Everyone needs a go-to weeknight dinner that is stupid easy, beloved by all, and done in 30 minutes flat. Behold: Homemade Spaghetti Sauce! We are actually doctoring up a jar of store bought marinara and turning it into a meat sauce. It’s such an easy and delicious way to get dinner done fast. My whole family loves this meal, adults down to the toddlers. Serve with One Hour French Bread!

brown bowl of spaghetti noodles with easy homemade sauce on top, garnished with basil and parmesan.
Table of Contents
  1. Easy Spaghetti sauce
  2. Easy Spaghetti sauce ingredients
  3. How to make easy spaghetti sauce from a jar
  4. Plate your pasta
  5. What to serve with Spaghetti sauce
  6. How to store leftovers
  7. Can you freeze Spaghetti sauce?
  8. FAQ
  9. Want more Italian? Try these!
  10. More super easy 30 minute dinners you’ll love
  11. Easy Spaghetti Sauce Recipe Recipe

One time in high school, my brother hosted a double date at our house. He used a marker to draw plates and silverware on a paper tablecloth, and guests had to eat spaghetti served right on the table. With their hands tied behind their backs. They called it “Pighetti.” He even made them wear “pig noses” made from an egg carton.

Of course it devolved into a classic knock-down-drag-out food fight: fistfuls of Pighetti flying all over the kitchen and smashed into hair and faces. (probably while Beastie Boys “Sabotage” played in the background. It was the 90s, after all.)

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bowl of spaghetti noodles topped with easy sauce, with a fork and garlic bread on the side.

Most of my memories about this event are tied to my parents exclaiming every few months, for YEARS afterward, that they had found yet another spot of crusted-red-sauce in a corner of the room.

I checked in with my mom about this old story, because I was pretty young when it happened and fuzzy on the details. I’m sitting here, kind of mourning the fact that I will never be as cool as my mom was, to let something so memorable (but SO MESSY) happen on my watch, but she just clarified on our group text:

“I come home from my college night class, and I see one of the kids in the front yard with his head under the hose, rinsing his hair, and it’s February. Mom-alarm-bells started ringing!” Ah, okay, so I’m not a terribly boring mother: she wasn’t even there. Of course.

Spaghetti (the normal kind, not Pighetti) was a weekly meal around our house growing up. I hated it. Sorry to throw you under the bus here Mom, but ground beef mixed with a cheap jar of marinara, tossed in the pot with some overcooked spaghetti noodles was just not doin it for me. (7-year-old me was super judgy, guys.)

No judgment now, though; no judgment to any mom who’s trying to get dinner done. (I’m the youngest of five and like I mentioned before, my mom was working on her degree when I was growing up. Props to getting anything on the table that was not frozen pizza!)

plate filled with spaghetti topped with easy homemade spaghetti sauce, with a fork stuck tines in.

Life has turned around so much that now I’m in the exact same situation: I’m busy, my kids love spaghetti, it’s cheap and easy, and I always have the stuff to make it. We probably have it once every couple weeks. (Mom, it turns out I AM YOU!!! Aren’t we all slowly morphing into our parents? haha.) We definitely skip the part where you throw it across the room and get it in your hair though, PLEASE do not tell my children about this family legend!

I’ve found a few easy tricks to take my most-hated childhood meal into something truly amazing, a dinner that everyone in the family looks forward too, including yours truly. This recipe is SO much better than the mixed-up-in-the-pot version. And yes, we are starting with a jar of marinara from the store.

I’ve got another completely from-scratch spaghetti sauce recipe (also known as “Bolognese Sauce,”) comin at you next week. (update: it’s live!) But for now: the weeknight version. It will stop you in your tracks!

Easy Spaghetti sauce

I’ve got some rules when it comes to spaghetti sauce. There are some pretty crap red sauce recipes out there, don’t be fooled into thinking that because it’s got tomatoes that it’s going to taste good. Here are the bare minimum steps for making a killer sauce, lickity split.

