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.
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.
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:
- 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. Here’s an easy baked meatball recipe from The Spruce Eats you can try.
Easy Homemade Meatballs Recipe
Total Time: 45 minutes
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
This recipe makes 20 meatballs.
(Recipe from Ruled.Me )
Keto Swedish Meatballs Recipe
Prep Time: 10 minutes
(Recipe from Diet Doctor )
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
(Recipe adapted from Wheat by the Wayside )
Easy Tempeh Vegan Meatballs
(Recipe from The Conscious Dietitian )
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. 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.
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.
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.