Best Italian Meatball Recipe

4.87 from 2944 votes
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This is my go-to meatball recipe because it yields the most juicy and tender bites every time. It’s a reader favorite, with hundreds of rave reviews!

Three large beef meatballs on a bed of spaghetti and topped with parmesan cheese.

Recipe Science

  • Mixing the ground beef, breadcrumbs, and eggs creates a starchy panade that traps the juices, resulting in a juicy meatball.
  • Broiling browns the surface and activates the Maillard reaction, producing hundreds of new flavor compounds.
  • Simmering the meatballs in acidic tomato sauce tenderizes the beef for the best texture.

Why It Works

I’m very proud of this dish. I learned all the secrets to success from my husband Jason’s Italian grandma, Rose. The challenge was that she didn’t use specific measurements and cooked by feel. As a culinary scientist who craves details, I had some homework to do.

After many rounds of testing, I finally figured it out. The essential elements are the breadcrumb mixture to retain juiciness, broiling to create surface flavors, and simmering to tenderize the beef. With my husband and kids as taste testers, the flavor is spot on. This recipe makes plenty of servings for pasta or meatball subs.

Ingredients You’ll Need

Meatball ingredients laid out on a table with labels.
  • Meat: I use ground beef ranging from 80% (ground chuck) to 90% (ground sirloin). The percentage corresponds to the amount of lean meat-to-fat that’s processed together. Fat adds flavor and tenderness, while the meat provides chew for a contrast in texture. For me, the sweet spot is 85% lean beef, with 80% lean beef as my second choice.
  • Breadcrumbs: I recommend using plain breadcrumbs and then adding dried Italian seasonings and fresh herbs for herbaceous notes. You can use premade Italian-style breadcrumbs for convenience, but I prefer to control the level of seasonings.
  • Eggs: Serve as a binder, add richness, and moisten the bread crumbs to create a panade.
  • Seasoning: To make each bite packed with flavor, I mix in finely chopped onions, minced garlic, grated parmesan cheese, dried Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper.
  • Tomato Sauce: I always prefer making homemade marinara sauce, using ripe canned tomatoes for convenience. It combines tomato paste, crushed San Marzano or Cento brand, and alliums like onions and garlic. So simple!

See the recipe card below for all ingredients and measurements (US and metric).

Ingredients Substitutions

  • Using Other Types of Meat: Grandma Rose said that, on occasion, she would use different types of ground beef or a mixture of beef and pork (ground pork or Italian sausage) or ground veal. Many of my readers have used a combo, or all three, and loved the results! You can easily substitute ground turkey or chicken for a poultry alternative.
  • Making Homemade Breadcrumbs: In culinary school, we were taught how to make breadcrumbs using leftover homemade white bread or crusty loaves. Break them down in a food processor then bake them until dry for a tastier meatball. This option works well for those who want gluten-free breadcrumbs if none are available at the market.
  • Using Jarred Tomato Sauce: In a hurry? No problem! You can use 47 ounces (or 2 jars) or store-bought marinara or pasta sauce instead of making the tomato sauce recipe.

How to Make Meatballs

This step-by-step guide shows you the process of making the tomato sauce, broiling the meatballs, and simmering them in the sauce.

Minced garlic, and diced onions sauting in a pan with tomato paste.

Step 1: Make the Tomato Sauce

Minced garlic and onion saute with the tomato paste to add a hint of sweetness and depth to the sauce.

Jar of canned tomatoes being poured into a pan.

Add high-quality crushed canned tomatoes to create a thick but pourable sauce consistency.

Ingredient Chemistry: I make the sauce and simmer it briefly for about 30 minutes while preparing the meatballs. Foods rich in glutamates, like onions, garlic, and tomatoes, boost the meatballs’ savory flavors.

Step 2: Preheat the Oven

Set the oven rack to the lower-middle position to prevent the meatballs from charring too quickly under the broiler. Line a large sheet pan with foil or parchment paper rated for use at high temperatures for easy clean-up. Grease with olive oil to prevent sticking.

Bowl of unmixed meatball ingredients.

Step 3: Make the Meatball Mixture

I’ve found just the proper ratio of meat to breadcrumbs for a fork-tender meatball. For every 1 pound beef, add ½ cup breadcrumbs and 1 large egg. This prevents a tough or spongy texture. Mix with parmesan cheese, finely chopped onion, salt, black pepper, Italian seasoning, and minced garlic for flavor.

