Make Ahead

Ground Meat Ragu ("The Butcher's Ragu")

January 31, 2017
4 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Cook time 4 hours 30 minutes
  • Serves 6 to 8
Author Notes

Traditionally, a butcher’s family would take the little bits and scraps left over from the shop and cook them all out together to make a rich, deeply layered ragu fit for a king. The gentle sweating of the aromatics, which are softened even further by cooking them out in water, and the gentle poaching of the ground meat among the vegetable base are, to me, hallmarks of a central Italian ragu. San Marzano tomatoes, which I use here, are a relatively modern ingredient; some would even suggest that its addition is more southern than northern, but I think they add a nice layer of flavor, especially when cooked long and slow so that they meld with the meat and the aromatics. —Sara Jenkins

What You'll Need
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 small Spanish onion,15 peeled and chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 bunch flat-leaf Italian parsley
  • 2 sprigs rosemary, sage, thyme, or a combination
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 pounds mixed ground meat, such as 2 pounds beef, 1 pound pork, and 1 pound veal
  • 1 tablespoon Italian double concentrate tomato paste
  • 1 35-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1 pinch salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Chop the garlic, onions, carrots, celery, herbs, and parsley finely in a food processor.
  2. In a large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven-type pan, sweat the vegetables out over low heat in the olive oil with a pinch of salt.
  3. Let them sweat about 7 to 8 minutes, until the onions become translucent but are not taking on color. Add about 3/4 cup water and the tablespoon of tomato concentrate and let cook down briskly until the liquid is almost completely evaporated.
  4. Now add the ground meat, breaking it up continuously and moving it about so that no lumps or balls form and all the meat gets broken down into its individual strands. Once the meat is all broken down and just cooked, add the can of San Marzano tomatoes and cook, simmering gently, stirring occasionally on the lowest heat you can go. The longer and slower this cooks, the better the ragu. We're talking 3 or 4 hours. You will know it's done when all the fat has cooked out of the meat and floats lazily on top of the sauce, colored orange from the tomato. At this point, the ragu can be eaten immediately or refrigerated for 3 to 4 days or frozen for 3 to 4 months.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Brian Beam
    Brian Beam
  • stefanie
  • Sara Jenkins
    Sara Jenkins
  • Matt

