This Sunday Sauce Recipe Comes Straight from My Italian American Family

Nothing beats the smell of Sunday sauce simmering on the stovetop. It was an all-too-familiar smell in my Italian American household when I was growing up, and an indication that a tasty family dinner was up ahead. Not familiar with Sunday sauce? This dish goes by other names like gravy or sugo and is a rich marinara-like sauce that has been cooked with meat — usually beef, pork, or lamb — for several hours on the stovetop, creating both a pasta sauce with lots of depth and braised pieces of meat in tow. 

Every household prepares Sunday sauce differently. My mother, father, and grandmother would prepare the sauce for me, each with a slight variation in flavor due to different choices regarding the meat they added in or tomatoes, but all following the same basic principles: No holding back on olive oil, high-quality canned Italian tomatoes (or fresh!), browned meat, and several hours on the stovetop. 

This recipe combines the best of my family’s tips, but it isn’t so strict that it has to be followed to a T to get one of the best sauces you’ve ever had. So like this sauce passed down from generations and the sauces of other Italian families, start with my recipe and, over time, find a way to make it your own.

Why Is It Called Sunday Sauce?

Traditionally, due to its longer cooking time, this sauce has been prepared during the day on the weekends — in particular, Sundays — and served at a family-style dinner that evening.

How to Serve Sunday Sauce

Over pasta! Shred or cut the meat and serve in the sauce like a ragù, or keep the meat whole or cut into pieces and serve alongside on a platter (like we do in my family), letting everyone decide what type and how much meat they like. 

What Is the Difference Between Sunday Sauce and Bolognese? 

Both are braised meat and tomato sauces, but Bolognese starts with ground meat, usually ground beef, pork, and/or veal, and Sunday sauce leans on tougher cuts that become silky-tender after cooking in the sauce.

How to Make Sunday Sauce Thicker

Simmering thickens the sauce, so it’s just a matter of a little extra time on the stovetop. If it’s not thickening up fast enough, open the lid more or remove it all together. Adding meat on the bone will also help thicken the sauce.

What Other Meat Can I Put in Sunday Sauce?

Choose meats that can handle a nice, slow braise. Our recipe follows my family’s go-tos: beef chuck and Italian sausage. Use oxtail, beef chuck ribs, or pricier short ribs instead of chuck (you’ll have less shreddy meat with meat on the bone, but an immensely delicious flavored thick sauce). Swap the beef out with pork shoulder or butt or add it in addition to the beef. Meatballs are also a fantastic addition to Sunday sauce. The more meat, the richer and thicker the sauce, but make sure it all fits in by adhering to our general weight.

Laura Rege


Laura Rege is a recipe developer and food stylist living the mid-coastal lifestyle between Dallas and Brooklyn. Formerly a senior member of the editorial teams at Food & Wine and Martha Stewart Living, Laura now creates and styles recipes for websites like ours and cooking videos! When she’s not in the kitchen for work, she is off traveling in the U.S. or abroad searching out the next delicious bite.

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This Sunday Sauce Recipe Comes Straight from My Italian American Family

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