This Slow Cooker Vodka Bolognese Pasta is the perfect family friendly meal. Slow cooked Italian style Bolognese sauce with a mix of beef, veggies, sweet tomatoes, herbs, and vodka. Serve this sauce over your favorite cut of pasta and top with a generous amount of parmesan cheese for a dinner that everyone will love. This is a great pasta to serve any night of the week, or for your next holiday dinner party. Tip…a side of crusty bread is always a good idea!

overhead photo of Slow Cooker Vodka Bolognese Pasta with spoons in bowl

This time next week we will all be gearing up to sit down to a turkey filled Thanksgiving dinner. Can you guys believe we’re just one week away? I’m in shock as to how fast time is flying, but trying to enjoy as much of it as I can! Over the next few days our family will slowly be shuffling their way into town. I’m so excited to have all of my brothers back in Colorado for Thanksgiving.

Seeing as though my family is huge, it can be hard to get us all under one roof at the same time. But I’m feeling thankful that holidays have always been a priority for us and we will all be together. Also thankful that my younger brother, Red showed up a few days ahead of everyone else. He’s on the go non-stop, chasing the snow, and always having fun, so it’s nice to have him home.

Plus, Red was the sole inspiration for this vodka Bolognese, so you can all thank him for this DELICIOUS recipe.

overhead close up photo of Slow Cooker Vodka Bolognese Pasta

For the last year or so, every time I’ve seen Red he’s requested Bolognese. It’s his favorite.

Red is constantly traveling, making his way all over the states, across Europe, and even into Asia. Somehow, he’s still not the most adventurous eater (though he’s getting so much better). Whenever he travels he says he just eats Bolognese because it’s always good. It’s hard to argue that one…

I mean, slow cooked red sauce? Pasta? Cheese?

Yeah, it’s a combo that really never gets old.

What’s funny though? I don’t have a traditional Bolognese sauce on HBH. SO, when I heard he was flying into Colorado this week, I quickly switched up my plans and decided to make him Bolognese. I did not regret this choice. This recipe is so good, it’s easy, and it’s one that everyone should have in their back pocket.

overhead photo of Slow Cooker Vodka Bolognese Pasta with hands on bowl

Like a lot of Italian based sauces, this one starts out with the basic, onion, carrot, celery combo. I also added shallots for a bit more flavor…and because I’m honestly just obsessed with them.

Cook up the veggies in a skillet, add the meat, and brown it all over. This is essential. You want to get a caramelization on the meat before adding it to the slow cooker. Don’t skip this step.

Here are my two secrets to making a good Bolognese sauce…one that’s better than any other on the internet:

One, I like to use a mix of ground beef and spicy Italian sausage. The sausage adds a deep layer of flavor. It really makes the sauce so delicious and gives it just a touch of heat. You can certainly use ground beef in place of the sausage, but I do recommend giving the sausage a try.

Two, vodka. Yes, VODKA. Now I want to start by staying that if you do not drink, I totally understand. In this case, just swap the vodka for chicken broth, beef broth, or even just water. That will be totally fine and your sauce will still be great.

BUT, if you do drink or use alcohol for cooking, you must add vodka to your sauce. It’s a game changer. The vodka adds a sharp bite that helps to balance out the sweetness of the tomatoes. When used in small amounts, the vodka will boost and intensify aroma of the sauce. The key is slow simmering the sauce, which will release its flavors and cooks out the alcohol. So yes, this is safe to serve to kids!

overhead photo of Slow Cooker Vodka Bolognese Pasta

You see why this Bolognese is better than any other.

And the best part? You can make the sauce in the morning and slow cook it all day long. Perfect for busy days and easy holiday entertaining.

I will for sure be remaking this next week when all of our family is here for Thanksgiving. In addition to my immediate family, we’ll also be hosting my aunt, uncle, their 3 kids, my grandpa and his girlfriend…and of course anyone else who happens to show up. There are always last-minute add ons to Gerard holiday dinners.

