Grandma’s Sunday Meatballs and Sauce

Grandma’s Sunday Meatballs and Sauce is the ultimate Sunday night dinner. This recipe cooks for hours so your house smells amazing by dinner time!

We love making comfort food dinners like this meatball and sauce recipe! If you’re looking for more comfort food recipes like this try our Beefy French Onion Soup or our Beer Braised Lamb Shanks or this Turkey Tetrazzini!

Grandma's Sunday Meatballs and Sauce in a bowl from the top

Meatballs And Gravy or Sauce?

Italian Sunday gravy, Sunday sauce, gravy…sauce. Whatever name you call it, this is the epitome of Sunday dinner in my family.

And nope, there aren’t any short cuts with this Italian meatball recipe.

This is an old school, authentic recipe for sauce and meatballs that cooks low and slow pretty much all afternoon just like my Grandma used to do.

When we talk about our Grandma, we really mean a collective group of them. It was my Grandma, my Aunt and three great Aunts that all lived together in an apartment building.

They lived on separate floors but they were always together, cooking and eating.

That’s pretty much what they did. Cook and eat.

Grandma's Sunday Meatballs and Sauce on a board from the top

Can you imagine that life? What’s for dinner tonight guys? Ok lets throw together some homemade chicken and pastina soup, some meatballs and sauce and oh hey – how about a pot roast on the side?

Those are my people. I was definitely born at the wrong time.

My dad used to take us downtown to visit them pretty often, I’d say at least once a week or every couple of weeks – a lot of times on Sundays.

They’d make Sunday dinner that started in the early afternoon and it kept going until way after dinner time.

All of the above mentioned foods were on the dinner list too, so you’re talking at least three different MAIN courses, not to mention all the side dishes that were served too.

Grandma's Sunday Meatballs and Sauce in a bowl from the front

These days when we do a Sunday dinner, I usually keep it to one main course like this Grandma’s Sunday Meatballs and Sauce.

Because I have lost my ability to sit down and eat for an entire afternoon.

This recipe is enough on its own to feed an army of people so it’s perfect for a large family dinner or a party.

And I mean, this meatball recipe has a LOT of meat going on. You’ve got the meatballs, then you have the delicious pork neck bones that literally fall apart into the sauce and a few links of sausage.

How To Make The Best Meatballs

To get the best meatball for spaghetti and meatballs, you want a soft meatball but still firm enough to hold together. This takes just the right amount of meat to breadcrumb to egg ratio.

And these meatballs are it.

Grandma's Sunday Meatballs and Sauce - meatballs on the tray

Once you get the meatball ingredients mixed together roll them into large balls and get them on a sheet pan to bake in the oven…

Just where they start out, then they finish cooking in the sauce.

Do You Cook These Meatballs Right In The Sauce?

For this meatball and sauce recipe they start in the oven, even though some authentic Italian meatball recipes will add the raw meatballs right into the sauce.

Totally not opposed to cooking them that way but if you want a pretty plate of spaghetti and meatballs without the meatballs all broken apart I like to start them in the oven.

Then the meatballs finish off cooking in the sauce to get them soft and full of flavor.

It sounds like a lot of steps, because it is, but trust me in that you don’t want to leave anything out here. If you can’t find pork neck bones (they’re in the butcher department at my regular grocery store) you can use pork spare ribs instead.

Grandma's Sunday Meatballs and Sauce - pork bones

How Do You Serve This Meatball and Sauce Recipe?

When we serve Grandma’s Sunday Meatballs and Sauce, I like to put everything in its own bowl. So the meatballs go in one bowl, the pork bones in another bowl and the sausage in another bowl.

Grandma's Sunday Meatballs and Sauce - sauce cooking

Then we serve a huge bowl of spaghetti tossed with the sauce and a bowl of extra sauce on the side. With the addition of a couple bowls of sliced Italian bread – I’m telling you it barely fits on our dining room table!

I do like serving a giant Caesar Salad with this dinner to balance out the heaviness of the meal. Not that a caesar salad is light in any way but at least you’ve got some crunchy greens going on.

