Slow Cooker Bolognese - adapted from Cook's Illustrated
not great photos but this cook's illustrated bolognese is to die for!

I’m a huge fan of is a Bolognese.  Deep, rich, winey, this meat-based sauce is out of this world fantastic. Tossed with a simple pasta or layered into Lasagna Bolognese? Heaven!

Slow Cooker Bolognese - adapted from Cook's Illustrated
Slow Cooker Bolognese – the sauce is very flavorful – a little goes a long way!

Bolognese is made from the simplest of ingredients, but the problem? It needs to simmer forever, lovingly tended, and ain’t nobody got time for that. 🙂 I’ve been making Cook’s Country Bolognese for years. Recently, though, I read a post by Kenji from Serious Eats, and wondered, “Is my Bolognese all it could be?”

I started tinkering with my Cook’s recipe, and in the end settled on just a touch of gelatine. It adds a silkiness that I found missing when I use the less expensive ground pork & beef in this recipe rather than veal.

As far as tinkering goes, sometimes I start this recipe by rendering a little pancetta, which is a pricey ingredient, but adds such flavor. Other times I may use just a bit of bacon fat* for a little added flavor instead of the butter. Now and then, I’ll add just the faintest whisper of freshly grated nutmeg.

Slow Cooker Bolognese - adapted from Cook's Illustrated
Slow Cooker Bolognese – the sauce is very flavorful – a little goes a long way!

Speaking of price, if you’re frugal, you’ll probably be thinking this recipe might put you into sticker shock. If you dress your pasta lightly, as they do in Italy (and this is very flavorful, so a little goes a long way) you can serve a meal with pasta, freeze a bit for another night and use the rest for Lasagna. If you’re having a big dinner party, this is a fantastic budget dish!

Of course, for a special dish like this, you’ll want some good Parmesan, great noodles (believe it or not, egg noodles catch the sauce beautifully!) and probably a glass or two of wine! And don’t forget the vegetables! Lovely broccoli, broccolini, or chard and a salad would be beautiful.

I’ve noticed, in my search for the ultimate Bolognese, a few common complaints about the Cook’s recipe. A few hints that might help:

  • Don’t try to make this in a small crock pot – it won’t all fit and won’t reduce properly.
  • When the recipe is started, place the lid on the crockpot and preheat on high.
  • Simmer the Bolognese after adding the milk until all noticeable liquid has evaporated, except for a little fat.
  • Bring the mixture to a vigorous boil after adding in the rest of ingredients.
  • Quickly add the hot sauce to the crock pot, lid it immediately and wait for the sauce to come to a boil before removing the lid.

Seven or eight hours later, you’ll be richly rewarded.

Slow Cooker Bolognese - adapted from Cook's Illustrated
Slow Cooker Bolognese – adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

Slow-Cooker Bolognese

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 large onion, finely minced (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 2 carrots, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 4 stalks celery, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 4 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 4 teaspoons)
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 3 lbs meatloaf mix, or 1½ pounds each of ground chuck and ground pork
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 1/4 cup whole milk (2% works well, too)
  • 1/4 cup parsley
  • Good pinch sage
  • 1  packet powdered gelatin
  • 3 cups dry white wine
  • 1 (28-oz) cans whole tomatoes, pulsed in blender until smooth
  • 1 grating of fresh nutmeg (optional)

Heat butter in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until foaming. Add onion, carrot, and celery and cook until softened but not colored, about 6 minutes. Add garlic and tomato paste and cook until fragrant and slightly browned, about 1 minute.

Add meat, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper and cook, breaking up meat, until crumbled into tiny pieces and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. A potato masher works well for this.

Note: Although the original recipe does not call for it, I like to drain some of the fat from the ground beef.

Add milk, bring to vigorous simmer, and cook until milk evaporates and only clear fat remains, 10 to 15 minutes. Add gelatin, wine, tomatoes, sage and parsley. Add nutmeg if using. Cover and bring to boil. Transfer mixture to slow cooker, cover, set temperature to high, and bring to boil, about six to seven minutes.

Once mixture comes to boil, remove lid and simmer until sauce is very thick,  7 to 8 hours. Season with salt and pepper to taste, if desired add a grating of nutmeg.

To serve, cook and drain pasta, reserving a little of the pasta water. Allowing about 1/2 cup of the sauce and desired portion of pasta, toss the sauce and pasta together. Add a bit of the pasta water if mixture needs to be moistened.

Reheat Left overs: This mixture will thicken and gel a bit in the fridge, making it easy for family members to miscalculate a serving – reheat with a little water, stove-top or microwave, then portion.

Make Ahead: This recipe can be partially made the night before so that it’s ready to place in the slow cooker in the morning. The next morning, bring the mixture back to a boil, transfer it to the slow cooker, and proceed as directed.

Additional Hints:

  • Because steam rises from the sauce as it cooks, make sure there is nothing over your crockpot, like a cabinet, when you use it.
  • If you’re commuting and working full-time, you may be away more than seven to eight hours. Cover the crock pot partially with a lid and the evaporation will slow, buying you more time.
  • If the mixture still seems too soupy when you’re ready to serve, put back in a pan and simmer vigorously, stirring often, to quickly reduce.
  • Freezes well. Cover the top with a plastic wrap, then lid.

from the kitchen of

Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:

  • Read {Strategies Applied} for additional tips, as well as throughout the recipe, for saving money/time and managing this recipe on a budget.
  • Follow my 12 Strategies – You’ll see them on the upper drop down menu of every page and how I apply them, below.
  • Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
  • Use a coupon matching site! One of my favorites in my area is Pocket Your Dollars, but every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings! I check their site every week, even if I don’t “need” to go to the store and often find bargains I can’t pass up.


Based on 12 servings w/o pasta: calories 297; tot fat 15g; sat fat 7g; mono 1g; trans 1g; chol 82mg; sod 379mg; pot 383mg; carb 8g; fib 2g; sug 5g; prot 24g; vit a 42%; vit c 23%; calc 6%; iron 17%

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18 Comments on “Slow Cooker Bolognese

  1. Never thought of using my slow cooker without the lid. Your bolognese sounds good with the addition of sage.

    • Those Cook’s Illustrated/Cook’s Country people are responsible for that “innovation!” I wouldn’t have thought of it, either! 🙂

  2. The slow cooker is at it again! Love this idea and that you use nutmeg in it (my secret chicken noodle soup ingredient). Sometimes I like to add fennel seeds to my bolognese for added depth of flavor, too.

    • Thanks! Very interesting about the soup – I like Marjoram in mine (and lots of pepper) but I’ll have to try the nutmeg next batch. I love Fennel seed, fennel, itself, not so much! Funny huh!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting! 🙂

  3. What a great idea, slow cooker bolognese sauce, I will try it just tonight for our dinner. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I’m only sad I have but one “like” to give. This is all of my favorite things, in my favorite kitchen utensil.

  5. A good bolognese sauce can’t be beat. I don’t have a slow cooker but I’m sure my Dutch oven and low slow heat would be a great way to simmer it for a long time.

      • I think there are probably recipes out there that aren’t QUITE so hands on. I don’t see myself adding gelatin to my sauce though I wouldn’t mind a splash or two of wine … red or otherwise.

        By the way, I’m a firm believe in keeping a jar of bacon fat in my fridge. I’m out right now but I have about 4 cups of duck fat.

        • I was surprised at the gelatin, but I’ve seen (although not tried) gelatin added to Cook’s Illustrated Meat Loaf – gelatin is basically what is made from bones and gives broth it’s thickness – I was surprised at how much I liked just this little bit.

          Duck fat is a beautiful thing! 🙂

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