Variety is what makes meatballs so popular. The only sure thing from one recipe to another is the round shape. You can change up the ground meat, vary the seasonings, add extra ingredients, and even cook the meatballs in different ways. Here's a primer to get you started.
Select the Meatball Ingredients
- Ground Meat: Choose from ground beef, veal, pork, Italian sausage, lamb, bison, turkey, and/or chicken. Some recipes call for a mix of two or more ground meats. Lean ground meat works well and makes the meatballs more healthful. Assume one pound of ground meat will make about 24 meatballs, or four to six servings.
- Binders: Eggs, bread crumbs (fine dry or soft), crushed crackers, cooked rice, and/or shredded cheese help to hold the ground meat together. Plus, they lighten and flavor the meat mixture. Meatballs made with just ground meat tend to be harder to shape and more dense when cooked. Binders also stretch the meat so you get more meatballs per pound.
- Seasonings: Salt, ground black pepper, minced garlic, and dried or fresh herbs are traditional seasonings for meatballs. For herbs, consider 2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup snipped fresh basil or Italian parsley or 2 teaspoons snipped fresh thyme, rosemary, or oregano per pound of ground meat. Or add 1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning, oregano, or fennel seeds, crushed. A pinch of cayenne pepper adds heat.
- Flavor Boosters: This is your chance to get creative. Some favorite additions include finely chopped onion, toasted pine nuts, chopped peanuts or cashews, dried currants, red wine, finely shredded lemon peel, grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, Worcestershire sauce, and frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well drained. Add just enough of these ingredients to flavor the meatballs without changing the consistency too much.
Combine the Meatball Ingredients
In a large bowl stir together all of the ingredients except the ground meat. Stir in the ground meat and mix well until all of the ingredients are evenly distributed.
Portion the Meatballs
To assure even cooking, the meatballs need to be the same size. On a cutting board, pat the meat mixture into a 6x4-inch rectangle. Using a large knife, start from a long side of the rectangle and cut it into six 1-inch-wide strips. From a short side, cut four 1-inch-wide strips so you end up with a grid of twenty-four 1-inch squares.
Tip: Each square equals about 1 tablespoon of meat mixture. You can also use a small ice cream scoop or a tablespoon to portion the meat mixture directly from the bowl.
Roll Out the Meatballs
With your hands, roll each square or portion of meat mixture into a ball.
Ways to Cook Meatballs
An easy way to make sure the meatballs are done is to insert an instant-read thermometer into a few of the meatballs. It should register 160 degrees F.
- Bake: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (unless otherwise directed in your recipe). Arrange meatballs in a 15x10x1-inch pan. Bake, uncovered, about 15 minutes or until brown and cooked through (160 degrees F).
- Saute: Heat 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil or cooking oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Carefully add the meatballs and cook for 5 to 7 minutes or until browned and cooked through (160 degrees F), turning occasionally. Drain off any fat.