How to Make Italian Meatballs
Meatballs are a beloved appetizer and dinner staple because of their versatility and ease. We'll teach you the basics of how to make homemade 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 homemade meatballs recipe to share with friends and family.
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. You can serve them as appetizers, make spaghetti and meatballs, or even eat them on a sandwich. Here's a primer to get you started so you can create your own signature meatball recipe.
Select Your 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 1 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 hold the ground meat together. Plus, they lighten and flavor the meat mixture. Meatballs made with only 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, 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 ensure even cooking, the meatballs should 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 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
Using your hands, roll each square or portion of meat mixture into a ball.
Ways to Cook Meatballs
- Bake: Preheat the oven to 400°F (unless otherwise directed in your recipe). Arrange meatballs in a 15x10-inch pan. Bake, uncovered, about 15 minutes or until browned and cooked through (160°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°F), turning occasionally. Drain off any fat.
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°F.
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 meatballs within 2 months.
How to Make Swedish Meatballs
Unlike Italian meatballs, which are usually served in tomato sauce, Swedish meatballs are cooked and served in a sauce similar to gravy. You can use just about any meat, binder, and seasoning combo to make Swedish meatballs. When you're ready to cook them, follow these instructions:
- In a large skillet cook about 15 meatballs at a time in 1 tablespoon hot butter over medium heat about 10 minutes or until done (an instant-read thermometer inserted into the meatballs should read 160°F). Be sure to turn the meatballs as they're cooking so they brown evenly. Remove the meatballs from the skillet; reserve the drippings and drain the meatballs on paper towels. Measure 2 tablespoons of drippings; if necessary, add cooking oil to make 2 tablespoons.
- Stir 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons instant beef bouillon granules, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper into the drippings. Gradually stir in 2 cups milk. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir 1 minute more. Return meatballs to the skillet and heat through. Serve as desired (we recommend serving over noodles!).