The Best Weeknight Pasta Sauce

$4.35 recipe / $1.09 serving
by Beth - Budget Bytes
4.91 from 32 votes
Pin RecipeJump to recipe →

This post contains some affiliate links, which means that we make a small commission off items you purchase at no additional cost to you.

I’ve made a lot of variations of pasta sauce over my nine years of blogging, but I think this latest version wins the title of The Best Weeknight Pasta Sauce. Why? Because it’s incredibly easy and uses only a few ingredients, yet has a wonderfully rich and hearty flavor. I first posted this sauce in my Roasted Eggplant with Meat Sauce recipe, but the sauce itself was definitely the star of the show and deserves a post of its own. In fact, I loved this sauce so much that the last time I made it I found myself digging into the leftovers with a spoon, like it was some sort of chili. I skipped the pasta and just went straight for the good stuff. 🤷‍♀️

Looking for a vegetarian pasta sauce? Check out our Easy Homemade Marinara Sauce.

I huge plate full of spaghetti with the best Weeknight Pasta Sauce, Parmesan, and parsley

What is in This Weeknight Pasta Sauce

It’s SO SIMPLE, yet so very good. This pasta sauce includes: ground beef, olive oil, onion, butter, crushed tomatoes, Italian seasoning blend, and salt and pepper. That’s it. No fancy ingredients needed to make it taste incredible, and totally approachable for a busy weeknight.

How to Use this Sauce

This sauce is, of course, awesome with any shape of pasta. Or over roasted vegetables! You don’t have to do a whole eggplant like I did in the past, I would love this sauce ladled over a pile of cubed roasted vegetables for a delightful low-carb meal (check out my Roasted Eggplant with Meat Sauce), or you can add a medley of summer vegetables and use it to make our Summer Vegetables in Red Sauce.

Why is it Good for Weeknight Dinners?

This sauce is incredibly simple and doesn’t require much attention as it cooks. What makes this sauce so good when it’s so simple? Two things: butter and a minimum 30 minute simmer. The 30 minute simmer is the key to dulling down the overly bright acidic flavors of the crushed tomatoes and helps caramelize the natural sugars into a deep, subtle sweetness. The butter adds body and a slight creaminess, which again, helps balance the natural acids in the tomatoes. You need both elements to make this sauce. Without one or the other you’ll just have a run of the mill red sauce and, well, that’s just nothing to write home (or blog) about.

A ladle full of The Best Weeknight Pasta Sauce over the pot
Share this recipe

The Best Weeknight Pasta Sauce

4.91 from 32 votes
This rich and subtle pasta sauce is incredibly easy, which has earned it the title of The Best Weeknight Pasta Sauce in my house!
This rich and subtle pasta sauce is incredibly easy, which has earned it the title of The Best Weeknight Pasta Sauce in my house!
Servings 6 (about ¾ cups each)
Cook 40 minutes
Total 40 minutes



  • Add the ground beef and olive oil to a pot and sauté over medium until the beef is cooked through (about 5 minutes). If you’re using a higher fat content beef (10% or higher), you may want to drain the excess fat once the beef has browned.
  • While the beef is cooking, finely dice the onion. Add the diced onion and butter to the cooked beef. Continue to sauté until the onion is soft and translucent (about 5 minutes).
  • Next, add the crushed tomatoes, Italian seasoning blend, and some freshly cracked pepper (10-15 cranks of a pepper mill). Stir everything to combine.
  • Place a lid on the pot and allow it to come up to a simmer. Once simmering, reduce the heat to low and let the sauce simmer for 30 minutes.
  • After a minimum of 30 minutes simmering, add about 1/2 tsp salt, stir to combine, then taste and add more if needed. The flavor of the sauce will deepen and the complexities will pop once the salt is added. Serve over pasta or your favorite roasted vegetables.

See how we calculate recipe costs here.


Serving: 0.75CupsCalories: 198kcalCarbohydrates: 11gProtein: 9gFat: 14gSodium: 234mgFiber: 3g
Read our full nutrition disclaimer here.
Email Me This Recipe
Get this sent to your inbox, plus get new recipes from us every week!
Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.
Have you tried this recipe?Mention @budgetbytes or tag #budgetbytes on Instagram!


Scroll down for the step by step photos!

A large plate full of spaghetti and The Best Weeknight Pasta Sauce wrapped around a fork

How to Make Weeknight Pasta Sauce – Step by Step Photos

Brown Beef with Onions and Butter

Start by adding 1/2 lb. ground beef and 1 Tbsp olive oil to a pot. Sauté the beef over medium until it’s cooked through (about 5 minutes). If you’re using a higher fat content beef, you may want to drain the excess fat once it’s cooked through. While the beef is cooking, finely dice one small onion. Add the onion and 2 Tbsp butter to the cooked beef, and continue to sauté until the onions are soft and translucent (another 5 minutes or so).

