If you have never had bison before, this bison bolognese will be a pleasant surprise!! This delicious meat sauce is slow-cooked in the crockpot for that all-day, simmered taste. Served over pappardelle or your favorite pasta, it’s the ultimate bowl of comfort food!
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One of the first recipes I posted on this blog was my Perfect Crockpot Meat Sauce. It’s so simple, flavorful and my go-to dish when I have to feed a crowd! It’s AWESOME and more less of a traditional meat sauce but I LOVE “untraditional”-type pasta dishes, too!
If this bison pasta is wrong, I don’t wanna be right!!! Rich, deep flavors from the bison, crushed tomatoes, and red wine, slow cooked to perfection in the crockpot is a thing of glory.
If you are not on the bison bandwagon yet, HOP ON! With beef prices the way they are today, bison is a fantastic option! It’s lean and has nearly 25% less calories than beef and is also lower in saturated fat. And guess what? Chances are no one will EVER know it’s not beef!
WHY YOU’LL LOVE THIS RECIPE
- A rich meat sauce slow cooked to perfection in the crockpot.
- More protein but a lot lower in calories and saturated fat vs. traditional meat sauce with beef.
- It’s super easy to make and freezes well!
- Delicious, cooked-all-day taste!
You’ll need the following ingredients to make this delicious meat sauce made with ground bison:
Ground Bison: Ground bison can be found near the ground beef at most chain grocery stores. Given the price of beef lately (2021), ground bison isn’t all that much more expensive. It was about $1 more per pound at my local chain grocery store.
Mirepoix: The base of this dish is the traditional “mirepoix” mix of carrot, celery and onion. I use more onion and less celery and carrot 🙂
Crushed Tomatoes: You can also use whole, peeled San Marzano tomatoes, just be sure to crush them up with a spoon when you add them to the slow cooker so there aren’t huge chunks of tomatoes 🙂 I have also used my favorite marinara sauce (Rao’s) and it works great as well!
Red Wine: A bold red works well here (like a Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot). You can also just swap it out with beef stock.
HOW TO MAKE THIS RECIPE: STEP BY STEP
Here are some quick visual instructions. Remember that full instructions with exact ingredients will be in the recipe card below!
Step 1: Brown up your ground bison, then add it to the crockpot.
Step 2: Cook onion, celery, carrot, and garlic. Add tomato paste and deglaze the pan with red wine. Then add everything to the crockpot with the meat.
Step 3: To the crockpot, add crushed tomatoes, crushed beef bullion cubes, bay leaves and sugar. Give everything a big stir!
Step 4: Cook on low 5-6 hours or on high 3-4 hours. Season with salt, if needed. Serve over your favorite pasta!
RECIPE TIPS & TRICKS
- Since bison generally has a fairly low fat content, you don’t want to overcook it, or it will dry out. 6 hours on low in the slow cooker is plenty! Even 4-5 hours is fine, too if you are short on time!
- Wait to salt the sauce until it’s nearly done. Different brands of canned tomatoes have varying salt levels. Taste it, and add salt only if needed.
- Using a food processor to chop up your onion, carrot, celery and garlic is quick and ensures everything is chopped up super finely.
- Using a store bought, good quality marinara sauce works really well, too!
STORAGE & REHEATING
- This bison bolognese will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days. To reheat, add sauce to a medium pan and cook over medium heat until warm.
- This meat sauce freezes up great! Cool completely, then store FLAT in a freezer bag for up to 3 months. To reheat, thaw sauce overnight in the fridge (or on the counter), then add sauce to a medium pan and cook over medium heat until warm.
ADDITIONS & SUBSTITUTIONS
- Ground Meat: This recipe calls for bison but you can use ANY ground meat you like! This recipe is for a classic meat sauce will work with almost any ground meat. Some popular options are ground beef, turkey, Italian sausage, veal, venison…or any combination of ground meats you like!
