Braised Beef Ragu

Braised Beef Ragu is pure comfort food. Beef chuck is braised in a vegetable and tomato sauce until fork tender and shredded. Serve it over ziti or pappardelle pasta for a stick-to-your-ribs meal that your whole family will love.

White bowl of Braised beef ragu served over ziti and garnished with Parmesan cheese shavings. Top view.

My family prefers the ragu served over ziti. I like to serve this with a Prosciutto, Pear, And Blue Cheese appetizer, Spicy Italian-style Broccoli Rabe, and Italian Amaretti Peaches. It’s a meal that is requested over and over.

Braised Beef Ragu

Even though the weather here in Florida is still as hot as can be, I’m already thinking about Fall and the hearty meals that accompany it. This recipe works well because the slow cooker does most of the work. Using a beef chuck roast cuts down on the cost of the meal, making it perfect to serve to a larger group. It also freezes beautifully, so make a batch and freeze some to serve later.

White bowl of Braised beef ragu served over ziti and garnished with Parmesan cheese shavings. Close up top view.

Are Ragu And Bolognese The Same Thiing?

Bolognese is a type of ragu sauce. While very similar, they are different and not interchangeable. Here are some distinctions:

  • Ragu sauce is meat-based, enriched with red wine, milk or cream, and has little tomato. Bolognese sauce is also meat-based, enriched with white wine, but has a lot of tomato in it.
  • Ragu sauce is thicker and chunkier than Bolognese sauce.
  • Ragu sauce can be served with a variety of pasta types, while Bolognese is best suited to a long, flat noodle like papparadelle.

Why Beef Chuck Roast

Raw beef chuck roast on a wooden board.

Chuck roast is in the shoulder area of the front legs. It doesn’t have much marbling, making it a tougher cut of meat. Despite being a lean, tough cut, it is still an intensely beefy, full-flavored cut. When cooked low and slow for hours, the beef becomes mouthwateringly tender while retaining its flavor.

Also called a shoulder roast, chuck pot roast, chuck eye roast, or chuck roll roast, it is found either bone-in or boneless. Boneless is usually a bit more expensive. If you can’t find a chuck roast, use a similarly shaped, lean cut of beef like a tri-tip roast, a top round roast, or a bottom or rump roast.

The Type Of Tomatoes Used Makes A Big Difference

The tomato used for sauce is usually a paste tomato, including a Roma or a San Marzano tomato.

The Roma tomato is popular for its rich, tangy, and slightly sweet flavor. It’s robust, intense, with mild acidity. The Roma’s texture is firm, dense, meaty, and dry.

San Marzano tomatoes are considered the classic paste tomato. They have thick red skin, dense, meaty flesh with mild acidity and sweetness that lends well to basil and oregano. San Marzano tomatoes are meatier and less watery than the Roma.

Genuine San Marzano tomatoes are grown in the rich volcanic soil of Campania and processed according to very strict standards. In 1996, the Italian government gave San Marzano tomatoes an official DOP – Denominazione d’Origine Protetta, a Protected Designation of Origin. This guarantees that a product was grown and processed in a specific place.

Example of a DOP certification label from a can of San Marzano Atomatoes.

Unfortunately, only 5% of the San Marzano canned tomatoes are authentic. So how do you distinguish the real from the counterfeits? There are a few things to look for:

  • Look for the yellow and red DOP seal on the can. Authentic cans must say “Pomodoro San Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese Nocerino’ on it. It will also have a Consorzio San Marzano certification number on the bottom of the can.
  • Authentic San Marzano tomatoes can only be processed whole or cut in half with the inner ribs removed. Pureed, diced, or sliced canned tomatoes are NOT San Marzano.
  • True San Marzano tomatoes must be packed in tomato puree and have no additional ingredients except whole basil leaves.

Ingredients Needed

  • Olive oil – don’t use your good stuff for this recipe. Everyday olive oil is perfect to sear the meat. 
  • Chuck roast
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • Italian sausage – I used sweet Italian, but if you like spice, feel free to use hot sausage. If you can’t find bulk sausage, just remove the casing before crumbling the meat into the skillet.
  • Milk – use whole milk or even half and half. This balances the acidity of the dish.
  • Onion, carrots, celery, and garlic
  • Red wine – I used Merlot, but any dry red works.
  • Beef stock
  • Canned San Marzano tomatoes
  • Tomato paste
  • Granulated sugar
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Dried basil, dried oregano, dried thyme, dried sage, dried rosemary, and dried bay leaves
  • Parmesan rind – This is optional, but I can’t stress enough how much flavor the rind adds to the sauce. Grate the cheese for serving and slide the rind into the slow cooker. When your dish is ready, fish out the rind and throw it away. 
White bowl of Braised beef ragu served over ziti and garnished with Parmesan cheese shavings. Close up view.