Finally, if there’s room you can fry up some homemade fried zeppoles for dessert. Even if you’re full, throw them on the table anyway.

Italian people will probably eat them no matter how full they are.

Try this meatball recipe for your next family dinner and maybe you’ll start a new tradition of your own!

Grandma's Sunday Meatballs and Sauce close up in a white bowl with bread

Looking For More Meatball Recipes?


Homemade Meatballs and sauce recipe for spaghetti


Grandma's Sunday Meatballs and Sauce in a bowl from the top

Grandma’s Sunday Meatballs and Sauce

  • Author: Christie
  • Prep Time: 1 hour
  • Cook Time: 4 hours
  • Total Time: 5 hours
  • Yield: 12 servings 1x

Grandma’s Sunday Meatballs and Sauce is the ultimate Sunday dinner recipe! These slow cooked meatballs in sauce will take you right back to your childhood!



For the Sauce

1/4 cup olive oil

2 pounds pork neck bones (you can substitute pork spare ribs)

1 pound Italian sausage (sweet or spicy or a mixture of both) each link cut into thirds

2 cups diced onions

2 teaspoons salt

2 tablespoons garlic, chopped (about 4 cloves)

3/4 cup red wine

1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste

2 (28 ounce) cans crushed tomatoes

2 (28 ounce) cans tomato puree

1 can water

2 teaspoons dried basil

1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

For the Meatballs

1/3 cup olive oil

2 cups finely diced onions

2 tablespoons chopped garlic

4 pounds meatloaf mix (a mixture of beef, pork and veal)

4 eggs, beaten

2 cups fresh breadcrumbs soaked with 1/2 cup milk for 15 minutes (squeeze out the excess milk before adding to the meatballs)

1 1/2 cups grated parmesan cheese

2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper

1 cup chopped parsley

1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano

1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Start making the meatballs first by adding the olive oil to a large skillet over medium low heat.

Add the onions and cook for 15 minutes until very soft, stirring often.

Next add the garlic and cook for another 2-3 minutes, being careful not to burn the garlic. Turn the heat off and let cool.

Add the meatloaf mix, eggs, the soaked bread crumbs (squeezed out), parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, parsley, oregano and basil and cooled onions and garlic to a large bowl.

Mix well until all the ingredients are combined then make a small meatball with the mixture and fry it up in the same skillet you used to cook the onions to test for seasonings.

Adjust seasonings if needed then start to form the meatballs. (I like to make the meatballs an extra large golf ball size, about 2 inches in diameter but you can make them as big as you like)

Place the meatballs on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. The meatballs don’t have to be cooked all the way through as they’ll finish cooking in the sauce.

While the meatballs are in the oven you can start the sauce by adding the oil to a large sauce pot over medium heat.

Add the pork bones and cook for 15 minutes, turning so the bones brown on both sides then remove from the pot.

Next add the sausage and brown on all sides, about 7-8 minutes, then remove from the pot.

Add the onions to the pot and cook for 15 minutes, stirring, until softened.

Next add the garlic and salt, stir and cook for 2-3 minutes more.

Now pour in the red wine to deglaze the pot, scraping the bottom with a spoon as the wine cooks down, about 3-4 minutes.

Add the tomato paste to the pot, breaking up and stirring into the onions. Then pour in the crushed tomatoes, the tomato puree and a can of water from one of the empty tomato cans.

Add the oregano, basil, salt and pepper to the sauce and stir.

Add the cooked meatballs, sausage and pork bones to the sauce and bring to a simmer.

Partially cover the pot with a lid, stirring occasionally for 3-4 hours or even longer if you have time.

To serve, remove the meatballs and sausage from the sauce and place in a serving bowl. Remove the pork bones and either shred the meat and add back to the sauce or serve the pork bones in a serving bowl on the side.

