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Do you drain hamburger meat before adding spaghetti sauce?

Whether or not to drain ground beef before adding pasta sauce is a common question when making spaghetti and meat sauce. There are pros and cons to draining vs not draining the meat that are worth considering when deciding which method to use.

The Purpose of Draining Ground Beef

The main reason to drain ground beef before adding the sauce is to remove excess fat and grease. This can make the finished sauce less oily and healthier overall. Here are some of the benefits of draining the meat:

  • Removes excess fat and calories – Ground beef can release a lot of grease when cooked. Draining it first removes some of these extra calories and grams of fat.
  • Makes the sauce less oily – If the fat from the meat stays in, it can leave an oil slick on top of the sauce. Draining helps prevent this.
  • Improves sauce texture – Excess grease can make the sauce feel heavy or slimy. Draining helps remove grease for a smoother texture.
  • Reduces mess while eating – Greasy sauce can drip down your chin while eating. Draining the meat helps avoid this messy issue.

For those watching their fat or calorie intake, draining the excess grease before making the full dish can be beneficial. It makes each serving a bit leaner and lighter.

Benefits of Not Draining the Meat

On the other hand, there are also some advantages to leaving the fat from the beef in the sauce. Here are some reasons you may want to skip draining:

  • Saves time – Not having to drain the pan saves those extra steps and a few minutes of effort.
  • Adds flavor – The fat from ground beef has a rich, meaty flavor. Keeping it in the sauce adds to the overall taste.
  • Makes sauce richer – The fat contributes richness and mouthfeel to the sauce.
  • Less cleanup – With no draining, there’s just one pan to wash instead of a skillet and strainer.

For many home cooks, the extra bit of flavor is worth leaving the grease in. The fat really brings out the beefy, savory taste in the sauce.

How to Drain Ground Beef for Pasta Sauce

If you do opt to drain the meat, here is a simple process to follow:

  1. Cook the ground beef in a skillet over medium-high heat until nicely browned, about 5-7 minutes, breaking it up with a spoon as it cooks.
  2. Remove the skillet from heat. Carefully pour the meat and grease into a strainer placed over a bowl.
  3. Let the grease drain out for 1-2 minutes, using a spoon to stir the meat around and press out more fat.
  4. Return the browned ground beef to the skillet. Discard excess grease.
  5. Add tomato sauce and any other sauce ingredients to the skillet. Simmer until heated through.
  6. Toss with hot cooked pasta and serve.

A strainer makes it easy to separate the meat from the liquid fat after cooking. Letting it drain briefly ensures you remove as much grease as possible before finishing the sauce.

How Much Fat to Drain

If you want to compromise, you can also choose to drain only some of the fat:

  • Drain lightly – Let the meat drain for just 30-60 seconds. This removes some surface grease but leaves plenty of flavorful fat behind.
  • Drain moderately – Let drain for 1-2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Gets rid of more grease for a moderately lean sauce.
  • Drain completely – Drain for 3-5 minutes, stirring and pressing with a spoon. Will remove as much fat as possible for a very lean sauce.

The longer you drain it, the more fat you can eliminate. But even a brief 30 second drain makes the sauce a little lighter while keeping lots of the meaty flavor. Decide based on your taste and dietary needs.

Should You Rinse Ground Beef After Draining?

Sometimes people will rinse ground beef with hot water after draining it. However, this washes away more of the flavorful juices. Just draining is sufficient for removing excess grease.

How to Use the Fat from Draining

If you do drain the fat from the meat, avoid just pouring it down the drain. That fat has a high cooking temperature so it can clog pipes. Instead, try these uses for the grease:

  • Add to dog food – It’s a healthy supplement for your pup!
  • Use for cooking – Frying eggs, sautéing veggies, roasting potatoes, etc.
  • Make gravy – Whisk a bit into pan drippings for rich flavor.
  • Compost it – Fat breaks down well in compost piles.

The drained fat certainly shouldn’t go to waste. Get creative with ways to use it for more cooking or around the house.


When making spaghetti sauce with ground beef, draining or not draining comes down to personal preference. Draining removes more fat for a healthier, lighter sauce. Skipping draining leaves all the flavorful fat behind for a richer, meatier taste. There’s no right or wrong answer – just decide which option sounds more appealing for your needs.

If you do opt to drain, be sure to save that fat for other cooking uses. Letting it sit for just 1-2 minutes removes a good amount of grease while keeping lots of flavor. Find the method that suits your tastebuds and health goals best.

Whichever way you prepare it, a hearty meat sauce with pasta is a satisfying and comforting meal. Adjust the ingredients and techniques to match your own spaghetti sauce style.

