Is it Sauce or Gravy? Why Italians Argue About The Term.


Italian-Americans are pretty split (and heavily opinionated) about whether their delicious Italian Sunday sugo is called “Sauce” or “Gravy.”

As owner and content creator for Hardcore Italians for over 10+ years, I have seen this argument pop-up countless times. Opinions are always very one-sided and harsh. Nobody seems to care about where the term originated. In fact, if you even clicked opened this article instead of posted your opinion in the comments, you are one in a hundred!

Literally listening to the rationale of hundreds of thousands of Italians over the years, I’ve come to, oddly, understand both sides of the story (I know, pretty crazy).

So… Where did the term come from? Should I call it Sauce or Gravy? Tell us already!

Where the term came about
Although the term “Gravy” doesn’t exist in Italy, it WAS in fact invented by Italians from Italy. When Italians immigrated to the United States, they tried to assimilate to American culture. Although they wanted to keep their traditions and heritage, they desired to become accepted in the new country. For most Italians, this meant learning English!

During the Americanization process, there was a confusion with the word “Ragu” (A.K.A. Meat Sauce). If you translate “Sugo” to English you get “Sauce” but when you translate “Ragú” to English you get “Ragout.” Ragout is a French-styled stew. Uh, oh!

I’m not sure about you, but if I was new in America trying to fit in… I certainly wouldn’t invite people over for ragout!

This lead to a difference in opinion. Some Italians choose to call it “Meat Sauce” while some decided to call it “Gravy.”

Why gravy? Americans were already using it to describe sauce containing meat. That is actually how it is termed in the definition. Understandable at the time to choose the word, since there weren’t many resources or speech pathologists on hand!

It is rumored that only certain areas started calling it “Gravy.” For example, many people will comment that it’s a ‘Jersey thing.’ However, I’ve heard people from all over the United States use it. This makes it very hard to pinpoint the exact origin.

Where ever it may have caught on… Little did they know the aftermath of their choices would disrupt the Italian-American community for all of eternity!


What should I call it?
Now that you know where it came from, it’s time to pick a side! (maybe AFTER you in some body armor…)

Well, all of America will recognize the term “Sauce” with no problems. Many believe that because of this, “Gravy” should not even be an option. The other opinion is that it’s actually kind of cool to have a term unique to Italian-Americans.

There is really no right or wrong answer. It’s a matter of preference.


My opinion
I would suggest to call it by whatever you grew up saying.

It’s easy to argue because both sides have great points for and against them. However, if you look below the surface, there is a deeper reason why people are so defensive on the topic.

It ultimately comes down to an appreciation and respect of our Italian ancestors. If your grandfather sacrificed everything to come to America and called it Sauce/Gravy, and somebody says that’s wrong… It can definitely be aggravating. 

We should be able to joke about the situation in a friendly way, but the argument should try to remain under control. It is a little disheartening to see others get called “Fake Italian” or “Stupid” for their preference. I have unfortunately seen this too many times.

I’m dedicated to the mission of the page, which is to make Italians feel more connected (and to celebrate) their life’s story and background. It’s a shame, really!


What do you think?
We are interested in hearing your comments! What do you call it? How did your family pick a side? Do you have a different opinion than me? Let us know!






  1. In our house, it’s called sauce. My nonna referred to it as sugo; never gravy. Gravy was an American thing. Gravy was either brown & it was put on Salisbury steak or mashed potatoes OR it was white served at breakfast & made from bacon grease, milk, flour & salt & pepper. We learned that from my father’s side which had U.K. roots & they have been in America since the 1700’s. My nonna & nonno were the 1st ones here on the respective sides. I only ever knew my nonna. She taught me how to make the basic foods. Breaded chicken or veal cutlets, oxtail or beef knuckle or neck bone soup, polenta with tomato sauce & sausage (sugo), acini de pepe with butter & pecorino cheese & pasta with sauce (sugo) & sometimes meatballs. I expanded my basic repertoire & added chicken cacciatore + more. 😉 But I don’t do eel or snails. 😝 Peace my friends.

    1. Sauce is what you dip your mozzarella sticks in . No meat
      Gravy is slow cooked with meat .
      My grandmother would slow cook neck bones or Italian sausage in her “gravy” . So I use both terms .. Marinara is sauce no meat
      Gravy is with meat . I believe this helps give clarity and also includes both sides of the debate 🇮🇹🤌🏼

      1. It gives clarity to YOU and your family…not anyone else.
        Gravy by definition, uses a rue…which consists of Flour. I will bet you thousands of dollars that your family does not use Flour in your red SAUCE…no matter if there is meat in it or not.

