Leftover Brisket Bolognese (Ragu)

Slow cooked Bolognese sauce made with leftover brisket and served with Pappardelle style pasta, and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
Leftover Brisket Bolognese

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So you’ve cooked a big brisket and everyone is content and had their fill.

Yet you have plenty of leftovers and want to try something a bit different, rather than just reheating and eating brisket the next day.

Let’s give your leftover brisket a second life and make a Bolognese sauce to have with pasta. I feel by using a smoked brisket, it really gives the Bolognese sauce a lot more character and depth of flavor with the smokey elements that envelope all of the ingredients in this sauce.

We will be keeping this fairly traditional, I say fairly as traditional Bolognese sauce does not normally have smoked brisket in it. It has a mixture of pork and beef mince and sometimes veal.

When you already have a smoked brisket to use for this recipe, you can have the best Bolognese sauce in 4 to 6 hours, or if like me, you can push that to a 2 day slow cooked sauce that will knock your socks off. Keep reading to see why I like to push my sauce that bit extra.

Firstly we need some cooked brisket 

If you have stumbled upon this recipe, but do not have any leftover brisket then go check out our guide on how to smoke a brisket recipe.

This runs through all of the basics of meat preparation, seasoning, how to set up your smoker, cooking times and temperatures. 

We also have some added extra in length videos on trimming up a brisket and how to properly slice one up after cooking.

sliced smoked brisket
Our Hot and Fast Style Brisket recipe will work great for the Bolognese sauce

Now if you do have some cooked brisket, read on.

Once the brisket is cooked and you have all eaten enough. Storing it properly is the key.

Wait until it has cooled and you need to weigh out 2.2 pounds for this recipe. I know it sounds like a lot of meat but we are going to make a few batches of this Bolognese sauce, trust me, you are going to thank me later for making extra.

Place the brisket you put aside for the Bolognese sauce into the fridge in an airtight container and store any other brisket in an airtight container as well.

Is it Bolognese or a Ragu? 

Traditionally Spaghetti Bolognese comes from Bologna in Italy, as far back as the 1700’s. 

Yet if you go to Italy and ask for a plate of Spaghetti Bolognese, you will get a slightly puzzled look from the restaurant staff. 

Although this intensely rich and flavorsome food hails from Bologna, they actually call it a Ragu.

Call it what you will but be warned if you do travel to Italy, order the Ragu, it is fantastic.

How long to let the Bolognese cook for? 

There are two elements to this question.

The first one, how much time do you have? That means are you prepping this at midday for tonight’s dinner? Then 4 to 6 hours is fine. I wouldn’t bother making this recipe if I couldn’t give all those ingredients at least four hours to cook away.

The second part is, how much do you like the flavor? As this sauce slowly cooks, its flavor intensifies with a rich umami explosion that just seems to keep building every hour you can leave it alone.

Hence why when I cook a brisket, my family gets excited for two reasons. One is they know they are getting brisket, the other is they know in 2 to 3 days time they are getting the best Bolognese sauce they have ever tasted. This is the very reason I make a large batch and portion it out.

slow cooker set to low
Cook the sauce for at least 4 hours or push it for a couple of days, if you have time

If you are going to push the sauce and cook it for a couple of days. Keep an eye on it and stir it every few hours, if it is looking a little dry on top when you take the lid off, add about a third of a cup of water.

As every hour passes and the sauce reduces and its flavor profile just keeps building.

To make this recipe, you will require:

What kind of Pasta should I use with the Bolognese? 

If you want to keep things traditional you should use a larger flat style paste like Tagliatelle which is commonly used with Bolognese sauce. Mainly because of its wide shape that resembles a ribbon, this helps it to hold the sauce a lot better than thinner spaghetti styled pastas.

I personally tend to lean towards Pappardelle style pasta myself. It is a flat ribbon styled pasta as well but slightly wider than Tagliatelle.

Why add the milk? 

The milk is such an important part of making a traditional Bolognese sauce. 

pouring milk into a Bolognese sauce
Milk helps cut through the acidity of the tomatoes and create a more delicate taste

At first when I heard about adding milk I was a little sceptical but now I cannot make a tomato based sauce without it.

