Best Ever Marinara Sauce

 Best Ever Marinara Sauce - a tried and true, authentic marinara sauce that's super versatile and so full of flavor.

My husband, Scott and I often look at each other and say, “How in the world did two schnucks like us, end up with such wonderful kids?”

I love my kids for a zillion reasons; they’re sweet, kind, fun, funny and always have a word of encouragement to offer. I can also count on the fact that they’ll ALWAYS tell me their truthful opinions, which I appreciate, because what they think means a lot to me. Sometimes though, I am a bit hardheaded, especially when it comes to culinary endeavors. I’m always thinking that I might just find something better …………. But I’ll let my daughter Cait, explain this in her own words.

True confessions first….I feel like quite the cheater posting this recipe!! It’s an old family recipe that I’m not sure the origin of. My mom started making it sometime when I was in middle school and we all RAVED about it. She stuck with it for a while, but her imagination always gets the best of her, (can you imagine that?!?!) causing her to try out other marinara recipes. We would always “boo” them, saying that they didn’t hold a candle to the original. This pattern went on for years, until she finally succumbed to the pressure and started making it again on a regular basis. (And there are only a FEW things that she makes on a regular basis!)
Best Ever Marinara Sauce - a tried and true, authentic marinara sauce that's super versatile and so full of flavor.
Being the busy mom/mum that I am, I don’t have the overactive imagination or the time to be constantly trying new things at dinnertime, so I tend to stick to tried and true recipes; and this one most definitely falls into that category. 
Best Ever Marinara Sauce - a tried and true, authentic marinara sauce that's super versatile and so full of flavor.

I’ll make a huge pot of this marinara sauce once every six weeks or so, store it in the freezer and use it for all sorts of recipes. I’ve made a few changes over the years to make it more healthy, but not much, because it’s one of those super simple, scrumptious recipes that you just can’t mess up and it always gets rave reviews, regardless of the audience. Even my kids gobble it up. Enjoy!

~ Cait

I know Cait doesn’t remember where this recipe originally came from, but I do! I was watching TV one day and one of the Rao brothers (from Rao’s Italian Restaurant in New York City), was on The Food Network. He shared his mama’s recipe for marinara sauce, the one they serve at their restaurant (which by the way, has a reputation for being one of the most difficult restaurants in the world to get a reservation at!). I tried it and loved it. Over the years, I’ve tweaked it a bit to suit our taste.


P.S. This sauce is wonderful for any Italian dish such eggplant parmesan, chicken marinara, etc. but I usually make it with these wonderful meatballs.


Best Ever Marinara Sauce

4 from 4 reviews

  • Author:
  • Category: Sauce
  • Cuisine: Italian


  • 4 28-ounce can imported Italian plum tomatoes, try to find San Marzano tomatoes, they’re a bit more expensive but will make a HUGE difference*
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound mild or sweet Italian sausage (If you don’t have a favorite, we love Johnsonville Italian Sausage.)
  • 6 tablespoons minced onion
  • 3 cloves fresh garlic, minced.
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 2 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 leaves fresh basil leaves, finely chopped


  1. Drain tomatoes, reserving the juice. Using your hands, crush the tomatoes, gently breaking them into small pieces, removing and discarding the hard core from the stem end. (I actually use my stick blender for this or put in food processor and pulse a few times – you do want a little chunkiness left.) Also remove any skin or tough membranes. Set aside.
  2. Heat oil in large, heavy duty sauce pan over medium-low heat. Add sausages and sauté until nice and brown on all sides. Remove sausages and drain on several thicknesses of paper towel. Set aside till cooled then refrigerate till later.  Add onions to pot and saute for 5 minutes or until translucent and soft. Stir in garlic, basil, oregano and salt and saute for an additional 30 seconds.
  3. Add tomatoes and reserved juice and bring to a boil. Reduce to a low simmer and cook for 5-6 hours, stirring occasionally or until sauce is thick and the aroma in your house is driving you crazy. Add sausages back into the sauce during the last half hour of simmering. You can slice them into 1-inch pieces or keep them whole and use them for a wonderful Italian sausage sandwich. Add fresh basil and remove from heat.
  4. I usually slice the sausages into bitesize pieces and then make meatballs to go in this sauce and serve the sausages and meatballs together over pasta.