Draining Method Fat Removed Flavor Impact Texture
Do not drain None Full, beefy flavor Rich and fatty
Drain lightly A little Still good flavor Moderately rich
Drain completely Most More diluted flavor Leaner texture

This table summarizes how draining impacts the nutrition, flavor, and texture of the finished sauce. Drain to your own tastes and needs.

Tips for Making Perfect Pasta and Meat Sauce

While the draining method is up to you, here are some additional tips for making the best spaghetti and meat sauce:

  • Use a mix of beef and pork. The pork adds juiciness and flavor.
  • Brown the meat well for better taste.
  • Cook aromatics like garlic, onions, carrots to add depth.
  • Simmer the sauce for 1-2 hours for concentrated flavor.
  • Use fresh herbs near the end like basil, oregano, or parsley.
  • Grate Parmesan rind into the sauce while cooking for a savory boost.
  • Toss the pasta with sauce in the pan to absorb more flavor.
  • Let the pasta continue absorbing sauce on the plate before eating.
  • Add a drizzle of olive oil just before serving for richness.

Mastering the sauce is key to incredible spaghetti. Take your time developing layers of flavor with different vegetables, herbs, and sufficient simmering. The meat may be drained or not based on your preferences.

How to Store and Reheat Spaghetti Sauce

Leftover pasta sauce keeps well for 4-5 days refrigerated or 2-3 months frozen. To store:

  • Let the sauce cool completely before storing.
  • Transfer to an airtight container.
  • Refrigerate for up to 4-5 days.
  • Freeze for 2-3 months. Thaw overnight in fridge before reheating.

To reheat the sauce:

  • On the stovetop – Simmer gently over medium-low heat, adding water if it thickens too much.
  • In the microwave – Heat in 30 second intervals, stirring between. Watch for hot spots.
  • In the oven – Bake at 350°F in a covered dish until heated through, 15-20 minutes.

The key is to bring the sauce back up to temperature gently, without overcooking it. Add fresh pasta and enjoy your leftovers!

Common Questions

Does draining ground beef make a difference in spaghetti sauce?

Yes, draining ground beef makes the spaghetti sauce leaner with fewer calories and less fat. However, it can also reduce some of the meaty flavor. It’s a tradeoff between nutrition and full-bodied taste.

Should I drain ground beef for homemade spaghetti sauce?

It depends on your goals. Drain it for a healthier, lighter sauce. For maximum rich flavor, skip draining. Many people compromise by draining just briefly to remove some grease but leave flavor.

Do you have to drain ground beef before adding Ragu?

It’s not strictly necessary to drain ground beef before adding jarred sauce like Ragu. However, it can help reduce the fat and calories a bit. Draining for just 1 minute removes excess grease but leaves plenty of flavor.

Do I drain ground beef after browning?

Yes, it’s best to drain ground beef after browning it, before adding the spaghetti sauce. This allows you to remove just the excess grease that cooked out while leaving in enough fat for flavor.

Ground Turkey as an Alternative

While ground beef is traditional, lean ground turkey can be a healthier alternative. Turkey offers a few benefits:

  • Leaner than beef with less fat
  • Typically no draining required
  • Lighter texture but still meaty flavor
  • Lower in calories and cholesterol

The leanness of ground turkey means you don’t have to drain any excess grease. It browns up nicely and mixes into pasta sauce well. Make sure to cook through fully until no pink remains.

For those looking for a lower fat and calorie option, ground turkey can sub in while still giving lots of protein and hearty flavor. The meatiness may be slightly more mild than beef however.

Ground Turkey Pasta Sauce Recipe

Try this easy recipe for turkey spaghetti sauce:


  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and grated
  • 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. In a skillet over medium heat, cook ground turkey breaking up clumps until no longer pink, about 5-7 minutes.
  2. Add onion, garlic, and carrot. Cook 2 minutes more until softened.
  3. Pour in crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and Italian seasoning. Stir to combine.
  4. Simmer sauce for 15-20 minutes to meld flavors. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Stir in fresh chopped basil just before serving.
  6. Toss with hot cooked spaghetti and top with Parmesan cheese.

This easy turkey Bolognese comes together quickly. The flavors develop as the sauce simmers without any grease to drain. Serve over pasta for a lighter take on classic spaghetti and meat sauce.

The Final Verdict

At the end of the day, deciding whether or not to drain your ground beef before making pasta sauce comes down to personal preferences:

  • Drain for a leaner sauce: Removing excess fat results in a lighter, healthier sauce.
  • Don’t drain for fuller flavor: Keeping the fat in adds rich meatiness and flavor.
  • Find a balance: Try lightly draining for just 1 minute to remove some fat but retain flavor.

Consider your own tastes, health goals, and how you want the final dish to turn out. Pasta and meat sauce offers flexibility to cook it to your liking.

No matter which way you go, use high quality ingredients, let the sauce simmer, and toss it with al dente pasta for an unforgettable meal. Mangia!