  • Cuisine: Italian



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95 Responses
  1. MaRgie

    Oh!! Thank you times one hundred!
    This is my mom’s recipe, also, which had been lost!
    I have mourned its absence all the years since my mom passed away and I could not ask her for it, obviously.
    You have brought me back a treasure and I can’t thank you enough!
    P.S. My family was also in Chicago and you described our Sunday meal ritual to a “T”… God bless the Midwesterners!
    Thank you again so, so much!!❤️????

    1. Dan

      Yes! I’m so excited to hear that! We loved that Sunday dinner tradition so much, it seems that everyone is so much busier these days so when it does happen it’s so special!

  2. gina

    Thank you so much for the visit back to my childhood. Im from Philadelphia and my adopted Italian family had Sunday dinner every week with the tables stretched into the. Livingg room and Sunday “gravy” was the star of the show but with bracciole also. I can still smell everything cooking. Life is too fast and full now for many people to often take the time for family. Im old school and still cook like that however. And wouldn’t have it any
    other way

    1. Savana

      I am rating by reading recipe. I know this will take me back to our family’s Sunday dinner. I am making this this weekend for an italian potluck dinner this Sunday afternoon. I can just tell as my mouth is salivating that this will be out of this world. Someone is making lasagna and another a huge Cesar salad. Will write and let you know my results. Have you ever made a day earlier and reheated the next day?

      1. Dan

        Oh yes, definitely. Even two days ahead! Yes please let me know how it turns out for you and make sure you have at least at 12 quart pot!

  3. Nancy

    I, too, had lost this recipe and so happy you posted this. However, I found the prep time twice as long. I had to use the pork spare ribs and I was not comfortable with 2lbs so I didn’t use all of them. Next time ill use more sausage meat. Also, what size pot do you use? I had a 10 quart Dutch oven and I had to leave some meat out because the sauce started spilling out. In the end it was absolutely delicious.

    1. Dan

      Nancy, I put a link in the post. I use a 12 quart stock pot, you do need a big one! The pork neck bones aren’t as big and don’t have as much meat on them as a spare ribs so I can see where they would take up more space. I’m so glad you liked the recipe!

  4. Linda

    That was my style of eating wayyyyyyyyyyyyy back when. Now I’m like you, 1 dish main courses and a salad. Boring, huh? It would have been fun to be in the kitchen and cook with your family! That’s where we learn the best.

    Thanks for sharing.
    Wishes for tasty dishes,

    1. Dan

      I wish we could all go back! We learned some great things from our relatives…a lot food related! Thanks for sharing with us!

  5. Janis

    Made this on a snowy, sleety day when we were anticipating that the power would go out (it has not yet). The sauce is simmering on top of the woodstove right now. I had to use what I had on hand since we were snowed in, which means ground venison and pork sausage meatballs and home canned tomatoes from our garden and dried herbs rather than fresh. I didn’t have neck bones or ribs, so we used the fatty ends of a package of bacon. As someone else commented, this recipe is very forgiving and adaptable. The scent of it cooking is driving us mad. Thank goodness it’s so yummy. I invested 4 precious quarts of our tomatoes and a pile of onions and garlic that we grew this past summer, a dent in what we had put away for the winter. There is nothing like coming in from shoveling snow and snitching a meatball from this luscious sauce! It’s in it’s first hour of cooking. I can’t imagine how good it will be by suppertime when we’ve worked up an appetite snow shoeing.

  6. Nicole

    This will be my first time making this and im super excited. My family is just getting so bored with the thrown together out of a jar spaghetti sauces . I do have a quick question though, what red wine do you recommend and are you using red wine vinegar or actual red wine?

  7. Jayna

    I make this every single week! I add red pepper flakes and a little Cayenne pepper to my sauce to give it a little kick and skip the onions in the meatballs but everything else is the same. Best meatballs and sauce ever!

  8. Ann

    I’m so excited to find this recipe. I’ll be making it for my son’s graduation party. We’re planning for 72 people so I’ll be cooking nonstop for a few days!

    Any suggestions on how much to make? I estimated six batches, but maybe that’s too much?

