Do you struggle with making Italian meatballs? Do you resort to buying the frozen kind?
This is the very best recipe for Homemade Meatballs
Listin, we all cut corners, but after trying my most amazing meatballs, you’ll likely make them in big batches and never spend money on the frozen stuff again.
This homemade meatball recipe uses a blend of ground beef, spices and one special ingredient to make the tastiest, fork-tender meatballs you’ve ever seen! I’ve spent many year perfecting my meatballs and I am now ready to share the recipe.
What Are Meatballs?
The first thing to know is that meatballs, while commonly associated with Italian food, come in many shapes and sizes. They are also prevalent in food culture around the globe, not just Italy.
But alas, Swedish meatballs, Turkish meatballs, Asian meatballs commonly in pho made with seafood and fish, Spanish meatballs called albondigas, American meatballs with pasta (Italian meatballs are rarely served with pasta in Italy), Polish meatballs and Dutch meatballs.
What are meatballs made of?
The thing they have in common is that they are seasoned ground meat formed in a ball and cooked.
Meatball Recipe ingredients
Many folks find the simple ingredients to be freezer and pantry staples. The trick is just making sure you have enough binder to hold it all together and from there, the amounts can be adjusted based on personal preference and availability.
- White bread – Instead of dry bread crumbs, I use fresh bread. Other varieties can be used, but remember to remove the crusts since they don’t break down as easily.
- Evaporated milk – If you do not have evaporated milk, regular milk will do just fine. I would strongly discourage you from using skim or 1%. Whole milk would be best for the fat content and smooth consistency. Evaporated milk is condensed milk where the water has been evaporated out by at least 60%.
- Onion & Garlic– Is any meatball complete without them? I grate or pulse mine in a food processor to get more of a paste than a chop. Of course, you can finely mince as well, just don’t leave large chunks.
- Eggs– These are a binder to make it all stick together!
- Ground Meat Blend– I like a ground beef, ground pork and ground veal blend. It is sometimes labeled “meatloaf mix” at grocery stores. It gives the proper amounts of fat, flavor and texture. Without fat, these bad boys won’t binder, it is necessary.
Seasonings for meatballs
- Flat Parsley– Also known as Italian Parsley, this fresh herb offers clean, earthy, almost peppery taste.
- Salt & Pepper- I use a coarse salt, which gives a clean salt flavor without over drying or being too salty. Freshly ground pepper is key. If using a fine sea salt, reduce the volume by half. Salt brings out natural flavors and brightens.
- Ground Beef Bouillon– Huh? Yep! To get maximum beefy flavor, I had beef bouillon powder to my meatballs. It gives a real jolt of flavor! To be clear, this is the powdered version, not the liquid. If you have cubes, just smash them with a spoon to get a fine powder.
I can read your mind… you are saying something like, “but my nonna did XYZ”. Welp, there are a million ways to make really good meatballs, but not 100% perfect way.
This is our jumping off point recipe. The one we use to customize and have fun with. Delicious on its own, but also simple so it can pair with literally any flavor affinity. Master the basic meatball recipe and you’ll be on your way to make some pretty stellar dishes!
Italian Meatball Recipe variations
Can I Use a Different Type of Meat?
The last commonly asked question I get is about the meat. Italian meatballs traditionally use a blend of veal, pork and beef and some grocers even sell a single package with equal amounts, but if you are unable to find this and don’t want to buy a pound of each, you are fine using just beef.
If you do use beef only, settle for 80/20 fat (or more) content so they aren’t too dry and will stick together properly. If you pick ground chicken or ground turkey, but mindful that the lower fat content will also prohibit them from binding well and they might be a little dry. This is a situation where you need fat for them to congeal.
- Sicilian meatballs: These meatballs are made with a mixture of ground beef, raisins, pine nuts, breadcrumbs, eggs, and herbs. They often have a sweet and savory flavor and are served in a tomato-based sauce.
- Neapolitan meatballs: Hailing from Naples, these meatballs are made with ground beef, breadcrumbs, garlic, Parmesan cheese, eggs, and parsley. They are typically smaller in size and often cooked in a flavorful tomato sauce.
- Polpettone: Also known as Italian meatloaf, polpettone is a large meatball loaf made with a mixture of ground beef, breadcrumbs, eggs, Parmesan cheese, and various seasonings. It is typically baked and served sliced.
- Chicken meatballs: A lighter alternative to traditional beef or pork meatballs, chicken meatballs are made with ground chicken, breadcrumbs, eggs, herbs, and spices. They can be served in tomato sauce or used in other dishes like soups or stir-fries.
