Beef Ragu is a classic Italian sauce, with beef cubes and vegetables simmered together with tomatoes, wine and herbs. Serve over pasta or polenta for a classic, hearty and delicious meal.
Every home cook needs a classic beef ragu recipe!
A classic beef ragu recipe will serve any home cook well for many, many years, whether cooking for family or a crowd. Universally loved, hearty and filling, beef ragu is classic comfort food and always a family or crowd pleaser.
Cooked low and slow until the beef basically falls apart, this is one of those dishes where you can do the bulk of the prep mid-day, enjoy the smell all afternoon and just have the few minutes work to cook the pasta to do at dinner time.
That said, I think most people would agree that beef ragu is even better after it has been refrigerated, so don't hesitate to make it ahead.
And yes! You can easily make this beef ragu in the oven or in a slow-cooker, as well.
Beef - You don't need to use expensive beef cuts to make a great ragu. Watch for sales on stewing or cubed beef and stock up. Alternately, if beef roasts are on sale, you can buy a small roast and cut it up into cubes. Blade roast (or chuck roast) or any roast that you would use for a pot roast works well.
Canned Tomatoes - Use the best canned tomatoes you can. I love San Marzano canned whole tomatoes, for the best flavour.
Wine - you can use either red or white wine, though I tend to prefer red myself. A nice full-bodied red wine, such as chianti is especially nice. If you don't have wine or prefer not to use, simply omit and replace with an equal amount of additional beef broth.
Herbs - Fresh herbs are great if you have them, though dried herbs work well. The one place where you might want to spring for fresh it on some fresh basil. I love torn fresh basil as a garnish on this dish. The fresh note of the basil is really nice!
How to Make Beef Ragu: Step-by-Step
How to make beef ragu in the oven or a slow cooker
The base recipe for this beef ragu cooks on the stove-top in a Dutch oven, but I have included details on how to cook it either in the oven or in a slow cooker in the Recipe Card below, if you prefer.
How to serve or use your beef ragu
With pasta - I love to serve ragu with pappardelle pasta. I just love the pairing of hearty noodles with the hearty sauce. Tagliatelle or fettuccine would also be a good noodle to try.
Over polenta - spoon the flavourful ragu over polenta.
In lasagna - replace your usual ground beef meat sauce with this beef ragu for a hearty twist.
Make an Italian-style Shepherd's Pie - again, replace the typical ground beef filling of Shepherd's pie with beef ragù. Top with Parmesan-flavoured mashed potatoes and bake!
How to store or freeze beef ragu
Left-over beef ragu will keep well for 2-3 days in the refrigerator. In fact, many people think beef ragu tastes even better when made ahead and refrigerated for 12-24 hours.
Beef ragu freezes beautifully in an airtight container up to 3 months. Defrost in the fridge.
Salt brings all the great flavours together! I like to salt a little along the way, but you'll almost certainly need to add additional salt at the end of cooking. Taste your sauce. Is it smooth and flavourful or a bit acidic and flat? If the latter, add salt, a bit at a time and stirring in between, tasting and adding salt until you get to that smooth spot!
Classic Beef Ragu Sauce
- 1 lb stewing beef
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1/3 cup onions, diced
- 1/3 cup carrots, diced, about 1/4-inch dice
- 1/4 tsp crushed red chili pepper flakes
- 4 cloves garlic , roughly chopped
- 2 Tbsp tomato paste
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 28 oz whole canned tomatoes, San Marzano recommended
- 1 cup beef broth
- 2 Tbsp salted butter
- 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp dried basil, or about 6 torn fresh basil leaves
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp red wine vinegar , or balsamic vinegar
- Salt and pepper, as needed
- pappardelle, tagliatelle or fettucine pasta, or polenta
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Torn fresh basil leaves, for garnish
- In a large, heavy bottomed pot (such as a Dutch oven), heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Pat the beef cubes dry and season with some salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the meat to the hot pan in small batches. **You don want to crowd the pan, to avoid too much liquid in the pan, which will prevent the beef from browning. And browning = flavour. So do the beef in about 1/2 lb. batches (so 2 batches for the 1X recipe). Once beef is nicely browned, remove to a plate and set aside. Repeat until all the beef is browned.
- In the same pot, adding a bit more oil, if necessary, cook the onion and carrots, stirring, until softened, about 3-4 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes and garlic and cook for about a minute more. Add tomato paste and stir in, cooking for about 30 seconds. Add the wine and stirring, cook until the wine has reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes with juices (breaking up the whole tomatoes a bit with a spoon or your hands), beef broth, butter, herbs and salt. Stir until the butter is melted, then add the bay leaf. Return the reserved meat and any juices to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for about 2 1/2 hours, stirring a couple of times during cooking.
- **At this point, you can transfer the mixture to a slow cooker, to cook (covered), for 3 1/2 - 4 hours on high or 7-8 hours on low, followed by 30 minutes uncovered to thicken. You could also pop the Dutch oven into at 325F oven for about the same time as simmering on the stove-top, so about 2 1/2 hours, stirring a couple of times during cooking, then simmer on the stove-top over medium-low heat uncovered at the end, to thicken.
- When beef is fork-tender, remove and discard the bay leaf. Using a potato masher, mash the ragu to break up the beef into shreds. Add the vinegar and increase the heat to medium-low. Simmer the sauce, uncovered, for an additional 30 minutes, or until thickened to your liking.
- Taste the ragu and adjust seasoning to your taste, adding salt especially, as needed. The sauce should be smooth and flavourful. If it tastes flat and acidic, it needs salt. Add a bit at a time and stir in, taste and repeat as needed.
- Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of salted water until al dente. Drain and place pasta into a large bowl. Spoon ragu over pasta, as needed, tossing well to coat the pasta. Allow the pasta to stand several minutes undisturbed in the bowl, to allow the sauce and pasta to "meld together", before serving with Parmesan and some torn basil leaves.
Nutritional information provided for general guidance only and should not be relied upon to make personal health decisions.