The Best Meatballs You’ll Ever Have

Eating meatballs while drinking red wine instantly makes you feel like all is right with the world. Something about meatballs–rich, luscious meatballs–makes you feel warm and cozy to your core (not to overdramatize it or anything:). Luckily, Faith Durand, the executive editor of The Kitchn, agreed to reveal the two secrets to making the world’s best meatballs. “My husband was quite thrilled that I made these last night,” she says. Here goes…

The Best Meatballs You’ll Ever Have
By Faith Durand, executive editor of The Kitchn and author of Bakeless Sweets, a forthcoming book about pudding, panna cotta, fruit jellies and icebox desserts.

What makes a great meatball? To me, a great meatball is one that an Italian nonna would be proud of, a juicy and aromatic meatball so tender it falls apart in your mouth. Superb meatballs like these are not difficult to make, but there are two secrets: One, the mix of meat. Two, your hands.

A really great meatball, in my opinion, must contain three meats, starting with veal. Veal is what gives a meatball that luscious, melt-in-your-mouth quality. Beef gives it depth of flavor and some heft, and pork bridges the two with another dimension of taste. I know that some people don’t prefer to eat veal, so if that’s the case for you, I recommend substituting an equal amount of ground chicken thigh meat. But veal gives a meatball that true Old World taste and texture; an all-beef meatball just won’t be as good.

One more note on the meat: This is the time to get great meat. When you’re buying ground meats, it’s best to buy them from a good butcher you trust and respect. I buy my ground meats from a butcher at a local market, where I know they raise and butcher the animals themselves. This way I pay a little more, but I know the meat is of high quality and has been ground fresh that day.

The second key is your hands. Good meatball mix needs to be truly mixed. There are all sorts of things in this recipe: Salt, pepper, finely grated onion and garlic, spices, herbs, eggs, breadcrumbs. It’s important that your meatball mix is completely smushed together; you don’t want pockets of salt or garlic. You’re going to get your hands dirty anyway, shaping the meatballs, so use them as the great tools they are. Get in there and smush and mix and pretend your hand is a dough hook! (Then wash your hands really well, of course!)

This recipe makes a huge amount. Personally, I feel that if you’re going to the trouble of making meatballs, you should make a lot and freeze whatever meat you don’t eat right away. It’s a great backup meal for your freezer, a little gift to your future self.

Recipe: The Best Meatballs You’ll Ever Have
Makes at least 60 meatballs

You’ll need:
1 1/4 cup whole milk
3/4 cup fine dried breadcrumbs
1 pound ground pork
1 pound ground beef, such as ground chuck
1 pound ground veal
2 1/2 teaspoons chunky kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne
3/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
About 4 tbsps finely chopped fresh sage, from 2 small herb bunches
1 1/2 cups finely diced or grated yellow onion, from about 2 small yellow onions
4 large garlic cloves, finely minced or grated
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 large eggs, beaten
Olive oil

Pour the milk over the breadcrumbs in a small bowl. Stir them together and set them aside for at least 10 minutes for the crumbs to soften.

Mix the pork, beef and veal together thoroughly in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the salt and a generous amount of black pepper, then add the cayenne and smoked paprika.

Stir in the chopped parsley, sage, onion, garlic and Parmesan. Mix with your hands until these are very thoroughly distributed through the meat.

Stir in the breadcrumbs and milk, as well as the eggs, and mix thoroughly.

Shape and cook the meatballs immediately, or refrigerate the meat for up to 24 hours. You can also freeze the meat (in one big lump or as shaped meatballs) in a sealed container for up to 3 months.

To cook the meatballs, you can go a few different routes:

1. Bake: To bake the meatballs, heat the oven to 350°F and form them into balls about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Place them on a baking sheet and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, or until they are just barely cooked through and no longer pink inside. To keep them tender, do not overbake. At this point you can add them to a pot of tomato sauce and simmer just for a few moments or until they are soaked in sauce — or just eat them as they are.

