The Best Meatball Recipe. Loaded with classic Italian flavors and simmered in a homemade marinara sauce, this easy meatball recipe is my family’s all-time favorite easy meatball recipe. Learn How to Make Meatballs and enjoy with spaghetti noodles or serve alone as an appetizer.
The Best Italian Meatball Recipe
I often feel like I forget how much I love meatballs. Comforting and delicious, they’re one of those feel-good foods perfect for every holiday and occasion. Delicious covered in your favorite store-bought tomato sauce or simmered in your very own homemade marinara sauce added to sandwiches, soups, or even salads, there are so many ways to enjoy these meat-filled-balls of deliciousness.
In this post, I’m sharing my go-to recipe for tender meatballs! Learn how to both bake or fry them and how to freeze extras to save for later. Enjoy!
How to Make Meatballs
For the full list and amounts of ingredients, scroll down to the recipe card at the bottom of the page.
Step 1. Onions
Most meatball recipes call for onion. Some recipes will have you cook the onion first, while others will have you leave the onion raw. If I have the extra five minutes, I will usually cook the onion in a little butter or olive oil before mixing with the other ingredients. Plus, my child, who hasn’t learned to love onion (yet!) usually puts up less of a fuss when the onion is cooked versus raw.
Step 2. Combine the breadcrumbs and milk
Combine the milk and breadcrumbs. Use your fingers to break apart any clumps that may form and don’t worry if the mixture isn’t wet, you’ll have the chance to add more milk after everything has been all mixed together.
Step 3. Pick your seasonings
All homemade meatballs need a little seasoning. For the following recipe, you’ll find:
- Fresh minced garlic cloves
- Italian seasoning
- Fresh minced herbs (such as parsley, oregano, and basil)
- Salt and Pepper
How much salt? How much salt you add to your meatball mixture is largely personal. In this recipe, I added approximately 2 teaspoons of kosher salt total. I also added freshly grated parmesan cheese which is quite flavorful and can be somewhat salty, so consider the other ingredients when adding salt.
Step 4. Mix it all together
Add the cooked (or uncooked) onions, soaked breadcrumbs, seasonings, parmesan cheese, eggs, and ground meat to a large mixing bowl. Gently mix everything together using your hands. Once thoroughly combined, decide if you need more milk. Your mixture should be moist, but not so wet that your meatballs don’t hold their shape when formed into balls.
Step 5. Shape mixture into balls
Shape your mixture between the palms of your hands into equal-sized meatballs. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper while you shape the remaining mixture.
How to Cook Meatballs
There are several different ways to cook meatballs including baking in the oven, pan-frying on the stovetop, or poaching in broth (or sauce).
In this recipe, I’ll be showing how to bake meatballs and how to pan-fry meatballs. Learn more about poaching meatballs in my Albondigas Soup Recipe (Mexican Meatball Soup).
How to Bake Meatballs
When given the opportunity to decide how to cook my meatballs, I will always bake them. It’s easier, faster, healthier, and way less messy.
Step 1. Preheat oven and prepare the meatballs
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the oven racks in the upper and lower and third of the oven.
Evenly space the pre-formed balls on the prepared baking sheets (fitting approximately 18 meatballs on each baking sheet).
Step 2. Bake (round 1)
Transfer to the oven and bake for 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes, remove the baking sheets from the oven and use rubber kitchen tongs to flip each meatball over. Transfer baking pans back to the oven on the opposite rack (if it started on the lower rack, move it to the upper rack and vice versa).
Step 3. Bake (round 2)
Continue to bake for an additional 5-10 minutes, or until the internal temperature registers 165 degrees F as read with a digital meat thermometer.
Transfer to simmering marinara sauce and continue to simmer over low heat for 10-15 minutes.
How to Fry Meatballs
A little less healthy and much messier to make.
Step 1. Heat oil in a large skillet
Add approximately 1/2-3/4 cup oil to a large skillet set over medium-high heat.
Step 2. Cook in batches
Working in batches, cook the meatballs for approximately 4-6 minutes on each side, or until golden brown on each side. Avoid overcrowding the skillet. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to drain.
- Note- depending on the size of your meatballs, they may or may not be cooked all the way through by the end of frying. Always check with a digital meat thermometer.
Step 3. Simmer in the sauce to finish cooking
Transfer meatballs to simmering marinara sauce and continue to simmer over low heat for 10-15 minutes, or until cooked through.
You may also like: How to Make Turkey Meatballs
What to Serve with Meatballs
Whether you choose to serve meatballs in tomato sauce or baked plain, there are dozens of ways to enjoy these yummy meat-filled-balls.
- Classic spaghetti and meatballs.
- Meatball sandwich.
- With mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables like cauliflower, asparagus, and Brussels sprouts.
- Sweet and Tangy Slow Cooker Cranberry Meatballs(perfect for entertaining!)
- A healthy side of green salad!
- With different sauces and flavors like these Hawaiian Meatballs or these Buffalo Meatballs.
- In your favorite soup. I love adding meatballs to soups. Try them in this Healthy Thai Veggie Soup or my popular Albondigas Soup Recipe.
Can You Freeze Meatballs?
Yes! These meatballs can be frozen. To do this,
- Make sure they are fully cooked.
- Remove meatballs and allow them to come to room temperature.
- Once at room temperature, carefully transfer each to a small tray lined with parchment paper and place the tray in the freezer.
- Allow meatballs to freeze for at least 2 hours.
- Once frozen, transfer to a freezer-friendly ziplock bag, removing as much air as possible from the bag.
- To thaw, transfer to the refrigerator overnight, or place the bag in a bowl of warm water (just make sure there are no holes!) Simmer in sauce, cook in casseroles, or serve as an appetizer!
