We’ve made our own homemade spaghetti sauce for years, well decades. And without fail, there are times when it is too thin and we need to make it thicker. You’re obviously reading this because you’re in the same spot. I’ve got the help you need.
There’s some stupid crazy ideas out there for how to thicken spaghetti sauce and I have to set the record straight. I literally think these people just copied each others ideas.
So, in this article, you’re going to learn the best way to thicken your spaghetti sauce (whether a large pot or small batch), and why these other ways are just a waste of time.
Lots of Crazy Bad Ideas for Thickening Spaghetti Sauce
When I sat down to start writing this post for you and my followers (subscribe if you don’t already!), I decided to check out what other writers were saying and I was pretty taken aback at some of the awful advice they were giving.
It made me wonder if any of these people had even made a good pot of Italian sauce… ever. Their tips were all the same and some of them totally off the wall.
Gotta love the internet.
Bad Idea #1: Make a Roux to Thicken Spaghetti Sauce
Seriously, this appeared in all the top articles. Never ever in my Italian life or in my husband’s Italian life did we ever hear any of our Italian relatives say to make a roux to thicken spaghetti sauce. Maybe for alfredo or marsala, but spaghetti?
No. You don’t use flour in an Italian red sauce. Period. Whoever writes that this is smart should be ashamed. Seriously.
Flour will change not only the flavor, but the texture of your sauce. For a large pot of sauce, can you imagine how much roux you would need to truly thicken this? Wow, crazy.
Bad Idea #2: Using Cornstarch to Thicken Spaghetti Sauce
Yup, for real. This is not an Italian method. Now, I’ve never tried using cornstarch so hey maybe I’m wrong, but highly unlikely.
Okay remember, we’re talking about spaghetti sauce – not another type of sauce like marsala okay? Red spaghetti sauce, often called marinara, is NOT made with cornstarch to thicken it.
Cornstarch is what I use to thicken soups or gravy. Come on now, che fai (what are you doing)?
So skip using cornstarch please. Let’s move onto bad idea #3:
Bad Idea #3: Cooking Pasta in your Sauce or using Pasta Water
Okay, this idea is also bad in my opinion although it will a little, but not enough if you really need to thicken up your sauce. To be fair, this won’t impact flavor as much, but it will impact how starchy your sauce is. This method is so incredibly unrealistic, but I’m sure others would disagree.
First off, it just isn’t practical. Yes you can thicken sauce with starch, but let’s think this through. If you’re making a big pot of sauce, you’re not going to add a pound of spaghetti and suddenly your sauce is thick. It will just get starchy and your pasta will be pure mush.
If you’re making a small pot of sauce, you won’t be able to add a whole pound of pasta, but maybe adding some pasta might help a little if you serve it before it goes to mush. And if your pot is small, then there are just easier ways to thicken your sauce without turning your pasta into an extreme pile of mush.
On top of all that, I’ve never added pasta to my sauce to cook my pasta, however, I have made soups that I’ve added cooked spaghetti in and then saved the leftovers in the fridge. Let me tell you what happens to pasta when left in a liquid whether it’s a sauce or a soup… it turns into pure mush from absorbing the liquid.
So if you add spaghetti to a pot of pasta sauce to cook the pasta in order to make the sauce thick, yes it can thicken the sauce but no one will want to eat the pasta and now your in a bad situation.
Some say that adding pasta water will help. Hmmm… you’re trying to get rid of the water, why would you add more water – pasta water is still water. I get the concept, and if you have to add water then maybe pasta water will work, but now you’ve got to cook pasta to get the pasta water for sauce that isn’t ready yet…
So, that’s just a bad idea – don’t do it.
The Best Way to Make Your Spaghetti Sauce Thicker
These tips apply whether your making a large or small quantity of sauce. However, most people who make homemade sauce, are making it in larger quantities and so these instructions mostly apply to that particular scenario.
Remember, I’ve been there, just like you. In a panic because I’m afraid I’ve wrecked a whole pot of sauce and am so frustrated that I’m about to just dump the whole thing.
If this is you, don’t worry. I’ve got you covered. Read on…
If you’re making a pot of sauce and you think it is too thin and watery, there are a few things to consider.
- Did you let it cook long enough? For large quantities, the sauce will only taste good when it’s cooked for at least 6 to 8 hours. During this time the sauce will condense and cook down while you keep it on simmer or low heat.
- Did you first bring it up to a boil first before turning it to simmer? A big mistake is to start cooking your sauce on a simmer, you need to bring it up to a high temp so it boils and then bring it to low heat, otherwise it will not cook down like you need it to.
If you’re good on the above, and just simply added way too much water, try these tips:
- Bring it up to a boil again and cook at medium heat for a few hours so it maintains a very low boil. Keep the lid off the pot so the evaporation doesn’t condensate and go back into the sauce. Remember to stir frequently to prevent the bottom from burning.
- Add in more tomato paste. For a large pot of sauce, you’ll probably need at least two or three 6 oz cans of tomato paste. Not puree, you want paste. I even have a recipe for making spaghetti sauce using just tomato paste, so you’re okay here.
Here’s a big helpful tip – empty the cans of paste into a medium deep bowl then take some of your existing sauce from the pot and add some into the bowl and stir until well blended leaving no big globs of paste. You want it smooth.
Make sure you are using the existing spaghetti sauce and not water. This process is important because it’s much easier to add in the tomato paste that is already blended otherwise it’s very hard to evenly incorporate it into the large pot of sauce. Trust me on this one. 😉
- If you don’t have any tomato paste, but have tomato puree, you can try using puree – but only if it’s thick. This varies from brand to brand so if it’s runny or you’re in doubt, I’d use step 1 above.
Honestly, I’d really only use the puree if the tomato sauce is extremely weak on flavor and I wanted to add more tomato to create more quantity. Don’t use crushed or whole canned tomatoes, that will not work for this particular situation.
How to Thicken a Large Pot of Homemade Spaghetti Sauce When in a Big Rush
If you’re in a rush, and you’ve got your big pot of sauce sitting there and you’re out of time (or patience), here’s a helpful tip.
- Simply take what you need out of the large pot and transfer to a smaller pot.
- Then cook it down and add a smaller amount of tomato paste if needed.
- Let it cook as much as you can just to help blend the flavors and let it cook all together.
This would be the fastest way to fix your problem.
When you’re done, go back to cooking the larger pot. If all bets are off and you seriously need to call it a day, freeze the sauce and just cook it down later when you’re ready. Remember to label your containers so months down the road you’ll know to plan accordingly!
How to Thicken Up Spaghetti Sauce Using Meat – Does it Even Work?
The question here is does this actually work? The answer is it depends. If it’s a large pot on the stove, you’ve got to add quite a bit of meat. Adding a pound of beef won’t thicken the sauce.
I’ve seen other writers advise to add meat, but that will make your sauce chunkier, but will not necessarily make the sauce have a thicker consistency.
I’ve never added meat to my sauce and then voila my sauce is thicker. It just makes your sauce meatier, that’s all. Besides I would never add raw meat into an existing pot of sauce which is what is implied by adding meat to a watery or thin sauce.
When using meat in a spaghetti sauce, you cook the meat first in the pot, then add the water, tomatoes and herbs. So if you’re adding cooked meat later, how is it going absorb any of the excess watery liquid you’ve got sitting in front of you? It doesn’t.
Understanding how to thicken your sauce is important, but understanding that the honest truth is that it takes time, especially if a large quantity. Be patient and don’t get frustrated. Use my tips above and you’ll be fine.
If you have tried-and-true methods of thickening your own homemade Italian marinara sauce, let me know in the comments below!