Slow Cooker Sunday Sauce (that will feed a crowd!)

6 Reviews / 5 Average
This slow cooker Sunday Sauce is a hearty, delicious crowd pleaser. There is just no other way to describe it! Add in prepared meatballs, pork ribs, and sausage for a tasty dinner that also freezes well to enjoy on a busy weeknight.
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Slow Cooker Sunday Sauce from 100 Days of Real Food #realfood #slowcooker

I was first introduced to this style of spaghetti sauce by our old babysitter, Kim, long ago when we lived in Florida and I was working full time for corporate America. While the baby (who is now 8 going on 9!) was napping and I was working, Kim would start or sometimes even make our dinner for us. And with our work schedules back then, her extra help with dinner was such a life saver at times. Granted, at that time in our lives, the meat wasn’t local and the tomatoes weren’t organic and the pasta definitely wasn’t whole-grain, BUT it was still a somewhat wholesome meal I very much enjoyed and remember to this day.

And thanks to a similar dish made by my friend Trang and a “Super Sunday Sauce” recipe I found in Rachael Ray Magazine, I was able to piece together how Kim made this for us, plus – added bonus – turn it into a dish that can simmer all day long in the slow cooker!

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95 thoughts on “Slow Cooker Sunday Sauce (that will feed a crowd!)”

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Recipe Rating

  1. Never have seen grain fed meatballs. Can someone give me a brand? Also, I don’t do anything with ribs, so I would substitute another meat for that as well as Italian turkey sausage for the regular sausage. Other ingredients seem pretty straightforward.

  2. I think this recipe sounds like it is very tasty. It seems hard to justify the cost of using 3 pounds of meat for one dish. It seems like a food budget buster.

    1. I think the whole idea behind “Sunday Sauce” was a way to use leftovers. I am sure you could just use whatever meats you had or could find on clearance and it would be just as good.

  3. 5 stars
    I have been following your blog for years and bought the book a couple of weeks ago. We love all of the recipes from the book so far (so easy!). I have made your homemade red sauce a couple of times and today I am tackling this one – hoping it is just a delicious as the others. Thank you for making eating and cooking whole foods easy for this two working parent household with a toddler and another on the way!!

  4. Just curious, do I have to step #1? Because if it sits in the crockpot all day, doesn’t it get cooked through? Sorry, I’m super lazy. :D

  5. Would beef stew meat work in place of the meatballs? I’m making this for someone who doesn’t like the texture of ground beef.

  6. 5 stars
    Lisa, your slow cook Sunday sauce is amazing, made your tried and true meatballs too! Can you please provide nutrition information for it? I had it over spaghetti squash and had to go back for seconds. :)

  7. I know meat shreds in the crock pot which is great for the pork but does the meatballs stay whole or do the break apart also thank you

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Megan. I use large wide mouthed mason jars. Be sure you leave room for expansion. ~Amy

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Beth. We’ve not tried this with vine ripe tomatoes. This (from might help:
      One 28-ounce can of tomatoes equals about 10 to 12 whole tomatoes, peeled (or about 2 pounds)
      One 14-1/2-ounce can of tomatoes equals 5 to 6 whole tomatoes, peeled (or about 1 pound).

      1. Can I just say how much in love that you guys actually respond to questions. And pretty darn prompt too. Thx so much. Trying it tomorrow.

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hello. I imagine you could though that is obviously losing a rather large ingredient portion of the recipe. It is not something we’ve tried. You might go heavy on the meatballs. ;) ~Amy

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Marissa. We have not tried cooking this one on low in the crock pot. However, similar recipes suggest cooking on low for 7-8 hours. ~Amy

  8. Do you suggest pulling and shredding the pork off the bone? I’m assuming the meatballs and sausage can be served as is just didn’t know about the ribs thank you!

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hello. The pork is falling off the bone by the time it is finished cooking. It will be mostly separated. :) ~Amy

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Fiona. If you were posing this question to someone who commented here, you need to click reply under that particular comment. ~Amy

      1. I was referring to the Facebook post from Tuesday in which “100 days of real food” shared this recipe and said they had used venison.