This pasta will be the perfect dinner to serve on a Wednesday night.

overhead photo of Slow Cooker Vodka Bolognese Pasta tossed together in serving bowl

If you make this vodka bolognese be sure to leave a comment and/or give this recipe a rating! Above all, I love to hear from you guys and always do my best to respond to each and every comment. And of course, if you do make this recipe, don’t forget to also tag me on Instagram! Looking through the photos of recipes you all have made is my favorite!

Watch the How To Video:

Slow Cooker Vodka Bolognese Pasta

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 6 hours
Total Time 6 hours 20 minutes
Servings: 8
Calories Per Serving: 532 kcal

Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.

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Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 medium shallot, chopped
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 3/4 pound ground spicy Italian sausage (or ground beef)
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 can (28 ounce) chopped tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3/4 cup vodka
  • 1 parmesan rind, plus grated Parmesan cheese for serving
  • 1 pound long or short cut pasta

Instructions

Slow Cooker

  • 1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil shimmers, add the onion, shallot, carrots, and celery, and season with salt and pepper. Cook 5 minutes or until the onion is fragrant and beginning to caramelize. Add the beef and sausage, brown all over, breaking up the meat as you go, about 10 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat.
    2. Transfer the meat to the bowl of your slow cooker. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, oregano, basil, bay leaves, thyme, milk, vodka, and parmesan rind. Season with salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 4-6 hours. 
    3. Remove the parmesan rind. If the sauce is soupy, crank the heat up to high and cook, uncovered for 20-30 minutes. 
    4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat and boil the pasta until al dente according to package directions. Reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water. Drain. 
    5. Use the pasta water to thin the Bolognese sauce, if needed. 
    6. To serve, divide the pasta among bowls and ladle the bolognese over top. Add the cheese and fresh basil. Enjoy!

Stove Top Directions

  • 1. Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. When the oil shimmers, add the onion, shallot, carrots, and celery, and season with salt and pepper. Cook 5 minutes or until the onion is fragrant and beginning to caramelize. Add the beef and sausage, brown all over, breaking up the meat as you go, about 10 minutes. 
    2. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, oregano, basil, bay leaves, thyme, milk, vodka, and parmesan rind. Season with salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Cover and cook over medium-low heat for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally.
    3. Remove the parmesan rind. If the sauce is soupy, cook, uncovered for 20-30 minutes over medium heat.
    4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat and boil the pasta until al dente according to package directions. Reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water. Drain.
    5. Use the pasta water to thin the Bolognese sauce, if needed.
    6. To serve, divide the pasta among bowls and ladle the bolognese over top. Add the cheese and fresh basil. Enjoy!

horizontal photo of Slow Cooker Vodka Bolognese Pasta

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Comments

  1. This looks delicious I’ve read through the comments curious to know the purpose of adding milk? See where you have suggested coconut milk to substitute for dairy but why not just add broth or water. I’m sure there is a reason and just want to know it’s role here! Thank you!

    1. Hey Jennifer,
      I am so thrilled that you enjoyed the recipe, thanks so much for giving it a try! Happy New Year! xTieghan

  2. 5 stars
    LOVED THIS. I made this in the morning and was gone all day while my husband was home. He stirred it a few times for me and that was all it needed. Every flavor was balanced and delicious. I used fresh pasta and it was so right for this dish!! Will definitely make again. I made the recipe as written and I think it will impress any guest. Will make for my in laws for sure.

    1. Hey Raleigh,
      Thank you so very much for giving the recipe a try, I am so glad it worked out for you! Happy New Year! xTieghan

  3. 3 stars
    I made this sauce for my vodka sauce loving daughter. I loved the addition of sausage and ground beef. What i did not like was the amount of vodka in the recipe. Most vodka sauce recipes call for 1/4 cup, but this recipe calls for 3/4 cup. I was skeptical but followed the recipe anyway. The sharp bite from all that vodka overwhelmed the sauce and made it almost inedible. I would make this again, but would absolutely replace 1/2 cup of the vodka with broth. The recipe has potential but didn’t quite cut it for my family.

