Crafting the perfect meatball is more than following a recipe, it is about mastering the technique. Let me show you how to make freaking great meatballs!
As a child, I loved playing in the mud. Heck, I actually even asked for mud for Christmas one year. Why Santa didn't give that to me, is beyond me. I was letting him off cheap! With a few more Decembers in my rearview mirror now, I no longer find myself squishing mud through my fingers, instead, I have graduated to raw meat. Not only is it far more socially acceptable, you can play with it in the house, and it tastes better! At least when you turn it into meatballs!
I have endured more lackluster meatballs in my life than I care to admit. Dense rounds of cooked meat, with all the flavor and texture of a golf ball, pressed together with a force that could evict a diamond out of a Kingsford briquet. You can have the best recipe in the world, but if you don't understand the technique, your meatballs will haunt diner's dreams for all the wrong reasons.
So, how do you make great meatballs from scratch? Let's take it step by step.
What is the Best Meat for Meatballs
The first consideration when making meatballs is what meat to use. It is important to use fatty ground meat, or the texture will be dry and crumbly. However, any combination of beef, pork, or veal will work well. Personally, I enjoyed the more rounded flavor of half beef and half pork. I think ground pork is one of the most under-appreciated meats in the grocery store (pork burgers anyone?). Though, if you only have ground beef on hand, your meatballs will still be great,
Regardless of which variety of meat you use, it is important to buy it freshly ground so you can still see the individual strands of meat from the grinder (as shown above). Skip the prepacked tubes of meat, as the meat has already been overly compacted. You want the looser strands of meat because when gently combined with the other ingredients it will make a far more tender meatball.
How to Make Meatballs without Breadcrumbs
The most common addition to meatballs is breadcrumbs. Breadcrumbs help bind the meat together, however, believe it or not, it is actually better to make meatballs without breadcrumbs. Rather than using breadcrumbs, slices of white bread are far superior. Removing the crust from white bread and cutting it into ½" cubes allows you to make a panade. Basically, a panade is bread soaked in liquid till mushy, and then it is used as a binder or thickener. Soaked bread has all of the binding power of breadcrumbs, with none of the dryness. You will get a far more tender meatball when making a panade.
Tip: If needed, you can also make meatballs without eggs.
How to Make Meatballs
The most important step to any meatball recipes is how you actually make the meatballs. There is more to it than mixing the meat and forming balls. You want to work the meat as little as possible. The more the meat is stirred, squeezed, and squished, the denser your meatballs become.
One trick I discovered is to mix all of the ingredients with the panade, separate from the meat. This allows you to ensure everything is mixed homogeneously before simply blending it with the meat. Also, it is important to use your hands to do the meat mixing. This will give you a more gentle touch than using a mixer. Finally, when forming the meat mixture into balls, gently roll it in the palm of your hands pushing only enough to hold the meat together.
How to Make Meatballs in the Oven
Personally, I think the best way to make meatballs is in the oven. Baking and broiling are great options, but I think broiling is the best. Not only is broiling quicker, the high direct-heat forms a nice crust on the exterior of the meatball which provides fantastic texture. Once browned sufficiently the meatballs can finish cooking by simmering in pasta sauce on the stovetop.
If you wish to bake your meatballs, place them in an oven preheated to 350 degrees until the interior reaches 160 degrees with a digital thermometer. This takes 20 minutes for me, but I've seen some recipes claim as much as 35. That is why it is important every kitchen has a digital meat thermometer.
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How to Make Freaking Great Meatballs
- 1 pound ground chuck 80/20 beef
- 1 pound ground pork
- 2 cups white bread (½” cubes & crust removed)
- 6 tablespoons milk
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup grated parmesan
- ½ cup parsley (finely chopped)
- ⅓ cup grated onion
- 2 cloves garlic (minced)
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- 48 ounces pasta sauce (optional)
- In medium bowl add cubed bread and milk to create a panade, tossing to ensure bread is fully saturated and let sit 10 minutes to soak.