    1. Dan

      Hi Ann! It really depends on how much other food you’re going to have. If you’re going to have salad, garlic bread (we have some great recipes for those) and appetizers first…then I’d say you can probably count on 2 or 3 meatballs per person. So make the first batch and count up how many meatballs you get and go from there. Does that help? And wow – you are a great mom, that’s a big crowd!!!

        1. Dan

          Not at all, when you cook with wine you have to cook with the flavors that you like. So a sweeter wine will make a sweeter sauce, but I think you might like that! Try going to your local wine store and asking for sweeter red wines that you can cook with.

  9. Cindy

    Ok, so our 16yo son wanted to make something for dinner tonight. Anything he still wants to do with me, his mom, at this age is a bonus. :) He chose meatball subs. So I started looking for a meatball recipe that might be slightly different than previous. Genius idea to fry up in the skillet first for taste testing! They are delicious and the texture is great!!! The rest are now in the oven.

  10. Jay

    Amazing recipe! Curious if you ever have issues with the pork neck bones breaking into shards? Had quite a few this weekend and looking for options as I have little kids.

    1. Dan

      No that’s never happened to me, But I do see your concern! Maybe instead of neck bones try pork spare ribs or you can even through in a couple of pork chops. I’ve used all of those instead of neck bones and the sauce still has the same flavor. I hope that helps!

      1. Jay

        Thanks a ton, Dan! I think it might have been because they were frozen then added to the heat too quickly. Will thaw and try again.

  11. John Henry

    I love ta cook. I needed a refresher on meatballs & this came up. Fantastic! Such an awesome recipe. Thank you very much. John H

    1. Dan

      If I added chicken it would probably be chicken thighs. As far as a brand we use Hunts mostly but you can use whatever brand you like.

  12. Cynthia

    I made this recipe several weeks ago and it was delicious. I’m making it for Sunday family dinner tomorrow. Thank you so much for sharing it!

  13. D'anna

    This is about as authentic as you can get. Just like my mother would make every Sunday. The comment about the chicken pastina soup brought a tear to my eye as well as the gravy. I miss my parents and even though I make all this myself and it’s excellent, they made it better. I remember getting in trouble stealing something from the pot or dipping too much bread before it was done. When I was sick, the first thing my dad would do is cook me some pastina chicken soup. I did the same for my children. I was thinking of all the great things we ate as kids like ricotta macaroni, fava beans, braciole, pasta fagioli. Mmmmm I’m hungry. Time to reheat some of my rigatoni bolognese for breakfast in the pan with a little butter. ;)

    1. Dan

      That sounds like the perfect breakfast! Chicken Pastina soup was my absolute favorite thing to eat when I visited my Grandmother’s house. There would be a pot of that cooking, along with a pot roast and meatballs…you know, 10 courses for 1 Sunday dinner!

      1. D'anna

        I thought 350 would be right. Thank you!

        I’ve recently bought a ninja foodi pressure cooker/air fryer. So easy and fast and excellent results. I highly recommend it. Best invention since the wheel. Our parents, grandparents, etc. would have loved it. Buy the 8 quart. 6 pound whole air fried chickens or small air fried butterball turkey. Makes the best pot roast, ribs, risotto. Lots of italian recipes out there for ninja and you can use instant pot recipes in it too. Hope you check it out.

        Thanks for sharing your recipes.

  14. Janice morello

    I am over the moon to find this recipe !🥰 my dad who his whole family comes from Sicily made this very Sunday for dinner he most times would start it Saturday night and cook until Sunday night . It was the best ever and when he passed away 2019 I thought the recipe went with him and my sister and I would never give our kids the chance to enjoy it but thanks to you now we can .

    1. Dan

      Thank you so much for your comment, it really means a lot to us! Family traditions being passed on like this one are the best thing ever.