Tomatoes are a very acidic food and when adding milk to any sauce that has tomatoes in it, this really mellows out that harshness. This results in a more delicate taste. 

We also need to make sure the milk is at room temp before adding to the sauce. This will stop the sauce from curdling, which can happen when adding cold milk to a hot tomato based sauce.

Bolognese sauce step by step

1. Prep your ingredients

In keeping with the traditional style of Bolognese, this recipe relies on a few fresh ingredients to make an incredibly tasting sauce packed full of flavor. 

leftover brisket bolognese ingredients
Preparing ingredients beforehand is a great habit to get into

I recommend getting everything prepped ahead of time.

So to start, I’ll peel and top and tail the carrots and then dice them into ⅓ of an inch cubes. I’ll give the same treatment to the onions and also dice up the celery stalks.

diced carrots and onions in bowls
Before you start cooking, dice the vegetables and measure out all wet and dry ingredients

I also measure out the wet and dry ingredients before I start cooking.

The passata or tomato puree, red wine, and tomato paste. Now we do need some milk but not until later, so we’ll just leave that in the fridge for now.

There are a few dry ingredients as well: bay leaves, salt and pepper. Seasoning food properly is the key. 

Now since this recipe is called brisket leftover Bolognese, we need some leftover brisket obviously.

diced leftover brisket in a glass bowl
Dicing brisket into small cubes will make it easier to cook

Just grab the brisket out of the fridge and we need to start dicing it up into ⅓ to ½ inch size pieces. This is just going to make handling the cooked brisket easier. 

3. Making the Bolognese 

Since the brisket is already cooked, we could just put it in the slow cooker or pot straight away but, I want to use some of the brisket fat to sear our vegetables up.

diced brisket in a frying pan
Heating the brisket in a pan will give us some fat to cook the vegetables in.

So I’ll start warming the brisket up in a frypan in batches and once I see some fat rendering out, I’ll put that batch of brisket into my slow cooker. Once all of the brisket is warmed, we should be left with some tasty brisket fat in the frypan.

diced brisket in a slow cooker
When placing the brisket into a slow cooker, leave the fat in the frying pan

Whenever we fry, sear or char up food, it brings another taste element to our food. So into the frypan go the chopped up celery, carrots and onions. These will need between 5 to 10 minutes. 

diced vegetables in a frying pan
Searing vegetables will bring another taste element to our leftover brisket Bolognese sauce

Once the onion starts to soften and become translucent, you know they are done and we can now add the wine. Give this a minute or two and then add all of these ingredients into the slow cooker with the brisket.

We can now add the passata and tomato paste, along with the bay leaves.

brisket, vegetables, tomato paste and bay leaves in a slow cooker
Once all the ingredient are in, set the slow cooker to low and cook under a closed lid

Give all of the ingredients a good stir and place the lid on and set the slow cooker to low. Or if you are cooking on a stovetop, just set the temp to the lowest it can be.

3. Give the sauce time to develop flavor

Now we want this to cook away for at least four hours but for me, I always slow cook mine for a couple of days. That wait is well worth it. Keep reading if you want to find out why.

cooked leftover brisket bolognese sauce in a slow cooker
Remember to remove the bay leaves from the cooked sauce before portioning it

Once we have cooked the sauce to our liking, we can dig out the bay leaves and it is time to portion the sauce out. We currently have six in our family and authentic pasta sauces only need between 2 to 4 ounces of sauce per serve. So I portion mine out to 20 ounce servings to feed the family.

brisket bolognese sauce portions in bowls
One serving of Bolognese sauce is between 2 to 4 ounces

I place the serving I want for that night’s dinner back into the slow cooker, as we still need to finish it off.

When the other portions are thoroughly cooled, I tend to put a family size portion into a zip lock bag, this way I can squeeze out all of the air and seal up the bag and lay it flat in the freezer, making it easier and quicker to defrost at a later date.

zip lock bag for brisket bolognese storage
The best way to store Bolognese sauce is in a zip lock bag which you can lay flat in the freezer

To finish off our sauce that we placed back in the slow cooker, we need to add one third of a cup of room temperature milk. This needs to be a serving for at least four people. If not, lower the milk quantity. Stir that into the sauce. The milk will help cut through the harsh acidity of the tomatoes and create a more delicate taste in our sauce.

