Crock Pot Baked Ziti: A Meaty and Cheesy Crowd Pleaser

Crock Pot Baked Ziti is the ultimate comfort food, combining hearty ground meat, flavorful sauce, and lots of cheese. This slow cooker Italian favorite is perfect for busy days when you want a delicious, home-cooked meal without the fuss.

Why You’ll Love this Crock Pot Baked Ziti:

  1. Kid-Approved: The cheesy and meaty flavors are a hit with kids.
  2. Convenient: The slow cooker does most of the work, freeing you up for other tasks.
  3. Flavorful: Italian seasoning and fresh basil add wonderful flavor.
  4. Cheesy Goodness: With ricotta, Parmesan, and mozzarella, it’s packed with cheese.
  5. Versatile: Can be made with ground beef, sausage, or even a combination.
  6. Perfect for Gatherings: Feeds a crowd, making it great for family dinners or parties.
  7. Easy Prep: Simple steps and minimal prep time.
  8. Comfort Food: Warm, hearty, and satisfying, perfect for any time of the year.
  9. Make-Ahead: Can be assembled ahead of time and cooked later.
  10. Delicious Leftovers: Tastes even better the next day.


  • 1 pound ground beef or ground sausage
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 minced garlic clove or 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 (24-ounce) jars pasta sauce
  • 1 (15-ounce) jar tomato sauce
  • 1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
  • 1 (16-ounce) box ziti


  1. Prepare the Meat Sauce:
    • In a nonstick skillet, brown the ground beef or sausage with the diced onion, breaking the meat apart as it cooks.
    • Add the minced garlic (or garlic powder), Italian seasoning, crushed red pepper flakes, and salt.
    • Stir in the pasta sauce and tomato sauce. Set the sauce mixture aside.
  2. Prepare the Ricotta Mixture:
    • In a medium bowl, mix together the ricotta cheese, egg, chopped fresh basil, Parmesan cheese, and 1 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese. This mixture adds creamy goodness to the ziti.
  3. Assemble the Ziti in the Slow Cooker:
    • Grease a 6-quart slow cooker with nonstick spray.
    • Pour 1/3 of the meat sauce into the bottom of the slow cooker.
    • Scatter 1/3 of the uncooked ziti over the sauce.
    • Spread 1/2 of the ricotta cheese mixture over the ziti.
    • Repeat the layers: another 1/3 of the sauce, another 1/3 of the ziti, and the remaining ricotta mixture.
    • Top with the remaining ziti and the rest of the sauce.
  4. Cook the Ziti:
    • Cover the slow cooker and cook on HIGH for 2 1/2 hours or on LOW for 4 to 6 hours. Be careful not to overcook, as the ziti can become soggy.
    • Remove the lid and sprinkle the remaining 2 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese on top.
    • Cover again just long enough to melt the cheese.
  5. Serve and Store:
    • Serve the baked ziti hot, straight from the slow cooker.
    • Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days.

Tips for Making Crock Pot Baked Ziti

To ensure your Crock Pot Baked Ziti turns out perfectly every time, consider these helpful tips:

Preparation Tips

  1. Use Fresh Ingredients: Opt for fresh basil and high-quality cheeses to enhance the flavors of your dish.
  2. Room Temperature Ingredients: Allow the cream cheese and ricotta cheese to come to room temperature before mixing. This ensures a smooth and creamy texture.
  3. Properly Dry the Ziti: If you rinse the pasta, make sure it is thoroughly dried before adding it to the slow cooker. This helps to prevent excess moisture and a watery sauce.

Cooking Tips

  1. Brown the Meat Thoroughly: Ensure the ground beef or sausage is fully browned and the onions are softened. This adds depth of flavor and prevents a greasy texture.
  2. Season Well: Don’t skimp on the Italian seasoning, salt, and crushed red pepper flakes. They add crucial flavor to the sauce.
  3. Layering: Follow the layering instructions carefully. Proper layering ensures even cooking and the perfect blend of flavors and textures.
  4. Avoid Overcooking: Overcooking can lead to soggy pasta. Stick to the recommended cooking times: 2 1/2 hours on HIGH or 4-6 hours on LOW.
  5. Melt Cheese Just Right: Add the final layer of mozzarella cheese at the end of the cooking time, just long enough to melt it without overcooking the pasta.

Customization Tips

  1. Experiment with Meats: Try a mix of ground beef and Italian sausage for a richer flavor. Turkey or chicken sausage can be used for a lighter option.
  2. Cheese Varieties: Mix different cheeses like provolone or fontina with mozzarella for a more complex cheesy layer.
  3. Vegetable Add-Ins: For extra nutrition, add vegetables like spinach, mushrooms, or bell peppers to the meat sauce.
  4. Spice Level: Adjust the amount of crushed red pepper flakes to your family’s taste preferences.

Serving and Storing Tips

  1. Serve with Sides: Pair with a simple green salad and garlic bread for a complete meal.
  2. Garnish: Add a sprinkle of fresh basil or parsley on top before serving for a fresh, vibrant touch.
  3. Store Properly: Leftovers should be cooled and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days. Reheat gently in the microwave or oven.
  4. Freezing: This dish can be assembled ahead and frozen. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before cooking. You can also freeze cooked leftovers for up to 2 months.

Presentation Tips

  1. Individual Portions: For a family meal, consider serving individual portions in small oven-safe dishes. This makes it feel special and allows for easy reheating.
  2. Crispy Top: If you prefer a crispy cheese topping, transfer the ziti to an oven-safe dish and broil for a few minutes after slow cooking to achieve a golden-brown crust.

By following these tips, you’ll create a delicious, perfectly cooked Crock Pot Baked Ziti that your family and guests will love!

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