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi there. Lisa used all three. Just take a look at the cooking instructions on the recipe under the ingredients. :) ~Amy

  9. What is your feeling on organic beef vs. non-organic grass fed. I don’t have easy access to organic-grass fed on a daily basis… Am I still doing right by my family by at least buying organic beef?!?
    Going to make my next Sunday sauce in the crock pot instead of stove top (traditional Italian way)

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Catherine. Organic grass fed is the best of the best for many reasons but organic is certainly much better than non-organic. There are some quality standards there, anyway. You can ask your grocer to stock grass fed. They may accommodate though it is unlikely to be local. Also, check out and you might find a farmer in your area and this might allow you to occasionally stock up. :) ~Amy

    2. If your buying direct from a farmer you can ask how they raise their livestock. Many times small local farms have chosen not to add the extra expense of organic certification to thee food prices and so cannot legally advertise it as organic. But I’ve found that in talking to the farmers I buy from the ‘non-organic’ grass fed meat is quite often organic without the increased expense of certification.

  10. I have been hearing about canned tomatoes having effects on our health, is there another option to buying canned tomatoes?

  11. 5 stars
    This is fantastic. I’m a slow cooker newbie and love this. My daughter loved the meatballs. I served over crispy roasted polenta with sauteed kale. Lovely winter comfort meal.

  12. Are canned foods considered “real food”? With the BPA lining, and added ingredients I don’t like to use them. What’s the difference of subbing actual organic tomatoes?

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Valerie. You could use BPA-free canned tomatoes (like Eden Organic) or you can find them in boxed or jarred forms, as well. You can always make your own, especially during prime tomato season and you can can them yourself, too. Buying them prepared or having them canned in your pantry definitely cuts down on your meal prep time. :) ~Amy

  13. I made this over the weekend and it was delicious!! What is your policy about posting this recipe on my blog (with a link to your original post, of course) with some of my own pictures? I’d love to share this with my friends and family through my blog. Thanks!!

  14. This was amazing!!! Made this last night and my VERY picky family loved it. Will be making this MANY more times!!!! Thank you!

  15. Does this sauce freeze well? Have you tried spooning it over cooked pasta and baking in oven to reheat like with ziti?

    1. I make and freeze this all the time! Since it’s just the hubby and I. I just sear the meat (Different every time because I just grab what is on sale at store that day)throw it all in the crock and cook all day (Tip:don’t over cook or you will have shredded meat, which will still work for sandwiches or spaghetti sauce:)) . That night I pack and label different meats and label and freeze. Thaws easy in fridge over night or in Micro in a jiffy.

  16. I would like to start the sauce the night before and turn on the crock pot in the morning. I would also brown the meat but not cook all of the way through. Is browning and then leaving in the frig overnight ok?

  17. I noticed that your recipe includes canned tomatoes. I use them in my sauce too but I have been looking into switching to jars– just wondering if you had any thoughts about this and if so, any recommendations on where to find relatively reasonably priced jars. Thanks!

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Jen. While I’m not certain of the price, Pom has tomatoes in card board cartons that are quite good. Jovial is a brand of organic jarred tomatoes that is fairly easy to find. ~Amy

  18. Maybe the sausage and meatballs add flavor but this seems woefully under seasoned to me. I usually use about 2 tbsp of dried Italian seasonings in my bolognese. (Quick tip to sweeten the sauce naturally and cut the acidity: mince 2 to 3 carrots and saute with the onions at the beginning then add a splash of cream right before serving.) Anyway back to the seasonings, I’ve noticed a lot of the recipes here are light on spices is that a personal preference or a real food rule?

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Veronica. It is not a real food rule. :) You are welcome to turn up the seasonings on any recipe. ~Amy

  19. Recipe without meat. From my mother…born and raised in Italy. They dont measure…so i did my best!!! Add approx 1/2 cup olive oil to saucepan set to medium. While the olive oil gets warm, take 2 28 ounce cans of whole tomatoes and put one can at a time in the blender for about 30 sec. set aside
    Add 3-4 minced garlic cloves (more or less to taste) to the saucepan. let the garlic cook for about 1-2 minutes…dont let it burn or it will turn your sauce bitter. Add the blended tomatoes, salt to taste, black pepper, and for a kick red pepper…all to taste. once the sauce starts to boil, turn down the temp to let it simmer. Stir in 1/4 cup of chopped basil. Simmer for about an hour. Now keep in mind all tomatoes are not created equal. Some brands you will need more salt added, others you will need less salt.

