Meatballs might not be gourmet but they're well worth making, and they're worth knowing how to make well — because there's more to making meatballs than just rolling up meat.

By Vanessa Greaves
Updated August 31, 2020
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Read on for tips on how to make flavorful meatballs for crowd-pleasing appetizers and comfort food dinners.

Here's why meatballs should be in every cook's arsenal:

  • Meatballs are easy to make. Making meatballs doesn't require complicated kitchen skills —you just mix together and cook. Also, you can double up a recipe and freeze half to bank for speedy meals later. (See Freezing Meatballs below.)
  • Meatballs are versatile. Just about every global cuisine includes some kind of meatball. That's a world of flavor to explore.
  • Meatballs are economical. You don't have to spend big bucks on prime cuts of meat to make meatballs. (You can even make meatless meatballs.) And with all the add-ins and binders that go into the making of a proper meatball, you can make a little meat go a long way.

Three Pillars of Meatball Making

What are the ingredients to make meatballs? The sky is the limit, but all meatballs contain some combination of these three essential building blocks:

  1. Protein Ground or finely minced beef, pork, veal, chicken, turkey, bison, sausage, seafood, or meat substitute. Many cooks swear by combining two or more kinds of meat to make a meatball with more complex flavors.
  2. Seasonings and Optional Add-ins Salt and pepper, plus fresh or dried herbs and spices to complement the flavor profile of the recipe. Meatballs mixtures can also include finely minced onions, garlic, or other vegetables, and finely grated cheese.
  3. Binder This is what holds the meat, seasonings, and add-ins together into a ball, and keeps it from crumbling when it cooks. Depending on the recipe, you might use moistened bread or breadcrumbs, panko, finely crushed crackers, rice, and/or eggs.

Top Tips for Making Meatballs

Here's how to make sure your meatballs turn out just right every time.

  • The leaner the meat, the less tender the meatball, so if you're using lean meat, add a little olive oil.
  • Do not overwork the meat mixture or your meatballs might toughed up when they cook.
  • Use a spoon or scoop to make evenly sized meatballs, and roll lightly into smooth balls.
  • Dampen your hands to make rolling easier. Use a light touch to avoid pressing and compacting the meatballs.
  • Make small meatballs for appetizers or soups; make large for spaghetti and meatballs or meatball sandwiches.

Seven Ways to Cook Meatballs

There are a number of ways to cook your meatballs for pasta, sandwiches, soups and stews, appetizers, and more:

1. How to Make Meatballs in the Oven: Place meatballs on a baking sheet lined with foil and bake at 350° F for 10 to 20 minutes, depending on size, or until done. Turn halfway through cooking, if desired. Try this recipe for oven-baked Meatball Nirvana (pictured above).

2. How to Make Meatballs in the Broiler: Place on a lined baking sheet and broil for 5 to 10 minutes, depending on size, or until done. Turn halfway through cooking, if desired. Try this recipe for World's Fastest Meatballs.

3. How to Make Meatballs in a Skillet: Pan-fry the meatballs in a little vegetable oil over medium-high heat, turning occasionally, until browned on the outside and cooked through. Try this recipe for The Best Meatballs You'll Ever Have.

4. How to Make Meatballs in an Air Fryer: Place meatball mixture in a single layer in the air fryer basket, leaving enough room between the meatballs so they don't crowd together. Cook for about 8 minutes, shake, and cook for about 2 more minutes. Repeat with remaining meatballs. Try this recipe for Air Fryer Meatballs.

5. How to Make Meatballs in Sauces or Soups: Bring the sauce or soup to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Drop in as many meatballs as you want, cover the pot, and let them simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, or until cooked through. Try this recipe for Mama's Old-Fashioned Albondigas (Meatball Soup).

6. How to Make Meatballs in the Slow Cooker: Make the meatball mixture like usual. Add your sauce to the slow cooker, then add the meatballs to the sauce, and cook on a Low setting for up to 8 hours. Try this recipe for Easy Slow Cooker Meatballs.

7. How to Make Meatballs on the Grill: The key to grill meatballs is start with medium-size balls and make meatball skewers by threading them onto metal skewers. You don't want the balls to be so big that they come apart or so small that they split when you skewer them. Try this recipe for Lemongrass Ground Beef Skewers.

Different Types of Meatballs

Here's how to make meatballs for spaghetti — don't even think about leaving out the garlic! Watch the video to see how to make Italian meatballs using ground pork and ground beef. In the video, you'll see how to avoid over-mixing your meat mixture. You'll bake these meatballs until browned and then add them to your favorite tomato sauce and simmer. You'll also see Chef John's officially sanctioned size of meatball. Check out collection of Italian meatball recipes.

Credit: happyschmoopies

Turns out, you don't need meat to make meatballs. These meat-free meatballs get it done through the magic of mushrooms. The key is to chop the mushrooms into mince and brown them well; this process will develop delicious, surprisingly meaty flavors. "What really blows me away is how close the texture of these vegetarian meatballs is to actual meatballs," says Chef John. They are officially approved for use on spaghetti!"

Credit: catherine.drew

Here's how to make gluten-free meatballs. The trick is to bind the ingredients using gluten-free bread crumbs. Or try a lighter take on gluten-free meatballs with Gluten-Free Turkey Meatballs. To make meatballs without eggs or breadcrumbs, check out Paleo Sausage Meatballs.

Credit: Buckwheat Queen

These meatballs are like the ones you love at that big store with the Scandinavian name — you know the one. They're made with ground beef and pork, spiced with nutmeg and allspice, and cooked in butter instead of vegetable oil. Then you'll bake them in a baking dish with a little chicken broth and serve in a brown gravy finished with sour cream. Explore our collection of Swedish meatball recipes.

Credit: naples34102

Cocktail meatballs are the ultimate party appetizer. Tangy, sweet, and spicy, these meatballs are easy to prepare. You'll bake them briefly, and then combine them with a few simple ingredients in a skillet or slow cooker and slowly simmer. At party time, use the slow cooker to keep them warm. Check out more appetizer meatball recipes.

Credit: Allrecipes Magazine

How to Freeze Meatballs

Cooked and frozen meatballs put all kinds of meals on the fast track to dinner. Here's how to easily freeze and thaw cooked meatballs so you can stock up for busy nights.

  1. Form and cook meatballs using any of the methods above.
  2. Place meatballs in a single layer on a baking tray.
  3. Freeze until solid, and transfer to a freezer-safe container or freezer bag.
  4. Mark with the date. Meatballs can be frozen for up to 4 months.

How to Thaw and Heat Frozen Meatballs

When it comes time to thaw your meatballs, choose one of these methods for best results:

  • Let the meatballs thaw overnight in the fridge, then use them in your recipe.
  • Place on a baking sheet in a single layer, cover with foil,  and bake at 350° for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Simmer in sauce or soup for at least 20 minutes.
  • Place in a microwave-safe dish in a single layer with a spoonful of water. Cover loosely and heat on HIGH for 1 minute at a time until heated through.

Related

Check out our collection of Meatball Recipes.