Seriously the BEST Meatball Recipe (Italian Meatballs)

Italian meatballs and pasta is a crowd-pleasing, kid-friendly dinner idea. This truly is the best meatball recipe and it’s simply made with ground beef, breadcrumbs, parmesan, and your favorite marinara sauce!

spaghetti and meatballs on plate

Hands-down the BEST Meatball Recipe

Making homemade Italian meatballs is actually kind of therapeutic for me. It’s like making cookies, but the end results are hearty and meaty instead of soft and chewy.

My mom has been making her famous spaghetti and meatball recipe since I can remember. It was a weekly staple at our house…especially the night before soccer games. So? I turned to Mama Hersh for the best Italian meatball recipe on the internet and I can’t wait to share!

PS: while this is my mom’s recipe, I’m assuming she got it from my 100% Italian Grandma Marie, so we have her to thank for these babies, too!

What makes these the best meatballs?

  • simple ingredients
  • ready in less than an hour
  • perfect flavor
  • so good on spaghetti!

What You Need

Meat: my mom traditionally uses 80/20 ground beef (20% fat). A little bit of fat really helps the flavor and texture of these meatballs. No one likes a dry meatball, so if you are going to swap for lesser fat meat, just beware!

I have made similar meatballs that call for both ground beef and ground pork (or Italian sausage), so feel free to do 50/50.

Binder: in order for meatballs to hold their ball texture, it’s important to bind them with an egg. All you need is 1 large egg for this recipe!

Texture: don’t forget the Italian breadcrumbs! They really add a lot of texture and, these are ITALIAN meatballs, after all.

If you can’t find Italian breadcrumbs, you can always use plain and/or gluten-free breadcrumbs with a couple of teaspoons of Italian seasoning in them.

Flavor: my mom keeps her Italian meatballs simple with salt, black pepper, and parmesan cheese. That’s right, there’s parmesan cheese packed into these meatballs and it’s oh-so-good. 

If you feel so inclined, you can add any of the following to your meatballs:

  • crushed garlic
  • minced onion
  • fresh herbs such as oregano, basil, parlsey, etc.

What are traditional Italian meatballs made of?

Traditional Italian meatballs (that were made in my grandmother’s Italian kitchen) are made from ground beef and sometimes a little ground pork. They also include breadcrumbs, egg, and parmesan cheese.

Italian meatballs in cast iron skillet

How to Make the Italian Meatballs (step by step)

Mix

Place ground beef, egg, bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Use a wooden utensil to mix everything together. I prefer to use my hands because it’s faster.

pro tip

I actually recommend using your hands to mix everything together. It’s just easier to really get in there with your hands instead of trying to mix it together with a wooden spoon.

Roll into Balls

Place ground beef, egg, bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Use a wooden utensil to mix everything together. I prefer to use my hands because it’s faster.

Note: the bigger your meatballs, the longer they will need to simmer to fully cook.

Sear on Stove

Heat olive oil in a large cast-iron pan (nonstick works, too) over medium/high heat. Sear meatballs on all sides for around 8 minutes. The goal here is to brown all of the edges so you get a wonderful crunchy outer shell.

Let simmer

Add marinara sauce and red wine to the skillet and stir. Lower the heat to low and cover. Let simmer for around 20 minutes so that the sauce thickens a bit and the meatballs fully cook.

How do I know when my Italian meatballs are fully cooked?

The best way to know that your meatballs are fully cooked is to use a meat thermometer. Stick the thermometer into the center of your meatball and stop about halfway. The reading for a beef meatball should be at least 160ºF.

  • beef: 160ºF
  • pork: 165ºF
  • chicken: 165ºF
  • turkey: 165ºF

meat thermometer

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Why are my meatballs tough?

Your meatballs are likely tough because you didn’t have enough fat in your meat. Make sure to use 80% fat OR add a few teaspoons of olive oil to your mixture.

tip

I’ve also found that adding some milk to the mixture can also help with this! I do want to note, that my mom and grandma’s traditional Italian meatball recipe does NOT call for milk.

If you’ve ever made a meatloaf that has milk in it, it’s the same idea!

Is it better to bake or fry meatballs?

Frying your meatballs is definitely better than baking them. By frying your meatballs and then letting them simmer in the sauce, you give them a delicious outside texture with a super moist inside.

However, you can bake your meatballs in the oven on a baking sheet, if you choose. They just won’t come out crispy on the outside and perfect on the inside.

beef meatballs in marinara sauce

How to Make Meatballs Healthier

Meat: try swapping the beef for a lower in fat beef or even ground turkey. Do beware that the lower in fat you go, the tougher your meatballs will end up.

Breadcrumbs: there are all kinds of breadcrumbs on the market these days – gluten-free, paleo, keto, etc. Pick your poison! PS: I’ve also made these by swapping out the breadcrumbs entirely for rolled oats. Start with 1/3 cup and go from there.

