This ground bison spaghetti recipe with a spicy red sauce is made with lean bison, a flavorful red sauce (that’s surprisingly easy to make), and is set atop classic spaghetti noodles. It’s a crowd-pleaser and sure to become a family favorite!
My favorite thing about this recipe is how I can just add a few simple ingredients to really amp up store-bought tomato sauce. It feels like a shortcut to more flavor!
why you need this bison spaghetti
If you’ve ever thought about making homemade spaghetti and bolognese sauce but have been overwhelmed by the recipes that simmer for hours. Then this bison meat sauce is for you! This spaghetti is:
- Ready in 30 minutes: No one likes waiting for good spaghetti. And this ground bison ragu doesn’t require much waiting because thanks to store-bought red sauce, dinner will be ready in 30 minutes.
- Simple ingredients: For a ragu sauce, this one uses simple and minimal ingredients to maximize flavor. Its base is made of sautéd vegetables for the natural sweetness that is traditional in Italian soffrito (carrots, celery, and onion).
- Lean, mean, and sooo tasty: Bison is a naturally lean meat which I like because it cooks super fast and I don’t have to drain excess fat! So, while not mean, this bolognese sauce gives you the same delicious flavor of traditional sauce but with the twist of it being a bison ragu!
ingredients and substitutions
All substitutions are a 1:1 substitute unless otherwise noted. See recipe card for quantities.
- Ground Bison: Also sold as buffalo meat, but you can use ground beef in place of bison as long as you drain the fat. Bison also makes great bison tacos, sloppy joes, and chili (get our full list of ground bison recipes)!
- Spaghetti: Any of your favorite noodle shapes can be used if you don’t have spaghetti.
- Carrots: This is the secret to really good spaghetti sauce! Just make sure they are minced into very small pieces.
- Marinara sauce: Any store-bought marinara sauce you might have in the pantry or normally buy will work.
- Garlic: If you're not using fresh cloves of garlic, use 1.5x the amount of pre-minced garlic (which comes in a can) to make up that lost flavor.
- Tomato paste
- Spices: Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, bay leaf, salt, & pepper
Expert Tip: If you use bucatini but not spaghetti, that will work! The difference is that bucatini is hollow and the noodles are slightly wider.
This recipe has not been tested with other substitutions or variations. If you replace or add any ingredients, please let us know how it turned out in the comments below!
recipe testing notes
Throughout our testing of this bison spaghetti, we learned some key things that worked and didn't work. Here are the key takeaways!
- Using onions: I tested this recipe using both onions and shallots. We felt that neither added much flavor or benefit to the dish, which is why we didn't call for either of them.
- Spice level: This is a spicy bison ragu so if that makes you nervous, start with half the amount of red pepper flakes. I tested the sauce with less and more pepper and felt that the specified quantity gave enough heat to warm the mouth but did not set it on fire. Just how I like it!
- Sauce to pasta ratio: We like a heavy sauce to pasta ratio so the amount of pasta called for is indicative of that. If you like less sauce and more pasta, increase the pasta amount. Or, if you are trying to stretch your dollar, use more pasta to get more out of the sauce.
how to make this - step by step
Be sure to scroll to the recipe card for the full bison spaghetti recipe!
Step one: make the pasta
Bring a large pot of water to a boil with a hefty helping of salt. Add the spaghetti and cook until al dente. You don't need to save any pasta water for this Bolognese.
What is al dente? This is a term to describe when the pasta is cooked perfectly. It should be cooked but still firm when bitten. It shouldn't crunch but it also shouldn't melt apart in your mouth.
Step two: brown meat
Add the bison to a large skillet over medium heat, breaking it up as it cooks (this is easiest to do with a wooden spoon). Once the meat is almost browned but still a little pink, add the minced carrots and garlic. Saute until fragrant and softened (about 3-4 minutes).
