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Classic Italian Meatballs (Tender and Juicy!)

4.93 from 805 community reviews

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A 30-minute family-style meatball recipe with thousands of 5-star reviews! This recipe makes a batch of tender, juicy Italian-American-style meatballs to serve up to 6 people. Bake the meatballs in the oven or cook on the stovetop. Serve them with quick homemade marinara, spaghetti or your favorite pasta shape.

Meatballs in marinara sauce on top of a plate of spaghetti.
Cook tender and juicy Italian meatballs in the oven or on the stovetop in less than 30 minutes.

If you’re looking for an authentic Italian-American meatball recipe to serve with spaghetti or pasta, these juicy beef and pork meatballs are the real deal. Based on my mother’s recipe, I can honestly say this recipe makes the best homemade Italian meatballs ever.

These easy-to-make meatballs are made with ground beef and pork, strewn with fresh parsley, garlic and grated cheese. But the “secret” to good meatballs comes down to their juicy, delectable texture. And that is the result of including soft, milk-soaked breadcrumbs.

Meatballs in tomato sauce on top of a plate of spaghetti.

My mom’s stellar meatballs really set the standard. For Sunday dinner, she would serve a large platter of meat that had spent the better part of the day braising in the “gravy” — a/k/a rich, long-cooked tomato sauce. I always made a beeline for those meatballs.

Like any childhood comfort food, a good Italian meatball represents a time, place and taste that never fails to be delicious. Sure, give me a big bowl of pasta carbonara and I’ll be happy. But I’ll still want a meatball!

Best meat for Italian meatballs

To make the juiciest, tastiest meatballs, our family stands by using cuts of meat that have generous fat marbling. This old-school meatball recipe uses an equal mixture of beef and pork.

  • Ground beef chuck: We’re not talking generic ground beef here. Look for ground chuck, which has 15-20 percent more fat than lean beef and makes the best meatball.
  • Ground pork: Ground pork usually comes from the meaty pork shoulder, also called Boston butt or pork butt, and has more fat than meat from the loin.
  • Ground veal (optional): There are many old-school traditional meatball makers who swear by an equal mix of beef, pork and veal. By all means add it to your mix, if that’s you!
  • Italian sausage: I sometimes make meatballs with bulk Italian sausage meat instead of pork. Since it’s already seasoned, use about 1/2 teaspoon less salt.
  • Ground turkey: If you’re not into red meat, you can make very delicious turkey meatballs with ground turkey. I recommend using turkey thigh (dark meat) for the best flavor.

About the ingredients

Ingredients for making meatballs on a surface, including ground beef, pork, egg yolk, milk, breadcrumbs, cheese and chopped parsley.
  • Meat: Some say that it’s more old-school for traditional Italian cooks to use a combination of beef, veal and pork to make meatballs (and you can too). Because ground veal isn’t as readily available, I prefer to use a half-and-half mixture of ground beef and ground pork for the best texture and flavor. If possible, buy meat that’s freshly ground in the store. I find it releases less water, and it’s definitely fresher-tasting than vacuum-packed ground meat.
  • Fresh bread crumbs: This is a key ingredient to use as a binder in light, tender meatballs, fresh breadcrumbs have more moisture than the fine dry breadcrumbs that come in a can. You can just use a slice or two of good white bread, with the crusts removed and the bread torn into small pieces.
  • Milk: Use dairy milk or a full-fat plant based milk to blend with the breadcrumbs — this is called a “panade”, which is basically a mixture of starch and liquid that makes the meatballs light and moist inside.
  • Egg yolks: Eggs help bind the meat and other ingredients.
  • Grated cheese: My first choice is sharp, salty pecorino Romano cheese (our family is southern Italian) but you can also use freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
  • Garlic: Please use fresh garlic, and grate it with a rasp grater, finely chop or use a garlic press.
  • Fresh herbs: 1/3 cup fresh Italian flat leaf chopped parsley or basil (or a mixture of both), roughly chopped. Dried herbs will work in a pinch — use 2 teaspoons.
  • Olive oil: Use a good everyday olive oil or extra virgin oil.

I’m going to be honest with you — good breadcrumbs are key to a great meatball. Fresh crumbs made from are my top choice because they’re light, moist and fluffy, which is the texture you’re going for in a tender meatball.

Trim off the crust from a few slices of hearty country or Italian-style bread. Tear the bread into large pieces and pulse in a food processor until you see coarse pea-size crumbs or just tear them into pieces with your hands.

If you don’t happen to have fresh breadcrumbs on hand, you can still make great meatballs using these options:

  • Dried breadcrumbs: Adjust the amount to 1/3 cup instead of the 1/2 cup of fresh crumbs. I recommend unseasoned dried breadcrumbs. If yours are seasoned, reduce the amount of salt in the recipe by 1/2 teaspoon.
  • Panko: Use the full amount (1/2 cup), adding more by the tablespoon if the mixture doesn’t hold together.
  • Gluten-free breadcrumbs: Fresh or dried will work fine, following the tips above.

How to make meatballs, step by step:

How to freeze meatballs

  • Cool the cooked meatballs completely.
  • Arrange them in a freezer-proof container or heavy-duty freezer bag.
  • Label the container with the contents and date.
  • Defrost overnight in the refrigerator, then gently heat in your favorite tomato sauce on the stovetop.
  • Meatballs can be made ahead and frozen up to 2 months.