Taste the sauce and if it needs it, season with salt and pepper and retaste.

We are now ready to serve.

Cooking pasta

Most pastas are cooked the same, using hot salted water.

I start with a large pot and add ¼ of a gallon of water per every 3.5 oz of pasta.

Add a couple of teaspoons of salt and bring the water to the boil and add the pasta. Stir it around until all of the pasta is submerged.

Boil for 9 minutes for a firm al dente bite, or for another minute or two for a softer texture.

Drain when cooked and serve immediately with your sauce. 

To serve 

  • With flat broad pasta and garlic bread.
  • It is fantastic with mashed potatoes.
  • I also make great pies with it.
leftover brisket bolognese with pasta and garlic bread
If you like cheese, serve Bolognese sauce with freshly grated Parmesan

I do love adding freshly grated Parmesan cheese to my pasta sauces. Mainly because I love cheese but also because I love when the cheese starts to melt and mix in with the deep red rich sauce, it really does bring another flavor layer that I love to experience.

Reheating frozen portions of Bolognese sauce 

Take a frozen pasta sauce out of the freezer the night before you wish to cook it. Place on a tray or plate in your fridge.

The next evening it should have thoroughly defrosted if packed in a zip lock bag nice and flat in your freezer.

leftover brisket bolognese in a zip lock bag
Storing Bolognese in a zip lock bag is not only convenient but it also takes less time to defrost

Add contents to a frypan over a low heat and bring up to temp., usually takes around 10 to 15 minutes over a low flame. 

Once the sauce is warmed up, you can add a third of a cup of room temp milk to the sauce and stir it through.

Leftover Brisket Bolognese

Leftover Brisket Bolognese

Slow cooked Bolognese sauce made with leftover brisket and served with Pappardelle style pasta, and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
4 from 1 vote
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American, Italian
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 4 hours
Total Time: 4 hours 15 minutes
Author: Dean “Schuey” Schumann


  • 2.2 lbs smoked brisket
  • 14 tbsp tomato paste
  • 4 carrots (peeled and diced)
  • 2 medium brown onions (peeled and diced)
  • 4 celery stalks (diced)
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3 cups tomato puree (passata)
  • 1 ½ cups dry red wine
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • cup room temp milk (4x servings)
  • water if need (⅓ of a cup at a time)
  • 17 oz pasta (Pappardelle is what I used)
  • 4 tbsp shaved Parmesan cheese for garnish


  • Dice up cooked brisket into ⅓ to ½ inch pieces.
  • Fry up the brisket, this allows the fat to render into the pan. Add warmed up brisket to a slow cooker.
  • Add diced celery, carrots and onions to the same pan and heat up in brisket fat.
  • Once onions have softened and become translucent, add the wine and cook for a few minutes. Then add this to the slow cooker.
  • Now add the passata and tomato paste, along with the bay leaves to the sauce.
  • Season with a good pinch of salt and pepper, stir and place the lid on.
  • Turn on the slow cooker to low and leave for four hours.
  • After four hours, remove the bay leaves.
  • Now portion out the sauce into family size meals, 4 oz per person. Mine are at 20 oz portions.
  • Place the portion you wish to have for dinner that night back into the slow cooker and add 1⅓ of a cup of room temperature milk and stir thoroughly.
  • Boil your pasta in salted water for 9 minutes, drain and plate up ready for the sauce.
  • The sauce is now ready to add to the freshly cooked pasta.
  • Top with some freshly grated Parmesan cheese and a side of crunchy garlic bread.


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One Response

  1. 4 stars
    Great use of leftover brisket (or our my case smoked tri-tip). Slow cooked for 22 hours and after adding the milk I found still it way, way acidic. Added a bit more milk and a hefty dose of sugar to balance the acid. It was a hit around the table.

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