A meatball recipe that rivals that of your favorite Italian restaurant! These meatballs always come out amazingly tender, deliciously flavorful, never dry and they’re always sure to impress! Here you’ll learn everything you need to know to make them perfect every time.
Tastiest Homemade Meatball Recipe
There’s nothing quite as satisfying as a pasta bowl cradling perfectly cooked, twirled and tangled, steaming spaghetti coated in a vibrant, garlicky, San Marzano marinara sauce, all piled high and layered with homemade meatballs throughout! Talk about comfort food at its proudest!
This easy recipe gives you a few different options (homemade sauce or store-bought, fried or baked) and it’s my idea of the best meatballs.
Meatball Recipe Video
So what makes the best meatballs? Here are my thoughts and tips:
Using as many fresh ingredients as possible. Fresh meats (not previously frozen), fresh herbs, fresh bread crumbs, fresh aromatics. Everything is fresh here except the aged parmesan but of course that’s that’s for good reason.
Use a blend of meats for best flavor. I use beef and pork because that’s what accessible to me and at a reasonable price. But if you can get veal use 2/3 lb beef 2/3 lb pork and 2/3 lb veal.
Don’t use low fat percentages of meats. The fat makes the meatballs tender. Stick with 80 or 85% lean.
Properly flavoring and seasoning the mixture. We aren’t making hamburger balls to serve with ketchup. Adding herbs, garlic, and onions gives them that delicious Italian flavor we crave. And of course don’t skip the salt and pepper meat needs it!
Use liquid to moisten, and I recommend milk not water. Whole milk adds more flavor and richness than water will.
Use enough eggs to bind. Without the eggs the meatballs will fall to pieces especially when tossed into the sauce. I like to use 1 egg per pound of meat so here we go with 2.
Add cheese! It adds so much flavor. Use freshly shredded parmesan cheese here, don’t use the grated shelf stable stuff. It has a lower quality taste and doesn’t melt the same.
Don’t overwork the meatball mixture. Mixing by hand (and your fingertips) to incorporate ingredients rather than using a spoon or spatula makes it easier to mix with ut turning it into an overworked meat paste.
Brown the meatballs. Browning adds so much flavor and here I’ll show you two methods to achieve this through cooking in the oven or frying in olive oil. If going the oven route use a dark baking sheet as it promotes browning.
Form into evenly sized balls so they cook evenly. A kitchen scale is helpful (covered with plastic wrap or wax paper to keep things clean), or a greased cookie scoop.
Shape with greased hands. This way the meatballs don’t stick. Sometimes I brush the baking sheets with olive oil using my hands then tadah, hands are already oiled and ready to shape meatballs.
These meatballs are one of my all time favorite Italian foods and this is my idea of the perfect dinner! Now who’s ready to make some??
What Ingredients go into Meatballs?
- Ground beef (80 – 85% lean) and ground pork – don’t use previously frozen or meat won’t hold together as well and they won’t taste as fresh.
- Fresh bread crumbs – made from hearty, dense bread such as a la brea loaf (not a fluffy loaf of french bread or sandwich bread). The hearty stuff is more absorbent. Preferably use 2 or 3 day old stale bread.
- Fresh herbs (basil, parsley and oregano) – I highly recommend sticking with the fresh herbs but if you don’t have them on hand dried will work in a pinch (use 2 tsp dried basil, 2 tsp dried parsley and 1 tsp dried oregano). But the next time do try them with fresh it really does make a difference in flavor.
- Fresh onion and garlic – normally I’m all about sautéing these aromatics first, but to save time we finely mince the onion to the size of minced garlic so it isn’t crunchy by the time the meatballs are done.
- Eggs – these will hold the meatballs together. Don’t skip them.
- Whole milk – this keeps the meatballs moist. No one wants to eat dry meatballs.
- Parmesan cheese – use real parmigiano-reggiano such as Murray’s for the best authentic flavor.
For Spaghetti and Sauce:
- Spaghetti pasta – to make spaghetti and meatballs you’ll want about 16 – 20 oz dry spaghetti, cooked according to package directions (I go easy on the salt if using store-bought sauce). Fresh spaghetti would be even better if you have access to it.
- Marinara sauce – for a shortcut I use 2 (24 oz) jars of best quality tomato basil sauce (if going this route I always use Rao’s) or if you have more time make 1 batch Homemade Marinara Sauce.
How to Make Fresh Bread Crumbs:
- Tear up slices of hearty bread (2 or 3 days old) into pieces.
- Place in a food processor and blitz to fine crumbs.
- Some recipes call for toasted fresh breadcrumbs but here we use fresh. If you need to toast them for a different recipe spread on a rimmed 18 by 13-inch baking sheet and bake in a 300 degree oven until dried, tossing occasionally, about 10 – 15 minutes. Let cool.
- Store leftover, fresh or toasted crumbs, in an airtight container in the freezer for longer shelf life (up to 3 months).
How to Make Meatballs:
- Soak bread crumbs: In a large mixing bowl stir together bread crumbs and milk, then if needed add more milk 1 Tbsp at a time to moisten bread fully. Let rest while you chop ingredients (or at least 5 minutes).
- Add ground meats and other meatball ingredients to mixing bowl: Add in beef, pork, eggs, onion, garlic, basil, parsley, oregano, parmesan and season over top of ingredients evenly with salt and pepper (I use 3/4 tsp salt if using jar sauce because it can be salty, and 1/2 tsp pepper).
- Toss mixture by hand: Gently toss mixture and break meat up with fingertips until ingredients are evenly mixed.
- Form into balls: Shape mixture with greased hands into evenly sides meatballs, about 1 1/4-inches each (or about (38g).
