or enameled cast iron (like a Dutch oven). Stainless steel is non-reactive, staying chemically stable even when you use it for cooking or storing acidic foods. Porcelain enamel is a type of glass that’s resistant to both acidic and alkaline foods. Don’t use reactive cookware like aluminum, cast iron or nonstick pans. 
  • Set yourself up for success with the right cut of beef. Choose a chuck roast that is fresh, bright in color and contains lots of marbling because marbling = flavor and tenderness. If you use a different cut of beef, I cannot guarantee it will be melt-in-your-mouth tender.  
  • Sear the beef: It may be tempting to skip searing the chuck roast to save some time, but do NOT skip this step! Searing creates the Maillard reaction resulting in rich, deep, complex flavored ragu and prevents the surface of the beef from becoming dehydrated.
  • Use vegetable oil for searing: When searing the beef, use vegetable or canola oil, NOT olive oil. Olive oil has a much lower smoke point, meaning it will burn at the high temperature that you need to sear the beef at. Vegetable oil won’t burn at this higher temperature. 
  • Cook the beef until very tender.  If your beef isn’t crazy tender and easily separating with two forks, then cook on!  It means the proteins needs more time to break down and tenderize. Even 30 more minutes can make the world of difference between “okay” and melt-in-your-mouth beef.
  • Don’t skip the sofrito: The mixture of onion, carrots, and celery forms the flavor base of this sauce. Without all three veggies, the sauce will taste flat, won’t be as nuanced, and you’ll need additional sugar to balance the acidity. 
  • Use quality tomatoes: I highly recommend splurging for San Marzano tomatoes. San Marzano tomatoes are a variety of plum tomato and considered the gold standard, AKA the best tomatoes in the world to use in Italian sauces. They originate from the rich volcanic soils of San Marzano, Italy and are highly prized for their sweet, intense tomatoey flavor and lower acidity.
  • Add sugar to taste: I recommend starting with 1 teaspoon and adding additional sugar to taste at the end of cooking. The amount will vary depending on the tomatoes used and personal preference.
  • Use fresh ingredients – or don’t:  Use fresh garlic and basil for the ultimate sauce, or use dried/powdered substitutes when needed.  
  • Adjust consistency: For a thicker sauce, remove the beef once tender, and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce reduces to your desired consistency. For a thinner sauce, thin with reserved pasta water. 
up close of twirling beef ragu recipe on a fork showing the saucy ragu sauce
  • Add other Italian style seasonings: Swap the proportions of the herbs listed in the recipe such as adding more thyme and less oregano or add additional herbs altogether such as rosemary, marjoram or fennel. You could also add Italian seasoning, if desired. 
  • Make it spicier: Ragu isn’t a spicy sauce, but you can make yours spicy by adding more red pepper flakes to the recipe. 
  • Make it garlicky: Add even more garlic if you don’t want to not be kissed tonight 😉. 
  • Make it creamy: Stir in 1/4-½ cup heavy cream, or more to taste for a creamy finish.
  • Make it buttery:  For an indulgent sauce, stir in a couple tablespoons of butter to melt before serving.   
  • Make it cheesy: Stir ½ cup of freshly-grated Parmesan into the sauce before serving.
  • Add a Parmesan cheese rind: Save/freeze your Parmesan cheese rind for recipes like this! Add the rind to the sauce to simmer for extra umami rich flavor. The rind will soften but won’t melt so it’s easy to scoop out.  You may wish to reduce the salt or bouillon if using.
  • Add pancetta: Begin by cooking 4 ounces pancetta, finely diced, in one tablespoon of olive oil before adding the sofrito mixture. You may wish to reduce the salt or bouillon if using.
  • Add wine: After cooking the sofrito mixture, add ½ cup dry red wine to deglaze the pan; cook until the wine evaporates, about 8 minutes, and then proceed with the recipe. 
  • Use another pasta shape: Ragu is traditionally served with pappardelle, but you may use almost any pasta shape you’d like! Longer pasta shapes pair better with the thick sauce, but you can get by with other sturdy pastas.

up close of twirling beef ragu with pappardelle on fork
up close of twirling beef ragu with pappardelle on fork

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up close of twirling beef ragu with pappardelle on fork

