Meatballs are easy to make and super flexible. They’re delicious served as an appetizer, snack, in a soup or with a hearty sauce over pasta or rice. They can be made with any type of minced meat, herbs and seasonings – and they freeze well, so you can prepare them ahead of time or whip up an extra batch to keep for another day.
See our cooking tips for more essential cooking guides.
You can use any type of minced meat including beef, pork, veal and lamb. Lean meat such as chicken and turkey make fantastically healthy meatballs but as they lack fat, avoid overcooking as they may become tough.
Meatballs made just from minced meat can be tough with a dense texture, so binders such as eggs, breadcrumbs (soaked in milk or dry), cooked rice or crushed crackers should be included in your recipe. These help hold the meat together, lighten and moisten the mixture, and add flavour.
Meatballs taste best when they’ve been browned. To achieve a tasty crust, roast them in the oven, sear them under a grill or fry gently in a non-stick pan. If serving with a sauce, you can finish cooking the meatballs by gently simmering them in the sauce.
Seasoning and flavour
Traditional meatball seasonings include salt, ground black pepper, minced garlic, grated Parmesan, and dried or fresh herbs such as parsley, thyme or oregano. But depending on the meat you use, you can try all sorts of flavour variations. How about Asian-style meatballs with pork, ginger, chili and coriander or a Moroccan version made with lamb, cumin, mint and toasted pine nuts? It’s easy to get creative making variations on the basic meatball mixture. Just add enough seasoning or ingredients to flavour your meatballs without changing their consistency too much.
Here’s a recipe for classic meatballs in a rich tomato sauce.
See our recipe section for more delicious kitchen inspiration.
Classic meatballs in a rich tomato sauce
Makes about 24 meatballs
For the meatballs
- 60g soft white breadcrumbs
- 60ml milk
- 250g beef mince
- 250g pork mince
- 1 garlic clove, finely minced
- 1 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1 medium egg beaten
- Salt and pepper
- Vegetable oil for frying
For the tomato sauce
- 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 x 400g tins of chopped plum tomatoes
- 150ml water or 150ml of red wine
- 2 tsp caster sugar
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- Salt and pepper
1. To make the meatballs, first soak the breadcrumbs in the milk for 10 minutes. Then mix the minced beef, pork, garlic, parsley and breadcrumbs in a large bowl until well combined. Season the mixture with salt and pepper, then add the beaten egg and mix well with your hands.
Test the seasoning by frying a small piece of the mixture in an oiled pan until cooked. Then, if necessary, add more salt and pepper to the uncooked meatball mixture.
2. With wet or lightly oiled hands, roll the meatball mixture into small balls, about the size of a walnut. Place on a plate or lightly oiled baking tray, cover with cling-film and refrigerate for 30 minutes to firm up. This will help them retain their shape when cooking.
3. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over a medium heat and add the finely chopped onion and garlic. Fry them for a couple of minutes until soft but not brown. Add the tinned tomatoes, wine or water and sugar. Season with salt and pepper and add the bay leaf and oregano.
4. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and let the sauce simmer for 10 to 15 minutes or until thickened. Remove from the heat.
5. Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in large frying or sauté pan and fry the meatballs for about 5 minutes until brown all over.
6. Pour the tomato sauce over the meatballs, put a lid on the pan and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until the meatballs are cooked through.
7. Serve the meatballs and sauce with spaghetti, polenta or crusty bread. Sprinkle with Parmesan and chopped parsley or a few basil leaves before serving.
Meatballs are best made when mixed by hand but avoid overworking the meat mixture as this can make the meatballs tough.
Make ahead meatballs
You can store your meatballs in the fridge for up to 24 hours. Alternatively, freeze the meatballs once shaped. Place them slightly apart on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment or greaseproof paper and freeze until solid. You can then transfer them to a freezer bag or container and freeze for up to one month. Defrost the meatballs in the fridge overnight before cooking.
Find out more about freezing food.