  20. I made this yesterday and it was fantastic!! I found the sauce to be slightly watery, so I think next time I might omit the juices from the diced tomatoes. This will definitely be one of my “go-to” recipes for fall and winter weekend dinners!

    1. To thicken the sauce you could add some tomatoe paste or part way through the cooking move the lid of the crock pot slightly off so the steam can escape which will reduce the sauce to a thicker consistency. I do this when I make my apple butter ( which cooks all night in the crock pot). Once the pot is bubbling away just shift the lid a bit and keep cooking.

  21. I just LOVE easy dinners that can sit in the slow cooker all today. I often don’t get off work until 9pm so I’m just too tired to cook when I get home. I have to always make it a goal to put something on before I leave for the day… this is perfect! Thanks!

  22. Glass jarred, boxed or BPA-free canned tomatoes preferred. Acid in canned tomatoes eats away at the can lining and BPA ends up in your food.

  23. This looks good, but here is my two cents: I would definitely add some dried Italian seasoning to this (dried since it is going in the crock pot…fresh basil and/or parsley can be added near the end before serving for a nice touch or if you were making it on the stove). And, since I am a native New Yorker from an Italian neighborhood, I would definitely serve it with freshly grated parmigiano reggiano or romano cheese on top!! Yum!
    Thank you for your site! I love it! Mangia! :)

  24. 5 stars
    This looks delicious and close to something I make. I don’t do meatballs anymore….I do add italian flat leaf parsley…but I did want to comment on your bowls. I have the same ones and love them and everything looks so much better in them!!! And if I use my jarred tomatoes in the sauce I do add some sugar because I add lemon juice as a precaution. Thanks for your site…and enjoy Disney.

  25. This looks delicious (though I don’t eat red meat). But I do need to take issue with your remarks about babysitters “sitting around” when being paid by the hour. I was a babysitter of many, many years before I became a parent, and it was always understood – by me, my clients, other babysitters I knew – that the sitter’s job was to watch the kids, period. Housework and cooking are separate tasks, and while on occasion I would clean up a bit or take care of some dishes, those tasks were not part of my job description and shouldn’t have been, naps or no naps. Housework and cooking are extras and the sitter should be compensated for them separately if s/he’s going to be expected to do them! Obviously it’s different if the sitter, like yours, decides on her own initiative to do something like this. But I try to be very respectful of my sitters and what I *am* asking them to do, which is take on one very specific and very important household duty. So I do object to your claim that being paid by the hour means the sitter’s job description is infinitely malleable. Sorry – I know this wasn’t at all the point of your post.

    1. Anne, I knew someone would address that very issue and I’m glad you did it in such a respectful way! I work a 10 hour day, 5 days/week, and trust me….nap time, when it comes, is definitely a time for me to sit down & recharge!

    2. Anne,

      Thank you so much for addressing this so respectfully. That is a big issue in the babysitting/nanny world, and that way of thinking contributes to many workers being taken advantage of. I was disappointed to see the way Lisa approached this, and I appreciate your take on it.

    3. FIrst of all, I had no idea this was an issue in the world of babysitting. And secondly, I should definitely clarify that the job description for our sitter (who was really more of a nanny) stated that cooking some meals (as well as some other household duties that we agreed upon) was totally part of the gig. I had one 2-year-old child at the time who would nap for 2 or 3 hours each day. I appreciate everyone’s comments here, but I still think that is an awfully long “break” to not be doing anything extra while you are being paid by the hour – but again that is just my personal opinion. By comparison, when people work in retail (and are paid by the hour) they are working the entire time.
      I also babysat quite frequently growing up and in the evenings after the kids were in bed I always took the initiative to empty the clean dishes out of the dishwasher and clean up whatever needed obvious attention. And then I would still have hours to sit around before the parents came home late at night. Once again – totally my opinion here and I am sticking to it! But as Anne mentioned the point of this post is about the food…not my arrangement with my old babysitter :)

      1. Lisa, if it was about the food only and not your arrangement with your baby sitter, why did you put it in your post? The comment about how you don’t accept sitting around while paying somebody by the hour was totally unnecessary and misplaced and you shouldn’t be surprised that people are reacting to it.