  • Use an onion. I know, I know, by definition chopping an onion is hard and makes you cry (I would know. ALL THE TEARS, EVERY TIME.) But it amps up your flavor so much that I just can’t skip it. If you really don’t have time, use a bunch of minced onion from your spice cabinet. (Like, at least 1/4 cup. Toast them lightly in the olive oil and continue with the recipe.)
  • Garlic is a must. Fresh is best, of course, but I cheat on this all the time with good results. The jar of garlic sitting in your fridge will do just fine. Use a bunch. Like a couple tablespoons.
  • You must add spices. Those jars of spaghetti sauce sold at the store are made for the wimpiest of wimps when it comes to flavor. Italian seasoning covers almost all our bases here, but also crushed red pepper, black pepper, and of course salt.
  • The reason I like to start with a jar of marinara sauce instead of a can of whole or diced tomatoes is because the jar of sauce is already cooked down. It is thicker and infused with levels of flavor, unlike a can of naked, watery tomatoes. We can turn naked watery tomatoes into something fantastic, (just wait to you try my Bolognese Sauce you guys!!) but it takes a little time and TLC. But this is a Tuesday night recipe, people! Soccer practice is in 45 minutes! Grab that jar of spaghetti sauce, go go go!!
  • Italian sausage is so much better than simple ground beef for a quick sauce. It is made from pork, which is nice and fatty, providing tons of flavor. Plus it is already seasoned with Italian flavors, so it packs a double punch.
  • A tip from my mother-in-law Kris: For even more added flavor, once your sauce is simmering, search your fridge to see if you have any briny condiments you could add: green olives, Kalamata olives, pepperoncinis, pimientos, etc. This is her best tip for bringing in tons of flavor with almost no effort. More on this in the how-to section below!
spaghetti noodles covered in spaghetti sauce recipe wrapped around a fork, sitting on plate of spaghetti.

Easy Spaghetti sauce ingredients

The list is pretty short, since the whole point is to doctor something pre-made into something tastier: still quick, still easy, but SO much better. This is just an overview, the full ingredient amounts and instructions are in the recipe card below.

  • olive oil
  • onion
  • spices
  • garlic (fresh or from the jar is fine)
  • jar of marinara sauce
  • crushed or diced tomatoes
  • Italian sausage
  • balsamic vinegar
  • beef base
  • spaghetti noodles, for serving
pic showing all the ingredients to improve jarred sauce for easy spaghetti sauce.

How to make easy spaghetti sauce from a jar

I like to start out by getting all my chopping out of the way. Chopping stuff is usually the hurdle for me that stands between my idea of an “easy dinner” and a hard one.

hand using knife to smash garlic cloves so they're easier to chop.

But chopping garlic is pretty quick. Here’s how I do it. I hate garlic presses, I feel like they don’t work as well as a knife. Just crush with the side, peel, and chop.

If seeing pictures of pressing and chopping garlic is stressing you out, turn away. Shield thine eyes. Grab a jar of minced garlic from your fridge and call it good.

The one that’s harder to fake is an onion. But I can usually handle it as long as I have my trusty goggles. I’ll spare you the photo of them on my face and the raccoon eyes I have for an hour afterward.

Chopping a yellow onion on a wood cutting board tutorial for how to make spaghetti sauce.

Goggles really do help with the tears! Make sure they seal to your face.

chopped onion browned in a ceramic bowl with seasonings for spaghetti meat sauce.

Heat up some olive oil and sauté your onions for a few minutes. Add in the spices now so they have time to get all toasty before adding in the liquid. Sautéing in oil is a great trick to bring out the flavor of dried herbs.

Add in your garlic for a minute, then your Italian sausage. I like to use mild Italian sausage, which has a little heat to it but not too much. You could also use Sweet Italian sausage, it has nothing spicy but instead sweet basil added to it.

Adding Italian sausage to cooked onions and seasonings to brown for easy homemade spaghetti sauce.