- Vegetarian meatballs: For those who prefer a meatless option, vegetarian meatballs can be made with ingredients like lentils, chickpeas, mushrooms, and various vegetables. They are usually bound together with breadcrumbs, eggs, or a vegan alternative and can be served in tomato sauce or alongside pasta.
- Turkey meatballs: Similar to chicken meatballs, turkey meatballs offer a leaner option. Ground turkey is combined with breadcrumbs, eggs, herbs, and spices to create flavorful meatballs that can be served with sauce or used in a variety of dishes.
- Seafood meatballs: These meatballs are made with a mixture of seafood such as shrimp, crab, or fish, along with breadcrumbs, eggs, herbs, and seasonings. They are often served in a light sauce or used as an appetizer.
- Lamb meatballs: Lamb meatballs are a popular choice in Mediterranean cuisine. Ground lamb is mixed with breadcrumbs, eggs, garlic, herbs, and spices to create flavorful meatballs that can be served with yogurt sauce, tomato sauce, or in pita bread.
How to Make Homemade Meatballs
Making easy meatballs in a snap… here we go.
- Preheat the Oven. Preheat the oven and prepare a baking dish. You can pan fry them (and this will also develop more flavor to brown them), but it can also dry them out and cook them unevenly. In this case I am fine with forgoing browning flavor for uniform doneness.
- Make the Binder. Place the cubed white bread and evaporated milk into a large mixing bowl, tossing to combine. Allow to sit while you prepare other ingredients. Bread will start to disintegrate and absorb milk, becoming a paste.
- Season. Add the grated onion and garlic to the bread, mix well. Add the parsley, eggs, salt, pepper and beef bouillon, continue to mix well. Mixing these items now will prevent you from over mixing when the meat is added.
- Add the Meat. Working in 3 rounds, add 1/3 of each type of ground meat, blending with your fingers until it just comes together until everything is combined. Do not over mix, this can make your meatballs dry and brittle.
- Form Meatballs. Take 2-3 tablespoons of meat and toss back and forth between your hands to pack. Meatballs should be approximately 2-3 inches wide (I like big meatballs!) Tossing them and rolling them prevents you from over working the meat.
- Cook. Place onto a broiler pan or a baking sheet fitted with a wire rack, make sure the meatballs are not touching. This allows hot air to circulate around the whole meatballs, cooking them evenly without having to turn. It also allow the fats to drip down so they don’t pool around the meat and get greasy. Bake until lightly browned. The internal temperature for meatballs should be 160°F using a digital thermometer.
- Use. Remove and use in your favorite recipes that calls for an easy meatball recipe!
How to serve this recipe for Homemade Meatballs
What is a Basic Meatball Sauce?
We’ve got ya covered if you want to head in the most traditional path. Meatballs simmered in this sauce will lend their flavors with the sauce and vice versa. It is perfection in its simplicity. You’ll need:
- Olive Oil
- Yellow Onion and Garlic
- Plain Tomato Sauce
- Dried Basil or Italian Seasoning
- Sugar (to balance the acid)
- Coarse salt
- Dried Bay Leaf
- Saute. Heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and saute for 3-4 minutes until soft and fragrant. Add the garlic, sauteing for 1 additional minute.
- Create. Stir in the tomato sauce, sugar, basil, salt and bay leaf. Simmer for 20-20 minutes or until flavors marry. Remove and discard the bay leaf.
- Simmer. Add the meatballs to the sauce and simmer for an additional hour.
- Serve. Serve over your favorite pasta with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese and freshly parsley or other fresh herbs. And, of course, garlic bread to mop up the sauce in the bowl.
What can you make with meatballs?
Just when you thought you knew everything there was to know about meatballs, you will be like WHAM! And it turns out, they can be used for so many more things than just spaghetti and meatballs. They taste good in nearly any sauce and can be transformed for easy dinner solutions.
- Toss them in buffalo wing sauce and blue cheese dressing for spicy meatballs.
- Instead of patties, use meatballs for Salisbury steak.
- Place them on a salad for the protein.
- Use them in stroganoff or crock pot beef and noodles instead of sirloin strips.
- Make meatball sliders using Hawaiian rolls, marinara sauce and mozzarella.
- Make meatball subs using the same sauce, mozzarella and parmesan.
- Add them to skillet lasagna or baked mostaccioli.
