A step-by-step guide to the perfect meatballs.

By Corey Williams
March 17, 2020
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Meatballs are as delicious as they are easy to make. Here’s everything you need to know about how to cook and serve the best meatballs of your life:

Get the recipes: 100 Best Meatball Recipes

What Are Meatballs? 

Meredith Food Studios 

A meatball is, well, a ball of ground meat. Eggs and breadcrumbs are usually used to bind the meat together, while cheese and seasonings are used to add flavor. 

They’re commonly tossed with pasta and sauce, but they are also often served alone as appetizers.

The meatballs you’re most familiar with are likely of the Italian variety: an herby blend of beef and breadcrumbs, served with marinara sauce and pasta. 

However, meatballs aren’t strictly Italian. Many cultures have their own version of the meatball, from Sweden to China.  

Recipes to Try: 

A Note on Hygiene 

Mike Kemp/Getty Images

Making meatballs the right way requires you to get your hands dirty. You’ll be up close and personal with raw meat as you combine ingredients and as you roll the balls. 

It’s important to remember that uncooked meat can make you extremely sick

To avoid foodborne illnesses like E. coli and salmonella, wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling raw meat. You can also use disposable gloves.

How to Make Meatballs

Get the full recipe: Spaghetti and Easy Meatballs

1. Gather your supplies. Here’s what you’ll need:

Lee Harrelson; Styling: Jan Gautro, Laura Zapalowski

  • Ground meat. Traditional meatballs are made with ground beef, but, these days, the sky’s the limit. Whether you go with turkey, pork, chicken, or even faux-meat is up to you. 
  • Egg. Next to the meat itself, the egg is really the most important ingredient when it comes to making meatballs. Not only does it help bind the meat together, it helps the balls retain moisture during the cooking process. 
  • Breadcrumbs. Combining breadcrumbs with an egg makes a glue that holds the meatballs together. Without this binding mixture, the ball wouldn’t retain its shape. 
  • Cheese. Meatballs don’t necessarily have to have cheese, but we strongly recommend it (specifically, Parmesan).  
  • Salt and other seasonings. Standard meatballs usually contain garlic powder, oregano, crushed red pepper, onions, herbs, and salt. You can get creative with which seasonings you choose to include, but salt is essential.
  • A large bowl. You’ll use this to combine your ingredients.
  • A sturdy spoon or silicone spatula (optional). It’s really best to use your hands to combine the meat with the other ingredients. However, you can use a spoon or spatula if you’d prefer. 
  • Frying pan with oil OR oiled baking sheet. You can either fry or bake your meatballs. Either way, you’re going to need the right equipment. 
  • Tongs. These will come in handy when it’s time to transfer the cooked meatballs to the pasta or serving dish. 

2. In a large bowl, combine ground meat, egg, breadcrumbs, cheese, seasonings, and salt. 

Lee Harrelson; Styling: Jan Gautro, Laura Zapalowski
Lee Harrelson; Styling: Jan Gautro, Laura Zapalowski

Really get in there. Mash, pinch, and squeeze until the ingredients are thoroughly combined. 

3. Once the ingredients are thoroughly mixed, form mixture into balls. 

Lee Harrelson; Styling: Jan Gautro, Laura Zapalowski

Simply pinch off a piece of meat, then use your hands to roll it into a ball. A golf ball-sized ball is a good target, but you can go bigger or smaller. It’s important to note that the meat will shrink slightly as it cooks. Repeat this process until all the meat has been rolled into balls. Place uncooked balls directly onto oiled sheets or frying pan. 

4. Cook the meatballs. 

Lee Harrelson; Styling: Jan Gautro, Laura Zapalowski
Lee Harrelson; Styling: Jan Gautro, Laura Zapalowski

  • To bake: Arrange balls evenly on an oiled baking sheet or casserole dish. Bake according to your recipe (20-25 minutes at 400° should ensure that meatballs are thoroughly cooked). 
  • To fry: Traditional Italian meatballs are pan-fried. Cook balls over medium heat in a frying pan with the hot oil of your choice (we recommend olive oil). Flip them until they are completely cooked and browned on all sides.    
  • To cook in sauce: Cooking the meatballs directly in the sauce they’ll be served in adds a meaty flavor to your sauce and a rich flavor to the balls. This also helps prevent the meat from drying out. You can throw the meatballs directly into the simmering sauce and cook (stirring frequently) for 30-40 minutes. However, you can also bake the balls at 375° and then transfer them to the simmering sauce to finish cooking. 

5. Serve tossed with pasta and sauce. 

Lee Harrelson; Styling: Jan Gautro, Laura Zapalowski

If you’re making spaghetti and meatballs, toss the cooked balls with pasta and sauce (use tongs to transfer them—they’ll be hot).   

Lee Harrelson; Styling: Jan Gautro, Laura Zapalowski

Complete Your Meal

Jen Causey; Food Styling: Rishon Hanners; Prop Styling: Kay Clarke

Complement your piping hot meatballs with a flavorful Italian feast. Here are few of our favorite recipes, from spaghetti to cannolis: