Beef Ragu {Crockpot Recipe}

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Beef ragu made in the crockpot (slow cooker) and served over pappardelle pasta. Flavor packed Italian-inspired comfort food.

This is my go-to meal to serve when company is over or when I want to make a big batch of something to last for several meals throughout the week. While it does require a bit of work up front, the slow cooker does the rest of the work making the meat fall-apart tender and the sauce luxuriously smooth.

Overhead photo of a bowl of beef ragu with fresh parsley and parmesan cheese

This past summer when I shared this bruschetta recipe, I also shared a bit about our trip to Italy. One of our favorite things we did there was take a cooking class in the countryside near Siena in Le Pietre Vive Farmhouse. Our teacher, Nonna Ciana, and her translators taught us how to make an authentic 4-course Italian meal. The class was almost a full day event and in between preparing the various courses, I asked dozens of questions about all of my favorite Italian dishes and their preparation. It was amazing to learn from her and her take on Italian cuisine.

After the class, her translator sent me an email with dozens of their recipes attached. I guess I wasn’t too discreet about asking for all their cooking secrets!…

I’ve loved working my way through those recipes and today, I’m sharing a (slightly adapted) version of her Beef Ragu. I switched a few ingredients (left out the milk & pancetta; swapped in juice for wine) and adapted it to go in the slow cooker, but the general ingredients and process comes from her recipe. Thanks Nonna Cianna! <3

Overhead image of the meat being cooked for this beef ragu recipe.

So first off, let’s talk about WHAT exactly this dish is and next how to prepare it!

Ragu sauce is a meat-based sauce with tomatoes, chopped carrot, celery and onion (soffritto) and is generally made with red wine. Bolognese is a variation of Ragu. Bolognese sauce originated in Bologna, Italy and uses white wine and less tomatoes. The noodles generally differ between sauces with thicker noodles for the bolognese and thinner for Ragu.

Image of the crushed fire roasted tomatoes used in this braised beef ragu.Overhead image of the seasonings and vegetables being added to the crockpot for this beef ragu slow cooker recipe.

Tips for the perfect beef ragu:

  • Searing the beef. This really locks in the flavor and is essential to the overall amazing taste of this beef Ragu.
  • Sautéing the vegetables (carrots, celery onion, and garlic) over low heat adds so much flavor and depth to this recipe; don’t skip this step!
  • The pasta you use makes a huge difference. I LOVE pappardelle pasta in this recipe and I’ll also highly recommend DeLallo’s pappardelle pasta. (It’s perfect for this dish –not sponsored; just a fan!)
  • And while we’re talking pasta, the final step of tossing the meat with reserved pasta water and hot pasta is one of the “secrets” to Italian pastas. It’s called emulsifying and that’s how you get a luxuriously smooth sauce. More info here 🙂
  • Another big key is using good quality ingredients. The one ingredient that makes the biggest difference to this dish (IMO) is the crushed tomatoes. I’ve tried a few different brands and my all time favorite for this ragu is Muir Glen Organic fire-roasted crushed tomatoes (again not sponsored, just a fan!) You can see the picture of these tomatoes above this text.
  • Make a day ahead! See below for more info.
  • Make Ahead: I’ve made this dish quite a few times (my husband claims it to be his new favorite!) and I have found, this is the PRIME dish to make ahead of time. If you’re going to be serving company or want to meal prep for the week, cook everything in the crockpot and then store it (covered tightly) in the fridge overnight. The sauce thickens, the flavors deepen, and it makes assembling dinner the next night (or next few nights) an absolute breeze.
  • Once it’s cooked, this ragu stores well in the fridge for up to 4-5 days.
  • To freeze: check out this guide by Pinch of Yum.

