Crockpot Spaghetti Sauce with Ground Beef
A richly flavourful spaghetti sauce in the crockpot, plus science-based cooking secrets to making the best sauce ever in your slow cooker.
Everyone needs a really excellent crockpot spaghetti sauce in their repertoire. It’s such a comforting meal to come home to on a busy weeknight, but even on a Sunday, nothing beats the flavour of a rich, meaty spaghetti sauce that’s been slowly simmered on low heat all day.
The secrets to best-ever crockpot spaghetti sauce.
Many people believe a crockpot’s best use is for dumping in raw ingredients while the coffee is brewing in the morning, pressing start, and walking through the door at 5 pm to a delicious meal. This is not the case. The crockpot is a fabulous tool, but it doesn’t cook for you. It just simmers things for you. You still need to put in the upfront steps you would if you were cooking stovetop.
The best spaghetti sauce starts with onions and garlic sautéed in a hearty glug of olive oil, followed by well-browned meat, and toasted tomato paste. Browning the meat incurs the maillard reaction, which is like caramelization but with proteins, and it’s what gives the rich flavour to a sauce.
To brown the meat, unless your crockpot insert is absolutely smoking hot, you have to wait for it to cook and render its fat first. This is the most time-consuming step, but happily it is mostly hands off. You can give it a stir every few minutes while eating breakfast, packing lunches, etc.
Toasting the tomato paste is an incredibly underused trick to making good food great. Tomato paste on its own is not tasty. It is acidic and tinny and not something you’d want to eat raw. Apply direct heat and you coax out some beautiful caramelizing of the tomatoes natural sugars. The smell changes. It goes from brassy to toasty and rich. The flavour deepens and the umami intensifies. Try it, I promise you won’t go back.
Add veggies (or more meat) to your spaghetti sauce.
Especially when employing the crockpot, I like to sneak lots of veggies into my spaghetti sauce. They become meltingly tender and disappear into the sauce. I used a whole eggplant here and it really bulked up the sauce. The kids didn’t even notice in there (not that I’d actively try to hide it from them).
You could alternatively add big handfuls of chopped greens at the end of cooking, or add some carrots when you saute the onions.
Without the eggplant, add another pound of beef for a thick, rich sauce.
Serve your crockpot spaghetti sauce.
Obviously, spaghetti is an excellent choice. I alternatively like to serve it with lasagna noodles and a few dollops of ricotta cheese, for a lazy-gal’s weeknight lasagna.
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 large onion finely chopped
- 3 tsp coarse salt divided use
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 6 oz (156mL) can tomato paste
- 1 medium eggplant cut into 1/2" pieces (OR 1 more lb ground beef)
- 1 28 oz (796 mL) can unsalted pureed tomatoes (or diced tomatoes, pureed in blender)
- Heat oil on sear setting in crockpot and add onion plus 1 tsp of salt. Cook until onion starts to soften, stir in garlic. Cook 2 minutes more until garlic smells fragrant.
- Add beef, breaking it up into chunks with a spoon, and season with another 1/2 tsp of salt. Cook until well browned (this step can take a while, you can skip it if short on time, but it does add a lot of flavour).
- Stir in tomato paste to evenly coat everything and cook until it the paste turns a shade darker and smells toasty, about 5 minutes. Stir in eggplant (if using), pureed tomatoes and remaining salt.
- Close crockpot lid and cook on high setting for 4 hours or on low setting for 6 hours (longer cooking is perfectly fine if you've got more time!).
- Taste sauce and add more salt by small pinches as needed until it tastes bright and flavourful.