Delicious Crock Pot Baked Zit has delicious meat sauce, three kinds of cheese, plus uncooked pasta baked in the slow cooker. You can have the best Italian pasta for dinner tonight.
You may confuse it with the taste of the best lasagna. It is perfect for special casual family meals or an easy dinner without spending all day in the kitchen.
Ground beef—or Italian sausage
Cheese—ricotta, Parmesan, mozzarella
Aromatics—garlic and onion
Pasta—ziti or penna pasta
Pantry ingredients—parsley, basil, crushed red pepper (optional), salt, and pepper
Featured Comment from Kathleen:
"I have made this several times for my Husband. He is a very picky eater…he absolutely loves this!!! It is a 5-star rating for us!!"
It is outrageously good, with gooey melted cheese, great meat sauce, and tender pasta—now you can have the best-baked ziti—loaded with wonderful tasty meat sauce, tender pasta, and three types of cheese.
This recipe takes about 20 minutes of prep and 4 hours of crock pot time. Using uncooked pasta saves a step, but mainly to prevent the mushy texture of crock pot pasta recipes.
👨🍳How to Make Crock Pot Baked Ziti
Use the pasta you want—usually ziti or penne pasta.
Start by placing 1 pound of ground beef over medium-high heat to brown. Then chop one small onion, crush two cloves of garlic, and add while the meat is browning. Cook until no longer pink. It takes about 9-10 minutes.
Combine 1 cup (8 oz.) ricotta cheese with one egg white, ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, ½ teaspoon dry parsley, and ½ teaspoon salt—do not over-mix.
To a medium mixing bowl, mix 28 oz can crushed tomatoes, 1 ½ teaspoon basil, optional red pepper, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper—mix well.
Drain the meat of extra fat and combine it to make the meat sauce. You can add ⅛ tsp crushed red pepper if you wish. It will not add much heat.
Give a 3 to 4 quart or larger slow cooker a good spray of PAM. Put about 1 ½ cups of meat sauce in first and spread to cover the bottom. Add 1 cup of uncooked ziti noodles or other pasta.
Add half the ricotta cheese mixture by placing spoonfuls on the pasta. Add ½ cup of shredded Mozzarella cheese on top of the ricotta cheese layer.
Repeat the layers by adding 1 ½ cups of meat sauce, 1 cup of dry pasta, the rest of the ricotta, and ½ cup of shredded mozzarella. Top that with the rest of the sauce and 1 cup of mozzarella.
Cook on low for 4-5 hours. But check the pasta one hour early and closer to the end. End cooking early if needed to prevent overcooking of the pasta.
For more details, keep reading. See the Recipe Card below for complete instructions and to print.
Crock pot settings and how long to cook
Cooking on low is recommended for this recipe. You are less likely to overcook your pasta. On low, it takes about 4 hours. Check on the pasta about an hour early since crock pots can be unpredictable.
If you decide to cook on high, it should take about 2 hours, but check the pasta at 1 and 1 ½ hours into cooking.
✔️Variations and options to make it perfect every time
If you want, leave the meat out. But, in our home, ziti always has meat. It may be ground beef, Italian sausage, ground chicken, or ground turkey.
Any ground meat must be browned before adding it to a crock pot recipe, or it will be a clumpy mess and leave drainage in the dish. I also took the opportunity to precook the onion and garlic here.
You can change up the spicing of the homemade sauce if you prefer another flavor.
Add vegetables like bell pepper or mushrooms if you like.
You can use jar marinara sauce, but this recipe's sauce is much better.
Cooking pasta in a crock pot can be a bit tricky. Crock pots vary in their temperature curve, and the other ingredients can affect the cooking. The most important variable is the pasta itself. I suggest using a similar pasta each time to learn how it will cook by this method.
Smaller pasta will tend to cook faster. The recommended cooking time for your pasta will give you a clue. The penne pasta I usually use has a suggested cooking time of 12-14 minutes.
Pasta with very short cooking times will not be a good choice, and If you use non-standard pasta, like whole wheat or gluten-free pasta, the results may or may not be good.
↕️How to make this a "for two" or "family size " recipe
It is already "cooking for two" friendly, but you may make it smaller in a mini crock pot or larger for a family meal in a full-size slow cooker. The full recipe makes 4 servings in a 3 to 4-quart crock pot—perfect for our "for two" household for two meals. But you can adjust down or up according to your needs.
