What is Beef Ragu? A Guide to This Comforting Italian Classic

Beef ragu is a rich, hearty pasta sauce made with slow-cooked shredded beef, tomatoes, aromatics, and red wine. It’s an Italian comfort food classic that makes for a satisfying and impressive meal. Keep reading to learn all about how to make authentic beef ragu, the best ways to serve it, and why it’s such a beloved dish.

What is Ragu?

Ragu is an Italian word that refers to any meat-based sauce, though ragus are often specifically long-cooked meat sauces. The most famous ragu is probably Bolognese sauce, which originated in Bologna, Italy. It’s made with ground beef, pork, tomatoes, wine, carrots, celery, onion, milk, and herbs.

While Bolognese may be the most well-known, beef ragu is another classic ragu recipe loved for its intense, meaty flavor.

Origins of Beef Ragu

Beef ragu likely originated as a way for Italian cooks to transform the less tender cuts of beef into something delicious by braising them slowly in an flavorful tomato sauce. The long cooking time helps break down the collagen in tougher cuts of meat like chuck roast, resulting in incredibly tender beef that pulls apart easily.

Many regions of Italy likely had their own versions, though beef ragu is especially associated with Northern regions like Emilia-Romagna. Cookbook author Marcella Hazan’s famous ragu Bolognese alla bolognese helped popularize the dish outside of Italy in the 1970s.

How is Beef Ragu Different from Bolognese?

While beef ragu and Bolognese sauce share some similarities, there are a few key differences:

  • Meat: Beef ragu uses stewing cuts like chuck roast while Bolognese uses ground beef/pork.
  • Texture: The meat in ragu is shredded while Bolognese has a loose, minced texture.
  • Tomatoes: Bolognese uses tomato paste while ragu uses crushed tomatoes.
  • Herbs: Basil and parsley are common in Bolognese. Beef ragu favors thyme, rosemary, and bay leaves.
  • Wine: Beef ragu uses bold red wines while Bolognese uses white wines.

How to Make Beef Ragu

Making authentic beef ragu is easy – the main requirements are patience and a few simple ingredients. Here is an overview of the basic steps:

  • Sear the beef: Season 2-3 lbs of chuck roast and brown the meat in batches for flavor.
  • Soffritto: Sauté aromatics like onion, carrot, and celery until softened.
  • Tomato base: Add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, beef broth, herbs, and wine.
  • Simmer: Return the beef to the pot. Simmer gently for 2-3 hours until fork tender.
  • Shred and simmer: Shred beef and continue simmering to meld flavors.
  • Adjust seasoning: Taste and add salt, pepper, or a touch of sugar to balance acidity.

The most hands-off part is the long, slow simmering which allows the ingredients to become incredibly tender and develop deep flavor.

Tips for Making Beef Ragu

  • Use the right beef: Chuck roast or other stewing cuts with marbling work best.
  • Don’t rush it: Slow cooking is key – at least 2 hours for tender meat.
  • Lift the meat: Use tongs to prevent shredding as it cooks.
  • Sneak some veggies: Adding carrots, celery, and onion boosts flavor.
  • Deglaze the pan: Use wine to pick up browned bits after searing meat.
  • Let it rest: Flavors improve if made 1-2 days ahead.

How to Serve Beef Ragu

Beef ragu pairs perfectly with wide, long pasta shapes like pappardelle, tagliatelle, or fettuccine. The flat ribbons catch the meaty sauce beautifully. Thick pasta holds its shape better than thin pasta, though spaghetti can also work in a pinch.

For an authentic presentation, toss the cooked pasta with the ragu sauce before serving. Garnish with parmesan cheese and fresh parsley or basil. A bold Italian red wine is the ideal pairing.

Beyond pasta, beef ragu also makes a fantastic filling for lasagna, enchiladas, stuffed shells, or pull-apart bread. You can also serve it over creamy polenta, cauliflower rice, mashed potatoes, or steamed vegetables.

Can You Make Beef Ragu in a Slow Cooker or Instant Pot?

While the traditional method is simmering it on the stovetop, you can absolutely adapt beef ragu for the slow cooker or pressure cooker.

For the slow cooker, sear the meat first on the stovetop then add to the crockpot with the remaining ingredients. Cook on low for 6-8 hours.

For the Instant Pot, sear the meat then pressure cook on high for 35-40 minutes with a quick pressure release. The sauce may need a bit of reducing after cooking.