Crushed Tomatoes and Herbs in pot

Next, add a 28oz. can crushed tomatoes, 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning blend, and some freshly cracked pepper. Stir until everything is combined, place a lid on top, and let it come up to a simmer. Once simmering, turn the heat down to low and let it simmer for at least 30 minutes.

Simmered Meat Sauce

After simmering for 30 minutes the sauce will be much less acidic and slightly more sweet, but to make the flavor really pop, you need to add salt. I would start with 1/2 tsp, give it a taste, then add more to your liking.

Close up of a spoon scooping The Best Weeknight Pasta Sauce out of the pot

And that’s all! Seriously, SO easy. And while the sauce is simmering away for its 30 minutes, you can prepare your pasta or whatever else you plan on eating with your sauce that night. ;)

A fork lifting spaghetti with The Best Weeknight Pasta Sauce off the plate

It’s the only sauce I need and really, I only need the sauce. Pasta optional. 😂

Share this recipe

Posted in: , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Leave a Comment
  1. I have been making your recipe for years now. It is absolutely perfect!!! I foolishly did not know it was so easy to make good clean sauce. Thanks Beth!!!

  2. This was good, better than I expected given the short list of ingredients. The only thing I did differently was to use Italian sausage instead of ground beef and added a couple of minced garlic cloves. Will definitely make this again.

  3. If I avoid dairy because of lactose intolerance, can I sub the butter for something else? Vegan butter maybe?

  4. If you have the ingredients on hand, it’s really easy to take this recipe from good to great with a few tweaks and five more minutes of prep work. I add half a shredded carrot with the onion, to take the edge off the acidic tomatoes. Use fresh minced garlic instead of garlic powder and also add chopped green pepper with the garlic, a couple minutes after adding the onion. Use imported Italian crushed tomatoes for the best flavor, and a little tomato paste from the tube, for thickness and a little more depth. Still fast and easy! Love it. Rich and hearty and a good amount of fresh veggies. I like 93/7 ground beef for this recipe too. No need to drain off the fat and it doesn’t get too oily/greasy. The butter flavor gets to shine through instead.

  5. I’m confused and curious. Why would someone add oil to a pan to brown ground beef? I can maybe understand it if one is using 10% fat ground beef, but the vast majority of ground beef produces more than enough fat to accomplish whatever one is trying to do. Please educate me? Thank you! :)

    1. Hi Barbara! The oil helps prevent the ground beef from sticking and scorching in the pan, especially if you are using a stainless steel skillet. xoxo

  6. Ok, why didn’t anyone ever tell me that making homemade pasta sauce could be this simple and delicious? Love this! I only had canned diced tomatoes on hand, so I pulsed them in the blender for a few seconds and then used them in lieu of crushed tomatoes. So good!

    1. Hi, Janet! I think the main reason that Beth didn’t use garlic in this recipe is that it keeps the ingredient list extremely short, helping to make the sauce as easy and budget-friendly as possible! But please, don’t let that stop you from adding it to your dish! It will be fabulous and make the dish all the more flavorful. I would add it after you saute the onions. ~Marion :)

    2. Hi Beth,

      Would this sauce turn out with out the ground beef? I want to make meatballs on the side

  7. I’ve been working my way through BB recipes this month to vary our routine (I’ve loved this blog and cookbook for YEARS). I didn’t expect much from “spaghetti sauce”— so simple. But YUM! We don’t eat spaghetti often because I don’t love pasta, but this was SO much better than watery jarred sauce! The kids ate it with pasta; I ate it over roasted cauliflower one night and PLAIN the next night, with crusty sourdough bread. This will definitely be a regular. I doubled it so the 4 of us had it 2 nights.

  8. I’ve tried lots of sauce recipes, but this and the 5 Ingredient Butter Tomato Sauce are my favorite (and they’re easy!). I use ground turkey instead of beef and fresh herbs when I have them. Sometimes I add shredded zucchini and carrots (I got the idea from the Hidden Vegetable Pasta Sauce recipe), and a splash of pasta water to thin it out a little. My family can’t get enough of this, and I don’t think I’ll simmer sauce on the stove all day ever again!

  9. This is so good! The first time I made it, I followed directions exactly and it turned out wonderful. The second time, I was feeling adventurous and doubled the Italian spices, added a bunch of fresh garlic and a bay leaf. Both ways, it was flat out amazing. Thank you for a great recipe! 

  10. I made this last night and it was delicious. I just love this site. It has taught me how to make decent meals at home without getting take out. It’s saving me money and keeping my sodium down for my blood pressure. I’m definitely a big fan.