Meatballs are a beloved appetizer and dinner staple because of their versatility and ease. We'll teach you the basics of how to make meatballs, including how to make turkey meatballs, beef meatballs, and chicken meatballs. (Hint: It's all the same simple method!). Once you know the basics, you can create your own DIY meatballs recipe to share with friends and family.
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Variety is what makes meatballs so popular. The only sure thing that unites one recipe to another is the signature round shape. You can change up the ground meat, vary the seasonings, add extra ingredients, and even cook the meatballs in different ways. You can serve them as appetizers, make spaghetti and meatballs, or even eat them on a sandwich. Here's a primer to learn exactly how to make meatballs that are always juicy and delicious. Then you can create your own signature homemade meatballs (or use one of our delicious recipes for inspiration).

Ricotta Meatball Hoagies
Credit: Andy Lyons
Get Our Basic Meatball Recipe

How to Make Meatballs

When it comes to DIY meatballs, there are three basic components: meat, binders, and seasonings. There are endless variations when making homemade meatballs, so here is a basic guide on meatball ingredients to get you started.

  • 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.
  • Binders: Eggs, bread crumbs (fine dry or soft), crushed crackers, cooked rice, and/or shredded cheese help hold homemade meatballs together. Plus, they lighten and flavor the meat mixture. Meatballs made with only ground meat tend to be harder to shape and denser when cooked. Binders also stretch the meat so you get more meatballs per pound.
  • Seasonings: Salt, black pepper, minced garlic, and dried or fresh herbs are traditional seasonings for meatballs. For herbs, consider 2 tablespoons up to ¼ cup snipped fresh basil or Italian parsley (the essential Italian meatball seasoning) or 2 teaspoons snipped fresh thyme, rosemary, or oregano per pound of ground meat. Or add 1 to 1½  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, Worcestershire sauce, and spinach. Add just enough of these ingredients to flavor the meatballs without changing the consistency too much.

Step 1: 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 score cut meatballs yellow cutting board knife
rolling out meatballs into balls hands
Left: Credit: Blaine Moats
Right: Credit: Andy Lyons

Step 2: Portion and Roll the Meatballs

For 16 equal sized meatballs, shape the meat mixture into an

8-inch square on a cutting board ($29, Bed Bath & Beyond). Cut the square into sixteen 2-inch squares. Roll each square into a ball.

Test Kitchen Tip: Each square equals about 1 tablespoon of meat mixture. You can also use a small ice cream or cookie scoop ($15, Target) or a tablespoon to portion the meat mixture directly from the bowl.

Step 3: Cook Meatballs

You have a couple of options for cooking meatballs. Follow these methods for our Test Kitchen’s best ways to cook meatballs.

  • Bake: Preheat the oven to 400°F (unless otherwise directed in your recipe). Arrange meatballs on a baking pan ($10, Target). Bake, uncovered, about 15 minutes or until browned and cooked through (160°F).
  • Sauté: Heat 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil or cooking oil in a large skillet ($35, Bed Bath & Beyond) over medium heat. Carefully add the meatballs and cook for 5 to 7 minutes or until browned and cooked through (160°F), turning occasionally. Drain off any fat.

How to Tell When Meatballs Are Done

The color of cooked ground meat isn’t an indicator of whether it’s done. An easy way to make sure the meatballs are safe to eat (without overcooking) is to insert an instant-read thermometer ($15, Walmart) into a few of the meatballs. It should register 160°F.

freeze meatballs frozen ziploc plastic bag
Credit: James Carriere

How to Freeze Meatballs

Consider making extra meatballs so you will have enough to freeze for another meal. Place cooked meatballs in a single layer on a baking sheet. Freeze them overnight, then repack in resealable freezer bags, date, and return to the freezer. Use the homemade meatballs within 2 months.

Now that you know the basics of how to make meatballs, you’ve got so many options for dinner. Whip up some Italian meatballs with fresh marinara for pasta night or a saucy sandwich. Or take your meal a creamy route with a classic Swedish meatball recipe. You can also slow-cook meatballs in a spicy red sauce or tangy glaze for an easy appetizer.

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