Tender, fall apart, melt in your mouth beef in a rich tomato sauce, all mixed in to chunky pasta. Slow Cooker Beef Ragu is total comfort food. Cooked low and slow, this is a great family meal that freezes well, making it perfect for bulk cooking.
This slow cooker recipe might take a little more effort than some (as the beef needs searing first), but it is totally worth it. This the meal you want to come home to on a cold winter's night. A hearty sauce that is easy to adapt and you can even bulk it out with some veggies.
What is a ragu?
Traditionally, in northern Italian regions, a ragù uses minced, chopped or ground meat and is cooked with sautéed vegetables (carrot, celery and onion) in a liquid. It doesn't have to be beef - the meats may include one or more of beef, chicken, veal, pork, duck, goose, lamb, game or mutton, including their offal.
Why you will love it
- Total comfort food
- Cooked low and slow, so you can come home to it ready to eat
- You can use a cheap cut of meat, making it budget friendly
- Freezes well, making it perfect for bulk cooking
- Uses mostly cupboard staples
- Lots of different ways to serve it
- Beef - We used a beef roasting joint, which was the cheapest joint that we could find in the supermarket. The great thing about this recipe, is that you can use a cheap joint, making it a budget friendly meal. Chuck roast (called braising steak in the UK) is another good choice too. Don't worry about the joint being large when you buy it, as you will be cutting it in to 4 before searing anyway.
- Onion - This is a must in the base of the ragu and add lots of flavour. You could swap it for shallots, which will give a sweeter taste.
- Carrots - Along with the onion and celery, carrot is part of the holy trinity of Italian cooking (called Soffritto in Italian), this adds some flavour, texture and of course some nutrients. You can just use the standard orange carrots you find in the supermarket. Make sure they are finely diced. The sweetness of the carrot also helps to balance out the acidity of the tomatoes.
- Celery - This also makes up the soffritto and really adds so much flavour to the slow cooker beef ragu.
- Garlic - This recipe is garlic heavy, with 4 cloves in it, but that's the way it should be. You could crush fresh garlic, or save yourself some time and use some lazy garlic from a jar.
- Tinned tomatoes - This is what makes up the majority of the rich sauce. Try to use the best quality tinned tomatoes you can get, as you really will taste the difference. Cheap tinned tomatoes tend to be really watery and it will make a thinner sauce.
- Tomato puree - This gives the dish a more intense tomato flavour. You could swap it for a sun-dried tomato paste for something a little different.
- Beef stock - This helps to make the sauce really rich, and intensify that beef flavour.
- Dried herbs - We used basil and oregano and they are a must in this Italian dish.
A full ingredients list with measurements is in the recipe card below.
Step by step
One: Heat half the oil in a large pan and add the four pieces of beef. Sear the beef on all sides (about 3 minutes per side). Put the seared beef into the slow cooker.
Two: Heat the rest of the oil in the same pan and cook the onions, garlic, carrot and celery for 3-4 minutes. Once softened, add to the slow cooker.
Three: Add the remaining ingredients and cook on high for 5 hours or low for 8 hours.
Four: Once cooked, remove the beef from the slow cooker and finely shred using two forks.
Five: Return the shredded beef to the slow cooker and mix well.
How to adapt it
This is a fairly basic standard recipe, and there isn't a huge amount of room to change it (why mess with perfection, right?), but there are a few small changed you can make.
If you want a super rich sauce, then add some red wine to it. We left it out as we were serving it up to the kids as well, and the alcohol doesn't burn of when slow cooking like it would cooking it on the hob. Swap 100ml of the water for red wine - something like a Merlot will work.
If you want to give this slow cooker beef ragu a veggie boost, then you have a few options. Cook some mushrooms, bell pepper and courgette at the same time are the onion, carrots and celery. This isn't traditional at all, but we always like to give some options for a vegetable boost in our recipes. You could also stir in some spinach 20 minutes before everything is finished cooking.
Slow cooker recipes
Slow cookers are honestly the busy parent's best friend. Not just for parents, if you know you have a busy day and the last thing you want to when you get home is make dinner than get that slow cooker on. A little bit of prep in the morning, and then you can leave it bubbling away all day and come home to a warming and comforting dinner.