32 Reviews

Brian B. February 28, 2019
Question about the ingredient listing, it says “1 small Spanish onion,15 peeled and chopped”, not sure what the 15 refers to.
Sara J. February 28, 2019
definitely a typo!
Susan M. June 26, 2018
My Calabrian Great-grandmother told me to cook spaghetti sauce for 12 hours.
Susan M. June 26, 2018
stefanie March 11, 2018
Do you simmer this covered or uncovered?
stefanie March 11, 2018
Seems like a lot of the comments on this recipe aren't about the actual recipe. I made this tonight using 2 lb beef and 2 lb pork - was a pretty solid recipe. Next time, I'd add some wine to add another element of flavor, and I'd double the amount of herbs - I used two sprigs of rosemary and they just got swallowed in the huge quantities of sauce. Only change to the recipe I made this time around: I did add a splash of milk at the end to smooth out the meaty taste.
This recipe really has to be simmered for the full 3-4 hours to get the full flavor - I tasted it intermittently and it was really in that last half hour that the red oil started to separate out and the flavors came out of the meat. Definitely dice your aromatics finely. Some of my celery pieces remained a bit crunchy, even after 3 hours of simmering. The recipe didn't specify covered or uncovered for simmering, so I started out simmering covered, but removed the cover for the last hour to let some of the liquid evaporate. I have a feeling the recipe is intended to simmer uncovered for the full period of time, as my sauce came out quite liquidy.
Ethel B. May 12, 2020
Shouldn't be simmered, but should be left to sit for awhile, even better the next day.
Jessica April 27, 2017
This Andrea Church girl has way to much time on her hands! Who trolls cooking websites!!!
Debbi S. February 13, 2017
One more thing~! My priginal comment/question about the recipe not being a quick meal wasn't really for you, Sarah. It was directed more to the Food52 site editors who, I assume, choose recipe categories. :)
Sara J. February 13, 2017
no worries! thanks for backing me up
Debbi S. February 13, 2017
Wow. Andrea Church, Sara Jenkins is just answering the questions people asked her. I didn't see anything defensive in any of them, nor do I see any difficulty reading her recipe or comments. The punctuation may not always be absolutely correct, but there is plenty there! Thank you, Sarah, for knowing how to spell!! It's one of the many things that drive me crazy on the web. (along with people who just seem to want to be mean...) Lol. You handled it well. I did think after I wrote my question about not wanting to cook that it would freeze well and be a great, satisfying meal to have on hand for those nights when you just don't want to cook but still want real food! Thanks for the recipe~!
Ethel B. May 12, 2020
Yep. Even better after sitting in fridge or freezer.
Gina February 13, 2017
Please use ground turkey or something other than beef. Not only is it better for you, but it's better for the planet we leave our children.
Sara J. February 13, 2017
I am not sure commercially raised and processed ground turkey is better for me at all and honestly the leanness of turkey wont make a good ragu. One could make it only from pork or even from lamb. personally I pretty much only eat meat that is raised on small family farms using humane ways to treat their animals from birth to slaughter but thats not something I can ask everyone to do, its very expensive and not everyone has access to small farmers growing meat
Andrea C. February 13, 2017
Ground turkey can be an EXCELLENT replacement for red meats and, if seasoned well, can be terrific in a ragu. You can even use ground chicken. OR - how fun is this - you can use chopped pieces of meat instead of ground meat. People shouldn't be afraid to tweak recipes to their style of eating. Gina, use the meat you're comfortable using. I guarantee your meal will still be tasty!
Jessica April 27, 2017
It most definitely would not be a EXCELLENT replacement in a Ragu. Why even look at a ground meat ragu if you don't eat meat. Boggles my mind. Look into poultry dishes if that is what you like to eat. Just because you think ground turkey is better for you doesn't mean the rest of the world does. Turkey is most definitely not an EXCELLENT replacement for read meat in a ragu and I can assure you it will not turn out terrific.
Ethel B. May 12, 2020
I'm afraid I strongly disagree with the turkey substitute. Of course if you want to eat the beef and pork, turkey is fine. But, will make a ragù that is severly inferior.
Rosemary and sage do not belong in a Bolognese ragù.
Debbi S. February 12, 2017
Sounds wonderful and I may try it, but how does this qualify for a list of recipes "for when you don't feel like cooking"??
Sara J. February 13, 2017
because if you make this the way you should in a big batch on a lazy sunday once its done you pack it up and store in your freezer!
Andrea C. February 13, 2017
ANY meal can be prepared in advance and then frozen and thawed for later. THIS is not a quick meal. Nice try, Sara Jenkins. You're quick to respond to people's suggestions but your answers are defensive and you're coming up short.
Sara J. February 13, 2017
Pasta and ragu is a quick meal in Italy where ragu is routinely made in the house for the coming week but I think you are baiting me Andrea and I wont continue to respond to being baited
Andrea C. February 13, 2017
Sara, it's very hard to read your poorly punctuated sentences (if you can call them that) so I'm not even going to bother. Thanks for the recipe I'm never going to use! Here's some more bait for you to eat - hook, line and sinker!
Matt March 26, 2020
Andrea does the C in your last name rhyme with runt? Get a grip on reality and stop bullying the staff on a cooking website.
Ethel B. May 12, 2020
Brava Sara! L'hai detto giusto. L'Andrea C. è probabilmente la/il più maleducata/o che abbia mai visto!
Cecille February 10, 2017
In order to make this a truly "quick", or "can't" meal, it would be best to include everything needed. In this case, perhaps suggesting a bed of polenta, pasta, etc. and a crusty bread.
Deb February 10, 2017
yes great idea Cecille - not being a whiz in the kitchen, I like a complete road-map!
Sara J. February 13, 2017
sorry having grown up in italy ragu means sauce for pasta or polenta (but not risotto!). It is meant to be served over pasta (tossed and well mixed in) or poured over polenta. I do find it delicious over a thick chunk of grilled or toasted bread but that would not be italian.
Andrea C. February 13, 2017
Ragu is literally at type of sauce. It doesn't mean it's specifically for pasta or polenta or risotto or ANYTHING. It's just sauce. You can serve it with anything you'd like. And just because it's Italian and it's traditionally served over pasta it doesn't mean it can't be paired with non-Italian foods. Think outside of tradition! Break some rules! Cooking should be fun! Deb, pair this with whatever you think a tomato-based sauce would go well with, including bread, hominy, and/or veggies!
Andrea C. February 13, 2017
*a type, not "at type". WHOOPS! Speedy fingers!
Ethel B. May 12, 2020
Wrong! Ragù traditionally goes on pasta, polenta, bread, etc. But, anyone should feel free to eat it the way they wish.
Deb February 6, 2017
what is the Ragu sitting on top of? It looks like a small pita but I don't see anything mentioned in the recipe....
Adina A. February 7, 2017
It looks like polenta to me.