How to make meatballs
Nothing says comfort food like spaghetti and meatballs. Learn how to make easy homemade meatballs and cook them so that they're perfectly browned on the outside but still juicy in the middle.
What are meatballs made from?
To make meatballs, finely chopped or minced meat such as beef will be seasoned and sometimes flavoured with ingredients like chopped onions, herbs and spices then will be shaped into small balls before cooking. Typically, meatballs will be somewhere between the size of a large cherry and a golf ball. Recipes such as Swedish meatballs and Italian-inspired meatballs are often made with a mixture of both beef and pork, but meatballs can be made with any red meat, game, poultry or a mixture.
Meatballs pop up in a wide range of different cuisines, and that’s no surprise as they’re simple to serve, easy to eat and a good way of making a relatively small amount of meat go that bit further.
How to stop meatballs from falling apart
Making them with just meat and seasoning alone can result in the meatball becoming dry or falling apart during cooking. For this reason, many recipes will include a binding ingredient like egg, and a filler like breadcrumbs. You only need a small amount of egg – it’s there only to help the cooked meatball retain its shape, and shouldn't detract from the meat's flavour or texture.
Filler ingredients like breadcrumbs or flour are important too because they stop the meatballs becoming dry. The breadcrumbs absorb the juices from the meat as it cooks, trapping them within the meatball. Again quantity is important here; too much and your meatball will be more like stuffing or a dumpling.
How to cook meatballs
How long to cook meatballs on the hob
The best way to cook meatballs is to shallow fry them, preferably in a non-stick pan with a little vegetable or sunflower oil. They’ll take around 10-15 mins over a medium heat, depending on their size. Cook until they are no longer pink in the middle and any juices run clear. You’ll need to turn them regularly to make sure they cook evenly and retain their round shape.
How long to cook meatballs in the oven
Meatballs can also be baked in the oven, for around 25 mins at 200C/180C fan/gas 6. This can be easier and allows you to cook a bigger batch at once. However, if the meatballs have a high meat content they can easily become dry in the oven, so it's best to try this with recipes that contain a higher proportion of other wetter ingredients such as finely chopped or grated vegetables.
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How to make meatballs with sausages
If you want to cheat, the easiest way to make meatballs is to make them from sausages. Simply squeeze the sausage meat out from the sausage and roll into small balls – you should get about 2 or 3 from each sausage. Sausages should already contain a type of breadcrumb called rusk, so they'll stay juicy and flavourful once fried.
Ready-made meatballs are also available and they are just as easy to cook. Most take around 10-15 mins on the hob or under the grill. Just make sure you turn them regularly to make sure they cook evenly.
What to serve with meatballs
A popular Italian-American classic, spaghetti and meatballs is comprised of meatballs drenched in a tomato sauce served with spaghetti and topped with finely grated parmesan cheese.
Meatballs are often served in a sauce like this – if not tomato sauce it could be with a gravy perhaps, or in a curry. But in most cases, it’s better to cook the meatballs separately first before adding them to your chosen sauce at the last stage. This ensures that the meatball is cooked properly, provides deep caramelised flavour to the outside of the meat and stops them breaking up in the sauce.
How to make easy meatballs with spaghetti
FOR THE MEATBALLS
- 8 good-quality sausages (approx. 450g pack)
- 500g pack minced beef
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- ½ bunch fresh parsley, finely chopped
- 3 tbsp dried breadcrumbs
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- plain flour for rolling
- 3 tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil
FOR THE SAUCE
- 1 tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
- pinch of sugar
- ½ bunch fresh parsley, finely chopped
- 500g spaghetti
- grated parmesan
- To make the meatballs, squeeze the meat out of the sausages into a large bowl. Add the minced beef, garlic, parsley, breadcrumbs and egg, then mix well. Season well with salt and pepper, and mix again.
- Dust a large plate or board with a little flour. Scoop out level dessertspoons of the mix, dip them in the flour and roll them into balls. You may find it easier to put a little oil on your hands to help you shape them before you put them in the flour.
- Heat 3 tbsp of the oil in a large frying pan, then fry the meatballs in batches, browning them on all sides. Set aside on a clean plate. When you’ve fried all the meatballs, pour off any excess fat. Rinse and dry the pan.
- To make the sauce, pour 1 tbsp oil into the pan, heat for 1 min then add 2 crushed garlic cloves and fry for a few seconds. Tip in the tomatoes and break them down as you stir. Cook over a medium-high heat for 5 mins until starting to thicken. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar.
- Tip in the meatballs and turn them over in the sauce, ensuring they’re all covered. Cover the pan and cook the meatballs on a low heat for about 30 mins. Spoon the sauce over them occasionally, and add a little water if it’s becoming too dry. 15 mins before the end of the cooking time, cook the spaghetti.
- To serve, stir most of the remaining parsley into the sauce, then spoon the meatballs and sauce over the spaghetti. Scatter with the last of the parsley and serve with parmesan on the side.
Here are five more meatball recipes you'll love:
These are some of our favourite meatball dishes. For more inspiration, check out our collection of meatball recipes.
Recreate your favourite dish from a certain furniture store! Our quick and easy Swedish meatballs use lean pork and dill for flavouring. You can sub in half of the pork mince for beef mince, if you wish.
A colourful, zingy curry that the whole family will enjoy. Bursting with flavours of fresh ginger, chilli and red curry paste, it's sure to leave your tastebuds tingling.
Make this melting meatball lasagne for a comforting dinner party dish. Complete with three different cheeses and punchy flavours from fennel seeds and chilli, this bubbling bake really is worth the effort.
One of our most popular meatball recipes, this simple Italian-style version combines pork sausages with beef mince, parsley and onions, all in a rich tomato sauce. The meatballs and sauce can also be made ahead and then frozen, so you can easily batch cook this recipe.
Take this classic dish up a notch with our next level spaghetti & meatballs.
Swap beef mince and breadcrumbs for lean turkey and oats. Serve in a tomato and vegetable sauce with pasta or potatoes for a light dinner.
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