History of Meatballs
While the true origin story of today’s meatball is unknown, scholars believe the closest relative is a dish known as kofta, which came from the Persians. Kofta is a dish made from minced or ground meat—chicken, beef, lamb, pork or a combination—that’s mixed with rice or lentils. The Persians passed the dish along to the Arabs, as evidenced in early Arabic cookbooks. From there, it traveled along trade routes to Greece, North Africa and Spain. Fast-forward to today, and almost every culture has its own version of the meatball.
So how did meatballs become a dish associated with Italian food? While you’re sure to find meatballs paired with spaghetti on the menu of just about any Italian restaurant in the United States, you’ll have a harder time finding them in Italy—that’s because they’re often thought of as a dish only made and served in the home. In Italy, they’re known as polpettes, and they’re typically smaller in size than their American counterparts and served sans the pasta and sauce. Spaghetti and meatballs didn’t become a thing until the 19th and 20th centuries when Italian immigrants came to the United States and began making polpettes as an affordable way to feed their families, serving them with spaghetti (the most inexpensive type of pasta) and marinara made from canned tomatoes.
How to Make Meatballs
You could spend all day looking up all of the variations of meatball recipes online or in cookbooks, but our recipe gives you a no-fail method for easy, tasty meatballs and is perfect for novice cooks. Here’s what you’ll need:
- One medium-sized mixing bowl
- One 13x9-inch pan, aluminum foil-lined baking sheet or medium-sized skillet
- 1 lb of lean ground beef
- 1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 1 small onion, chopped (1/4 cup)
- 1 large egg
First, preheat your oven to 400°F. Then, add all the ingredients to a medium-sized mixing bowl.
Now it’s time to mix the ingredients, which is a simple but very important step. To mix, it’s best to use your hands to be sure you don’t overwork the meat—go ahead and use a spoon if that grosses you out—but the key here is to only mix until all of the ingredients are just combined. Overworking the meat leads to less tender meatballs, and nobody wants that.
Shape the meat into twenty 1 ½-inch meatballs (feel free to adjust the size depending on what you need—make them larger if they’re part of an entrée, or go smaller if you’re making appetizers). Pro tip: An ice cream scoop works perfectly to make sure your meatballs are all the same size.
Place the meatballs in an ungreased 13x9 pan. You can also use a tin foil-lined baking sheet if you like extra browning—just be sure to spray the foil to minimize sticking!
Bake the meatballs for 20 to 25 minutes or until they’re no longer pink in the center and have reached an internal temperature of 165°F. Voilà! It’s that easy.
On the Stovetop
You can also make meatballs on the stove instead of baking them in the oven. To do this, you’ll need a medium-sized skillet. Prepare the meatballs as instructed above. Add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and heat on medium-high; add the meatballs.
Cook for 10-12 minutes or until they’re no longer pink in the center and have reached an internal temperature of 165°F. Be sure to turn them frequently to ensure they keep a nice, round shape.
Pro tip: Planning on serving meatballs in a sauce, like with spaghetti? You can simmer the meatballs right in the sauce on the stove. Use store-bought sauce for this step, or make your own. Going for a creamier, comfort-food meal? Make Swedish meatballs on the stovetop by adding one can of condensed cream of mushroom or chicken soup, 1/4 cup of water or milk and 1/8 teaspoon of nutmeg or allspice to your already-cooked meatballs. Just cover and simmer for 15 minutes before serving.
In the Slow Cooker
When making big batches of meatballs, like for hosting a large dinner or serving as an appetizer at holiday parties, cooking meatballs in the slow cooker is another foolproof method you can use. Plus, you can keep the slow cooker on the low heat setting after they’ve finished cooking to keep them warm for a few additional hours.