This meatball sauce recipe is a combination of traditional Italian seasonings with a simple tomato sauce that goes well with anything you’d use marinara on.
While I like to serve it with beefy Italian meatballs, it will pair well with your own homemade meatball recipe whether they’re turkey meatballs, pork meatballs, or a blend. It’s also perfect to keep around for particularly busy weeknights when you can spoon it over reheated frozen meatballs and a plate of pasta.
The best part of this recipe is that you only need a few key ingredients to whip it up in nearly no time. Plus, it stores well in the fridge or freezer, too.
Also, if you’re looking for alternative ways to prepare it, you can certainly adapt it so that you can make it in your Instant Pot or slow cooker.
The time you’re looking for a easy recipe for a tomato-based sauce, try this basic recipe for an incredibly easy sauce.
Table of Contents
What is Meatball Sauce
Meatball sauce is a super simple recipe for a seasoned tomato sauce that pairs perfectly with meatballs. It pairs classic ingredients like garlic, onion, basil, and olive oil with tomato sauce for a balanced, savory sauce.
While it’s the best sauce to use with meatballs, it also pairs well with lots of other dishes. It can also stand alone as a dipping sauce.
Why You’ll Love This Homemade Marinara Sauce Recipe
There are lots of reasons to love this delicious recipe.
- Easy – There’s very little prep time and the cleanup is a cinch, too!
- Versatile – There are so many dishes that you can use this sauce with from casual weeknight dinners to meals for special occasions.
- Customizable – It’s easy to get creative and dress up this simple sauce.
- Crowd-pleaser – This is the kind of sauce your whole family (or any guest) will love.
This sauce uses primarily pantry staples making it a quick and easy sauce to make any time.
- Extra virgin olive oil – Since there are so few ingredients, try to use a high quality olive oil for the best results.
- Yellow onion – Chop the onion finely and uniformly.
- Garlic cloves – Mince each garlic clove or use a microplane to grate them.
- Plain tomato sauce – Be sure to get just the sauce and not an already prepared marinara.
- Dried basil – If you don’t have this on hand you can easily find it in the spice section of your local grocery store.
- Sugar – Just a little bit of sugar will help balance the flavors of the sauce.
- Coarse salt – Salt helps to bring out the flavors of the other ingredients.
- Bay leaf – Be sure to remove the bay leaf after cooking.
What To Serve this Red Sauce With
There are all sorts of options for serving this sauce.
- Meatballs – The obvious pairing is homemade meatballs! Make spaghetti and meatballs, a meatball sub, or just a large bowl of meatballs topped with parmesan cheese.
- Dipping sauce – Serve this with cheesy breadsticks, mozzarella sticks, or garlic bread.
- Burgers and chicken – Top grilled hamburgers or chicken with this sauce and some provolone for a pizza-style sandwich.
- Pizza – Use this sauce in place of your typical pizza sauce.
- Pasta – Top your favorite type of pasta — from linguine to penne or even egg noodles — with this tasty sauce.
Variations on Sauce for Meatballs
This is a simple sauce recipe that you can easily add your own twists to.
- Oil – Though we definitely prefer the flavor of olive oil you can use any neutral oil like avocado oil or vegetable oil in its place.
- Jarred garlic – Fresh garlic has the best flavor but minced garlic can be used in a pinch.
- Fresh basil – If you have fresh basil on hand you can substitute it for the dried variety.
- Salt – Use any variety of salt instead.
- Spices – Spice this sauce up by adding black pepper, cayenne pepper powder, or crushed red pepper flakes. Or use the blend from my bread dipping oil.
- Sugar – If you want a slightly richer sugary flavor, try using brown sugar instead of white sugar. You can also add a little honey and garlic to taste to make a honey garlic meatball sauce.
- Other sauces – Depending on what you’re serving this sauce with, experiment with adding worcestershire sauce or soy sauce.
- Dairy – Try adding heavy cream or cheese to make a creamy tomato sauce.
- Tomatoes – Replace some of the tomato sauce with crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, or tomato paste for a thick tomato sauce. If you do, you can also add chicken broth or beef broth if it needs to be thinned.
- Herbs – Add in your favorite herbs like fresh parsley or oregano.
Common Questions About Meatball Sauce
Some sauces with this name incorporate the meat as well but ours is the simple combination of tomato, spices, and aromatics.
It is better to brown the meatballs before adding them to this sauce. That’s why it’s great to make this sauce ahead of time and then use it with any other dish that you’re making.
Storage, Make Ahead and Freezing
You can easily store this sauce and reheat it when you’re ready to serve.
Make Ahead: You can chop the onions and mince the garlic ahead of time. Keep refrigerated until ready to use.
Refrigerator: Once it has cooled to room temperature, store this sauce in an airtight container or ziploc bag for up to 1 week.
Freezer: Freeze the sauce in a freezer-safe container or freezer bag for up to 6 months.
Other Savory Sauces
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 yellow onion chopped
- 5-6 cloves garlic minced
- 28 ounces plain tomato sauce
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
- 1 dried bay leaf
- In a large Dutch oven or pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and saute for 3-4 minutes until soft and fragrant. Add the garlic, sauteing for 1 additional minute.
- Stir in the tomato sauce, sugar, basil, salt and bay leaf. Simmer for 20-30 minutes or until flavors marry. Remove and discard the bay leaf.
- Add your meatballs to the sauce and simmer for an additional hour.
- If you’ve tried this recipe, come back and let us know how it was in the comments or star ratings.
This meatball sauce is absolutely fantastic, I love being able to make a big batch to use for lots of recipes throughout the week!
I love this meatball sauce, it’s also great for lasagna and I am going to try it with chicken parm, too.
One of the best meatball sauces that I’ve seen! Fantastic recipe and great instructions 😉
This sauce is so easy and tasty. We used it as a dip for meatball subs and yum!
This will without a doubt, be a go-to sauce for any type of meatballs: chicken, plant-based, etc. It’s so good and I can’t wait to try it with my pasta.