- Use the recipe card and adjust the number of servings to half or double.
- Use the amount of ingredients in the ingredient list, not the instructions—those do not adjust.
- If you cook a half recipe in a 2-quart mini crock pot, watch the pasta closely since smaller cock pots may have more temperature variation—check early and frequently. The main downfall of mini crock pots is temperature control.
- A double recipe works well in a 6 ½ quart or large slow cooker.
- Cook for the same amount of time on low. But heed the warning about checking your pasta early due to crock pot temperature variations, especially in mini crock pots.
Serving and Leftovers
Serve like any great Italian. A green salad and garlic bread are perfect.
Store leftovers in an airtight container refrigerated for 4 days or frozen for 3 months.
To reheat, thaw overnight in the refrigerator. If frozen, reheat in the microwave or cover in the oven.
Baked Ziti starts with some tomato-based sauce, usually with meat in my house, but you could skip the meat if you must. Add some cheese and pasta, and you have a classic Italian dish. There are variations, but that is it.
They look similar but not quite the same. Ziti is a bit bigger and has straight-cut ends. The penne is a little smaller with angle-cut ends. But they cook the same and can be used interchangeably. I like my pasta a bit smaller, and penne is readily available, and ziti pasta is not around me.
This recipe is listed in these categories. See them for more similar recipes.
Have you tried this recipe, or have a question? Join the community discussion in the comments.
Crock Pot Baked Ziti
- 1 pound ground beef - or Italian sausage
- 1 onion - small chopped
- 2 cloves garlic - crushed
- 1 cup ricotta cheese
- 1 egg white
- ¼ cup Parmesan cheese - grated
- 1 ½ tsp salt - divided
- ½ tsp dry parsley
- 28 oz crushed tomatoes
- 1 ½ teaspoon basil
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- ⅛ teaspoon crushed red pepper - optional
- 2 cups dry ziti noodles
- 2 cups mozzarella cheese - shredded
- Start by placing 1 pound of ground beef over medium-high heat to brown. Then chop one small onion, crush two cloves of garlic, and add while the meat is browning. Cook until no longer pink. It takes about 9-10 minutes.
- Combine 1 cup (8 oz.) ricotta cheese with one egg white, ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, ½ teaspoon dry parsley, and ½ teaspoon salt—do not over-mix.
- To a medium mixing bowl, mix 28 oz can crushed tomatoes, 1 ½ teaspoon basil, optional red pepper, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper—mix well.
- Drain the meat of extra fat and combine it to make the meat sauce. You can add ⅛ tsp crushed red pepper if you wish. It will not add much heat.
- Give a 3 to 4 qt. or larger slow cooker a good spray of PAM. Put about 1 ½ cups of meat sauce in first and spread to cover the bottom. Add 1 cup of uncooked ziti noodles or other pasta.
- Add half the ricotta cheese mixture by placing spoonfuls on the pasta. Add ½ cup of shredded Mozzarella cheese on top of the ricotta cheese layer.
- Repeat the layers by adding 1 ½ cup meat sauce, 1 cup of dry pasta, the rest of the ricotta, and ½ cup of shredded mozzarella. Top that with the rest of the sauce and 1 cup of mozzarella.
- Cook on low for 4-5 hours. But check the pasta one hour early and closer to the end. End cooking early if needed to prevent overcooking of the pasta
Your Own Private Notes
- For a discussion on adjusting the size of this recipe, please see the section in the recipe post where full-size and 2 quart mini crock pots are discussed.
- The pasta goes in uncooked, so the choice of pasta is important. Longer discussion within the post. I suggest a standard penne. I doubt very small pasta, whole wheat, or gluten-free would be a good choice.
- There are variables like the crock pot and the other ingredients. But the biggest variable is the pasta. So check the pasta several times before you think it is done.
- DO NOT SKIP CHECKING THE PASTA early, part way through the cooking, and closer to the end. Many kinds of pasta will go from undercooked to overcooked rapidly.
To adjust the recipe size:
You may adjust the number of servings in this recipe card under servings. This does the math for the ingredients for you. BUT it does NOT adjust the text of the instructions. So you need to do that yourself.
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Inspired by a Pioneer Woman recipe for Baked Ziti, it is a bit more lasagna-like than some recipes with ricotta and Parmesan cheeses and was not a crock pot recipe. I adapted.
Editor's note: Originally published December 5, 2013. Updated with expanded options, refreshed photos, and a table of contents to help navigation.