2. Broil: The baked meatballs above are very smooth and not crispy. If you like a more rustic meatball with a crisped-up exterior, broil your meatballs for 18 to 20 minutes, turning once halfway through. This will give you a meatball with a crunchier exterior and little dark bits all over.

3. Simmer: You can also cook meatballs directly in your pasta sauce. (I like Marcella Hazan’s famous 4-ingredient tomato sauce — pictured above and below!) To do this, carefully place raw meatballs into a pot of gently simmering tomato sauce, making sure they are fully covered. Cook over low heat for at least 30 minutes, or until the meatballs are fully cooked through and no longer pink inside. This makes for a very smooth, very tender meatball. If you want a little bit of crispiness to the meatballs in the sauce, you can sear them or broil them briefly and then finish cooking them in the sauce.

Thank you so much, Faith! How delicious for a Sunday dinner party with friends, don’t you think? xoxo

P.S. More best recipes, including chocolate ice-cream and French fries.

(Photos by Faith Durand. Thanks to Shoko for helping with this series.)

  1. j leigh says...

    I stumbled on this recipe in 2013 and it has been my absolute go-to ever since. The platinum standard of meatballs, in my view (and anyone I’ve ever fed them to). Thank you so much!

  2. HD Motyl says...

    I’ve just made these meatballs for the third time. And they are one of the finest things Ive ever tasted. There so good I just want to keep eating them. I also make them only once a year because I don’t want to overdo the wonder of them. So, so good. Thank you.

  3. Valerie Pharr says...

    It’s too bad you don’t have a print friendly link.

  4. Andrea says...

    Just wanted to let you know I made these meatballs for 16 of my closest lady friends for Galentines Day (i know, not waffles but whatever) and everyone agreed they were the best meatballs they have ever had. Broiling them makes the outside oh so perfectly crispy. Thank you for this amazing recipe! I’ve been making them since you first posted the recipe and they have never failed to delight.

  5. Lisa says...

    Just made em’, first meatballs eva’! Used sage stuffing mix and spicy ground sausage with the beef, put beef cooking stock in baking dish just a bit.
    Just went in the oven! Oh and i made em’ pretty large, 11 in fact. Stay tuned for results.

  6. Cynthia Dicke says...

    “I have to say i finally found “The Recipe “for that meatball you know is your standard for all meatballs and yet so hard to duplicate. This is it !!!! I think the secret here is the sage, beating the eggs and wetting the bread crumbs. Also, I had never just dropped the meatballs in the sauce like suggested. My God……They stayed perfectly round….they were like pillows of deliciousness. I also made the Marcela Hazens 4 ingrediant sauce as suggested and I will never go back to my old standard. Thank You for this recipe.

  7. BB says...

    Made these beautiful balls this week, and I have to say they were the best! I did pan fry before transferring to the oven. Will make again!

  8. Pamela says...

    I have made a lot of the meatball recipes on line n these are sooooo tasty. I think, it may be the kosher salt. I only added between 1/4 and 1/2 and the taste es perfecto :-)

  9. The world’s best comfort food is meatballs!

  10. Indeed, the BEST meatballs I have ever made/eaten! I used the oven method. many thanks.

  11. Some of the advice here is great, but many chefs (Ina Garten esp) don’t mix the meat (let alone REALLY mix) with their hands because thats how you end up with a dense/less-fluffy meatball.

  12. Too true! I always mix meats in my meatball, though I’m always short on veal. And you can’t ever NOT have the key ingredients like coriander or onions. They make all the difference.

  13. Hi, I’m Sonia, italian foodblogger sorry for my bad english, I want tell you that I have included the link of this recipe (which I liked very much) in the section on my blog dedicated to “10 ways to make” (“10 Modi di fare”) meatballs. I hope not to bother you, have a nice day

  14. These are freakin delicious!! The sage was an unexpected ingredient. And the technique of softening the breadcrumbs first was new for me too. I was so pleasantly surprised by the outcome. I simmered them as I usually do and they we just so perfect. Delicate, flavorful, and satifying. Cant wait for leftovers tonight!!