Break up the sausage and cook fully. At this point you can take a minute to drain if it’s looking really fatty. I usually don’t bother if it’s just a little bit. Fat=flavor, sing it with me now!

jar of Rao's Homemade Marinara sauce poured over meat for spaghetti sauce recipe.

Now it’s time to add in our sauce. I love using Rao’s Marinara, but really any brand will do because we’re doctoring it up so much. We are also adding in a 15-ounce can of crushed tomatoes, or petite diced tomatoes will do if you can’t find that size can. (It’s hard to find a 15-ounce can of crushed tomatoes, and that’s weird y’all. What is with you, tomato industry?? Why can’t you provide me with every possible tomato iteration in every possible size?)

Add about a cup of water to your spaghetti sauce jar to clean it out, then add it to the sauce. Add in a bit of balsamic vinegar and some Better Than Bouillon Beef Base to amp up that beefy flavor (since we are using sausage made of pork). I love Better Than Bouillon, it is my secret flavor amplifier for so many recipes!

At this point, do a fridge rummage if you like. This tip is from my mother-in-law Kris, who is a fantastic and intuitive cook. When she makes any spaghetti sauce recipe, she always goes through the condiments in her fridge to see if she can add something for more flavor. Anything briny or Italian-ish:

  • Kalamata olives
  • Green olives
  • Anchovies
  • Pepperoncinis, or any pickled pepper (Roasted red pepper would be good)

There is no need to open a new jar of anything. But if you have something already in your fridge, it can be a fun add-in, even on top of the balsamic called for in the recipe (though you could also replace it).

Kris likes to add a little bit of the vinegary brine (somewhere between 2-4 tablespoons) and maybe also a bit of chopped up whatever-it-is. A few tablespoons chopped up green olives (don’t use black olives, they’re not vinegary enough), chopped anchovies, chopped pimientos, etc. This adds a fun twist and extra flavor! Try it out, it’s so good.

Once you have all the ingredients in, it’s up to you how long you want to simmer. 10 minutes is fine, 20 minutes it better, an hour is best but I rarely do this. The longer you simmer, the more flavorful it will be. If you are simmering a long time, be sure to add a bit more water every half hour or so, to keep it from getting too thick.

white ceramic cooking pot filled with spaghetti sauce recipe being stirred by a wooden spoon.

Plate your pasta

Now it’s time to make your spaghetti. This amount of sauce goes perfectly with 1 pound of pasta, which is what you need for about 8 servings. Boil your pasta in well-salted water. It should taste as salty as the ocean, dip your finger in.

Once your pasta is cooked, it’s time for an important decision: to pre-sauce the noodles, or not to pre-sauce the noodles?

When my sister was a teenager, she and a new friend made dinner for the family one night, and he was a vegetarian (I think that was the first vegetarian I ever met, actually! Small town wonder!) So obviously he made marinara sauce with no meat. And served the pasta separate from the sauce, like in a whole different bowl. The entire family could not stop talking about this. A meal, with no meat?? The noodles, without the sauce?? What’s next, flying pigs? (FLYING PIGHETTI???)

(“He don’t eat no meat?? That’s okay, I make you lamb.” Name that movie!!)

Anyway, sauced, or un-sauced, only you can make this pivotal decision. If you don’t mix it together, be sure to drizzle the noodles with olive oil so the pasta doesn’t stick to itself.

plate full of a artfully arranged spaghetti noodles with a neat scoop of red meat sauce on top.

What to serve with Spaghetti sauce

Here’s my favorite way to do a spaghetti meal:

This is my favorite combo for a meal that is easy, brainless, and that anyone with a heartbeat absolutely LOVES.

Here are some other things to serve with your spaghetti:

Close up of spaghetti noodles covered in spaghetti meat sauce, wrapped around a fork.

How to store leftovers

Let the leftover sauce cool and then place it in an air tight container. In this case, glass is best because you don’t run the risk of staining the tupperware, but I am definitely not grown up enough to have reached this level of Adult. Trust me, any air tight container will work. I know because mine are all stained orange. Don’t judge.

