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 think the meatballs should be baked to 150 degrees.
They'll certainly reach 160 degrees plus after taken from the oven.
Great meatball recipe. I was looking for gluten free and substituted oats for bread, which worked fine. Tasty, juicy meatballs. Will definitely use recipe again.
This is the best meatball recipe ever. I come from an Italian background and have tried for years to make meatballs as well as my grandmother, mom, and aunts made when I was younger. I had not mastered it until this recipe came along. My husband and I are forever thankful.
These were SO GOOD! I was a little worried because I had to scale down a bit and didn't trust myself to pull off the same final product, but they turned out absolutely perfect!! Thanks for a great recipe! So simple but so freaking delicious.
You won't like this, but I had to add a little dried Italian bread crumbs because the meatball mixture was to wet to roll. Turned out great. I only had pre-grated parmesan in the shaker, so it was better than nothing.
Mama Mia! That was awesome! Definitely will be making it again. Thanks for sharing.
I’m going to make these tonight. We don’t have white bread, only whole wheat or brioche rolls. Which one do you think would be the best substitution?! Thanks!
Fox Valley Foodie
I would probably use the whole wheat. Both should work though.
Excited to be making these today! What type of white bread do you use?
Fox Valley Foodie
Whatever sandwich bread I have on hand. Typically it is Sarah Lee I believe.
Want to try them. Can they be frozen after broiling? They do look freaking great! 🙂
Fox Valley Foodie
Yes, you can freeze them. I would actually freeze them prior to cooking though, after you form the meatballs.
So glad I learned how to make these. They are delectable !
They are Ahhhhhmazing!! So tender, I am surprised they came out this good with me cooking! Yum.
It's a rainy day at the lake, so I used the meat I was going to grill burgers with, and I'm embarrassed to say how few ingredients I had for this recipe, but even without "most" of the ingredients, these are the best meatballs ever! It's got to be the bread and milk. They're so tender. Thanks a bunch!
I will try the recipe, but my mother always made the most amazing meat balls a little different from this, we don't bake or fry them though, cook them right in the sauce all day in an electric pot. I swear by cooking my meatballs in the sauce,
Holy crap these meatballs were SOOOOO good!!! Thank you so much for posting this recipe. I am going to use it forever. I always felt like something was missing in mine, but not anymore now that I made these. They were so incredibly flavorful and had the perfect consistency . Thank you!!
These are great! I did use shredded mozzarella instead. I thought I had Parmesan but I didn’t.
I’m going too try your recipes on Making freaking good meatballs Mahalo
This is probably a stupid question but do i use the shaker version of parm cheese or the shredded kind??
Fox Valley Foodie
Not a dumb question. Use the grated parmesan found in the refrigerated cheese section, not the cheap stuff found in the shakers.
Thank you! Trying this recipe on Thursday.. I will post pics & thoughts.
I combined this recipe with another which is to say that I used 2 cups of milked soaked bread instead of dry bread crumbs. I chose to broil my meatballs for 8 mins per side, followed by a short simmer in spaghetti sauce. I have to say, these meatballs turned out very flavorful and broiling them produced rich carmelized meatballs and drippings that I added to the sauce. Yummy!
Excellent recipe! These are awesome! I baked them and they were perfect.
It's the traditional start to the Sunday dinner in most Italian families, served warm with fresh mozzarella cheese, crisp Italian bread and fried hot green peppers (the long ones). Whether they're fresh from the pot, or simply gracing a heap of spaghetti, nothing beats a meatball.
Holy cow, these are amazeballs! Literally!