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How to Make Meatballs

Updated February 11, 2021
You’ll be a meatball expert in no time with this no-fail recipe and our pro kitchen tips for the best ways to make meatballs.

In addition to being downright delicious, meatballs are one of the most affordable dishes you can make—even the most inexpensive types of meat can have awesome flavor with the right combination of seasonings. With a few expert kitchen tips, you can make this versatile crowd-pleaser a hit every time. We'll show you how to prepare meatballs, how to make meatballs with ground beef and easy ways to create variations depending on your family's preferences. Let's get started!

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

Ground beef, chopped onion, breakcrumbs, egg, spices

First, preheat your oven to 400°F. Then, add all the ingredients to a medium-sized mixing bowl.

Mix together ground beef and chopped onions

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!

Form meatballs and place them in a glass baking dish

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.

Meatballs in a frying pan

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.

Slow-Cooker Cranberry Barbecue Meatballs

What Type of Meat Should I Use?

So you’ve mastered our classic meatball recipe and you’re ready to try some variations. While the basic recipes call for one pound of lean ground beef, you can use any type of ground meat to make meatballs: beef, chicken, turkey, lamb, pork…the list goes on! The easiest versions call for just one of the above-mentioned meats, but combining meats like ground beef and pork is a great way to add extra flavor. It’s important to keep in mind that fattier meats work better, as the leaner meats like turkey or chicken tend to dry out faster, but that’s not to say it can’t be done! Meatballs made with low-fat meats will simply need to be watched more closely to avoid over-cooking.

What is a Panade?

To keep your meatballs juicy and tender, you need a binder to help lock in moisture. Also known as a panade, or a paste made from bread soaked in milk, the binder prevents the protein from shrinking and gives it that mouthwatering texture. Our recipe uses a 2-to-1 ratio of breadcrumbs to milk, plus one egg to make the binder for the meat, but feel free to get creative! Crumbled crackers or torn-up bread make great stand-ins for breadcrumbs, and yogurt or buttermilk mixed with water work as a substitute for milk.

Storing Meatballs

One of the things we love most about meatballs is that they’re the ultimate make-ahead meal starter. A little prep ahead of time can save you a lot of grief later. You can make and shape meatballs ahead of time and store them covered for up to one day in the refrigerator. The freezer is also a great storage option for meatballs. Pre-cooked meatballs will keep in the freezer the longest—up to two months in an airtight container—and can be reheated straight away, making this an extra-easy option. If you like, you can freeze uncooked meatballs for up to one month as well—just make sure to thaw them in the refrigerator before cooking.

What to Make with Meatballs

Now that you’re an expert on making meatballs, try adding them to any of these delicious dinners!

Save room for dessert! From slab pies to crowd-pleasing bars, we know just the cure for your sweet tooth craving.