    1. Hi! I am sorry this did not turn out as expected. If there is anything I can help with, please let me know! xTieghan

  4. 5 stars
    This is so, so good. Neither of my kids eats regular red sauce but this is another thing entirely. I don’t know if it’s been mentioned previously, but rather than dirtying more pans, I make the whole recipe in my Instant Pot. I do all the stovetop steps on the sauté setting, then switch to slow cooker mode. You also don’t lose all the fond and brown bits that way.

  5. 5 stars
    High reward for little effort. I used San Marzano Strained Tomatoes (they come in glass bottles from Costco), which reduced the cooking time on the Stove Top. The Vodka is definitely the secret ingredient. Turned out amazingly on the first attempt.

  6. 5 stars
    I have made this recipe a few times now and it has quickly become a family favourite! We have found that it is even better the next day when we warm it up for leftovers. Thanks for a fabulous recipe.

    1. Thank you for trying this Rebecca! I am so glad you and your family have been enjoying this! xTieghan

  7. 5 stars
    We’re whiskey and wine people – didn’t have any vodka in the house! So I threw in some Malbec instead… turned out awesome!

  8. This recipe, like all of your wonderful recipes, looks amazing!!! Any suggestions for making it dairy free? Would it completely ruin the flavor if I omitted the milk?

    1. Hey Jorda! I would replace the milk with canned coconut milk. That will be great! Please let me know if you have any other questions. I hope you love this recipe! Thank you!! xTieghan

  9. 5 stars
    Um the first bolognese I ever made is the best I’ve ever had! Thanks for that- don’t know what to say to the Italians who commented- I’m sure their versions are equally delicious, but I am over the moon, and so is my 92-year-old Grandfather, who I made this for. Seriously delicious, shockingly easy. I’ve bookmarked a ton of your recipes (love the photos and styling too) and will be moving them to the top of my “to try” list because of how easy this was to try, and how good the results were. Thank you!

  10. I accidentally bought sweet Italian sausage on mistake! Any idea how to remedy this?!! I want it to still have the amazing kick it usually has! Should I put red pepper flakes???

    1. HI! Just add a good pinch…or 2 of crushed red pepper flakes. That will be perfect! Please let me know if you have any other questions. I hope you love this recipe! Thank you and happy holidays! xTieghan

    1. HI! I would recommend using canned coconut milk. That will work great! Please let me know if you have any other questions. I hope you love this recipe! Thank you and happy holidays! xTieghan

  11. Have you ever doubled this recipe? I have a big family gathering coming up and this sounds perfect but I’d need twice the amount.

    1. Hi Heather! I have not double the recipe, but I think that should work well. Do you have 2 crockpots? If so, use 2. If not I would do half on the stove and half in the crockpot to ensure you don’t end up with too much liquid. Please let me know if you have any other questions. I hope you love this recipe! Thank you and happy holidays! xTieghan

    1. Hey Heather! I have not double the recipe, but I think that should work well. Do you have 2 crockpots? If so, use 2. If not I would do half on the stove and half in the crockpot to ensure you don’t end up with too much liquid. Please let me know if you have any other questions. I hope you love this recipe! Thank you and happy holidays! xTieghan

  12. 5 stars
    I swapped carrots for green peppers (husband will not eat carrots) and it still turned out amazing! First time cooking with Vodka too. Another perfect recipe! Thank you

  13. 5 stars
    I made this for a dinner party, and it was actually the easiest part of the preparation! And it was WONDERFUL! We used De Cecco pappardelle, which were delicious, as well as some spaghetti squash for a keto friend, though everyone ended up enjoying it.
    I just did the slight modifications described in one of the comments – started with some garlic before the vegetables, then i used about 5oz red wine while the meat was browning rather than vodka, finished with parsley rather than basil. Absolutely delicious, will make again!

  14. 5 stars
    This is my husband’s all- time favorite food. I make a few adjustments (mostly to make a larger batch and freeze) but what a great Sunday dinner recipe! Thank you!

  15. Thanks for an excellent recipe! I made a few modifications as I was just returning from vacation and didn’t have all of the ingredients on hand. I realized after chopping my celery and carrots that I was out of onions and I only had a little bit of white wine and chicken stock, which I subbed for the vodka. I also went with all Italian sausage. I made the stovetop version and let it simmer for 3h. Even with my modifications, it was incredibly delicious! This will definitely be added to my make again (and often) recipes!

