Meatballs, in the most basic sense, are made from ground meat that has been formed into dense, round shapes. The type of meat used can vary, from lean ground beef to fatty ground pork or veal. You can even use fish! When making meatballs, the meat is enhanced with moist breadcrumbs, flavored with herbs, spices or cheese, and then an egg is added as a binder to help hold the meat's round form.1
Thanks to their popularity and flexibility, you'll see meatballs in various dishes — served as appetizers, added to pastas, mixed into soups or even skewered and grilled during outdoor picnics. Different countries have their own version of this tasty little dish. Morocco has its lamb meatballs, while Swedish cuisine is known for its Kottbullar, made popular by IKEA, although there are claims that the recipe actually came from Turkey, and is known as köfte.2
It's likely that you have your own time-tested method on how to make homemade meatballs, passed down to you through a family recipe. There are numerous ways to cook meatballs: baked, in a slow cooker or Crock-Pot, fried or even barbecued. If you don't have your own method, here are a few ways of cooking meatballs you can explore. Try them all and see which one is your favorite!
A Few Meatball Cooking Tips Before You Get Started
Even if you have an easy meatball recipe on hand, there are instances when the dish doesn't turn out as expected. The most common mistakes can result in overcooked, flavorless and dry meatballs. To avoid this, here are a few tips from The Kitchn on how to cook well-seasoned and juicy meatballs:3
- Select the right kind of meat — Fattier meats like pork, beef and lamb will result in more tender meatballs. If you opt to use poultry like chicken or turkey, watch the meatballs carefully — otherwise they can end up tough or overcooked. Don't use just one kind of meat — blend different kinds together for great flavor. Whatever type of meat you choose, make sure it comes from sustainable sources, like grass fed beef or chicken.
- Keep your meat and other ingredients cold — It's best to prevent the fat from melting and breaking down before cooking. You can use a chilled bowl to mix the ingredients, or if adding ingredients that are precooked, like onions, allow them to cool down before mixing them with the meat.
- Moisture is important — Remember that when you cook meat, the protein in it shrinks, causing the meat to toughen — this is why adding moisture is crucial. You can do this by adding moist breadcrumbs, eggs and milk to your mixture.
- Taste test the meat mixture — The reason many meatball recipes turn out bland is because the cook doesn't test the mixture before cooking the entire batch. To do this, simply take a small amount of the meat and fry it in a pan with a small amount of oil (coconut oil works best). You can then take a bite and determine which seasoning — salt, pepper or herbs and spices — needs to be added.
- Form meatballs gently — Packing meatballs tightly is a common mistake and will result in a tough, rubbery and chewy mess. Avoid this by forming the meatballs quickly but gently. Use your hands with a little bit of oil on them (so the meat will not stick). Using an ice cream scooper is also a great idea.
The Kitchn recommends baking your meatballs instead of frying them. By doing so, you can avoid the oil spatters while getting the same brownness as you would if you fry the meatballs.
How Long Should You Bake Meatballs?
Knowing how to make meatballs in the oven requires a few considerations, including the size of your meatballs, the cooking temperature and the type of meat you used. According to Reference.com, the ideal cooking time for meatballs is 20 to 25 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. If your meatballs are larger than 1 1/2 inches, a longer cooking time may be needed. However, if they're very small, your meatballs may be ready in as little as 10 minutes.
What's important when baking meatballs is that the center should have a temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. You can check the temperature using a meat thermometer. You can also take out a meatball and cut it in half to check the center. If it's no longer pink, it's ready to go.4 Here's an easy baked meatball recipe from The Spruce Eats5 you can try.
Easy Homemade Meatballs Recipe
Total Time: 45 minutes Prep Time: 15 minutes Cook Time: 30 minutes Yield: 4 servings
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs
- 1/4 cup onion, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon pepper
- Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Combine the egg, breadcrumbs, water, onion, salt and pepper in a large bowl and mix well. Add the ground beef, breaking it in chunks, and mix gently but thoroughly. You can use your hands to make sure all ingredients are well-integrated.
- Form the meat mixture into balls that are about 1 inch in diameter. Put on a broiler pan or a pan with sides topped with a wire rack.
- Bake the meatballs at 350 degrees F for 25 to 30 minutes, or until meatballs register 165 degrees F on a meat thermometer.
Check Out These Delicious Meatball Recipes
Once you've got the basics on how to make baked meatballs, you can start experimenting with different recipes and ingredients. The first two recipes below are ideal if you're following a ketogenic diet:
The Best Turkey Meatballs Recipe
- 10 slices bacon
- 2 pounds ground turkey
- 3 small red chilies
- 1/2 medium green pepper
- 1 small onion
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 2 large handfuls spinach
- 3 sprigs thyme
- 2 large eggs
- 1 ounce pork rinds
- Heat your oven to 400 degrees F and place the bacon strips onto a baking sheet. Cook for 30 minutes.
- While waiting for the bacon to cook, make the meatballs. Dice the red chilies, onion and green pepper.
- Using a food processor, grind the pork rinds into a powder and then set aside.
- Grind a handful of spinach and thyme.
- In a large mixing bowl, add the vegetables, pork rinds and turkey. Combine well and evenly. Add the eggs to the turkey mixture and combine again.