* If you have a Costco nearby, they have San Marzano tomatoes imported from Italy for $3.99 for a 106-ounce can. This is a wonderful buy as these tomatoes can run as high as $3.99 for a 28-ounce can in a regular grocery store.
** At this point sauce can be served, refrigerated for up to a week or frozen for months. Sometimes we make the meatballs and let them simmer in the sauce for the last hour. It’s also wonderful for chicken marinara, lasagna, manicotti and all things Italian requiring a red sauce.

98 thoughts on “Best Ever Marinara Sauce”

  • Your recipe is similar to mine but a few different steps. I made it your way, pulverizing the tomatoes before which makes better sense than the way I was doing it after they had been cooking awhile. This sauce smells amazing! I tasted it no bitterness at all. Maybe the person that complained burned their garlic. I just made the meatballs without the sausage because I did not have any. They are cooking now and smell delicious. I am looking forward to seeing how they come out because I usually cook my meatballs in the sauce. I hope you get my comments!

  • This meat sauce is the bomb. You are soooo right about the San Marzano tomatoes. They taste better. I started off using a large saucepan but switched to a Dutch oven because the saucepan would not hold it all – even before the sausage was added back in (four 24-ounce cans of tomatoes yields a lot). I used Jennie-O sweet Italian turkey sausage instead of the pork. I had to stop simmering half way through because I had to leave the house. I finished cooking it a few hours later. The sauce was fine. This recipe was hit. It’s a keeper. I want to try the sauce with your meatballs the next time.

  • I would love to make this marinara recipe, but would like to ask which is your preference of Italian sausage.
    Mild or Sweet? I haven’t tried either one, and I can’t decide. Can’t wait! Thanks

  • My daughter just asked for this recipe. I made it almost a year ago and my family still talks about it. Must be that Johnsonville Sausage! 😉 It’s definitely 5 stars but my tablet isn’t cooperating. Thanks again for the yummy recipe!

  • Giving this 5 stars and haven’t even made it yet! It just sounds like the perfect marinara sauce to me and am sure it will be when I do. Thanks for recipe

    • So sorry you had undesirable results Ruthie. I can’t stand wasting good ingredients. But I can’t even imagine describing this sauce as bitter. Everyone who tries it loves it and wants the recipe. Not sure what could have gone wrong…

  • Evening – this recipe sounds wonderful but it is mid=September. Can you advise how to adjust this recipe using fresh tomatoes? Can it be done? I did plant ‘San Marzanos in my garden and, granted, the tomatoes are grown in rich composted soil but in Seattle, not the soil in S.M. region of Italy. Your thoughts?

  • Made this today, with a slight modification. I took the sausage out of it’s casing and browned it, and added to the sauce as it simmered all day. Made this change since my son won’t eat big chunks of sausage as you instructed. Really tenderized the sausage bits and made a delicious sauce. Will use this recipe again and again!

  • My husband is an extraordinarily picky eater. However, he has become addicted to this marinara sauce! He has instructed me to double the batch next time so we always have it on hand! Thanks for the great recipe! I can’t wait to try more!

  • I generally don’t comment on recipes but this got me. This is NOT a marinara recipe nor is it authentic. You can’t add sausage and call it marinara. This is a meat sauce which is far from marinara. I’m not a purest but people will get confused. Marinara is tomatoes only!! It is fresh and doesn’t have the flavor of animal fat. I am pure Italian born and bred. My mother would have scoffed at you as an Americano. She used to say about white bread in the US supermarkets …..americano bread. Ha.