  15. Rach

    You said use fresh breadcrumbs can I still use the bread crumbs in the can w the milk or not sure what you consider fresh breadcrumbs

    1. Dan

      Fresh breadcrumbs are breadcrumbs made from bread in your food processor. Canned, store bought bread crumbs are fine it’s just that the fresh breadcrumbs give a light texture to the meatballs.

  16. Sam

    I followed the recipe pretty closely, it came out great. I halved the entire recipe because it’s just my husband and I and left out the pork ribs/bones. I used sweet sausage links and did not want to cut them up so I pre-fried them so they would be mostly cooked already. I didn’t want to make fresh bread crumbs so I used plain panko crumbs. I didn’t have milk to soak the crumbs so I just added some water to the crumbs and it was fine. I used cabernet sauvignon. I added a little extra wine because the sauce was a little bitter, but this might have been my fault as I may have toasted the tomato paste a bit too much. I recommend paying close attention at that step. I liked the suggestion of frying up a piece of the meatball meat to taste ahead and baking the meatballs ahead as it will reduce the fat in the sauce. I used 93% lean and they still let off a lot of fat during baking. If you have something to raise the meatballs out of the fat when they cook it would be better just don’t dry them out, but I just dabbed them on a paper towel before putting them in the sauce since I didn’t have a rack to cook on and it worked fine. I prefer a more chunky sauce, with large pieces of tomato so I will change the type of tomato next time. Thanks for the recipe!

  17. Shawna

    Looks delicious! A couple questions…can I omit the onions or will that skew the taste/texture too much? Also to make the fresh breadcrumbs do you use stale bread or fresh? Thank you!

    1. Dan

      No, I wouldn’t leave out the onions unless there’s an allergy or something to be concerned about. They add so much flavor to the sauce it would be bland without them. And for the fresh breadcrumbs you can use fresh or slightly stale bread.

  18. Dan

    Would it be a horrible idea to omit the Italian Sausage in this recipe? I just wanted to go with straight gravy and meatballs with my pasta.

  19. Debbie

    I just made your sauce today and it was amazing. My son said it was restaurant quality and a definite keeper. Thank you for this great recipe!!

  20. Babs

    OMG, this recipe was fabulous! I made it for my DIL and my son after they came home from the hospital with our new grandson. I wanted to make comfort good and this was perfect. The tweak I made was to not use dry bread crumbs, but use 3 slices of bread (crust removed), soaked in milk. I smooshed the bread with a fork, let it sit for 5 min, squeeze out extra milk, then added it to the mix. I also used ground beef and ground pork for the meatballs, and ground beef and 3-italian sausages (casings removed) for the sauce. The seasonings were spot on!
    This is now our favorite sauce and meatball recipe!!

  21. Carol

    I want to make this today but I don’t have red wine only white wine can I substitute white or maybe beef broth to deglaze the pan or what else can I use thank you

      1. Trish

        This recipe is awesome!! I have been looking for a great sauce with meatballs for years and here it is. I followed the directions and it came out perfect. Everyone loved it! Will be making it for Thanksgiving as a side dish.

  22. Sara

    Hi!!! I haven’t made the sauce yet. I have a question! I have an old bottle of Shiraz that I opened and wasn’t able to finish (I know….a sacrilege lol). Would it be ok to use this wine? It’s been open for about a week?

    Can’t wait to make this sauce – sounds amazing!!!

  23. Charles Vanden-Bulcke

    If i want to up the sausage to two pounds as well the recipe should be fine as is without having to make the rest of it larger ?

    1. Dan

      Yes, you can do that, just make sure that you drain any excess grease from the pot after you brown that sausage so that your sauce doesn’t become greasy.

      1. Christina Galteri

        I absolutely love this recipe and have made it several times , it’s perfect!

        Have you ever made it with hot sausage? I picked that up by mistake and wondering if it will change the flavor of the sauce 🤔

  24. Ang

    Thank you so much for this recipe! I made it yesterday and served it tonight (because sauce and meatballs are always best served the next day) and everyone was raving about it. I am definitely saving it to use again and again and again. * I couldn’t find pork neck bones and subbed bacon. Was delicious!