Image of the pappardelle pasta that is used in this beef ragu pappardelle recipe.Repurpose this beef ragu into a different meal:

This recipe makes A LOT which is great when you’re serving it to a crowd, but if you aren’t this is the prime dish to make ahead and repurpose into a few different meals. Obviously you can make it with the pappardelle pasta for 2-3 meals, but here are some other ideas:

  • Serve it over baked potatoes, polenta, or gnocchi
  • Pile it on top of some crusty rolls, top with mozzarella cheese, and broil
  • Serve it over zucchini noodles for a low carb option

Image of the pappardelle pasta being served over the beef ragu.

Serve this beef ragu with one of the following sides:

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Beef Ragu

5 from 3 votes
Beef ragu made in the crockpot (slow cooker) and served over pappardelle pasta. 
Print Recipe

Beef Ragu

5 from 3 votes
Beef ragu made in the crockpot (slow cooker) and served over pappardelle pasta. 
Course Dinner
Cuisine Italian
Keyword beef ragu
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 7 hours
Slow Cooking Time 7 hours
Total Time 7 hours 30 minutes
Servings 8 -10 servings
Calories 318kcal
Author Chelsea, adapted from Nonna Cianna (from an Italian cooking class)

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds, 8 ounces beef chuck roast, cut into 6 large equal pieces
  • Fine sea salt and freshly cracked pepper
  • 3 and 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, separated
  • 3 cups mirepoix (diced onion, carrots, celery -- I use a cup of each)
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 cup 100% grape juice
  • 1 can (28 ounces) crushed fire-roasted tomatoes (I HIGHLY recommend Muir Glen Organic fire-roasted crushed tomatoes)
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3/4 teaspoon EACH: dried thyme, dried basil, dried oregano
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 large beef bouillon cube**
  • 3 packages (8 ounces EACH) pappardelle pasta (I recommend DeLallo's brand)
  • Reserved pasta water
  • Freshly grated parmesan cheese and finely chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Instructions

  • Place chuck roast on a cutting board and dab both sides with a paper towel. Cut the roast into 6 even pieces and generously salt and pepper all sides. I use almost a full tablespoon salt and about 1 teaspoon pepper.
  • Warm 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large Dutch oven (or oven-safe heavy-bottomed pot) over medium-high heat. Once you can feel the heat when you hold your hand 6 inches above the pot, place the roast pieces in the pot. Brown the pieces on all sides for 3 minutes TOTAL. To get a good sear don't overcrowd the meat, you can sear the meat in batches). {Don't skip this step. We are adding layers of flavor here.} Once the meat is nicely seared with a good crust, remove it from the Dutch oven and place it in your slow cooker. (Use a 5 quart or larger slow cooker).
  • Turn heat down to medium-low and add remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onion and saute for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for 30 seconds. Next, add in the carrots and celery and saute, stirring occasionally for 5-8 minutes.
  • Turn the heat up to high, add grape juice, and scrape any browned bits up. Stir and simmer for 3 minutes and then pour the juice and veggie mixture into the crockpot. While the veggies are simmering, you can add in everything else to the crockpot: the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, dried thyme, dried basil, dried oregano, bay leaves, and beef bouillon cube.
  • Cover the crockpot and cook on low heat (high is not recommended) for 6 - 8 hours (the meat is perfect right around 7-7.5 hours -- tested in both of my crockpots). Remove beef and shred with 2 forks then return to crockpot.
  • Adjust the meat sauce's seasoning to your taste with salt and pepper. Cover and place on warm OR cover and store in the fridge overnight (if you're making this ahead of time).
  • WHEN READY TO SERVE: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a tablespoon of salt and then add the pappardelle pasta* (see note). Cook according to package instructions but do NOT drain! Right before the pasta is done cooking, remove 1 cup of the pasta water.
  • Meanwhile, place about half of the meat sauce in a very large pan. Put over high heat. Once the pasta is cooked, use tongs to grab it straight from the pot and add to the pan. Toss the pasta with the meat sauce slowly adding in the reserved pasta water as needed (I'll use anywhere from 1/2 cup to the full cup). 
  • Toss everything until you've got a thick ragu that coats the pasta and the pasta water has evaporated. Serve immediately topped with fresh parsley as desired and plenty of freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Recipe Notes

*This dish makes A TON of food. I generally make it for 2 meals in a week unless I'm serving a crowd. To do so, cook half of the pasta and toss with half of the meat sauce. Reserve the rest of the (uncooked) pasta and rest of the meat sauce to prepare later on in the week. **Here are the exact beef bouillon cubes I use.