    • Thank you John for your thoughtful comment. I totally understand that Americans have a different idea of a lot of ethnic foods. I only know this sauce is incredibly delicious whatever you want to call it. The reason I call it “marinara” is because the Rao’s, an Italian family with the most famous restaurant in NYC, call this sauce “marinara”. It is based on their old family recipe from Mama Rao. Perhaps they too are just catering to the American taste or perhaps they are from a different part of Italy.

      Hope you have a wonderful day. Kind Regards, Chris

  • This sauce sounds fabulous! I can’t wait to try it and we ALWAYS use Johnsonville sausage but we are a little prejudice around here since my hubby works for them! 😉 I do too sometimes. Thanks for sharing!

  • I can’t wait to make this! Im glad to hear it can be made without the sausage as we have vegan friends. Ill make the meatballs and serve them on the side for a gathering of 15 or so. We are having some other options available but I was wondering if you would share about how many people this recipe serves. Thanks!

  • You had me at Raos!!! Their meatballs are my vice, as is their sauce! Mind you, I’ve never eaten there, just tasted their manna from heaven, compliments of my BIL who purchased the cook book and served up their meatballs last Christmas. I died and went to meatball heaven! I’m a transplanted NY’er with no (genuine) ethnic food anywhere close to me. Now I own the cookbook and make my own divine meatballs! I also purchased their CD’s, An evening at Rao’s (Volare is playing in my ear as I write!) and the Christmas one, such good memories from my parents and I still love the music! Now Rao’s is the only sauce in a jar I’ll buy. I’ll shell out $10 for the large if I can’t make my own. It’s that good.

    P.S. I think you can keep calling your Marinara sauce Marinara! You’re not on an Italian website representing yourself as an officianado, you are simply sharing a long time family recipe. I say call it what you want! I have a crabmeat & creamcheese dip we always make around the holidays. My family knows the origin of the recipe but It was so simple, even my young son could make it and he LOVED IT. Within the family only, it is now known as “Paul’s famous crabmeat dip”!! Hahaha, 🙂

    • Hi, usually the sausage we use is not very fatty but if it is, I would drain off most of the fat. Just leave about a tablespoon or two.

    • Oh, I’m so happy you noticed that! There was actually an omission in the recipe that I hadn’t noticed. You add the juice with the tomatoes to the sauce. The only reason you drain off the juice is to make it easier to crush the tomatoes. I fixed the recipe. Thanks sos much!

  • Hi Chris,

    The reasons I decided to put this in my crockpot were A) I wouldn’t have to babysit the pot sitting on a gas flame for 5 hours B) My Le Creuset is the large oval and sometimes does not cook evenly on any of my burners. (Though it’s wonderful in the oven!)

    So, here’s what I did. I followed your directions all the way up to bringing the sauce from a boil to simmer. Then I transferred all the sauce into my preheated crockpot. I set the crock on HIGH for one hour with the lid ON, or just until it was brought back to simmering point. (easy so far) Then, I switched it to low and removed the lid for a few hours. It quickly simmered, evenly, into a nice saucy consistency I was pleased with. About 3.5 to 4 hrs total. The house smelled wonderful, I got lots of other things done while it simmered away (not having to adjust the heat at all), and the final product was delicious! I’d do it this way all-over again. It’s a keeper! Thank you!


    • Andrea, thanks so much for getting back to me about this. I will definitely give this a try, what a great idea and it makes it so much easier!

  • I would think that would work just fine, it sounds like a great idea. I’ll be curious to hear how it works. Let me know!

  • Chris, this recipe looks delish! I’ll be cooking it today. My question is: is it possible to bring the sauce to simmering point, then add it to a slow cooker and simmer it on high with the lid off for the 5-6 hours? I need to be doing other things, and don’t want to “babysit” all day. (I don’t plan on leaving it unattended all day.)


    • Hi Tobes, you cook it with the top off as you want the sauce to reduce and become thick and rich. That way when you top your pasta or use it in lasagna or other Italian dishes, they won’t become a watery mess.