- Top them with any of our favorite Italian sauces like alfredo, pink sauce, fra diavolo, vodka sauce or carbonara.
- Make into meatball soup or add them to minestrone or creamy tortellini.
- Use one of our favorite BBQ sauces and put them over mashed potatoes.
Homemade Meatball Recipe make-ahead and storage
Can I Make Meatballs Ahead of Time?
Yes! Meatballs are a great item to make in bulk. They stay good in the the fridge, are freezer-friendly and can be used for a wide variety of purposes.
How Do You Store Meatballs?
Meatballs can be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. If you don’t plan to use them by then, freeze them.
Reheat meatballs in the microwave, oven or on the stovetop, depending on how many you have and also how you prepared them.
Can you Freeze Meatballs?
Meatballs can be frozen raw or cooked. Place in an airtight freezer bag and remove as much air as possible. Remember, air is the enemy and creates freezer burn.
To thaw, place in the refrigerator overnight or cook from frozen in a crock pot, oven or desired recipe. The internal temperature for meatballs should be 160°F using a digital thermometer.
Homemade Meatballs Recipe FAQs
Both baking and frying can result in delicious meatballs, but the short answer is that baking is generally considered a healthier option. Baking meatballs requires less oil or fat compared to frying, making it a lighter cooking method. Baking also allows the meatballs to cook evenly and retain moisture. However, frying meatballs can create a crispy exterior and add a different flavor profile. Ultimately, the choice between baking or frying meatballs depends on personal preference and dietary considerations.
Yes, eggs play a crucial role in keeping meatballs moist. The proteins in eggs act as binders, helping to hold the ingredients together and prevent the meatballs from becoming dry during the cooking process.
Homemade meatballs can fall apart for several reasons. One common reason is the lack of proper binding agents such as breadcrumbs or eggs, which help hold the meatballs together. Using too lean of ground meat can also result in dry and crumbly meatballs. Additionally, overmixing the meat mixture can break down the proteins, leading to a less cohesive texture. Lastly, not searing or baking the meatballs for a sufficient amount of time can cause them to fall apart during cooking.
The key to keeping meatballs together is to ensure the right balance of binding ingredients like breadcrumbs, eggs, or other moistening agents. These ingredients help bind the meat and hold it together during cooking. Additionally, avoid overmixing the meat mixture and gently form the meatballs, allowing them to hold their shape better.
Meatballs can be cooked in sauce or separately, depending on personal preference and the desired outcome. Cooking meatballs in sauce can infuse them with flavor and help them retain moisture, but they may become more tender and delicate. Cooking meatballs separately, such as by baking or frying, allows for more control over the cooking process and can result in a different texture and browning on the exterior.
More Italian Comfort Food Recipes
Italian Meatball Recipe
- 1 1/2 cups white bread crusts removed and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
- 2/3 cup evaporated milk
- 1/2 white onion micrograted
- 4 large garlic cloves micrograted
- 2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley minced
- 2 eggs lightly beaten
- 2 teaspoons coarse salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground beef bouillon
- 1 pound ground beef broken into 1 inch pieces, minimum of 80/20 mix
- 1 pound ground pork broken into 1 inch pieces
- 1 pound ground veal broken into 1 inch pieces
- Preheat the oven to 400°F and make the tomato sauce, if desired.
- Place the cubed white bread and evaporated milk into a large mixing bowl, tossing to combine. Allow to sit while you prepare other ingredients. Bread will start to disintegrate and absorb milk.
- Add the grated onion and garlic to the bread, mix well. Add the parsley, eggs, salt, pepper and beef bouillon, continue to mix well.
- Working in 3 rounds, add 1/3 of each type of ground meat, blending with your fingers until it just comes together until everything is combined.
- Take 2-3 tablespoons of meat and toss back and forth between your hands to pack. Meatballs should be approximately 2-3 inches wide (I like big meatballs!)
- Place onto a broiler pan or a baking sheet fitted with a wire rack, make sure the meatballs are not touching. Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly browned.
- Remove and simmer in the the prepared tomato sauce or your other favorite sauce.
- In a large Dutch oven or pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and saute for 3-4 minutes until soft and fragrant. Add the garlic, sauteing for 1 additional minute.
- Stir in the tomato sauce, sugar, basil, salt and bay leaf. Simmer for 20-20 minutes or until flavors marry. Remove and discard the bay leaf.
- Add the meatballs to the sauce and simmer for an additional hour.
- If you've tried this recipe, come back and let us know how it was in the comments or star ratings.