Spaghetti will last in the refrigerator for 4-6 days. To serve, warm in a saucepan over medium heat until hot, adding a little water if it is thick. You can also warm it up in the microwave, but be sure to use a cover so you don’t end up with Mt. Vesuvius 2.0.

Can you freeze Spaghetti sauce?

Spaghetti sauce was practically made to be frozen: everything in it freezes, thaws, and rewarms beautifully. Let the sauce come to room temperature, add to a ziplock freezer bag of the appropriate size, label, and freeze. Spaghetti sauce will easily last 4-6 months in the freezer. You could even double the recipe and freeze it in portions that you like and have an even EASIER dinner in the future! (I do this all the time!)

To use after freezing, put the ziplock bag into the refrigerator and let thaw overnight. Once it’s no longer frozen, add to a saucepan and warm over medium heat, or microwave it with a cover. OR tempt fate, toss the whole thing into the pan frozen (cut the ziplock), add some water so it doesn’t scorch, and cook on medium low until it’s hot :) who has time to thaw??

close up of velvety homemade spaghetti sauce with bits of onion, sausage, parmesan, and basil.


how to thicken spaghetti sauce

The best way to thicken up any Spaghetti sauce recipe is to let it cook at a low simmer for a while. This recipe is meant to be quick and easy, so we’re keeping it under 30 minutes. For richer, thicker, more authentic sauce, check out my favorite Bolognese Sauce Recipe!

how long is spaghetti sauce good for in the fridge?

It should last about 4-6 days in the refrigerator. If you think you won’t be able to use it up before then, just add it to a freezer ziplock bag, label it, and stick it in the freezer. It will last in there for 4-6 months and reheats really well.

how to make jar spaghetti sauce better?

You’re in luck because that’s what this WHOLE recipe is about. The basic rules are: you must add spices, an onion, Italian sausage, and an acidic brine (like pepperoncini juice or anchovies) to increase flavor. Full instructions and extra ingredients are in the recipe card down below, and a brief how-to with the “why” for each of those rules, plus tips and tricks, are in the post above.

full plate of spaghetti noodles topped with homemade sauce and bits of basil.

Want more Italian? Try these!

More super easy 30 minute dinners you’ll love

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Easy Spaghetti Sauce Recipe

5 from 9 votes
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 25 minutes
Total: 30 minutes
Servings: 8


For the Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning, or more to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 6 cloves garlic, smashed and minced (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 1 pound mild Italian sausage, bulk (or remove casings)
  • 28 ounce can marinara sauce, I like Rao's sauce, but any brand will do
  • 15 ounce can crushed tomatoes, or petite diced tomatoes, with juice
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Better Than Bouillon Beef Base

To serve:

  • 1 pound dry spaghetti noodles
  • water, to boil
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt, to season water
  • fresh basil or parsley, to garnish (optional)
  • parmesan cheese, grated (optional)


  • In a large Dutch oven or soup pot, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add 1 chopped onion and all the spices: 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning, 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.
  • Saute the onions and spices for about 5 minutes, until the onion starts to turn translucent.
  • Smash, peel, and mince 6 cloves of garlic. It should be 1-2 tablespoons. You can use pre chopped garlic from a jar for this recipe, if you need to make life easier (I do this probably half the time.)
  • Add the garlic to the pan with the onions, adding a bit more oil first if the pan is getting dry. You don't want scorched garlic. Saute for about 1 minute until the garlic is fragrant.
  • Add 1 pound Italian sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Continue cooking for 3-5 minutes until the sausage is fully cooked. (At this point, you can drain some of the grease if it is looking really fatty, but I usually don't if there is a moderate amount. Fat=flavor.)
  • Add the 28 ounce can of marinara sauce and a 15 ounce can of crushed tomatoes (or petite diced tomatoes works fine, don't drain, just dump it all in.) Turn the heat up to medium high to bring to a simmer.
  • Add 1 cup water to your empty jar of sauce and shake it around to clean the jar. Then pour the water into the can to clean that too. Then add it to the spaghetti sauce.
  • Add 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar and and 1 teaspoon Better Than Bouillon Beef Base.
  • Once the sauce starts to bubble, lower the heat to medium or medium low, enough heat to keep a low simmer going. Continue simmering for about 10-30 minutes, whatever you have time for.
  • The longer you cook, the thicker your sauce will become as liquid is cooked off. Add water (1/4 cup at a time) every half hour or so if you want to simmer longer. The longer you cook, the more flavorful your sauce will become! But it is also super delicious with just a 10 minute simmer. That's what I usually have time for!