Ground beef mixture in a mixing bowl.

Step 4: Shape the Meatballs

At our home, we like large meatballs to serve with spaghetti. Measure out about ⅓ cup of the ground beef. A cookie scoop works well for the job!

Jessica using her hands to shape a meatball.

Shape it into balls; this size will yield about 15 portions. Place them on the greased baking sheet.

Pro Tip: Alternatively, you can make them smaller and cook them in the oven for a shorter time.

Meatballs on a foil-lined sheet pan after being broiled.

Step 5: Broil the Meatballs

Cook the meatballs under the broiler on one side for about 10 minutes, then flip to brown the bottoms.

Tips for Perfect Execution: Grandma Rose advises broiling them before simmering them in the sauce to prevent soggy meatballs. This process is integral in keeping the meat together during simmering and enhancing the surface flavor and texture.

Meatballs simmering in a pot of tomato sauce.

Step 6: Simmer

Slowly simmering the meatballs in the sauce for over an hour allows the liquid to coax out the meat’s delicious browned flavors. The sauce concentrates over the long cooking period. Stir every 20 minutes for even cooking.

The braising process and the acids in the tomato helps to soften the tougher connective tissue in the beef so that each bite breaks down with little resistance.

Meatball sliced in half with a fork on a bed of spaghetti noodles.

Step 7: To Serve

I traditionally serve this dish with spaghetti, but any type of pasta works well. Toss the sauce and noodles, add a few hearty meatballs, and sprinkle with salty parmesan and sliced basil. Pair this with my mom’s special garlic bread recipe, and you have an Italian feast! Plus, the leftovers taste even better the next day!

Experimentation Encouraged: The tomato sauce needs to be thick to cling to the noodles. You can easily adjust the consistency at the end of cooking with a bit of water or beef stock.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the secret of a tender meatball?

Mixing the ground meat with breadcrumbs and eggs to create a panade. The moisture from the eggs helps to make a starchy paste. Once you mix and cook, the liquids will absorb into the crumbs and activate the natural starches. If desired, the bread can be pre-soaked in some milk to accelerate the process. As they simmer in the sauce, the starches bind to the liquid and swell to lock in the juices. The result is a super tender meatball.

How do you prevent meatballs from shrinking?

Adding breadcrumbs to the ground meat mixture creates a starchy paste that holds the moisture in and prevents shrinkage. Usually, when meat cooks, the muscle fibers’ proteins tighten and contract, which causes large amounts of water to squeeze out. If you do not use a classic panade or breadcrumbs, the meatballs will reduce in size and tend to become dry or tough.

Can I cook meatballs in a slow cooker?

Add the sauce and meatballs to a 6-quart slow cooker or crockpot. Cook for 3 hours on high or 6 hours on low.

Can I bake the meatballs?

Bake the meatballs at 375ºF (191ºC) for 20 to 25 minutes, flipping halfway through to brown both sides. If fully cooked to about 165°F (74°C), they can be served as is or added to the tomato sauce to simmer.

Can I make the meatballs ahead of time?

Cooked meatballs can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or frozen for 1 month. A batch of raw meatballs can be frozen for 1 month.

What should I serve with meatballs?

As a starter, serve a classic Caesar salad recipe or Caprese salad. Serve with focaccia bread to dip in the sauce. If you prefer a creamy sauce, check out my Swedish meatball recipe.

More Italian Favorites

If you tried this Meatball recipe, please leave a 🌟 star rating and let me know how it went in the 📝 comments below!

Best Meatball Recipe

Grandma's tender and juicy meatball recipe simmered in a delicious tomato sauce and served with spaghetti noodles, classic Italian food.
4.87 from 2944 votes
Prep Time30 minutes
Cook Time2 hours
Total Time2 hours 30 minutes
Servings 14 meatballs
Course Entree
Cuisine Italian

Ingredients 
 

Tomato Sauce

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ½ cup minced yellow onions
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 6 ounces tomato paste
  • 7 cups crushed canned tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper

Meatballs

  • 2 pounds ground beef, 80% to 85% lean
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup plain breadcrumbs, or Italian-style
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup finely minced yellow onion
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasonings
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • ¼ cup sliced basil