- While bread is soaking gently crumble beef and pork into a large bowl.
- Prepare remaining ingredients in a separate dish and when bread is done soaking add them to the panade. Mash the soaked bread with your fingers to break it down and combine with the other ingredients. Any bits of bread that aren't fully saturated can be removed, otherwise add additional milk if much of the bread is not yet mushy.
- Pour bread and seasoning mixture over the crumbled meat and gently combine with the meat using your fingers. Work the meat only as much as needed to blend with the ingredients.
- Scoop out 2 tablespoons of meatball mixture at a time and gently form it into balls by rolling between your palms. Keep your hands wet to avoid sticking.
- At this point, meatballs can be frozen for later use, or cooked immediately.
- BROILING: Set broiler on high and place meatballs on a greased baking pan. Broil until the exterior of the meatball browns. Finish cooking the interior of the meatball in simmering pasta sauce, 5-10 minutes.
- BAKING: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place meatballs on a greased baking pan and bake for 20 minutes, or until the interior of the meatball reads 160 degrees with a digital meat thermometer.
- Serve the meatballs in pasta sauce with spaghetti or with buns and Italian cheese to make meatball subs.
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I thought I made a great meatball, but these were fantastic. They are
flavorful and tender will definitley do this again..
Hi there can i put the bread in if i mix this the night before.? T.y.
Fox Valley Foodie
Yes, you can make the full mixture the night in advance if you wish.
2 cups bread equates to how many ounces?
I used 4 slices of white bread if that helps.
Thanks for the recipe! I add a little more bread and milk since I’m feeding these to my toddlers—makes it a bit more tender and less “meaty” which is perfect for them. I also cut the parsley down by half and add fresh Italian basil from my garden. Turns out excellent!
Excellent just like my Nonnie’s.
I'm so glad I found this recipe. I forgot that this was how my mom used to make them (without the onions and worcestershire, though) - with the bread and the milk - although it was a long process to cook all the meatballs a few at a time in the pan with olive oil on the stove (the oil would get the wonderful meatball flavors then she would add that oil to her sauce). She learned to make meatballs like this from an Italian immigrant who boarded with my mother's family back in the 40s when the brothers were all off to war. I usually like to do things the "old fashioned way" but broiling sounds so much quicker! Thank you so much!!!
Can I use gluten-free bread in place of regular white bread?
I have been trying to make great meatballs forever. I am so glad I read your article on technique, as it made all the difference in the taste and texture. It is the 1st time I loved my meatballs. They were A+. I quickly learned to “feel” when to stop rolling. It was actually fun when I realized that. I am a garlic fanatic, so the only change I made was to triple the amount of garlic. This is a great recipe and it is important to read your article before making them. Thank you!!!
I found that there was way to much liquid. I put the meatballs in freezer to Firm them up. I would have used less milk and one egg next time.
Excellent recipe! I did 1.5 times the recipe with 1 lb pork and 2 lbs beef, and made the panade with caraway rye. Gave me about 40 meatballs which cooked in 20 minutes to 160 degrees. Definitely a keeper!
I made these tonight and I’m trying to keep keto so I used aldi keto bread and heavy cream and they are amazing! I only like just ground beef so I didn’t use the pork! So delicious!!!
Best ever! Except for my Nonnie’s…she used white bread too
This are indeed wonderful and easy!
Meatballs need garlic.
As a kid in N.Y., no one’s mom or nona broiled or baked their meatballs. Only frying in olive oil got that perfect sear. However, suddenly everyone is baking them in the oven. I’ve had them. They’re good. But I prefer Nona’s way.
I am making meatballs as an appetizer for 25 people. How many appetizer-size meatballs would this recipe make? Approximately the size of a golf ball. I just need to know if I need to double or triple this to make 50. Thank you!
I doubled it and made 66 golf ball sized meatballs. They're delicious!