  2. Never heard of gravy until seeing the sopranos. I assumed it was jersey slang when I heard it.

    My parents are immigrants to Canada and they never heard the term gravy used for sauce. My dad is a northerner and mom is a southerner.

    It is an Italian American word 100%. But it is not an Italian term in Italy nor is it used by Italians living outside of USA or Italy.

    Try going to Italy and asking for gravy at your Italian restaurant. They will be confused…..

    1. Which is not called gravy. It’s called Raģu because its a meat sauce. Gravy is an Italian/American word. Italians in Italy do not call it Gravy. They call it Suga

    1. Actually, it’s Macaroni. My family would not call it Pasta. You put the pot of Gravy on and what kind of Macaroni, short or long?

      1. just like the other person, I didn’t find Raos, Hunts, Ragu, or Contadina meat gravy in the supermarket. I also never saw meat gravy on a menu.

    2. Thank God you couldn’t find it! Thats garbage sauce. Make your own. If you want a recipe please email me. It’s cheaper to make your own and healthier. I’m an executive chef and you will love my recipe. jomama616@aol.com

      1. Rao’s is excellent if there’s no time/interest/energy in making your own. There’s even one without a couple ingredients that some people are sensitive to, including the original Rao. You’re a chef; most people aren’t and won’t have your interest in cooking. But they have interest and expertise in things you don’t know about. Should you have to learn what they know? Pax.

  3. My family is Italian and from the Bronx. They all called it gravy. I always said it should be sauce cause gravy is brown. I was shot down every time. Recently I met a very nice lady who grew up in Italy. I asked her and she emphatically said it’s always called sauce, never gravy. I told my Mom this and she said “ no it’s not, it’s gravy; she doesn’t know what she is talking about!”

  4. My father immigrated to America as a child with his parents and brother from Sicily. He grew up in Brooklyn,NY. My mother’s family immigrated from Sicily as adults, my mom was born here and they lived in Richmond Hill, Queens, NY. Neither side of my family ever called it gravy. It was always sauce. Gravy is brown and goes on roast beef and mashed potatoes. No way should sauce ever to be called gravy. Please don’t ever call sauce gravy. It’s such an insult to the care and the time Italians put in to making wonderful homemade sauce.

  5. There isn’t a commercial product on the market, from Italy or the U.S. branded as “gravy.” Maybe some small-batch novelty brands trying to cash in on the debate. That’s it….settled.

  6. Any sauce that has meat in it is called Gravy! Even italians that use the term Gravy also use Crab Sauce, Shrimp Sauce, Marinara Sauce, etc because they have no meat!

    1. This simply is not true. Italian AMERICANS use that term. Crab Sauce is made from the juices from the Crab…same with the Shrimp sauce…so why not call it Shrimp Gravy? Or Crab Gravy? They BOTH have protien in them…so…by your reasoning, they should be called Gravy!

  7. Where I live this is a hot debate. I usually go with sauce (which is what I grew up with) but I will call it gravy (for the sake of peace with my friends) if I make it with or it contains meat. I mean who would ever call a marinara sauce a marinara gravy? Or a clam sauce a clam gravy?

  8. My father’s family migrated from Pacino Sicily to NY. I grew up in Richmond Hill with my brothers. In our home it was always called sauce. First time I heard it called gravy was on The Sopranos. Call it whatever you like but in my presence call it SAUCE!

  9. This shouldn’t be a debate. Some called it gravy, some called it sauce. In my house and in all of my relatives houses, it was called gravy. I think as Italian-Americans were assimilating, they found the word gravy which is something poured on food and thought it made sense. That’s it. There’s no wrong or right.

  10. If you look at the actual definition of Gravy, it will tell you that Gravy is a sauce made by combining the juices from meat with flour, seasoning, etc. Which tells you…Gravy is made with Flour….Red Sauce is not. And remember…All gravy’s are sauces, but not all sauces are gravys. There IS a difference. But I can understand the Italian American term of Gravy. My grandparents immigrated from Italy, and In my Italian household for over 100 years, it was never galled Gravy. But…that is MY family. To each his/her own.

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