Italian Meat Sauce with Country Ribs is one of life's simplest and greatest pleasures! Whether you call it "Sunday sauce" or "Sunday gravy," you need to make this family recipe!
Did you ever taste something so delicious, you assumed it would be complicated to make?
I could see that happening with this sauce. But I'm here to report it isn't difficult at all.
It takes just 15 minutes of prep and some simmering over low heat for about 2 hours and 45 minutes. It's definitely more of a time commitment than Homemade Marinara Sauce, but this meat sauce is mostly hands off.
It's perfect for a leisurely Sunday afternoon at home. And, on that day, if we could step inside Italian kitchens around the globe, we'd likely be greeted many times by its comforting, intoxicating aroma.
It's so familiar to me and takes me back to my childhood. This Sunday sauce is one of life's simplest and greatest pleasures. It's right up there with Authentic Italian Beef Meatballs and sauce.
And, if you live in New England, you might call it "Sunday gravy." But we're not here to argue about the name -- we're here to mangia!
Country-style ribs are the meatiest pork ribs you can buy. You'll need four pounds of them, with bones, for this sauce. The "bones" are actually part of the shoulder blade.
- Use bone-in, country-style pork ribs, which will provide better flavor than boneless.
- Sear the meat over high heat before adding it to the sauce. This also brings flavor.
- Let the ribs cook in the tomato sauce until they're fork-tender. If you test them and they seem tough, let them cook longer.
It's perfectly okay — rather mandatory even — to verify the ribs are done by transferring one to a small dish and eating it right there while standing at the stove. It's a special privilege for the cook, and no one else needs to know.
Can you make this in a slow cooker?
I don't recommend it. I tried it once, and the Crock-Pot overflowed, due to the large volume of ingredients.
Plus, the slow cooker's steaming effect produced extra liquid in the sauce, so it came out too runny. The ribs also gave off fat during cooking, increasing the volume.
So, stick with cooking the sauce on the stove.
What to serve with it
The obvious choice is pasta. We stir the sauce into rigatoni for the first course (primo piatto), and then eat the ribs as the second course.
You also could ladle this meat sauce over pasta al forno, lasagna or homemade manicotti.
And, since you're making a big pot (affiliate link) of it, you can use the leftovers over farro, on pizza, and with Italian bread that's been dipped in it and topped with Parmesan.
More pasta sauces to try
With my Pasta & Sauces collection, even a beginner can cook like an Italian nonna!
Italian Meat Sauce with Country Ribs
- 4 tablespoons olive oil (divided use)
- 4 pounds pork country ribs (bone-in)
- ½ large sweet onion
- 6 garlic cloves
- 2 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
- 1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ¾ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 bay leaf
- 6-8 fresh basil leaves
- pasta (for serving)
- In an extra-large skillet, heat two tablespoons of oil on high and brown the ribs in it on all sides, for about 15 minutes. (If all the ribs won't fit in your pan, you might want to use two skillets, with a tablespoon of oil in each.)
- While the ribs are browning, peel the half onion and chop it. In a large (8-quart) pot, heat two tablespoons of oil on medium-high heat and add the onions. While they are cooking (stir them occasionally), peel and chop your garlic. When the onions are just about tender, stir in the garlic to the pot with the onions.
- Transfer the browned ribs to the pot, along with some of the oil from the skillet. Add your cans of tomatoes. Use a potato masher to gently smash the whole tomatoes.
- Stir in the salt, red pepper flakes and bay leaf. When the pot comes to a boil, put the heat on low to let it simmer gently. Prop a lid over the pot, using a wooden spoon resting on the edge of the pot to keep the lid open just a bit. Let the sauce cook for at least 2 ½ hours, stirring it occasionally to prevent sticking. (Wait at least an hour into the process before tasting the sauce, so you're not consuming raw meat.)
- The sauce needs to cook until the ribs are fork-tender. This may take around 2 hours and 45 minutes. When the ribs are almost tender, place a pasta pot with salted water on to boil and cook your pasta so that it should be ready for when the sauce is done. When you can easily insert and remove a fork from the meat, your meat and sauce are done. Stir in the fresh basil, and taste to see if any extra salt is needed.
- Serve the sauce spooned over pasta, and keep the ribs covered at the table so they can be eaten as a second dish. Or, each person can add a rib to his or her pasta, if desired. The sauce also can be used on pizza.
- Store leftover sauce in the refrigerator for up to four days, or freeze it.
(Recipe Source: Cooking with Mamma C. Adapted from my Mom, who learned to make this from Nonna. Originally published on February 25, 2015 and updated now with new photos and text.)
I’ve been looking for a sauce recipe base for this style sauce with chunks of meat in it! I plan on doing half country ribs and half homemade Italian sausage.
How do you think this would freeze for later meals, ideally with the meat being frozen too? The meat would have been fresh, never frozen if that changes anything!
Hi Taylor - The sauce freezes very well. You should be able to leave in the chunks of meat. If the ribs are still on the bone, I would freeze those separately.
Calabria Family here (both sides)...
You nailed it. I burst out laughing when I read.... "It's perfectly okay — rather mandatory even — to verify the ribs are done by transferring one to a small dish and eating it right there while standing at the stove"..... It's so accurate. I do it, my mother did it, and my Nonna showed us how to do it.
This was our family Sunday "gravy". The old Italians in the community I grew up with called any tomato based sauce cooked slowly with meat a gravy, the word sauce was only used for a quick Marinara. Yes, we are f er on New England.
My father's mother would make bowling ball size meatballs, brown them on the stovetop, and drop them into a huge pot of a sauce (probably because she couldn't afford pork for 12 people. I don't know). This makes a delicious meatball (more egg & breadcrumbs needed for this style of of meatball to hold it together in the sauce). Put 1 on a plate, smash it down just just a bit, add your parmesan cheese, and sauce over the top & yum. A meal within it's self.
Hi Angie - I'm glad this was on point! Thank you for sharing your Sunday memories of delicious Italian food.
I just cam across your recipes and I would to receive your daily information.
Hi Joanna - I've added you to my mailing list. I hope you enjoy my recipes!
I have as vegan friend so I want to know can I cook the ribs on the side in a little water and chicken broth? and how long?
Hi Maggie - This recipe is written to be a meat sauce, and cooking the sauce and meat separately would give inferior results. My suggestion would be to make my vegan marinara sauce for your vegan friend. The marinara takes 25 minutes or less to make. Then make the meat sauce with ribs for the meat eaters.