Tips and Tricks
- Use the freshest ingredients possible. This includes fresh herbs, garlic, meat, fresh bread crumbs (if you have the time – I skipped that in this recipe. See how to make with fresh breadcrumbs in these Middle Eastern Curried Lamb Meatballs).
- Use different kinds of meat for the best flavor. You can use any type of ground meat to make meatballs including ground chicken, ground lamb, ground turkey, or even ground veal. Since this recipe calls for three pounds of ground meat, I chose to use a mix,
- 1 pound 85% lean 15% fat ground beef
- 1 pound 90% lean 10% fat ground beef
- 1 pound ground pork
- Milk is better than water. I can’t imagine moistening my meatballs with water. Milk (richer and full of flavor) will give a much better tasting meatball. If you don’t drink or cook with milk, substitute with a plant-based milk alternative like oat milk or soy milk.
- Season well. Don’t be shy with the dried or fresh herbs. Add your favorite! And if you love a little heat, add a pinch of cayenne or red chili flakes. If you’re not sure about the level of seasoning and salt, prepare a small meat patty and fry it up on the stovetop. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
- The eggs are important. Eggs help bind your meatballs and keep them together.
- Form the meatballs into evenly sized balls. Some people suggest using a kitchen scale or a cookie scoop. While these are great ideas (especially the kitchen scoop), I find them to be unnecessary. A good old fashioned tablespoon is my go-to.
- Add freshly grated parmesan. Parmesan cheese has SO MUCH FLAVOR which ultimately transfers to your meatballs. It’s important to use freshly grated parm (not the bagged stuff) for the very best results.
More Italian recipes,
If you try making this Easy Meatballs Recipe, please leave me a comment and let me know! I always love to hear your thoughts.
REMEMBER TO SUBSCRIBE TO THE FORKED SPOON NEWSLETTER FOR FREE AND RECEIVE WEEKLY RECIPE NOTIFICATIONS DELIVERED STRAIGHT TO YOUR INBOX!
Easy Meatballs Recipe - How to Make Meatballs
For the Meatballs
- 2 tsp olive oil - (plus and additional 3/4 cup olive oil if frying your meatballs)
- 2 small onions - diced
- salt and pepper - to season (see notes)
- 2 cups breadcrumbs
- 2 cups milk - plus more as needed (see notes)
- 8 cloves fresh garlic - minced
- 2 cups Parmesan cheese - shredded
- 4 large eggs
- 1 tbsp Italian seasoning
- 3 tbsp fresh herbs - minced (basil, oregano, parsley, rosemary, etc)
- 3 pounds ground meat - (see notes)
For the Meatballs
- Heat olive oil in a medium skillet set over medium heat. Add the onion and stir well to coat in the olive oil. Cook until soft, approximately 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, mix together the breadcrumbs with the milk. Mix well to combine and use a fork (or your fingers) to separate any clumps).
- Transfer the onions, soaked breadcrumbs, salt and pepper, garlic, parmesan cheese, eggs, Italian seasoning, fresh minced herbs, and ground meat to a large mixing bowl. Gently mix everything together, using your fingertips to break apart any large chunks of meat. Continue to mix until all ingredients are evenly mixed.
- Add additional milk to the mixture, 1-2 tablespoons at a time, until mixture is just slightly wet (translation- more moist than wet).
- Shape the mixture between the palms of your hands into equal-sized meatballs. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Evenly space the pre-formed meatballs on the prepared baking sheets (fitting approximately 18 meatballs on each baking sheet). Transfer to the upper and lower third of the oven and bake for 10 minutes.
- After 10 minutes, remove baking sheets from the oven and use rubber kitchen tongs to flip each meatball over to brown on the other side. Transfer baking pans back to the oven on the opposite rack (if it started on the lower rack, move it to the upper rack and vice versa). Continue to bake for an additional 5-10 minutes, or until the internal temperature registers 165 degrees F as read with a digital meat thermometer.
- Transfer baked meatballs to simmering marinara sauce (recipe below) and continue to simmer over low heat for 10-15 minutes.
- Add approximately 1/2-3/4 cup oil to a large skillet set over medium-high heat.
- Working in batches, cook the meatballs for approximately 4-6 minutes on each side, or until golden brown on the bottom. Avoid overcrowding the skillet. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to drain.Note- depending on the size of your meatballs, they may not be cooked all the way at the end of this point. Always check with a digital meat thermometer.
- Transfer meatballs to simmering marinara sauce (recipe below) and continue to simmer over low heat for 10-15 minutes, or until cooked through.
For the Marinara Sauce
- Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and stir well to coat in the olive oil. Cook until soft, approximately 5 minutes.
- Add the garlic, Italian seasoning, salt, and black pepper to the onions. Mix well and continue to cook for an additional 30-60 seconds.
- Increase heat to medium-high. Mix in the tomato paste and cook, stirring continuously for approximately 1 minute. Add the tomatoes with their juice and sugar and mix well to combine.
- Cook the sauce, mashing the tomatoes with a potato masher or wooden spoon. Allow the sauce to come to a low simmer before reducing heat to low. Allow the sauce to cook, uncovered, for approximately 25 minutes, mashing occasionally as needed.
- For a smoother sauce (as in these images), transfer part, or all, of the sauce to a large blender and process until desired consistency is reached. Return the sauce back to the pot and season with additional salt and pepper, to taste.
- 1 pound 85% lean 15% fat
- 1 pound 90% lean 10% fat
- 1 pound ground pork
(Nutrition information provided is an estimate and will vary based on cooking methods and specific brands of ingredients used.)