Ready in around half an hour, this basic meatball recipe makes a quick and hearty weeknight meal. These Italian meatballs are tender, juicy, and so easy to make!
Meatballs are one of the easiest, heartiest, flavorful meals in town, and there are so many ways to serve them! I love having these Italian meatballs with spaghetti or as meatball subs.
You can even skip the marinara sauce and make mini meatballs for hor d’oeuvres or an appetizer! However you want to enjoy them, they’re ready in about half an hour (sauce and all!)
These Italian meatballs are:
• low fuss
• super tender
• ready in around 30 minutes
• a simple recipe that can be customized for different eaters
Meatball Tips: How to get the most tender meatballs:
1. Take care not to overwork the meat: The more ground meat is mixed, the more compressed and dense it becomes. That’s why it’s always important to work meat for as little as possible.
2. Be careful when shaping: When you shape the meatballs, try not to roll them and squeeze them too much. This will pack the meat more tightly, which can cause some toughness.
3. Keep meat as cold as possible: If you’re working with your hands like me, or using a food processor (which can get warm as it’s used), take extra care not to warm the meat too much. When the meat warms before hitting the stove or oven, it causes the fat to melt. If the fat melts before cooking, then the meat will collapse on itself and become more dense.
Leaving the fat in one piece (as much as possible) means that, when the meatballs are cooked, the fat melts and produces steam inside the meatball, which gives the meat pockets of moisture (and room to breath)!
Did I bore you?
I like to dip my hands in some cool water before working with the meat to avoid having the warmth from my hands heat the meat up. If using a food processor, pulse on and off until the meatballs’ ingredients are just incorporated. No more, no less!
4. Simmer meatballs in sauce: Sauce can help salvage almost any dense meatball. Sauces add moisture to the meatballs. Cooking meatballs gently in a sauce also helps cook the meat all the way through without the risk of having the outside burn.
5. Use meat with more fat: Fat gives meatballs moisture. If you’re worried about ending up with dry meatballs, it would be a good idea to add more fat to your meat. When it comes to what meat to use in meatballs, I recommend one with a ratio of 80:20% meat to fat.
If you do prefer extra-lean ground meat, just make sure you’re careful with the cooking time. Since extra-lean meat has less fat, there’s less wiggle room when it comes to overcooking the meat.
6. Don’t overcook, but seriously overcook if needed: Overcooked meatballs are dry and dense … and disappointing. If you found your meatballs overstayed their welcome on the stove, simply add some sauce and simmer low and slow until tender (kind of like a slow cooker stew)! The sauce will help re-hydrate the dry meat and soften it if it’s gone too hard.
Different types of meatballs:
I wanted to make this recipe very basic so that there could be a lot of customizability when it comes to what meat to use. You can use this recipe as is, but swap out the ground beef for a number of different alternatives.
Some options include:
• Veal meatballs
• Turkey meatballs
• Lamb meatballs
• Chicken meatballs
• Vegetarian black bean or chickpea meatballs
If you do use ground beef, you can even work some sausage meat into the mix to add some extra fat, moisture, and flavor!
Tools to help with making your meatballs (affiliate links):
• a large ice cream scoop is something I’ve always heard great things about, but only recently got myself! It’s a great help with portioning out the meatballs into even balls. The OXO Good Grips scoop is a great option because it has a little trigger to release.
• mixing bowls for … well, mixing! The OXO Good Grips Set gives you 4 mixing bowls, and it’s really well priced! * Mimi from the future here! Apparently the OXO mixing bowl set is sold out, and may or may not be restocked. This Pyrex set is another great option!
• tongs make it easier to turn the meatballs. I couldn’t find the exact one I use online (if I do, I’ll link to it as well!). The 304 Stainless Steel Kitchen Cooking Tongs is another pair of tongs I like. It’s also a great price and it gives you a set of 2.
Check out these other recipes!
• Herb Roasted Chicken and Potatoes
• Penne alla Vodka
• Crispy Baked Chicken Parmesan
• Baked Feta Pasta (Viral TikTok Pasta!)
• Fall Spiced Whole Chicken with Potatoes and Carrots
• Quick & Easy Mushroom Pasta
• Braided Garlic Bread (a perfect side!)
Italian Meatballs Recipe
For the meatballs:
- 1 large egg
- 1/4 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 & 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
- 1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs
- 1 medium yellow onion, grated
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
For the marinara sauce:
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons dried basil
- 1 (12 ounce/369 mL) can of tomato sauce
- 1/2 cup water
- salt and pepper to taste
- How to make the meatballs: In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg with Parmesan until incorporated. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, combine ground meat, bread crumbs, onion, garlic, parsley, salt, and the Parmesan/egg mixture. Mix everything together until just incorporated. Take care not to overwork the meat!
- Using an ice cream scoop, two spoons, or your hands, portion out the meatballs. This recipe makes about 20 medium sized meatballs, but you can use it to make larger or smaller portions (cooking times will vary).
- In a large skillet, add olive oil and butter. Heat over medium heat until the butter is melted and sizzling. Add the meatballs to the hot oil and butter. Cook over medium heat on one side until golden brown (about 1 to 2 minutes). Flip the meatballs and cook on the other side for another minute or so, or until golden brown.
- Transfer the meatballs to a plate and set aside to make the marinara sauce.
- How to make the marinara sauce: Working with the same skillet the meatballs were cooked in, add a tablespoon of olive oil if needed. Add the onion, garlic, and a pinch of salt to the skillet. Cook over medium-low heat until the onion softens and turns translucent (about 2 to 3 minutes).
- Add oregano and basil, and cook for another minute to toast the herbs.
- Add tomato sauce and water to the skillet. Bring the sauce to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low to maintain a simmer. Add meatballs back into the marinara sauce and simmer over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the meatballs are cooked through. Flip meatballs halfway through cooking time.
I would love to hear any tips you’d like to add to this post and how your meatballs turned out in the comments below!
Have any questions? Any ideas to improve this recipe? Feel free to comment for that as well.
Is there a recipe you want to see us make? Comment below and let us know!