Serving ideas

  • Serve these babies as a dinner entree over spaghetti, or your favorite long pasta or short pasta shapes. Sauce with homemade marinara, spicy arrabbiata sauce, or your favorite red sauce.
  • Make a meatball sandwich! Slice leftover meatballs in half, layer them on a large roll and top with grated melting cheese (such as mozzarella, provolone or fontina). Heat at 350 degrees 10-15 minutes.
  • Serve them as a starter or appetizer with a sliced baguette.
  • Check out a “lighter” version of Italian meatballs — ricotta meatballs.
Meatballs in marinara sauce on top of a plate of spaghetti.

Classic Italian Meatballs (Tender and Juicy!)

Karen Tedesco
A 30-minute family-style meatball recipe with thousands of 5-star reviews! This recipe makes a batch of tender, juicy Italian-American-style meatballs. Bake the meatballs in the oven or cook on the stovetop. Serve them with quick homemade marinara or your favorite sauce.
Print Pin
4.93 from 805 community reviews
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Course Meat
Cuisine Italian
Servings 16 meatballs, approximately

Ingredients

  • ½ cup (54 g) fresh breadcrumbs, from 1-2 slices white bread (crust removed)
  • ¼ cup (60 ml) milk
  • 2 egg yolks
  • ½ cup (50 g) grated pecorino Romano cheese
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped or grated
  • 1 tablespoon (15 g) Diamond kosher salt, OR 2 teaspoons Morton's kosher salt, OR 1 ½ teaspoons table salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 pound (450 g) ground beef chuck
  • 1 pound (450 g) ground pork, or veal
  • ¼ cup grated onion, optional
  • cup (30 g) chopped parsley, or basil
  • Olive oil

Instructions 

  • Put the breadcrumbs in a small bowl and pour the milk over. Let them soak for 5 minutes. Add the egg yolks, cheese, garlic, salt, and pepper to the bowl and mash together to form a coarse paste.
  • Put the beef, pork and onion (if using) in a large bowl and mix with a fork to blend. Add the bread mixture and parsley. Blend everything together well, using your hands, large wooden spoon or large fork. You can also mix in a standing mixer on low speed, just until blended. The meatball mixture can be mixed and refrigerated 2 days ahead of shaping and cooking.
  • Form the meatballs: Use a ¼-cup measuring cup or cookie scoop to portion the mixture and roll lightly into balls. They don’t have to be perfect — craggy meatballs have character and hold the sauce better!

To cook on the stovetop:

  • Pour enough oil into a large skillet to coat the bottom and place over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add as many meatballs as will fit in the pan without crowding. Note: They should sizzle as soon as they hit they pan or the pan isn’t hot enough.
  • Brown the meatballs on all sides. Cover the pan, lower the heat and continue cooking and until the meatballs are firm and cooked through (165 degrees on a instant thermometer), which should take about 15 minutes total. Repeat the frying with remaining meatballs, pouring out the oil and adding a fresh layer.

To finish cooking in tomato sauce:

  • After browning the meatballs, transfer them from the skillet to a simmering pot of marinara sauce. Cook 10-12 minutes.

To bake the meatballs:

  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  • Arrange the meatballs on an olive-oiled coated rimmed baking sheet. Bake 10 minutes, then turn the meatballs over with a spatula or pair of tongs. Continue baking until nicely browned and cooked through, another 10-12 minutes.
  • Serve the warm meatballs with marinara sauce or your favorite prepared tomato sauce.

Karen’s Notes and Tips

  • To make fresh breadcrumbs, trim off the crust from one or two slices of hearty white bread. Tear or slice the bread into small pieces or pulse in a food processor to make coarse pea-size crumbs.
  • To use dried breadcrumbs: Adjust the amount to 1/3 cup instead of the 1/2 cup of fresh crumbs. I recommend unseasoned dried breadcrumbs. If yours are seasoned, reduce the amount of salt in the recipe by 1/2 teaspoon.
  • Panko: Use the full amount (1/2 cup), adding more by the tablespoon if the mixture doesn’t hold together
  • Gluten-free breadcrumbs: Fresh or dried will work fine, following the tips above.
  • Meatballs can be made ahead and frozen up to 2 months.
  • An electric standing mixer is handy to blend the meat and seasonings if you’d rather not do it by hand.
  • If you like, finish cooking the meatballs in your favorite simmering sauce in step 5.

Nutrition

Serving: 1meatball | Calories: 184kcal | Carbohydrates: 3g | Protein: 12g | Fat: 13g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Sodium: 536mg | Potassium: 186mg | Fiber: 0.2g | Sugar: 0.4g | Vitamin A: 160IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 59mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutrition facts are calculated by third-party software. If you have specific dietary needs, please refer to your favorite calculator.

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Hey, I’m Karen

Creator of Familystyle Food

I’m a food obsessed super-taster and professionally trained cook ALL about creating elevated dinners with everyday ingredients. Find simplified recipes made from scratch and enjoy incredibly tasty food! Read more about me here.

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170 Comments

  1. Erin Shanaver says:

    4 stars
    Good easy recipe. Tasty meatballs but I would half the salt for sure. Otherwise spot on.

  2. Jean Marie Chiaramonte says:

    5 stars
    Love this recipe..Delicious..I’ve always been intimidated after watching my mom 60 yrs ago with her nads in whole slice of bread & milk

  3. Excellent! Best recipe found yet!