        BTW, as good as every job comes with some down time – some more and some less. For instance, I am working as a rock climbing instructor on the side and when it is raining my clients still have to pay me full rate although I am frequently not working much on those days. And I don’t feel the need to do my clients’ dishes instead ;-) Concerning baby sitters, I pay a base rate for baby sitting only and for additional work during nap time I pay extra.

    4. I have also slightly modified the intro above because it was not my intention to offend anyone, but to share a good recipe we learned from our sitter. Thanks for your feedback.

      1. I think you hit the nail on the head with it being in the job description.

        We also have a sitter who (if she has time) gets dinner started for us. She still takes “lunch” hour, and it’s understood that she has time to call her husband and chat throughout the day, or make a few personal calls. But she finds time somehow to help with that about 70% of the days. I write on the calendar the meal plans and she can get something prepped, marinated, or chopped. I think it’s a reasonable ask with a full time nanny (esp. when kids are napping 2-3 hours a day) as long as expectations are clear. I get ~1 hour lunch at my job, so about an hour break throughout the day is about what I assume the sitter takes. The fact she loves to cook and knows how to cook (from scratch, not boxed food) was part of the hiring decision for sure!

        And I have a few recipes I have learned from her as well, that may even end up on my blog. :)

  26. This looks amazing! @Julie – my mother in law uses carrots to add sweetness. That might work for you so you don’t need to add sugar. PS – We are very Italian, so her sauce is amazing!

  27. I’m wondering the same thing as Laura. I use my crock pot all the time and have never *cooked the meat all the way through* – only just brown it enough to give it some flavor and then let the crock pot do the rest. 5-6 hours on High in a crock pot should cook those ribs (and esp. meatballs and sausage) for you rather than taking the extra time at the stove. Sounds like a delicious recipe which I am going to try soon. I think I will try just browning the meat and see where I end up. If I was going to cook the meat all the way through on the stove, I think I would just finish it on the stove top as well (ie, brown in a stock pot rather than a skillet and then add the sauce etc and let it simmer on the stove for an hour or so…).

    1. Kristen – This is how it was done in the recipe I wanted to adapt, but I think you’ll get a similar outcome if you prefer to just sear the meat instead. Good luck!

  28. I noticed that there was no sugar added. Most recipes add sugar to cut the acidity of the tomatoes. I would love to omit sugar like you have. I would love your thoughts.

  29. This is very similar to how my Italian grandmother makes her “suca” minus the crockpot. :) I am definitely going to try this! Thanks Lisa!

  30. If you throw the tomato sauce in the skillet while it is still hot, then scrape it into the crock pot, you can get all the yummy fond from the pan to flavor your sauce. I do not cook my meat thoroughly before I put it in the crock pot. This inspired me to do this on Sunday. It is very similar to the recipe that was taught to my by an old boyfriends Italian grandma. Instead of ribs she had me use UNsmoked pork hocks and I love the tender meat that come from that. They are hard to find though, so your suggestion of the country ribs is a great idea. She always took the sausage out of the casings after cooking, smashed it up and used it for lasagne. She had a family tradition, taught to her, to remove the fennel seeds from the sausage then because someone had deemed them good for flavoring but unfit for eating in the lasagne. So the generations continued to remove the fennel seeds. Funny.

  31. I am always looking for crock pot recipes, thanks for sharing.

    Just to confirm – you full cook all the meat all the way through BEFORE putting it in the crock pot? See, I find that interesting – I was thinking maybe you could just brown it on all sides in the pan, and then let the slow cooker do the rest?

    With my meatballs I typically just brown them on all sides in a pan, then add the sauce on top and let them simmer for 20-30 mins to finish cooking through. I’m wondering if I could do that in this case (only 5-6 hours in crockpot instead of 20 mins stovetop). Have you played around with this?

    1. I did fully cook the meat (again I was adapting it from a non-crock pot recipe), but I think it would still have a similar outcome if you just wanted to sear it instead!

      1. I already have meatballs cooked and frozen. Can I add those to warm through with the meat, or do they need to be uncooked and browned with the other meat?

      2. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

        Hi Lori. I would thaw them completely and add them after you have also browned your meat. ~Amy