If you are looking for some more healthy slow cooker meals that the whole family will love, then check out our book The Healthy Slow Cooker.
What to serve this with?
We have served ours with pappardelle and we love it because this really thick pasta lets the sauce cling to it. You could use any other pasta, but the thicker the better as the sauce should be mixed in to it, rather than it piled on top like a bolognese.
You don't have to serve it on pasta though, as it's delicious on creamy mashed potato too, creamy polenta or mixed in to gnocchi. We have also been known to just scoop it up with some crusty bread.
The finish it off, we add a sprinkling of Parmesan and some fresh finely chopped basil.
Beef brisket, chuck roast, or a cheap beef roast joint will all work well for this recipe.
Whilst they are sometimes used interchangeably, there are subtle differences. The main one being, that a ragu is a very meat heavy sauce, and will have a higher meat to tomato ratio. Whereas a bolognese will have more tomatoes.
Technically, you don't have to sear the beef first and you could skip this step, but we really don't recommend it. Whereas with chicken dishes you can get away with not searing the meat first, it's a bit different when it comes to beef. Searing the beef before it goes in to the slow cooker caramelises the surface of the meat, which gives it a richer flavour.
It is almost impossible to overcook beef in the slow cooker, and this is a really forgiving dish when it comes to cooking time. When slow cooking, the trapped steam and direct heat is what tenderises the beef, which is why you can get away with using such a cheap cut of beef. When cooking at such a low temperature, it's hard to over cook it.
If we have the time, we would always cook on low and slow. When using a cheaper cut of meat, this allows it to get really tender and for the sauce to really intensify in flavour. You are looking for a rich sauce, and cooking it for a longer time will give you that.
Once the ragu is fully cooled, you can keep it in an air tight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. To reheat, add it to a hot pan and heat through, or you could reheat it in the microwave.
Yes, this freezes really well, making it perfect for batch cooking, as it makes 8 generous servings. Once it is cooled, portion it out in to freezer bags and then they can lay flat, stacked in the freezer. They will keep well for 3 months.
If we have any leftovers that we aren't going to freeze or serve on pasta the next day, then we use it to make lasagna. If you thought lasagna was total comfort food already, this takes it to the next level. Use the sauce in replace of the usual meat sauce you would use, for a really rich lasagna. It also makes an epic filling for a grilled cheese sandwich.
• If you are making this for children, then make sure that you don't use red wine and that you use a low salt stock.
• You can give this recipe a veggie boost by also adding some mushrooms, bell pepper and courgette and then stirring in some spinach 20 minutes before it's ready.
• Use the best quality tomatoes you can get, as you really will taste a difference in the sauce.
• Give it a taste before serving, as it might need a little extra seasoning.
More beef recipes
Slow Cooker Beef Ragu
- 1.3 kg Beef joint - cut into 4 pieces
- 2 tablespoon Olive oil
- 1 Onion - finely chopped
- 4 Garlic clove - crushed
- 2 Carrot - diced
- 2 ribs Celery - chopped
- 800 g Chopped tomatoes - canned
- 3 tablespoon Tomato puree
- 0.5 teaspoon Dried basil
- 0.5 teaspoon Dried oregano
- 150 ml Beef stock
- 1 pinch Sea salt and black pepper
- Heat half the oil in a large pan and add the four pieces of beef. Sear the beef on all sides (about 3 minutes). Put the seared beef into the slow cooker.
- Heat the rest of the oil in the same pan and cook the onions, garlic, carrot and celery for 3-4 minutes. Once softened, add to the slow cooker.
- Add the remaining ingredients and cook on high for 5 hours or low for 8 hours.
- Once cooked, remove the beef from the slow cooker and finely shred using two forks.
- Return the shredded beef to the slow cooker and mix well.
- If you are making this for children, then make sure that you don't use red wine and that you use a low salt stock.
- You can give this recipe a veggie boost by also adding some mushrooms, bell pepper and courgette and then stirring in some spinach 20 minutes before it's ready.
- Use the best quality tomatoes you can get, as you really will taste a difference in the sauce.
- Give it a taste before serving, as it might need a little extra seasoning.