Noodles: the noodle is totally up to you! I am an angel hair pasta kind of girl, but you can absolutely make things a lot healthier in this arena. Here are some suggestions:

  • Gluten-free pasta >> you can find g/f pasta at pretty much every grocery store these days. They do have a slightly different texture but are still great as a substitution.
  • Zoodles >> ditch the pasta altogether and spiralize a zucchini for a low-carb option!
  • Spaghetti squash >> swap your pasta out for spaghetti squash. The flavor is slightly sweet, but it’s a great way to eat your veggies.

Can you make these gluten-free? 

You can easily make these meatballs gluten-free by using a gluten-free breadcrumb. Other than that, the rest of the ingredients are naturally gluten-free.

bowl of spaghetti and meatballs

How to Eat Your Italian Meatballs

Don’t feel like eating your meatballs on a bed of pasta? You’re in luck because there are so many different ways you can eat these meatballs!

  • Appetizer: eat this Italian meatball recipe on their own. Serve them at a party with a toothpick and you’ve got a quick and easy app.
  • Sub/Sandwich: everyone loves a meatball sub! Pop a few meatballs and marinara on your favorite Italian bread, cover it with mozzarella cheese, and bam, you’ve got a brand new meal to feed the fam.
  • Bowl: serve your meatballs next to quinoa, your favorite green, and roasted veggies.

Mix Up Your Sauce

Another reason why these are the best meatballs is that they are so versatile. Make your meatballs as directed, but instead of simmering in marinara sauce. Try one of these instead!

  • BBQ: bbq sauce is seriously such an easy thing to flavor your meatball recipe with. Use your favorite brand or make homemade bbq sauce!
  • Tikka Masala: tikka masala is made from a mixture of coconut milk, tomato sauce, and garam masala. It’s super simple to make and packed with flavor! Check out our Tikka Masala Meatballs here.
  • Teriyaki: our homemade teriyaki sauce is made with 5 ingredients. Serve your meatballs on rice next to your favorite stir fryed veggie.
  • Coconut Curry: if you’ve never made our curry meatballs, they are seriously SO GOOD. Check out our coconut curry sauce in this post.

How to Store Meatballs

Let your meatballs and marinara sauce cool completely. Then, transfer into an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 3-5 days.

Can you freeze meatballs?

You can easily freeze meatballs and they make for an excellent make-ahead dinner idea. For this recipe, we suggest holding off on the sauce part until thawing and reheating. Sear your meatballs and then continue to cook all the way through.

  1. Let the meatballs cool completely.
  2. Then transfer them into a gallon-size freezer-safe bag.
  3. Remove as much air as possible and then seal.
  4. Freeze for up to 3 months. 
bowl of meatballs with spaghetti

bowl of spaghetti and meatballs

Homemade Italian Meatballs

Italian meatballs (AKA the best Italian meatball recipe on the internet) is a crowd-pleasing childhood favorite of mine. They’re simply made with ground beef, breadcrumbs, parmesan, and your favorite marinara!

Prep: 15 minutesCook: 30 minutesTotal: 45 minutes

Fat 19

Protein 29

Yield 46 1x


Ingredients

  • 1 lb. ground beef, 80% lean/20% fat
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs (option to sub gluten-free or whole wheat bread crumbs)
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese (+ more for topping)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 25 oz. marinara sauce (use our homemade marinara sauce!)
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • 8 oz. spaghetti noodles (or any kind of noodle!)

Instructions

  1. Place ground beef, egg, bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper in a large bowl.
  2. Then, use a large wooden spoon or your hands to thoroughly mix, combining all ingredients. I recommend using your hands as it’s faster and easier.
  3. Once combined, heat olive oil in a large skillet or cast iron over medium heat.
  4. Use a standard-size cookie scoop to scoop meat into your hands. Then, form into a ball and place on the skillet. Repeat until there is no meat left. You should get around 16 medium-size meatballs.
  5. Brown meatballs on all sides for around 8 minutes. Use a pair of tongs to flip each meatball, being careful not to burn the outsides.
  6. Once all sides are brown, pour in marinara sauce and red wine. Toss so that the meatballs are covered in sauce.
  7. Lower heat to low and cover. Let simmer for about 20 minutes, tossing every 5 minutes.
  8. While the meatballs are simmering, prepare your spaghetti of choice by following the directions on your package.
  9. Once your noodles are cooked, strain and serve with meatballs and sauce. Top with a generous amount of parmesan cheese and fresh ground pepper.

Nutrition Facts

Serving Size: 1/6
Calories: 501
Sugar: 9
Fat: 19
Fiber: 5
Protein: 29

Author: Lee FunkeCategory: DinnerMethod: Stove-TopCuisine: Italian

Keywords: italian meatballs, italian meatball recipe

Photography: photos taken in this post are by Erin from The Wooden Skillet.

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