  15. Hi Joanna,
    What a wonderful pics of The Best Meatballs You’ll Ever Have you have here.
    Perhaps you’re interested to submit your food photos on our food photography site that has tagline “Food Photography that will make you hungry” :)
    It’s free to submit, free to join, and a lot of members can enjoy your creation!

  16. Hi Joanna and Faith, I’m so excited to try this recipe but is there any way that I could subsitute the pork with something else that’ll be just as good? I can’t eat pork, but I’m sold on your recipe. So.. A little help here? :)

  17. looking delicious :))

  18. Lovely recipe, I will be trying these out tomorrow night! Always searching for ‘the best’ meatball recipe – haven’t found it yet!

  19. I made these (using the broiler method) and they were SO delicious. I made them a little smaller than golf balls, and they were crunchy on the outside and moist on the inside. Thanks for the great recipe!

  20. I just made these for dinner. YUM!
    I added some fennel seed too and tried them pan fried with sauteed minced onions and carrots, and baked, some with bread crumbs coating the outside. All were delicious and I was so impressed–they held together and were actual meatballs! The freezer is now stocked and I can’t wait for many reiterations. Thank you Joanna and Faith.

  21. Oh my gosh, I think I can actually smell that photograph – yum!

  22. Lolaroid says...

    As an italian, I always enjoy reading american recipes who try to achieve the proper italian way.
    Well, apart from that spices, as we are not used to cayenne and paprika, I would just say that you should NEVER put the sauce before meat!!! It’s compulsory to put you meatballs in a long olive oil-stewed finely chopped onions and carrots, where you will wait for them to turn white/light brown, THEN, you should add a glass of red wine, wait for it to evaporate, and, JUST THEN, you are ALLOWED to put the tomato sauce.
    P.S. You will never find spaghetti with meatballs in italian families, that’s just a WALT DISNEY stuff.

  23. This combination of food I love so much,mmmmmmmmm :)

  24. I knew about pork and beef, but new to me is veal! Must try this.

  25. Heidi says...

    Hi Jo – I made these meatballs last night and they are delicious! Thanks for sharing. My 1 year old son loves them too!

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  27. Oh YUM! I love these posts!

  28. Thanks so much everyone for your nice comments (and thank you Joanna for the chance to visit!). I think meatballs are a truly personal food – they are often connected to so many family memories.

    It’s sort of tongue in cheek for me to call these the best of course – I love them the way they are but I also loved hearing everyone’s else’s idea of the “perfect” meatball (fennel seeds – yes!!).

    On frying meatballs, I confess that I just find baking them more foolproof and better for slightly lazy cooks like myself. :) But yes, pan-frying is more traditional and also totally delicious.

    Happy meatballs!

  29. Anonymous says...

    I’m just sitting down to lunch – of leftover meatballs! Thanks for the recipe and how-to’s. BTW to make them gluten free, I simply omit the breadcrumbs.

  30. “…a little gift to your future self.”

    What a perfect way of describing it! I feel the same way when I tuck something in my freezer :)

  31. I am so glad that you included a version that had you cook the meatballs in the sauce! That is the way that my family has been doing it for generations and I am glad to see this lesser known (and completely awesome) cooking technique included!

  32. LV says...

    That photo is making me hungry. I love spaghetti and meatballs.

  33. Just bookmarked this for a summer party I’m attending. Yes!

  34. These sound amazing. I’d love to try the recipe sometime!

  35. ummm I’m making these asap!


  36. I had no idea that you could put veal in your meatballs! I’m definitely going to try this – I usually stick to turkey meatballs, but I think I can splurge this once.

    mon amy

  37. I have to agree on the veal/pork/beef trifecta. The veal gives it a certain savoriness (umami?) that makes them delectable. I like to have them sautéed in olive oil, small like a large marble, with a little browning.

  38. Michaela says...

    Joanna, I would love to read some recipes that are suitable for a single person cooking for one! I’m sure you can adjust the ingredients to make a smaller amount for most things, but I would love some cooking-for-one ideas :)

  39. Love. love. love.
    I absolutly love comfort food and Italian comfort food takes the cake!
    Will deffo have to give this one a go!

