Do you struggle with making Italian meatballs? Do you resort to buying the frozen kind?
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's In This Article
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.
The thing they have in common is that they are seasoned ground meat formed in a ball and cooked.
What are the Ingredients for Homemade Meatballs?
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.
- Flat Parsley– Also known as Italian Parsley, this fresh herb offers clean, earthy, almost peppery taste.
- Eggs– These are a binder to make it all stick together!
- 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.
- 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.
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!
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!
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.
How To Use Homemade 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.
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.
Make-Ahead, Storage & Freezing
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.
More Italian Comfort Food Recipes
Best Homemade 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
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 yellow onion , chopped
- 5-6 cloves garlic , minced
- 28 ounces plain tomato sauce
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
- 1 dried bay leaf
- 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.
Great meatball recipe!!!!!!
Seriously, these are probably the most delicious meatballs I have ever had! Followed recipe exactly as written. I have them simmering in a simple Italian sauce right now but they are really delicious just straight from the oven. Thank you for ending my search for the perfect meatball! 🥰
Thank you so much, Bridget!
These were fantastic! I have been searching for a tender, almost creamy texture, meatball forever. This is it! I processed the onion, garlic, and parsley in a food processor and then I pulsed in the eggs and seasonings. After adding in the bread mixture and the meats, I put the whole bowl in the refrigerator to firm up a bit while I cleaned up my dishes. I cooked these in a Cuisinart tray style air fryer at 375° for seven minutes. (I used a medium sized scoop to form the meatballs, about the size of a ping-pong ball). The air fryer gets them perfectly browned without a flat spot and they stay super moist. I was making them ahead of time for tomorrow, but we ate five or six apiece with just grated fresh Parmesan on top and we couldn’t stop!
Thank you for the feedback, Linda. Happy cooking!
I do add some fresh grated pecorino Romano , great recipe btw yummm
Yay!!! Thanks for coming back to let us know, Vinny!
I’ll never make meatballs another way again. These were the BEST homemade meatballs ever and I even made a second batch to freeze.
These were simply delicious! Perfectly seasoned. Loved micrograting the onion and garlic, although I cheated with my food processor. Nice moisture along with soaked bread. The meatballs were not heavy balls. Nice and light just like I like them. Baked a little shorter of a time to let them simmer in a yummy red sauce to finish cooking. Thank you for teaching me a few nice tricks! I will be sure to browse the rest of your site.
Awesome! Thank you for the detailed feedback, Diane. We really appriciate that you took the time to come back and let us know. Have a fabulous day!
I live in an Italian community and adopted my huge Italian family almost 50 years ago. Not Italian myself, but a pretty good cook, I’ve been chasing the elusive perfect meatball for a long time now-and I found it! My husband and friends rave about these meatballs. I did add a tablespoon of tomato paste and 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese. I’ll be passing this recipe down to future generations. Good job, girl!
Aw, THANK YOU! And thank you for such kind words. Have a fabulous day!
You didn’t mention when to add the eggs
Hi Eric, step #2 is to add parsley THROUGH beef bouillon, which would include the eggs. Enjoy!
You recipe looks amazing . Going to make for Christmas . I’m confused as to what you mean by add parsley through ground boulion . And when do you add the eggs ?
We hope you like it- it means to add all of the ingredients listed from parsley through bouillon, including the eggs.
My girls love these meatballs and would rather have these than noodles with them! So rich and flavorful!
we do tend to buy frozen more than make them at home but tried this out and it was amazing!