Slow Cooker Bolognese Sauce
This EASY flavorful bolognese sauce recipe is made quickly in a slow cooker or crockpot with minimal ingredients!
Today I’m bringing you an easy and cozy Slow Cooker Bolognese Sauce!
This sauce has become a favorite over the years. It can be prepared in a slow cooker or crockpot, requires minimal ingredients, and is a wonderful pasta sauce to keep on hand during the busy season.
Many of you requested more slow cooker recipes. While I don’t break out my own slow cooker that often anymore, I do love the convenience it provides. Since any prep work takes place hours prior, it almost feels as if dinner has cooked itself by the time you sit down to eat.
How to Make Slow Cooker Bolognese:
You’ll need to set aside 15 to 20 minutes of active cook time the evening before or morning of. However, you’ll be able to arrive home to a thick and hearty bolognese sauce ready to be served and tossed with pasta.
Alternatively, you can add this bolognese sauce to your weekend meal prep, store the sauce in the refrigerator, and heat it up slowly at a later date.
It is worth noting that this bolognese recipe strays quite a bit from a traditional Italian bolognese, which uses a combination of ground veal, beef, and pork.
Ingredients You’ll Need:
This slow cooker bolognese sauce uses a simple and easy-to-grab combination of ground beef and bacon for heft and flavor, as well as sautéed onion, garlic, Italian seasonings, and crushed tomatoes. The bacon (good-quality pancetta would be an equally, if not better, substitute) adds a touch of smokiness, as well as saltiness. Don’t skip it.
Like traditional bolognese sauce, this recipe also uses milk and parmigiano-reggiano cheese. Both will produce a richer sauce with great umami flavor.
Some people argue that milk allows the meat to remain more tender, but this SeriousEats article debunks that theory. It does add great flavor though.
Tips for Success
I’ve provided instructions on how to prepare this recipe in a slow cooker that comes with or without a stove-top safe insert below. I own this 4-quart All-Clad Slow Cooker and highly recommend it.
Even if you have a stove-top safe insert, I highly recommend browning the beef in a seperate large cast-iron or heavy-bottomed skillet. This step requires a bit more clean up, but slow cooker inserts are non-stick, relatively small in surface area, and do not lend themselves well to browning meat properly.
Browning the ground beef properly will lead to a richer, more flavorful bolognese sauce.
If you’re feeling ambitious, this sauce is fantastic served with homemade pappardelle pasta. Short pasta shapes, such as rigatoni or fusilli, are other great choices for thick and hearty meat sauces.
And if you have more time on your hands and are looking for a more classic preparation, Marcella Hazan’s bolognese is another fabulous option.
Slow Cooker Bolognese Sauce
- 4 strips (4 oz) strips uncured bacon or Italian pancetta diced
- 1 large yellow onion medium dice
- 4 large garlic cloves finely chopped
- 1 lb (16 oz) 85% lean; 15% fat ground beef preferably 100% grass-fed
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- ¼ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 1 (28 oz) can crushed Italian tomatoes
- ¾ cup whole or low-fat milk
- 1/3 cup (180 mL) finely grated parmigiano-reggiano or grano padano cheese
- kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- If you own a stovetop-safe slow cooker insert: Place the insert over medium-low heat on the stove. Add the diced bacon. Sauté, stirring frequently, until the bacon is crisp and rendered, about 5 to 7 minutes. Leave one tablespoon of rendered bacon fat in the pan and transfer the remainder to a heat-proof container to reserve and use for other recipes. Add the onion to the pan, sprinkle with ½ teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt, and sauté, stirring often, until they are soft and translucent, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for an additional minute.
- Note: I highly recommend doing the following step in a separate large cast iron or heavy-bottomed skillet before transferring the meat to the slow cooker insert along with the onion bacon mixture – this will brown the meat more effectively and yield greater flavor:
- Increase the heat (or place a separate pan with a teaspoon of reserved bacon fat or extra virgin olive oil) to medium-high. Add the ground beef, sprinkle with a teaspoon of kosher salt, and distribute the meat evenly across the pan. Allow the ground beef to caramelize and brown, stirring occasionally, until it is no longer pink.
- Place the insert on the slow cooker base. Add the oregano, red pepper flakes, bay leaves, crushed tomatoes, milk, and grated cheese and stir to combine. Cover and cook for 8 hours on low (or alternatively, cook on high for 4 hours) according to the manufacturer’s directions. Stir every couple hours if possible. Season with salt and pepper before serving.
- If you do not own a slow cooker with a stovetop-safe insert: Heat a large cast iron or heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-low heat. Add the diced bacon. Sauté, stirring frequently, until the bacon is crisp and rendered, about 5 to 7 minutes. Leave one tablespoon of rendered bacon fat and transfer the rest to a heatproof container with a spoon (reserve and use as a cooking fat for other recipes). Add the onion, sprinkle with ½ teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt, and sauté, stirring often, until they are soft and translucent, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for an additional minute. Transfer the bacon and onion mixture to the slow cooker insert, place on the slow cooker base, and set aside.
- Using the same skillet, place the pan over medium-high heat. Add a teaspoon of reserved bacon fat or extra virgin olive oil. Add the ground beef, sprinkle with a teaspoon of kosher salt, and distribute the meat evenly across the pan. Allow the ground beef to caramelize and brown, stirring occasionally, until it is no longer pink. Transfer the beef to the onion mixture in the slow cooker insert. Add the oregano, red pepper flakes, bay leaves, crushed tomatoes, milk, and grated cheese and stir to combine. Cover and cook for 8 hours on low setting (or alternatively, cook on high for 4 hours) according to the manufacturer’s directions. Stir every couple hours if possible. Season with salt and pepper before serving.
Tips for Success:
- This recipe yields roughly one quart of bolognese sauce. I highly recommend serving this with a thick long pasta, such as pappardelle (store-bought or homemade) or tagliatelle, as the sauce will cling better. Dried rigatoni or penne are also ideal for meat sauces.
7 Comments on “Slow Cooker Bolognese Sauce”
You never mentioned whether you drained the fat from the ground beef before adding to the rest of the ingredients. Some recipes call for it, others don’t. You specified 85% lean meat, which meant you were aware of the fat content that would be included in the recipe. Did I make it right if I included the fat, and was that your intention?
I haven’t cooked it yet, I’ll let you know how it turns out.
I used a separate cast-iron pan to brown the meat (as recommend and suggested within the recipe instructions), which means that I was transferring the meat to the slow cooker insert later. I do generally use a slotted spoon in this case, but you don’t have to drain the fat. I honestly didn’t find that I was left with very much. Also, if necessary, you can always skim the sauce once it is finished cooking! It’s all up to your preference! 🙂
My boyfriend is a real Bolognese sauce master so I’m going to share your recipe with him and try it the next time he cooks pasta.
This looks great and I love that you used pappardelle. It is one of my favorite kinds of pasta AND it is fun to say.
Mine too! 🙂
Yummy!! Arthur’s favorite!
Hi Valerie! So sorry – this was an error on my part. I just fixed the recipe instructions. The crushed tomatoes are added along with the spices, milk, and cheese. Thank you for bringing this to my attention!