To serve:

  • About 10 minutes before you want to eat, make your spaghetti. In a different large pot, add a few quarts of water. Add salt until it tastes like the ocean (taste it!) I usually do about 2 tablespoons. Bring the water to a boil over high heat, then add 16 ounces dry spaghetti noodles, and stir well. Stir every little while to make sure the noodles aren't sticking, for about 8-9 minutes, until the pasta is al dente. Don't over cook it!
  • Drain the pasta and toss with a little olive oil. Plate the pasta and top with the spaghetti sauce. Garnish with fresh basil or parsley and grated Parmesan cheese. (You can also add the pasta right into the pot with the sauce if you want to serve it mixed. I usually let guests (my children😂) choose their own sauce amount.)
  • Serve this with One Hour French Bread! Or bread from the store, toasted with lots of butter and sprinkled with salt and garlic powder. Yum! One more serving suggestion: a Caesar salad kit, from Costco preferably. The perfect easy meal!

Slow Cooker Instructions

  • Follow recipe as stated through cooking the sausage. Add all the onions and sausage to a crock pot, along with the rest of the ingredients (marinara sauce, can of tomatoes, water, balsamic vinegar, beef base) stir, and cook on high for 3 hours or on low for 5-7 hours as needed. Cook the noodles in a pot on the stove when ready to serve.


Nutrition facts info includes the pasta :) But NOT the 4 slices of garlic bread you may or may not eat, I can’t be responsible for that bro. 


Calories: 494kcal | Carbohydrates: 55g | Protein: 18g | Fat: 23g | Saturated Fat: 7g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 11g | Cholesterol: 43mg | Sodium: 3000mg | Potassium: 770mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 9g | Vitamin A: 572IU | Vitamin C: 15mg | Calcium: 74mg | Iron: 3mg
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Calories: 494
Keyword: pasta, spaghetti
Did you make this? I’d love to see it!Mention @thefoodcharlatan or tag #thefoodcharlatan!

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  1. 5 stars
    Everything IS AWESOME thank so much with your, recipes you make them soooo easy and they are all very good thanks

  2. 5 stars
    I have the movie memorized. That’s how awesome it is. My big fat Greek wedding 3 is saved to my phone when it’s released. ” My dad uses Windex for everything”

    1. Hi Julie, great question! Yes you can totally let it simmer in the crock. But you’ll have to use a pan in the beginning to saute the onion and cook the sausage. Once the sausage is cooked (in step 5) you can add it to a crock pot along with the rest of the ingredients and cook on high for 3 hours or on low for 5-7 hours as needed. Enjoy! (I’ve updated the recipe to include these notes. Thanks for asking!)

  3. 5 stars
    So excited you got this posted! Easy and delish. Yum! I’m sorry for your mom and pighetti incident. “Sure. Throw spaghetti all over the kitchen. No worries!” Said no mom, EVER!

    1. Haha!! The kids had done a pretty good job of cleaning it up before she even got home. (obviously not THAT good since they were finding specks of it months later, but hey, at least they made an effort.) and it sure has made for great family lore 😂
      And THANK YOU Kris for your help in developing this recipe! I forgot to give you credit! it wouldn’t be the same without your input!!

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