    <3 Leesha


  40. Fiona says...

    Nope. The best meatballs MUST have fennell seeds in them. The end.

  41. J+H, like Joanna said, the greenmarkets are great but they don’t often have a huge variety of different meats. I personally love Florence Meat Market on Jones Street—they will grind anything to order.

  42. Anonymous says...

    for J+H

    faicco’s bleecker st pretty good very fresh

    dickinson meats in chelsea market

    fleischer grassfed & organic meats
    on 5th ave in park slope is amazing

  43. Oh yummy! My mouth is watering already!! :)

  44. A good meatball can be a transcendent experience. I’ve had a lot of success with this spring meatball soup recipe:

    The trick here is browning very small meatballs (about the size of a nickle), and then letting them finish cooking in the soup broth. Very flavorful, very tender results.

  45. These look absolutely delicious! I bet they’re amazing with three types of mince and I’m definitely going to try them, but if they were for a last minute supper do you think you could just use one type of mince? The recipes you post are always so good- that egg sandwich is my favorite brunch snack now :)

  46. Oh my! I am so doing this! I thought I already had a reeeally great recipe, but realize now that it is not with THREE different meats:)

  47. Oh dang. I am DROOLING, and I’m 95% vegetarian.

    My friends helped some Javanese women start a sustainable micro-business in the form of a rabbit farm when I was small, and as a result we would have rabbit satay and rabbit sausage. Rabbit meatballs, perhaps? :)

  48. Yum! My mom has always cooked her amazing meatballs directly in the sauce, low and slow for about 3 hours. I’ve done this a few times now and it always comes out amazing! The photos are making me hungry. :-)

  49. I’m preeeetty picky with my meat and have to admit, I rarely touch meatballs.

    But, I’ll also confess, these look pretty delish! Thanks for sharing :)

    Eat Cake

  50. I’ve never actually made meatballs before. I might have to take a whack at these. Please keep the “best…” posts coming!

  51. Yum! The sauce looks pretty amazing too! And now my stomach is grumbling….

  52. I’m italian and I had never had meat balls before this year. I went to visit my family in New Jersey and I had my first meatballs. I have been OBSESSED ever since.

    OMG, I can’t wait to try this– THANK YOU JOANNA!!

  53. those post has made me sooo hungry! thanks for sharing – wow!

  54. Mmmmm, yes! I will definitely be making these – and maybe soon. We’ve been having a cold snap over here. The silver lining is eating things like fondue, raclette, roast chicken and meatballs, which I’d otherwise leave out until the fall and winter. Bonus!! ;)

  55. Anonymous says...

    I love meatballs, but have never made them myself. These look delicious!

  56. lauren, my friend fries them too — so good:)

  57. J+H, we love the farmers markets — the union square greenmarket is great, and there’s also a small one in the west village on saturdays. xoxo

  58. I’m so pumped to see other methods for cooking that don’t involve browning in a pan – for me personally, that’s always the point at which the meat ball falls apart. Meat triangles anyone?


  59. good recipe but im surprised she doesn’t list pan frying as a technique… ive always found browning mine first in a pan and then transferring to the oven achieves ultimate brown/moist ratio. also, mixing the bread crumbs and milk on the side before adding it to the meat mixture is a MUST.

  60. I totally agree about the meat trifecta – necessary to any good meatball. Just like grandma used to make! I can’t wait to add a dash of smoked paprika to my meatballs – I’ve never thought of it.

  61. What about frying the meatballs? I’ve only tried my hand at making meatballs once but that was how I did them.

  62. This is the exactly the same recipe I make – and they look the same too!! I’m v happy about that :)

    I was taught to make them by an Italian woman – and my London-Italian says they’re the best he’s ever had! Praise indeed!

    The parsley makes all the difference and adds such a great flavour :)

  63. they sound delicious!

    but where do you buy your meat? i’ve been looking for a good butcher in NYC, but haven’t had much luck…