Slow Cooker Bolognese Sauce
This EASY flavorful bolognese sauce recipe is made quickly in a slow cooker or crockpot with minimal ingredients!
Bringing you the easiest and coziest bolognese sauce recipe to you today! I’ve been waiting for the weather to cool down enough for me to share this dish with you. The day has finally arrived.
This bolognese sauce has become one of our favorite dinners over the past year. It can be prepared in a slow cooker or crockpot, requires minimal ingredients, and is a wonderful dinner recipe to have in your back pocket for serving friends and family during the busy holiday season. Comfort food at its finest.
Many of you requested more slow cooker recipes in this year’s reader survey. While I haven’t broken out my own slow cooker as often as I should this past year, I always love the convenience factor that it lends to our weekly routine. It makes dinner time so much easier.
Since the prep work takes place hours prior, it almost feels as if dinner has cooked itself by the time we sit down to eat.
How to Make Slow Cooker Bolognese:
You’ll need to set aside 15 to 20 minutes of 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 could just as easily add this bolognese sauce to your weekend meal prep, store the sauce in the refrigerator, and heat it up slowly later in the week.
It is worth noting that this weeknight-friendly bolognese recipe strays quite a bit from a traditional Italian bolognese (hopefully my Italian ancestors will forgive me), which generally uses a combination of ground veal, beef, and pork. However, the flavor is still fantastic.
Breakdown of Ingredients
This slow cooker bolognese sauce uses a simple and easy-to-grab combination of ground beef and bacon for heft and flavor, alongside sautéed onion, garlic, Italian seasonings, and crushed tomatoes. The bacon (good-quality pancetta would be a 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 article debunks that theory.
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 [affiliate link].
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 bolognese sauce would taste fantastic tossed with homemade pappardelle pasta.
However, any long wide pasta, such as fresh or dried papperdelle or tagliatelle will work equally as well. Short pasta shapes, such as rigatoni or penne, are also ideal for hearty and thick meat sauces too. Enjoy!
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.