How to Bake Meatballs (Easy Method):
I usually go this route because it’s easier than frying, it takes less hands on time and you don’t get the extra fat from frying it oil. But both ways are incredibly delicious so go with what you prefer.
- Preheat oven and prepare baking sheets: preheat oven to 400 degrees before you begin preparing meatballs. Spray two dark coated non-stick 18 by 13-inch baking sheets well with non-stick cooking spray, or brush with olive oil.
- Align meatballs on baking sheets: Place formed meatballs on baking sheets, fitting about 20 per each and spacing evenly apart.
- Bake until cooked through: Bake in upper and lower third of oven 10 minutes. Remove and turn meatballs if browned already on bottom (use a thin metal spatula to scrape from baking sheet if needed). Transfer pans to opposite racks and bake until cooked through, about 8 – 12 minutes longer (should register 165 degrees in center of meatballs, test meatballs in center of 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:
- Heat olive oil in large skillet: Pour 3/4 cup olive oil into a 12-inch non-stick skillet and heat over medium heat.
- Cook in batches, turning halfway: Cook meatballs in 3 batches (so they aren’t overcrowded and wont brown) until golden brown on bottom, about 4 – 6 minutes. Then rotate to opposite side and cook opposite side until golden brown. Transfer to paper towels to drain (continued…).
- Simmer in marinara sauce on stovetop to cook through: Transfer meatballs to warmed marinara sauce in a large pot, cover and simmer over low heat until meatballs are 165 degrees in center, gently tossing meatballs occasionally, about 15 – 20 minutes.
Can I Use Ground Turkey?
I don’t recommend it for this specific recipe. Ratios and cook times would be a bit different. It can be stickier to work with.
Can I Make them in Advance?
Yes. These are delicious reheated. Store sauce and cooked meatballs in the fridge up to 3 days, rewarm on the stovetop on a covered pot over low heat, gently toss occasionally until heated through.
If reheating a small portion you can reheat in the microwave. Reheat on 50% power. Most meats reheat better with lower wattages (and don’t forget to cover, we all hate that splatter).
Can I Freeze Meatballs?
Yes. If doing so cook through and freeze (preferably tossed with the marinara sauce) in an airtight container up to 2 months. Thaw overnight then reheat as directed above.
What Sides to Serve with Spaghetti and Meatballs?
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- 2 cups (5.2 oz) fresh bread crumbs*
- 3/4 cup whole milk, then more if needed
- 1 lb. 85% lean ground beef**
- 1 lb. ground pork
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup finely minced yellow onion***
- 2 garlic cloves, minced (2 tsp)
- 2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh basil
- 2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
- 1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh oregano
- 1 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3/4 cup olive oil, only if using the fried method
- In a large mixing bowl stir together bread crumbs and milk while adding more milk 1 Tbsp at a time to moisten bread fully. Let rest while you prep ingredients (or at least 5 minutes).
- To breadcrumb mixture add beef, pork, eggs, onion, garlic, basil, parsley, oregano, parmesan and season over top of ingredients evenly with salt and pepper (I only use 3/4 tsp salt if I plan on using jar sauce to coat since it can be salty).
- Gently toss mixture and break meat up with fingertips until ingredients are evenly mixed.
- Shape mixture with greased hands into even size meatballs, about 1 1/4-inches each (or about 38g).
Oven Baked Method
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees before you begin preparing meatballs.
- Spray two dark coated non-stick pans well with non-stick cooking spray (see note 4), or brush with olive oil.
- Place formed meatballs on baking sheets, fitting about 20 per each and spacing evenly apart. Bake in upper and lower third of oven 10 minutes.
- Remove and turn meatballs if browned already on bottom (use a thin metal spatula to scrape from baking sheet). Transfer pans to opposite racks and bake until cooked through, about 8 - 12 minutes longer (should register 165 degrees in center of meatballs).
- Stir into warmed marinara sauce. Simmer on low heat if desired for even more tender meatballs (about 10 - 20 minutes, toss occasionally gently).
Pan Fried Stovetop Method
- To pan fry meatballs pour 3/4 cup olive oil into a 12-inch non-stick skillet, heat over medium heat.
- Cook meatballs in 3 batches (so they aren't overcrowded) until golden brown on bottom, about 4 - 6 minutes. Then turn to opposite side and cook opposite side until golden brown. Transfer to paper towels to drain.
- Transfer meatballs to warmed marinara sauce (see note 5) in a large pot, submerge in sauce. Cover and simmer over low heat until meatballs are 165 degrees in center, gently tossing meatballs occasionally, about 15 - 20 minutes.
- *To make fresh bread crumbs tear slices of stale hearty bread into pieces and place in a food processor, pulse mixture to fine crumbs.
- **You can also use 2/3 lb ground veal, 2/3 lb ground beef, 2/3 lb ground pork. In a pinch I have even used just all beef - 2 lbs (which probably isn't authentic but it's still delicious).
- ***Be sure to chop yellow onion to a fine mince, about the size of the minced garlic otherwise it won't be tender by the time meatballs are done cooking.
- ****Standard light aluminum baking sheets will work too meatballs just won't brown as much.
- *****For this amount of meatballs you'll need 2 (24 oz) jars tomato basil sauce (such as Rao's) or 1 recipe marinara sauce. Then you'll also need about 16 - 20 oz. spaghetti, cooked to al dente according to package instructions.
- Nutrition estimate based on using baked method. Fried method will absorb some of the oil so calorie and fat count will increase. Also nutrition does not include pasta or sauce as that will vary based on what is used and how much is used.