  • Haha. I love how you all booed at her other versions! I have the same deal with my husband and chocolate chip cookies.

    Me – Have a cookie!
    Him – This is… *not* the NYT cookie. Hmp.

    Anyway, the marinara looks great! Thanks for sharing your mom’s recipe. 🙂

  • Chris, this is a wonderful post – I like the fact that your lovely daughter wrote part of it and the recipe sounds absolutely wonderful and delicious to me – marinara sauce is so good to have on hand when cooking for family!

  • I despise commercial jarred sauce but someone turned me on to Rao’s last year and I now keep a supply of it on hand at all times. It’s actually very good. Homemade is better of course so I will definitely try this version perhaps using chicken sausage or ground turkey.

  • This sounds so simple to make and looks absolutely scrumptious! I am sure my family is going to appreciate this awesome recipe. Will try freezing it as well as I am getting ready for my organic tomatoes this summer.
    Thanks Chris for delighting us with your decadent foods. Your rock- shared and bookmarked 🙂

  • Hi, Cait! Nice to meet you! Whether with meat or not, I love a good marinara base for my pasta! It reminds me of Italy, that’s for sure! And a recipe title that gets 3 exclamation points – that must really mean something exceptional! LOL!

  • I love this sauce. I just recently started freezing it. I love having it because your meal is almost done with just a pot of boiling water your there.

    I think your kids are a chip off the old block as they say, or the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree. 🙂 With 46 chromosome, I blame my husband’s 23 if my kids do something I don’t like. lol

  • This really looks like a great marinara sauce and I’m sure the sausage gives it a great great taste!!!! Love this recipe… Thank you Cait and Chris!

  • I love that you add sausage to your marinara. It looks so delicious! Definitely a summertime must-make with in-season tomatoes. I can picture this all over a big bowl of pasta or mussels!

  • Awesome, I would love to taste this!!!! I am now not allowed any tomato seeds, and this means a whole lot of food including pizza is gone for me. I HATE it! I love all things Italian and am looking for good recipes that use only the sauce or paste, but of course then they are not really as good for you, I guess. i know this would be awesome.

    • Hi Ginny……don’t deny yourself tomato sauce if you love it!! Strain out the tomato seeds if you’re making it from fresh tomatoes, but if you’re using canned tomatoes you can do the same thing!
      Also, you can make a delicious quick sauce for spaghetti by using tomato paste! Simply sauté minced onion and minced garlic in olive oil in a 10 inch saucepan, seasoning with salt and pepper; add a small can of Tomato Paste and stir. Let that cook for a few minutes to get the flavor out of the canned tomato paste and then add 3 cans of water. To season, add salt, pepper, dried basil, dried oregano (to your own taste….I put the herbs in the palm of my hand and use my fingers to pinch out the oils), plus fresh or dried parsley, and if you wish, a nice sprinkle of crushed red pepper flakes (you may not want to add that ingredient if it would bother your stomach), Add a bay leaf, bring to a nice simmer, cover and turn the heat down a bit and simmer on lower heat for about an hour., stirring occasionally. I actually use a pound of 80% lean ground beef in this same recipe for a meat sauce for a fast spaghetti dinner. If using the ground beef you would put that into the pan with the heated olive oil, and when the red color has cooked out, drain off the animal fat in a colander and return to the same pan, then add in the minced onions with a little olive oil and after a few minutes. when the onion is translucent. add the minced garlic. After a minute or two you can add in the tomato paste. Follow the above cooking suggestions. Be sure to add enough salt and pepper. Your sauce with or without the ground meat should be delicious. My Polish mother married my father who was Italian, and her Italian food recipes, which she learned from her best friend’s Italian mother-in-law (her friend was also Polish) were always perfect!! My mother. Sophie Bonaventure, was well-known as a very good cook (and baker of Polish cookies & Italian cookies…she could do it all!!) in our small town in Steubenville, Ohio! My brother and I always knew we were so lucky having a wonderful mother who loved to cook and bake!! I learned to cook from my mother and I receive many compliments for her recipes. Good Luck Ginny! Hope you enjoy our recipe for a q,uick sauce for spaghetti.
      Sharon Hug [email protected]