- Remove bacon from the oven and allow to cool. Drain the excess grease from the baking sheet and set aside.
- Make 20 meatballs from the turkey mixture and put them on the baking sheet. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes or until juices run clear.
- Make a spinach "butter" by placing the remaining spinach, the rendered bacon fat and the seasonings of your choice (you can use basil, garlic or cayenne pepper) in the food processor. Process well until smooth.
- To serve, skewer the meatballs with a toothpick and add a dab of spinach "butter."
This recipe makes 20 meatballs.
(Recipe from Ruled.Me6)
Keto Swedish Meatballs Recipe
Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 20 minutes Total Time: 30 minutes
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 pound ground pork
- 2 eggs
- 2 tablespoons dried parsley
- 2 tablespoons dried minced onion
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 cup ground pork rinds
- 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated
- 2 cups beef broth
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 ounces salted butter
- 1/2 cup red onions, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 pinch instant coffee powder (optional)
- Heat the oven to 375 degrees F.
- Mix all the meatball ingredients in a large mixing bowl, until thoroughly combined. Form into 1 1/2-inch balls.
- Place meatballs on a baking sheet in a single layer, at least 3 to 5 centimeters (1 to 2 inches) apart. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until meatballs are browned and cooked thoroughly.
- To make the gravy, brown the onion in butter in a large skillet. Add salt, pepper, broth, Worcestershire sauce and coffee powder and let simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Reduce heat to low and then add the sour cream, stirring well.
- Add the cooked meatballs to the gravy and let simmer on low for an additional five to 10 minutes. Serve hot.
(Recipe from Diet Doctor7)
There are also meatball recipes that cater to people who have specific dietary needs or eating preferences. Check out these two examples:
Prep Time: 15 minutes Cook Time: 25 minutes Total Time: 40 minutes
- 1 pound ground chicken or turkey
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1/4 cup almond flour
- 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
- 1 teaspoon dried parsley
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/4 teaspoon dried fennel
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Whisk the egg, coconut oil and Worcestershire sauce together.
- Add in the parmesan cheese, almond flour and spices.
- Mix in the ground chicken using your hands, until well-combined.
- With a small cookie scoop, scoop out a tablespoon-sized ball of the mixture and place on the baking pan. Repeat until all of the mixture gone.
- Bake at 425 degrees F for 20 to 25 minutes or until the meatballs are golden brown with a 165 degrees F internal temperature.
(Recipe adapted from Wheat by the Wayside8)
Easy Tempeh Vegan Meatballs
Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 20 minutes Total Time: 30 minutes
- 1 225-gram pack of organic tempeh
- 3 green onions, greens and whites sliced
- 1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
- 1 tablespoon organic soy sauce or tamari
- 1 to 2 tablespoon/s water
- 1/4 cup almonds
- 1 teaspoon fresh herbs of your choice
- 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/8 teaspoon black pepper, ground
- 1/2 tablespoon coconut oil (optional)
- Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Place all the ingredients except the coconut oil in a food processor and process until smooth.
- Get a small amount of the mixture and roll it in your palms. You should create about eight golf ball-sized tempeh balls.
- Place baking paper on a baking tray. Alternately, you can spread a half-tablespoon of coconut oil on the baking tray. Space out the meatballs evenly on the tray.
- Let cook for 20 minutes, rolling them once halfway through so they brown evenly. Serve with a salad or with a delicious tomato sauce and pasta.
(Recipe from The Conscious Dietitian9)
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Cooking Meatballs
Q: Are meatballs healthy?
A: The nutritional value of meatballs depends on the ingredients you use. Opt for grass fed meats or pastured chicken and eggs. Adding in herbs and spices to your meatballs can boost their nutritional content. The cooking method also matters. If you opt to fry instead of bake your meatballs, make sure to use coconut oil and not vegetable oils.
Q: Can you prep meatballs ahead of time?
A: You can shape meatballs and keep them in the fridge a day ahead. Make sure to cover them well and that they don't end up being squished together.10 You can also freeze them if you plan to store them for a longer time. Just make sure to thaw before cooking.
Q: How do you keep meatballs moist?
A: The Kitchn recommends using eggs, moist breadcrumbs and milk in your meatball mixture.
Q: How do you keep meatballs from falling apart?
A: You will need to use an ingredient that will "bind" the meat together, such as an egg or breadcrumbs.
Q: How long can I keep uncooked meatballs in the fridge?
A: Ready-to-cook meatballs can be kept overnight in the fridge. If you want to freeze them, you will need to cook them first. Frozen cooked meatballs may last for three months.11
Q: Do meatballs need breadcrumbs?
A: Moist breadcrumbs are necessary to bind the meatballs. But if you don't have any, use a slice of torn-up bread, crumbled saltine crackers or even panko as a substitute.12
Q: What can I use instead of eggs in meatballs?
A: Just like breadcrumbs, an egg serves as a binder for meatballs. A one-fourth cup of whole milk ricotta or feta cheese may work as a replacement. If using in spaghetti or tomato-based dishes, you can use tomato paste (2 tablespoons per egg). Mashed potatoes (half a cup for two eggs) may be a good egg replacement as well.13
+ Sources and References