Steps To Make This Recipe

  1. Brown the chuck roast in olive oil.
  2. Remove the beef from the skillet and cut into large chunks.
  3. Cook the sausage in the same skillet.
  4. Pour in the milk and cook until absorbed by the sausage.
  5. Add the sausage and beef to a slow cooker.
  6. Stir in the remaining ingredients.
  7. Cook for 8 hours or until beef is fork tender.
  8. Shred beef and serve over pasta.

How To Store And Freeze Braised Beef Ragu

  • Store the sauce and pasta separately so the pasta doesn’t soak up extra moisture from the sauce, making the pasta mushy.
  • The ragu sauce will keep in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
  • To freeze the sauce: Cool the sauce completely. Spoon into airtight containers or freezer bags and store in the freezer for up to 4 months. Thaw in the refrigerator before warming.
White bowl of Braised beef ragu served over ziti and garnished with Parmesan cheese shavings. Side view.

How To Reheat Your Ragu

Stovetop: Spoon the sauce into a saucepan over medium heat. Add about ⅛-¼ cup of broth, water, or milk to thin it out. Cook, stirring often to prevent sticking, until hot.

Microwave: Spoon the sauce into a microwave-safe bowl. Thin it out with ⅛-¼ cup of water, broth, or milk. Stir to combine. Microwave on high in 30-second intervals until hot, stirring after each interval.

More Pasta Recipes To Consider


Braised Beef Ragu

Beef chuck is braised in a vegetable and tomato sauce until fork tender and shredded. Serve it over ziti or pappardelle pasta for a stick-to-your-ribs meal that your whole family will love.

  • Author: Millie Brinkley
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 8 hours
  • Total Time: 8 hours, 20 minutes
  • Yield: 8 servings 1x
  • Category: Main Dish – Beef
  • Method: Slow Cooker
  • Cuisine: Italian



4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

3 pounds chuck roast

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

1 pound bulk sweet Italian sausage

½ cup whole milk

1 large sweet onion, diced small

2 large carrots, peeled and diced into small pieces

2 stalks celery, diced

7-8 large garlic cloves, minced

1 cup dry red wine

2 cups beef stock

2 (28-ounce) cans of San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand

2 (6-ounce) cans of tomato paste

2 tablespoons granulated sugar (optional)

4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon dried basil

1 tablespoon dried oregano

2 teaspoons dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried sage

½ teaspoon dried rosemary

4 bay leaves

1 parmesan rind (optional)


Pat the chuck roast dry with paper towels and sprinkle the salt and pepper over both sides of the roast.

Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over high heat in a large skillet until shimmering.

Place the roast into the hot skillet and sear on all sides until a dark brown crust forms and the meat can be easily turned. If the meat sticks to the skillet, allow it to sear longer until it easily releases. This should take about 8 minutes in total.

Remove the roast to a cutting board.

Crumble the sausage into the hot skillet and cook, breaking up the meat with a spoon until no longer pink.

Pour the milk into the sausage and cook until the meat absorbs it-about 5 minutes. Scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the skillet as you stir the meat and sausage mixture.

Meanwhile, preheat a large slow cooker to low.

Chop the roast into thick chunks and add them to the slow cooker.

Spoon the sausage into the slow cooker with the beef.

Warm the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil in the same skillet over medium heat.

Saute the onion, celery, carrots, and garlic until the onions are translucent and the mixture is fragrant – about 7 minutes. Spoon the vegetables into the slow cooker.

Return the skillet to the heat and pour in the wine.

Stir, scraping up any browned bits until the wine boils.

Scrape the wine and browned bits into the slow cooker.

Add the remaining ingredients to the slow cooker.

Cover and cook the mixture on low for 8 hours, occasionally stirring to prevent sticking, and incorporate the ingredients.

Use a spoon to skim off any excess fat that rises to the surface.

When the meat is very tender, and the vegetables are softened, use two forks to shred the beef into the sauce.

Fish out the bay leaves and parmesan rind, if using. Discard.

To serve, cook pasta to al dente according to the package directions.

Spoon the sauce over the pasta and garnish with grated Parmesan cheese.

Keywords: braised beef ragu, Italian recipes, ragu recipes, chuck roast, San Marzano tomatoes, pasta sauce, meat sauce