A meatball recipe that will make your favorite Italian restaurant jealous! These meatballs are always incredibly soft, tasty, and never dry, and they never fail to impress! You’ll learn everything you need to know about perfecting them every time.
Tastiest Homemade Meatball Recipe
- Nothing beats a pasta bowl piled high with perfectly cooked, spun, and tangled, steaming spaghetti wrapped in a vivid, garlicky San Marzano marinara sauce and loaded with handmade meatballs throughout! This is true comfort food at its finest!
- This simple dish offers a variety of alternatives (homemade or store-bought sauce, fried or baked meatballs), and it’s my personal favorite.
So, what goes into making the best meatballs? Here are some of my opinions and suggestions:
- As many fresh ingredients as possible are used. Fresh herbs, fresh bread crumbs, and fresh aromatics (not previously frozen). Everything is fresh here, with the exception of the aged parmesan, which is for good reason.
- For the finest flavor, use a combination of meats. I choose beef and pork since they are readily available and reasonably priced. If veal is available, use 2/3 pound beef, 2/3 pound pork, and 2/3 pound veal.
- Meats with low-fat percentages should not be used. The fat in the meatballs makes them soft. Stick to a lean ratio of 80 to 85 percent.
- Seasoning and flavoring the mixture properly. We’re not producing ketchup-served hamburger balls. They get that delectable Italian flavor by adding herbs, garlic, and onions. And, of course, don’t forget to season the meat with salt and pepper.
- To moisten, use a liquid, such as milk rather than water. Water lacks the flavor and richness of whole milk.
To bond, use a sufficient number of eggs. The meatballs will fall apart without the eggs, especially when stirred into the sauce. I prefer to use one egg per pound of beef, so we’ll use two here.
- Cheese is a must! It adds a lot of taste. Use freshly shredded parmesan cheese instead of grated shelf-stable parmesan. It has a poorer flavor and does not melt as well.
- Make sure the meatball mixture isn’t overworked. Using your hands (and your fingertips) to include ingredients rather than a spoon or spatula makes it easier to mix without overworking the meat.
- Brown the meatballs in a skillet. Browning adds a lot of flavors, and I’ll show you how to do it in two ways: in the oven or by frying in olive oil. If baking in the oven, use a dark baking sheet to encourage browning.
- To ensure consistent cooking, divide the dough into equal-sized balls. A kitchen scale, or a greased cookie scoop, is useful (cover with plastic wrap or wax paper to keep things clean).
- With oiled hands, form the shape. The meatballs will not stick this way. When I brush olive oil on the baking sheets with my hands, my hands are already oiled and ready to shape meatballs.
- These meatballs are one of my all-time favorite Italian dishes, and they’re the perfect dinner for me! So, who’s up for making some?
What Ingredients go into Meatballs?
- Don’t use previously frozen ground beef (80–85 percent lean) or ground pork – because the meat won’t hold together as well and won’t taste as fresh.
- Fresh bread crumbs – produced from a substantial, dense loaf like a la Brea (not a fluffy loaf of french bread or sandwich bread). The hearty material absorbs more. Use stale bread that is at least 2 or 3 days old.
- Fresh herbs (basil, parsley, and oregano) – I recommend using fresh herbs whenever possible, but if you don’t have any on hand, dried herbs will suffice (use 2 tsp dried basil, 2 tsp dried parsley and 1 tsp dried oregano). However, if you try them fresh the next time, you will notice a significant change in flavor.
- Fresh onion and garlic – I usually sauté these aromatics first, but to save time, we finely cut the onion to the size of minced garlic, so it isn’t crispy when the meatballs are done.
- Eggs – are used to keep the meatballs together. Don’t overlook them.
- The meatballs are moistened with whole milk – Dry meatballs aren’t something anyone wants to eat.
- Use real Parmigiano – Reggiano cheese, such as Murray’s, for the most authentic flavor.
Spaghetti with Sauce Ingredients:
- Spaghetti pasta – for spaghetti and meatballs, you’ll need 16–20 ounces of dry spaghetti cooked according to package recommendations (I go easy on the salt if using store-bought sauce). If you have access to fresh pasta, that would be even better.
- Marinara sauce – I use 2 (24 oz) jars of the highest quality tomato basil sauce (if going this route, I always use Rao’s) or create 1 batch of Homemade Marinara Sauce if I have more time.
How to Make Fresh Bread Crumbs:
- Tear up 2 or 3-day old slices of hearty bread into bits.
- Blitz in a food processor until tiny crumbs form.
- Although other recipes call for toasted fresh breadcrumbs, we use fresh ones here. If you need to toast them for another dish, spread them out on a rimmed 18 by the 13-inch baking sheet and bake at 300 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Allow cooling.
- For longer shelf life, store leftover fresh or toasted crumbs in an airtight container in the freezer (up to 3 months).
How to Make Meatballs:
- Soak bread crumbs: Combine bread crumbs and milk in a large mixing bowl, then add more milk 1 tablespoon at a time to properly moisten the bread. Allow cooling while you prepare the ingredients (or at least 5 minutes).
- In a mixing bowl, combine the ground meats and other meatball ingredients: Season the beef, pork, eggs, onion, garlic, basil, parsley, oregano, and parmesan equally over the top of the ingredients with salt and pepper (I use 3/4 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper if using jar sauce because it can be salty).
- Toss mixture by hand: Gently toss the mixture and break up the meat with your fingertips until all of the ingredients are evenly distributed.
- Form into balls as follows: Form mixture into 1 1/4-inch meatball with greased hands, about 1 1/4-inches apiece (or about (38g).
How to Bake Meatballs (Easy Method):
This is my preferred method because it is easier than frying, requires less hands-on time, and does not result in excess fat from frying in oil. However, both ways are excellent, so choose your favorite.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and prepare the baking sheets: Before you begin making the meatballs, preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Brush two dark-coated non-stick 18 by 13-inch baking sheets with olive oil or spray with non-stick cooking spray.
- Arrange meatballs on baking sheets: Arrange formed meatballs on baking sheets, about 20 per sheet, evenly spaced.
- Bake until cooked through Bake in the upper and lower third of the oven for 10 minutes. Remove and turn meatballs if browned already on the bottom (use a thin metal spatula to scrape from the baking sheet if needed). Transfer pans to opposite racks and bakes until cooked through, about 8 – 12 minutes longer (should register 165 degrees in the center of meatballs, test meatballs in the center of the pan too as those cook a little slower than meatballs on edges).
- Toss with warmed marinara sauce and serve. If desired you can simmer with sauce for 10 – 20 minutes over low heat for even more tender meatballs.
How to Fry Meatballs:
- In a large skillet, heat the olive oil: In a 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat 3/4 cup olive oil over medium heat.
- Cook in batches, rotating halfway through: Cook meatballs in three batches (to avoid overcrowding and browning) until golden brown on the bottom, about 4–6 minutes. Then flip it over and cook the other side until golden brown. To drain, transfer to paper towels (continued…).
- To cook through, simmer in marinara sauce on the stovetop: Transfer meatballs to a large saucepan with warmed marinara sauce, cover, and cook over low heat until meatballs are 165 degrees in the center, about 15–20 minutes, gently tossing meatballs occasionally.