  16. 5 stars
    Amazing dish! 100% recommend the Dutch oven recipe and NOT the slow cooker option. I’ve made the Dutch oven version multiple times and it’s awlays fantastic (including for Christmas Eve dinner!) But when I tried the slow cooker option the vodka never cooked off – even after removing the lid and continuing to cook for a couple hours. The meat and veggie flavor blends much better in the stove top version, as well. So tasty!

    1. HI! Yes, 2% milk should be just fine. Please let me know if you have any other questions. I hope you love this recipe! Thank you! xTieghan

  17. Made this two weeks ago. I used the country sausage I had in the freezer and added some pepper flakes. Yum!

    1. Hey Lisa, all of our videos are on YouTube AND Vimeo. Please let me know if you have any other questions. I hope you love this recipe! Thank you! xTieghan

  18. Hi, I was wondering if I could use 2 lbs of ground beef instead of italian sausage. I normally use 90/10 for the beef, do you think 80/20 would work better?

    Thanks!

  19. 5 stars
    Oh Tieghan! We loved this sauce. The vodka made it silky and took away the acidity in a way that red wine never has. There was enough for the two of us for two dinners, plus a lovely lasagna made with a bechamel sauce. So good!

  20. I made this yesterday and I’m pretty sure my vodka made this really bitter ? I had it in the crock pot for 4 hours. We ended up sprinkling sugar on it but it was still bitter. Any suggestions? I used Effen vodka. Thanks!

    1. Hey Chrissy! What there anything you had changed at all about the recipe? It sounds like you may used need to cook the sauce longer so that the vodka has more time to cook out. Alternately you can also use water or wine in place of the vodka. Maybe you just don’t prefer it! Please let me know if you have any other questions. I hope this helps! Thanks so much!! xTieghan

  21. This was delicious! I’m just wondering–do you know if this will freeze well? I know you’re not supposed to freeze sauces that contain cream but I’m not sure if the same goes for sauces that contain milk.

    1. this freezes really well! Please let me know if you have any other questions. so glad you love this recipe. Thanks so much!! xTieghan ?

    1. I am sure that will be fine, but watch the pasta closely so that it does not get soggy. Please let me know if you have any other questions. I hope you love this recipe. Thanks so much!! xTieghan ?

  22. 5 stars
    I made this for a large family birthday. I was able to do all the prep while my baby was napping (huge win)! It went over so well. Absolutely delicious!! Will be making it again for sure.

  23. I hate to ask but, would red wine (Cabernet) work instead of vodka? I’m trying to use some leftover wine so it doesn’t go to waste ??‍♀️

    1. HI!! Red win will be delicious! Please let me know if you have any other questions. I hope you love this recipe. Thanks so much!! xTieghan

  24. MADE THIS LAST NIGHT. IT WAS A CROWD FAVORITE. I FOLLOWED THE STOVE TOP RECIPE AND IT WAS DELICIOUS! WILL DEFINITELY BE MAKING IT AGAIN!

    1. Hey Lauren! You can just omit the parmesan rind. Not a huge deal. Please let me know if you have any other questions. I hope you love this recipe. Thanks so much and happy Thanksgiving! xTieghan

  25. This looks fantastic! How much oil do you use to sauté the veggies? Since the meat and sausage will produce fat, would it work to cook the meat first and transfer it to the slow cooker so you could sauté the veggies in the fat rendered from the meat? Can’t wait to try this!

    1. Hey Laurie! I use 2 tablespoons olive oil. Please let me know if you have other questions. I really hope you love this recipe! Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving! xTieghan

  26. 5 stars
    I had recently tried a bolognese that I was “meh” about but I knew I could trust you!! This was so good! For two of us we made enough to have for three nights of dinner which is perfect for when you’re busy!