- Crushed Tomatoes: Two great subs for crushed tomatoes is a jar of a good quality store-bought marinara sauce (we LOVE Rao’s!) or a 28 oz. can of whole, peeled San Marzano tomatoes. Just make sure you break up the whole tomatoes with a spoon when you add them to the slow cooker.
- Wine: You can substitute beef stock here if you want to make it without wine.
- Pasta: I think thick pappardelle pasta and meat sauce go hand in hand, but really any pasta works! Linguine and spaghetti are also faves with this sauce at my house. It’s also fantastic over spiraled zucchini noodles for a low-carb option!
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Like chicken. Just kidding 🙂 It taste like beef. Some people report that bison tastes slightly “sweeter” than beef, but in this dish, you hardly notice it. In fact, no one in my family had any clue bison was in this dish when I first made it!
Some people ask if bison is “gamey” tasting and the answer is NO! And I would know, because I DO NOT like “gamey”‘ tasting things!!
Yep. Which is why a lot of people have started making the switch from beef to bison. Bison has fewer calories, A LOT less saturated fat and more protein than beef. I love this article from Cooking Light about the health benefits of bison over beef.
Traditional Bolognese sauce is a tomato-based sauce but it’s heavy on the meat and slightly lighter on the tomato 🙂 Bolognese sauce is often just called “meat sauce” and is slow cooked with onions, carrots, celery, and garlic..which may sound odd, but these veggies add such a depth of flavor.
Traditional Bolognese sauce is also cooked with milk. I have chosen not to cook milk into this bison meat sauce recipe. However, I do find stirring in 1/2 cup of milk or even half and half at the VERY END cuts the acidity of the tomatoes and balances out the flavors nicely. But it’s totally optional.
Milk is traditional in Bolognese sauce. It’s typically cooked in the sauce and adds a rich flavor to the sauce. I like to stir a bit of milk in at the very end instead, as I find it cuts the acidity of the tomatoes. But know that this step IS NOT NECESSARY. It’s wonderful with or without the milk/half and half.
Absolutely! Brown up your meat with the veggies and throw in everything else. Let it simmer AT LEAST 1-2 hours on low….you really want that low and slow cooked taste. You also want to ensure the flavors develop and the wine completely evaporates 🙂
OTHER PASTA RECIPES YOU’LL LOVE
- INSTANT POT CHICKEN PENNE PASTA
- CHEESY RIGATONI AL FORNO WITH SAUSAGE
- CREAMY TAHINI PASTA WITH LEMON AND GARLIC
- SLOW COOKER TACO PASTA
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Easy Crockpot Bison Bolognese
- 1 lb. ground bison See Note 1
- 2 tsp olive oil, divided
- 1 medium onion, chopped very finely
- 1 medium carrot, chopped very finely
- 2 celery stalks, chopped very finely
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped best garlic chopper ever!
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 cup red wine such a Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot
- 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes See Note 2
- 2 beef bullion cubes, crushed
- 2 tsp sugar optional
- 2 bay leaves
- salt, to taste
- red pepper flakes, optional
- 1/2 cup whole milk or half and half optional, See Note 3
- 1 lb. pappardelle pasta, for serving or your favorite pasta
- In a large skillet, heat 1 tsp olive oil. When oil is hot, add ground bison. Brown meat 3-4 minutes, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Pro Tip: When meat is about halfway browned, use a potato masher to get the meat nice and finely "chopped." It works so well!
- When meat is browned, add it to the crockpot. To the same pan, add remaining 1 tsp olive oil. Add onion, carrot, celery and garlic and cook 3-4 minutes until veggies begin to get slightly soft. Then, add tomato paste and cook another 1-2 minutes.
- Add wine to the pan and scrape off any brown bits from the bottom. Bring mixture to a boil and cook 1-2 minutes.
- Transfer everything in the skillet to your crockpot with the meat. Add crushed tomatoes, beef bullion, bay leaf and sugar to the crockpot. Give everything a big stir.
- Cook on low for 6-7 hours or on high 3-4 hours. Then, stir in milk/half and half, if using. Stir well and season with salt, if needed.