Sunday, February 14, 2010


I have a funny story about meatballs.  Then again, who doesn't?

A few years back, I was sitting at lunch with some colleagues.  We were all brown-bagging it and chatting over our meals.  I happened to have brought a couple meatballs with sauce, leftover from the previous night's dinner.

One of my colleagues remarked at how good they looked.  I offered her a sample.  She tried it, and her eyes opened wide.  "My goodness, these are so good!  I make meatballs all the time and they're never this good."

I asked her how she made them.

"Well," she replied, "I use extra lean ground beef."

"Strike one," I said.

"Then I add bread crumbs," she added.

"Strike two."

"Oh dear, what should I do differently?"

The trick to making great meatballs is that you must use fatty meat (ground chuck, typically about 80% lean is perfect), and you need to add some sort of moistened filler, which helps tenderize the meatballs.  So many recipes call for dry bread crumbs, which is a mistake, I think.  Our family's method (shared by many, many old-style Italian home cooks) is to add moistened bread: fresh or slightly stale white bread that has been moistened with either milk or even water.

This recipe makes a lot of meatballs, probably more than would be consumed in one family meal.  Feel free to make the whole recipe, cook the meatballs, then pop the unused ones into a freezer bag for your next pot of sauce. 

3 lb ground chuck (80% lean)
1 1/2 Tbp salt
1/2 Tbp pepper
1 c pecorino romano cheese
3 eggs
1 cup finely chopped parsley
4-6 cloves garlic, crushed
8-9 slices of white bread, processed into soft bread crumbs (about 5 cups loose crumbs; about 12 oz by weight; I prefer Pepperidge Farm or Arnold's white sandwich breads)
1 1/2 cups milk

Pulse the bread in a food processor into crumbs.  They should be soft crumbs.  8 or 9 slices of bread will be about 12 oz or about 5 cups of crumbs.  Add milk to the crumbs, and mix gently to moisten the crumbs.  Let sit 10 minutes.  This will look like a LOT of bread.  Don't worry -- it makes a great meatball.

Moistened fresh bread crumbs

Break up ground beef into a large bowl.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add eggs, cheese, parsley, garlic, and moistened bread crumbs. With your immaculately clean hands, mix the ingredients well, as you would for a meatloaf.

Beef, eggs, parsley, cheese, salt & pepper.

Adding crushed garlic.

Mixing the ingredients by hand.

Spray a foil-lined baking sheet with release spray.  Use a two-ounce ice-cream scoop to scoop up some of the mixture and roll into a ball.  Line the sheet with the meatballs.  This recipe will make about 72 meatballs. 

A 2-oz scoop works best.

 Six dozen meatballs from this recipe.

40 minutes in a 350°F convection oven.
One meatball may have been removed for quality-control purposes.

Bake the meatballs in a 350°F oven for 40 minutes until browned.  Alternately (and more traditionally) you can fry the meatballs in oil or shortening.  The result will be a crisper, more browned exterior.  [N.B.  I always fried my meatballs, typically in vegetable oil.  More recently, I got a new convection oven, and have found that it produces a beautifully brown meatball that would make you forget about frying meatballs ever again.]

[Recipe revision: I've found that baking the meatballs at 400°F for about 18-20 mins gives a browner result, and if you turn them halfway through baking, they'll brown evenly all over.  I recommend using non-stick aluminum foil, too. ]

If you're using these as part of a tomato sauce, put the cooked meatballs into the sauce about 15 minutes before you're ready to serve, so that they heat through, but don't cook much more.


  1. I've used your meatball recipe twice now and I'm really pleased with how simple and tasty it is. I used my conventional oven at 350 for 40 min and they were cooked through but as you mentioned, they don't have the crispy brown exterior. I used my convection toaster oven at 350 for 30 min (not as many meatballs) and I got the best of both worlds. Thanks for posting this. I need to try one of your other recipes.


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