Beef Ragu

This Beef Ragu Sauce is a must-have/must-make recipe for every home cook!  It’s rich, hearty, saucy and satisfying, exploding with bright tomato, basil, garlic flavors and spoon tender shredded beef.  This Beef Ragu recipe may look fancy, but is super easy to make, most of the time is hand’s off simmering!  Chuck roast is cooked low and slow in a bath of San Marzano tomatoes, garlic, onions, carrots, celery, and fresh basil until melt-in-your-mouth tender, then shredded and piled on buttery, chewy pappardelle with a showering of Parmesan cheese. This ragu sauce is also make-ahead and freezer friendly so you can always have it on hand. Serve it with Caesar Salad and Garlic Bread or Breadsticks for a comforting dinner everyone will love.
Servings: 6 -7 servings

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Ingredients

Beef Ragu Sauce

ADD LATER

  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil (if not using dried)

FOR SERVING

  • 1 lb pappardelle, or other thick pasta such as fettuccine or tagliatelle
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions

  • Cooks's Note: Ragu tastes 10X better the next day!!!  The flavors develop, deepen and harmonize and the acidity tones down. So, if possible, plan on making and refrigerating the recipe a day ahead of time.
  • Prep: Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Roughly chop onion, celery, and carrots just so they fit in your food processor. Pulse until finely chopped (about 12 pulses), or chop by hand; set aside.
  • Sear beef: Pat beef dry and lighlty drizzle with vegetable oil. Evenly sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat. Once hot, add the cubed beef and sear until deeply browned; remove to a plate with tongs, don't wipe out pot.
  • Sauté aromatics: Reduce heat to medium and add the 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the chopped onion/celery/carrots and sauté for 5 minutes or until softened. Add the tomato paste and saute for one minute. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook 30 more seconds.
  • Add ingredients: Return the beef back to the pot (including any juices). Add all remaining sauce ingredients EXCEPT fresh basil.
  • Bake: Bring to a simmer, cover, and transfer the pot to the preheated oven. Bake at 300 degrees F for 2 ½ hours or until beef easily shreds with two forks.
  • Shred: Remove beef to a cutting board, then shred with 2 forks.
  • Combine: Before returning beef to the pot, skim off excess fat from the sauce's surface with a spoon. Return shredded beef to the pot. Stir in fresh basil. Taste and season with additional salt, pepper, sugar or red pepper flakes to taste.
  • Serve: Serve with pasta and plenty of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Video

Notes

 
  • Beef bouillon:  This adds a depth of concentrated beefy flavor which makes the ragu sauce taste like it’s been simmering all day – it is magic!  You can use beef base (as seen in the video) such as Zoup! or Better Than Bouillon, granulated beef bouillon, or cubes, all in equal amounts.  Add the bouillon directly to the pot, don’t dissolve in water first. If using cubes, make sure to crush them first.
  • To simmer instead of bake: Reduce to a very gentle simmer, cover, and cook for 2-2 ½ hours or until beef easily shreds with two forks.  There are more variables with the stovetop method, so I recommend the oven.
  • Recipe variations:  See post for variations, tips and tricks! 
  • Storage: Store the Beef Ragu separately from the pasta. The sauce will last up to 5 days in the fridge and pasta will last about 3 days. Take care that the container is glass or ceramic as the sauce can stain plastic containers.  For the pasta, toss it with a little olive oil to prevent it from sticking together. 
  • To freeze:  Let the sauce cool completely, then transfer to freezer-safe, airtight container(s). If using freezer, bags, squeeze out excess air. Freeze for up to 3 months.  When ready to use, let the ragu thaw in the refrigerator overnight.
  • To reheat:  Heat on the stovetop over medium until warmed through; bake at 350 degrees F for 15-20 minutes, or until warmed, or microwave for 90 seconds, stir, then cook at 15-second intervals as needed until warmed through.

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10 Comments

  1. Melyssa Braman says

    How much parsley?

      • Toné says

        This sauce was incredible! I didn’t go back for more pasta but I had to keep going back for more sauce. It’s delicious on its own.

        • Jen says

          Thanks Toné, I’m so pleased you loved it so much!

  2. Merry says

    Could you make this with short ribs?

  3. Lynzi says

    HOLY CANNOLI. I have been making your recipes almost exclusively for about four years. This. Is. Amazing. You are so right about it tasting even better the next day. I ate so much of this & leftovers for two days and even then, wanted more. Thanks for this great recipe!

    • Jen says

      I am so honored you have been making so many of my recipes Lynzi – thank you! I’m so pleased this recipe was a huge winner – you have great taste 😉

  4. Kathy says

    This sounds amazing…like other recipes of yours I have tried. Can you put this in a slow cooker instead of the oven?

    • Jen says

      Yes! I haven’t personally tried it, but I am guessing the cook time would be about 5-7 hours on low.

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