  25. Laurie

    Hi! Could you tell how much bread you use for the meatballs and is it sliced white bread? Also do you remove the crust? Thanks!😊

  26. Sam

    Just spent a Saturday making this — really fun recipe to cook. It was good, and I got the thumbs up from everyone who ate, but honestly, I was expecting a little more from the gravy…
    A few notes:
    -Yeah… I wanted a perfect, out of this world gravy like I’d get at my favorite Italian joint (for those in Chicagoland, Freddie’s on Cicero). For all the work that went into the base, and all the meats for flavor, it was kind of just a decent/typical red wine sauce. Nothing mind-blowing. I’d cut the tomato paste down and maybe even go all crushed tomatoes to cut the thickness (talking more about thickness in flavor than something textural more water could remedy).
    -I guess you can’t skip the neck bones/ ribs. I used St. Louis ribs and the only complaint here is the ribs are basically flavorless and dried out after all this cooking. I’m sure they impart good flavor but I tossed ’em — not something I thought was fit to serve with an extravaganza like this. Cheap cut tho, so no worries.
    -More bread/crumbs. The directions were a little vague on this so I just used panko. They immediately absorbed the small amount of milk; no way anything was getting squeezed out of that. I’d consider a hearty diced couple-day-old white bread soaked in more milk, and with more bread. Because…
    -The meatballs weren’t as… delicate as I’d like. Struggling for a word there but basically the lack of bread made it closer to a very meaty burger texture. Go up on the bread/crumbs. (that said, everything else was great about these flavor-wise. If the salt amounts seem high, they aren’t; just perfect.) You could add some red pepper flakes.
    -I’d also consider pan frying the meatballs as opposed to baking. You lose too much juice and the balls get a tiny bit dry, doing it at 350.
    That’s about it. Again, I liked this. Just didn’t love enough to repeat. It’s really all about the sauce for me and this was fine but a bit lacking. But I’ll definitely use a few things I learned here in the future, so thanks!

  27. Nick

    I made the mistake of using store bought breadcrumbs and instead of a panade I got a mostly dry sandy mix. So, I kept adding more and more milk until the mixture resembled a very thick paste. Anyway, the meatballs came out pretty darn good even though some fell apart in the sauce. Next time will make with fresh bread.

  28. Jan

    So when you make fresh bread crumbs do you tear it in tiny pieces or do you use a food processor? And after you add milk and then squeeze it out you have a lump and it’s hard to spread around evenly. Is there a trick that? Thank you, can’t wait to make this.

    1. Dan

      The best way to do it is in a food processor, yes. So after you squeeze out the breadcrumbs (and this doesn’t have to be done very firmly, just get the excess milk out) just break it apart with your hands as best as you can and mix it in with the beef mixture. If there are a few lumps of breadcrumbs in there, we think it just adds to the homemade feel!

    1. Dan

      You really don’t get a wine flavor, the wine reduces in the sauce and deglazes the pan. If you really are opposed to using wine, just deglaze the pot with pot with 1/2 cup of water to scrape up the bottom and then omit the wine from the sauce.

  29. Kathy

    Sounds delicious, I have not made this yet, but wondering how long it keeps in the frig and if this sauce can be frozen?

    1. Dan

      It will last at least 4 days in the refrigerator. And yes, it can definitely be frozen, we make this ahead and freeze it all the time. Enjoy!

  30. Gail

    If I can’t find meatloaf mix, what is the ratio between beef, pork and veal. Could I eliminate the veal and use more beef or pork?

    1. Dan

      Yes you definitely can. When you buy meatloaf mix it’s usually divided equally between the three. If using just beef and pork I would use 2 1/2 pounds of beef and 1 1/2 pound of ground pork.

  31. Mary Ann

    I have been searching for the best bolognese and meatball recipe. This is such an amazing recipe. My search is over ! Depth of flavor is incredible, yes it is a recipe with many steps but, worth your time . Thank my husband says it is better than our favorite restaurant. Thank you….love in the kitchen.

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