Instructions 

  • Make the Tomato Sauce – In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium-low heat. Once hot, add the onion and garlic, and sauté until the onions are translucent, about 3 minutes.
    Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the crushed tomatoes, salt, and pepper. Simmer covered, with lid slightly ajar to prevent splattering for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Heat the Oven – Set the oven rack to the lower-middle position. Heat the oven to broil. Line a large baking sheet with foil and lightly grease it with olive oil. Set aside.
  • Make the Meatball Mixture – In a large bowl, add the ground beef, eggs, breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, minced onion, salt, black pepper, Italian seasoning, and minced garlic. Use your hands to mix thoroughly until combined.
  • Shape the Meatballs – Measure out ⅓ cup of the ground beef mixture (3 ounces), about the size of an egg, then roll it into a ball. Evenly space them on the prepared baking sheet. This should yield 14 to 15 meatballs.
  • Broil the Meatballs – Transfer the meatballs to the lower-middle position in the oven. Cook until the surface is browned, about 10 to 12 minutes. Flip the meatballs and cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes to lightly brown the other side.
  • Simmer – Transfer the meatballs to the tomato sauce. Cover the pot with the lid slightly ajar, and simmer on low heat for at least 1 ½ hours, checking and stirring every 20 minutes, or as needed. The meatballs should be fork-tender when sliced.
  • To Serve – If needed, adjust the consistency of the sauce with water, about 1 tablespoon at a time. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve meatballs topped with sauce, sliced basil, and Parmesan cheese if desired.

Recipe Video

YouTube video

Notes

  • Ground Beef Selection: I recommend 80 to 85% lean for the most tender texture. Use 90% for a leaner option, but will have more chew.
  • Canned Tomatoes: For the sweetest taste, use crushed San Marzano or Cento brand.
  • Using Italian-style Breadcrumbs: Omit the dried Italian seasoning.
  • Using Store-Bought Tomato Sauce: Use about 47 ounces (2 jars).
  • Make it Gluten-Free: Use gluten-free breadcrumbs or almond flour.
  • Baked Meatballs: Bake at 375ºF (191ºC) for 20 to 25 minutes, flipping halfway through to brown both sides. If fully cooked to 165°F (74°C), they can be served as is.
  • Make it in the Slow Cooker: Add the cooked sauce and broiled meatballs to a 6-quart slow cooker. Cook on high for 3 hours or 6 hours on low setting.
  • Storing: Cool and store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
  • Freezing: Store uncooked meatballs in a large freezer bag for up to 1 month and defrost before broiling. Freeze cooked meatballs and sauce for up to 1 month. Defrost and reheat on the stovetop until hot.

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 14 meatballs
Calories 216kcal (11%)Carbohydrates 9g (3%)Protein 19g (38%)Fat 11g (17%)Saturated Fat 4g (20%)Polyunsaturated Fat 1gMonounsaturated Fat 4gCholesterol 44mg (15%)Sodium 810mg (34%)Potassium 19mg (1%)Fiber 1g (4%)Sugar 2g (2%)Vitamin A 250IU (5%)Vitamin C 4.1mg (5%)Calcium 120mg (12%)Iron 0.5mg (3%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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532 Comments Leave a comment or review

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Whoo-hoo! Thrilled to hear that you have been enjoying my Italian meatball recipe over the years.

  1. Bob says

    I used 1/2 ground beef and 1/2 Italian sausage.
    and added a bunch of parsley (cause grandma always did)
    used a #16 scoop and got 18 meatballs.

  2. Pamela Black says

    This is indeed the best Meatball and Sauce recipe ever. Wow! Thanks for sharing. The only thing we changed is we did 1 lb. of the 85% ground beef and 1 lb. of spicy Italian sausage.

  3. Susan F. says

    Great recipe! We had plenty of meatballs for hot meatball sandwiches in a few days. This recipe was a huge win, thank you for posting it!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      You’re welcome, Susan! We love having leftover meatballs too for subs the next day. Happy cooking!

  4. Juanita says

    I made these meatballs for a grands sleep over and they were a big hit. I think broiling before adding to simmer in the sauce was better than browsing in a pan and I’ll definitely do this again.

    They really are the best meat balls!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Whoo-hoo! Thank you Juanita! Broiling definitely is easy to do than browning on the stovetop.

  5. Paloma says

    We made this for dinner tonight, and it was a hit. Everyone loved it, including the kids. This is a must try recipe!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      When the whole family loves the meal, it’s a win-win! Thank you for making the meatballs, Paloma!

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