Storing and Freezing Beef Ragu

Properly stored, beef ragu will keep for 4-5 days refrigerated. It also freezes beautifully for 3-4 months, so consider doubling the recipe and freezing half for later.

Let the ragu cool completely before transferring to airtight containers or freezer bags. Thaw overnight in the fridge before reheating gently on the stovetop or in the microwave.

Why Beef Ragu is So Satisfying

There are several reasons this sauce is so beloved:

  • Intense flavor: The wine, tomatoes, and herbs create a rich, complex flavor.
  • Tender beef: Long cooking transforms the meat into fall-apart strands.
  • **Protein-packed:**Beef provides hearty protein and iron.
  • Versatile: It pairs well with various pastas, grains, veggies, etc.
  • Freezes well: Enjoy now or stock your freezer for future meals.
  • Impressive dish: Your guests will be wowed by this restaurant-quality meal.
  • Satisfaction: The hearty texture and big flavors satisfy.

With minimal hands-on time and a basic list of ingredients transformed by simmering for hours, beef ragu is the ultimate comforting Italian classic.

Frequently Asked Questions

What cut of meat is best for beef ragu?

Choose inexpensive stewing cuts like chuck roast, bottom round, or brisket. The connective tissue in these cuts breaks down into tender shredded beef.

Is beef ragu spicy?

Traditional beef ragu has only mild spice from crushed red pepper flakes or black pepper. Add chili flakes or cayenne if you want extra heat.

Can you use ground beef instead of roast?

It’s best to use cubed stew meat, but you could use ground beef. Just skip the initial sear and simmer for less time so it doesn’t get mushy.

Is beef ragu good for meal prep?

Yes! Beef ragu reheats beautifully and the flavors improve over time. Prepare a batch on the weekend to enjoy all week.

Can I make beef ragu without wine?

Beef broth, stock, or diluted red wine vinegar can be used instead of red wine. Or omit altogether.

Sample Recipe for Classic Beef Ragu

While there are many recipes out there, this highly rated version from RecipeTin Eats is a foolproof standard to follow:


  • 2.5 pounds chuck roast, cut into 4 equal pieces
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 cup carrots, diced
  • 1 cup celery, diced
  • 28 ounces crushed canned tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 beef bouillon cubes, crumbled
  • 1 cup red wine (like Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon)
  • 1 1⁄2 cups water
  • 3⁄4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3 dried bay leaves
  • 1 pound dried pappardelle pasta
  • Grated parmesan cheese
  • Chopped fresh parsley


  1. Pat beef dry and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a pot over high heat. Brown meat well on all sides. Remove to a plate.
  3. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil and the onion, carrots, and celery. Sauté for 5 minutes.
  4. Add garlic and cook 30 seconds until fragrant.
  5. Stir in tomato paste followed by wine. Simmer to reduce by half.
  6. Add tomatoes, crumbled bouillon, water, thyme, and bay leaves. Return beef to pot and bring to a gentle simmer.
  7. Cover and cook at for 2-3 hours until beef is tender.
  8. Remove beef. Shred with two forks, then return to pot. Simmer 30 minutes.
  9. Season to taste. Cook pasta 2 minutes less than package directions.
  10. Toss hot pasta with 1 cup cooking water and ragu. Top with parmesan and parsley.

Enjoy This Satisfying Italian Classic

Beef ragu is the ultimate hearty comfort food that’s perfect for feeding a crowd or meal prepping for the week ahead. With minimal hands-on effort, this sauce delivers incredible depth of flavor and satisfying shredded beef. Savor beef ragu tossed with pasta or served over creamy polenta for a quintessential Italian meal.

The BEST Beef Ragu you’ll ever taste.


What is beef ragù made of?

Ragù is a meat-based sauce, typically served with pasta. Traditionally, pieces of meat (often beef, pork, game, or even horse), are cooked on a low heat in a braising liquid (this is usually tomato or wine-based) over a long period of time.

What is difference between ragù and Bolognese?

Even though both are considered meat sauces and are thusly chunky, ragù is more like a thick tomato sauce with recognizable bits of ground beef within it. Bolognese, though, is creamier and thicker because it is made with milk. It is not considered to be a tomato sauce.

What is another name for beef ragù?

The most typical is ragù alla bolognese (“Bolognese sauce”, made with minced beef).

What is in ragù?

One of the most popular and beloved recipes in Italy, ragù is a sauce made from tomatoes and ground or chopped meat, which is cooked for a long time. It is normally made with tomato sauce, celery, onions and carrots, ground beef and/or pork, some white wine and aromatic herbs like basil and bay leaf.

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