Nutrition Facts

Calories: 318kcal

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Nutrition Facts for Beef Ragu

Overhead image of the ready-to-eat beef ragu.

Beef ragu made in the crockpot (slow cooker) and served over pappardelle pasta. Delicious Italian-inspired cold weather comfort food. via chelseasmessyapron.com #crockpot #meal #recipe #easy #beef #ragu #red #meat #slow #cooker #pappardelle #pasta
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32 Comments

  1. Is the grape juice just regular purple grape juice? You talked about red wine, but I didn’t see it in the recipe. Is the juice a substitute? Thanks

    1. Right! 🙂 I use the grape juice in place of wine which is what a traditional ragu uses. You can use red wine if you’d like instead. Otherwise, yes, just plain 100% grape juice (purple)

    2. 5 stars
      I made this for my family when both grown children & their others visited us at the same time in February. HUGE SUCCESS! Thank you! Love your recipes.

  2. Holy moly this look absolutely fabulous. I need to make this and have my whole family over.
    Quick question…..I didn’t see what kind of beef bouillon you use. Thanks so much for posting this. Can’t wait to make it.

  3. Hi Chelsea,
    I cannot figure out why you would remove the pancetta from the recipe?!? But I can just add that back easily. The milk, however, is more of a mystery to me. Where would the milk have gone in?

    1. Hey Amy!! Just to make the recipe a little easier/more accessible, but yes easy to add it in!

      As far as the milk, even on her written recipe, it is written as an optional add in. (Since I adapted this for the crockpot, the milk didn’t make a lot of sense) Here’s directly from her recipe: (1 cup milk, optional) “If using bring milk to a simmer in a small saucepan; gradually add to sauce. Cover sauce with lid slightly ajar and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until milk is absorbed, about 45 minutes, adding more stock by 1/4-cupfuls to thin if needed. NOTE: The use of milk in this recipe is by no means universal but some of the oldest versions from Bologna do use it so you might like to try it”

    1. Are you able to find Tagliatelle noodles? Otherwise I think fettuccini is your next best bet 🙂 Enjoy!

  4. 5 stars
    This is most fabulous dish! I’ve served it twice now for a fundraiser dinner and got rave reviews! Perfect instructions and WOW!

    1. Hey Maryjo! I am working through the lasagna recipe that was shared; here are a few others that were adapted from the class: and
      Enjoy!

  5. Have the Ragu in the crock pot. I got fire roasted tomatoes, but didn’t see the word salsa style until I opened the 1st can. Gonna taste a little Tex Mex!

  6. 5 stars
    This recipe is ???? thank you Chelsea! I did deviate slightly and added some cayenne. I didn’t have grape juice so I used red wine and added a little jelly. But this is now a family recipe. Thank you so much for sharing!

  7. I was wondering if you could use beef broth instead of the beef bullion cube??
    Thanks – can’t wait to make this dish!!

  8. Hi! Is it possible to cook the meat in a pressure cooker instead? If you have tried it, how long and what setting would I need to set to cook it?

    1. I’m sure that would work great; unfortunately I can’t give the exact recommendation for doing that since I haven’t personally tried, but hopefully someone else can chime in here! Wish I could be of more help!

  9. Hi. This is a great recipe that I’ve made once before. Thanks for sharing the recipe. I will be making it again am questioning the amount of beef. Is it 2 pounds 8 ounces? Or, is it really 2.8 pounds?

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