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How to Make the Best Meatballs

Small but mighty meatballs hit the triple play of ease, versatility, and economy -- all topped off with awesome sauce. Learn how to make tender, delicious meatballs for appetizers, sandwiches, and dinners. And get tips for how to freeze meatballs so they're ready to use any time.

Fast and Friendly Meatballs

Fast and Friendly Meatballs | Photo by footballgrl16

Pictured: Fast and Friendly Meatballs

Mighty Meatballs

Here’s why meatballs should be in every cook’s arsenal:

  • Easy
    Making meatballs doesn't require complicated kitchen skills—you just mix and cook. Also, you can double up a recipe and freeze half to bank for speedy meals later. (See Freezing Meatballs below.)
  • Versatile
    Just about every global cuisine includes some kind of meatball. That's a world of flavor to explore.
  • Economical
    You don't have to spend $$ on prime cuts of meat to make meatballs. (It doesn't even take meat sometimes.) And with all the add-ins and binders that go into the making of a proper meatball, you can make a little meat go a long way.

Three Pillars of Meatball Making

All meatballs contain some combination of these three essential building blocks:

  1. Protein
    Ground or finely minced beef, pork, chicken, turkey, veal, bison, sausage, seafood, or meat substitute. Lots of cooks swear by combining two or more kinds of meat to make a meatball with more complex flavors.
  2. Seasonings and Optional Add-ins
    Salt and pepper, plus fresh or dried herbs and spices to complement the flavor profile of the recipe. Meatballs mixtures can also include finely minced onions, garlic, or other vegetables, and finely grated cheese.
  3. Binder
    This is what holds the meat, seasonings, and add-ins together into a ball, and keeps it from crumbling when it cooks. Depending on the recipe, you might use moistened bread or breadcrumbs, panko, finely crushed crackers, rice, and/or eggs.

Top Tips for Making Meatballs

Here's how to make sure your meatballs turn out just right every time.

  • The leaner the meat, the less tender the meatball, so if you’re using lean meat, add a little olive oil.
  • Do not overwork or meatballs might toughed up when they cook.
  • Use a spoon or scoop to make evenly sized portions, and roll lightly into smooth balls.
  • Dampen your hands to make rolling easier. Use a light touch to avoid pressing and compacting the meatballs.
  • Make small meatballs for soups or appetizers; make large for spaghetti and meatballs or meatball sandwiches.

Four Ways to Cook Meatballs

  1. Oven: Place on a baking sheet lined with foil and bake at 350° F for 10 to 20 minutes, depending on size, or until done. Turn halfway through cooking, if desired.
  2. Broiler: Place on a lined baking sheet and broil for 5 to 10 minutes, depending on size, or until done. Turn halfway through cooking, if desired.
  3. Skillet: Pan-fry in oil over medium-high heat, turning occasionally, until browned on the outside and cooked through.
  4. Sauce or Soup: Bring sauce or soup to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Drop in as many meatballs as you want, cover the pot, and let them simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, or until cooked through.

VIDEO: How to Make Meatballs

5 Meatball Recipes To Try

  1. The Best Meatballs — A classic combo of beef, pork, and veal.
  2. Chef John's Meatless Meatballs — Mushrooms make these vegetarian meatballs "meaty."
  3. Cocktail Meatballs — Your slow cooker will keep these warm at party time.
  4. Lemongrass Ground Beef Skewers — Lemongrass and oyster sauce give these beef meatballs an Asian vibe.
  5. Swedish Meatballs — Like the ones you love at that big store with the Scandinavian name. You know the one.

Freezing Meatballs

Cooked and frozen meatballs put all kinds of meals on the fast track to dinner. Here's how to easily freeze and thaw meatballs so you can stock up for busy nights.

  1. Form and cook meatballs using any of the methods above.
  2. Place meatballs in a single layer on a baking tray.
  3. Freeze until solid, and transfer to a freezer-safe container or freezer bag.
  4. Mark with the date. Meatballs can be frozen for up to 4 months.

When it comes time to thaw, choose one of these methods for best results:

  • Let the meatballs thaw overnight in the fridge, then use them in your recipe.
  • Place on a baking sheet in a single layer, cover with foil,  and bake at 350° for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Simmer in sauce or soup for at least 20 minutes.
  • Place in a microwave-safe dish in a single layer with a spoonful of water. Cover loosely and heat on HIGH for 1 minute at a time until heated through.

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Vanessa Greaves

About Vanessa Greaves

Good food, friends, and fun are always on the menu. Find me as foodelicious on Allrecipes and vanny.gee on Instagram (but only if you don't mind cat pics and cocktails).