  • I love the sound of this marinara sauce and if this recipe has been the family’s go-to for years, I bet it’s a true winner. Can’t wait to try it sometime. 🙂

  • What a sweet post! I love a good – hard to improve – handed down family recipe. I bet it is super tasty. Just love that your daughter pitched in today – I don’t think my kids even read the blog! Ha ha but they sure do eat my food! Have a great week Chris.

  • I have to correct you. Marinara is a tomato sauce without meat. What you have is a wonderful sauce for sure, a basic spaghetti or rigatoni sauce the way most Italians would make it, but definitely not Marinara. (Marinara is a fisherman stew sauce, usually served with seafood, hence the name.

    • Thank you Rosaria for the clarification. I did not know that but it makes total sense. I just call this “Marinara” sauce because that’s what Rao’s Italian Restaurant in NYC calls it. I think there are probably lots of international culinary items that we get a bit mixed up here in the States. I love learning new things like this, from now on whenever I make my “Marinara” I’ll think kindly of you and what the “real” deal is!

    • Rosaria, my dear, you are absolutely half correct. I was reading through the comments to see if anyone was going to call it out. Actually, a “fisherman’s stew” would be referred to as a Bouillabaisse, and is a traditional Provençal fish stew. A “Marinara Sauce” is simply a tomato sauce with no add meat. When meat is added, it is then transformed into what we chef’s would call a Bolognese sauce. And I do think this is a lovely “Bolognese” recipe.

    • Thanks for all this expert knowledge. I had no idea. I do know that this sauce is amazing and everyone who tastes it goes crazy over it. I really like the flavor that the sausage adds to it, but you could certainly make the sauce without it.

    • Sounds delicious and very familiar. Sorry to have to add a correction. Yes, no meat in Marinara. Also – Marinara is a very quick sauce that only takes 30-45 minutes. More than that is not good for it. However, your sauce sounds like a delicious long cooking, meat added, tomato sauce (for pasta and other dishes) that usually takes 3-5 hours or more.
      Check Lidia Bastianich’s site and other Italian cookbook writers to substantiate. I have been cooking a long sauce (gravy) recipe from Italy for 30 years.

      • Thanks Noreen. So interesting, I had no idea. I just call it marinara cause that’s what they call their sauce a the wonderful restaurant in NYC which this recipe is based after. The family is from Italy but I wonder if they call it marinara because that’s what many Americans call a red sauce??? Not sure but thanks for the info 🙂

  • I do love a good marina sauce! I still have several quarts of fresh San Marzano sauce that I canned last fall – I must use them up to make room for this year’s new batch!

  • Hi Radhika! I think you could definitely make this without the sausage. The herbs and long simmer will give it tons of flavor. Let me know how it turns out! 🙂

  • Chris, the sauce is looking fabulous. I had been looking around a sauce like this but do you think I could skip the sausage? I’m a Vegetarian. Is there a substitute or is it good without the meat.

    • Hi Geeeeenie! Actually if you look up schnook in just a regular old English dictionary, you’ll see a picture of Scott and I. A schnook is slightly akin to a rascal. 🙂

  • I love marinara sauce and this homemade version is a must-have. It’s such a versatile sauce, great in pastas, pizzas, appetizers, etc. I just imagine the amazing aroma in your kitchen when this sauce was being cooked.

  • Can’t wait to try. In the past I have bought Rao’s sauce. Sometimes it is on sale. It is worth a try when you have no sauce and need a quick meal. The wait for the restaurant is months. Marzano tomatoes are so worth it. Once you try. You will never go back. Wonder if johnsonville makes chicken sausage? Will try this week. Thank you.

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