Step three: add the sauce and spice
Add the tomato paste, marinara sauce, spices, and bay leaves. Mix to combine. Cover and let simmer for 15-20 minutes.
Step four: plate
Once the sauce is done, remove the bay leaves. Serve over the spaghetti and enjoy with fresh grated parmesan cheese!
watch how to make this - step by step
Ok, so here's where things can turn gray. In classic Italian cooking, all of these are tomato-based sauces. But marinara doesn't contain meat while Bolognese and ragu are both delicious meat sauces. Traditional bolognese sauce uses white wine while ragu uses red wine. But, for our purposes, we are using the terms interchangeably.
Definitely! If you can’t find ground bison, feel free to use ground beef. You'll just need to drain any excess fat after browning the beef and before adding the carrots and garlic.
Expert Tip: You can also use meatballs (beef or bison meatballs) if you don’t have ground beef, just cook them separately from the sauce. Start making the sauce by sauteing the carrots and garlic in a little olive oil.
Not really, as long as it’s a tomato-based Italian-style marinara sauce it will work!
Ground bison can be found at many stores now like Costco, Target, Whole Foods, and at many local grocery stores near the beef. You can also buy it from Farmer’s markets or seek out a local bison farmer (they're more common than you might realize).
Traditional bolognese simmers for hours to allow the flavors to really meld together. Because we're starting with an already flavored marinara sauce, we still need to simmer but for a much shorter time period.
If you were to make the marinara sauce from scratch, you would need whole tomatoes (San Marzano tomatoes, depending on who you ask), red wine, maybe a parmesan rind, and a lot of fresh herbs and spices! There are many brands out there that provide homemade quality to consumers, like Rao.
bison pasta variations
Looking for ways to spice up this pasta? Try one of these variations!
Gluten-Free Bison Spaghetti
To make this gluten-free, you can either use gluten-free pasta or a vegetable substitute. This could be spaghetti squash (which I find the easiest), zucchini noodles, carrot noodles, or similar.
High Protein Bison Pasta
Slow Cooker Bison Spaghetti
To make this in the slow cooker, brown the beef and add the garlic and carrots. Then add everything to a slow cooker and let simmer on low for 3-4 hours. Mix in your pasta with the bolognese meat sauce just before serving.
Bison Pasta Bake
To turn this into a pasta bake, add everything to a casserole dish and top with mozzarella and parmesan cheese, or an Italian blend. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes until ooey and gooey!
Fridge: To keep any leftovers, store the pasta and sauce together in the fridge for up to a week. Reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop with a splash of water or beef broth.
Freezer: To save the sauce in the freezer, pour it into freezer-safe quart-size plastic zip-lock bags. Lay the bags on a baking sheet to freeze them flat. Then, transfer to the freezer where the sauce will keep for 3 months.
Expert Tip: Want to spread the love or have an event coming up? Try doubling this recipe and freezing the other half. This can be given to a friend in need or kept for those nights you just don’t have the energy to cook.
more easy pasta recipes
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- 1 large skillet
- 1 deep pot
- 1 pound ground bison or beef, see notes below
- 12 oz spaghetti ½-3/4 of a standard 16 oz box
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- ⅓ cup carrots minced
- 2 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 jar marinara sauce 24 oz
- 2 tablespoon Italian seasoning
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon salt and pepper
- 2 bay leaves
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil with a hefty handful of salt. Add the spaghetti and cook until al-dente.
- Add the ground bison to a large skillet over medium heat, and break it up as it cooks (this is easiest to do with a wooden spoon). Once the meat is almost browned but still a little pink, add the minced carrots and garlic. Saute until fragrant and softened (about 3-4 minutes).
- Add the tomato paste, marinara sauce, spices, and bay leaves to the bison. Mix to combine. Cover and let simmer for 15-20 minutes.
- Once the sauce is done, remove the bay leaves. Serve over the spaghetti and enjoy with fresh grated parmesan cheese!