  27. 5 stars
    I´m usually more the type “quiet and appreciative reader”, but after trying several of your recipes, I just have to leave a comment! They all turned out extremely tasty, and without being even the slightest bit fussy or complicated in preparation, so I´m actually looking forward to cooking! So I just wanted to say: Thank you so much for all the inspiration, yummy meals, the impressed face of my boyfriend when he tries the food, and making me a better and happier cook!

    1. I am so glad you loved this Claudia! And I am so glad all of the recipes you have tried have been easy going for you. Thank you so much!

  28. Perfect Saturday night dinner with my hubby! Served it over chick pea pasta and it was hearty and delicious! Super easy and I had most of the ingredients! Even the vodka! Go figure!!

  29. Hey Tieghan,
    I haven’t commented in a while but loved your photos of this dish and thought I’d check in! How are you? How have you been? I hope you’re doing well and enjoying the snow! My mom said something about possibly visiting CO this year or early next year, with the family and I thought of you. I hope the new studio is all ready and you’re getting excited for the holidays. Also, I’m looking forward to hearing how your thanksgiving goes. ☺️

    1. Hi Kristin! I am doing really well, just super busy like always! How are you? Also, you’re visiting Colorado?! That is so exciting. Its such a beautiful state! I hope you have an amazing Thanksgiving!

    1. HI! Follow the same directions, adding everything to the instant pot and then cook on high pressure for 15-20 minutes. I have not tested this, but I think it would work. Please let me know if you have any other questions. I hope you love this recipe. Thanks so much and happy Thanksgiving! xTieghan

  30. 5 stars
    Looks delicious! What type of pasta is used in your photos? Also, do you have a favorite brand of chopped tomatoes & paste that you like to use? (I find the acidity can vary drastically between brands). Thanks!!

    1. Hi! I used tagliatelle. I don’t have a favorite brand, but I typically use organic from whole foods. Please let me know if you have any other questions. I hope you love this recipe. Thanks so much and happy Thanksgiving! xTieghan

    1. Hey Shelly, yes the sausage is ground. Please let me know if you have any other questions. I hope you love this recipe. Thanks so much and happy Thanksgiving! xTieghan

    1. HI! Follow the same directions, adding everything to the instant pot and then cook on high pressure for 15-20 minutes. I have not tested this, but I think it would work. Please let me know if you have any other questions. I hope you love this recipe. Thanks so much and happy Thanksgiving! xTieghan

  31. 5 stars
    I cannot wait to make this! I LOVE the ingredient variations that you make for flavor, they have all been innovative and delicious. I wish people would read your writing thoroughly and try your recipes before they instruct in the comments. I’ve gifted your cookbook to many a grateful friend.

  32. Yay! I’m so happy to hear your grandpa has a girfriend! It’s nice to have a 2nd chance at companionship when you are older and you’ve said goodbye to your first spouse. So happy for him!

    Also the recipe looks delicious!

    1. HI there! If you do not like using vodka, no worries! Just use an equal amount of chicken broth or water. Please let me know if you have any other questions. I hope you love this recipe. Thanks so much and happy Thanksgiving! xTieghan

  33. 5 stars
    I was just wondering if you had a recipe for a vodka pasta sauce as the grocery store versions are so sugary!!

  34. Sounds delicious! I would highly recommend Tito’s Handmade Vodka in your Vodka Bolognese and/or in any glass.

  35. 5 stars
    Oh yeah, I would recommend Polish vodka for this pasta and replace Italian sausage with Polish kiełbasa 🙂 It would definitely send this dish into the stratosphere.

  36. 4 stars
    Congratulations from someone born in Bologna who always uses this sauce (RAGU ‘in Italian).
    Some small tips:
    – Heat oil and butter to brown a clove of garlic and 3 chopped sage leaves
    – Add the vegetables (all) and brown gently
    – When browning the meat add 1 glass of red wine (no vodka) and let evaporate and 1 glass of milk to reduce acidity
    – Nothing: oregano, basil, bay leaves, thyme, parmesan zest.
    – When the meat sauce is cooked (2/3 hours) add parsley with the fire off
    Parmiggiano is used when the pasta is combined.
    Greetings
    Paul