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Treat your family to spaghetti and meatballs tonight! These easy Italian meatballs are truly the best homemade meatballs ever. They’re simple to prepare with basic ingredients that you probably already have in your kitchen, and they’re delicious on pasta, inside subs, or with a loaf of crusty garlic bread. You can’t beat a classic family favorite!

Close up side shot of a bowl of spaghetti and homemade meatballs

Italian Meatballs

Skip the frozen package of prepared meatballs, because this post offers a step-by-step guide and a few helpful tips to show you how to make meatballs from scratch in just minutes. Tender and light on the inside, and touched with subtle notes of Italian herbs, garlic, and Parmesan, the easy meatball recipe comes out perfectly every time. A hearty, cozy, and delicious supper is just minutes away — and it will make you the hero at the table!

Meatball mixture in a bowl

What is the secret to making good meatballs?

There are a few tips for making good meatballs:

  • First, use flavorful ground meat with some fat in it (about 85% lean). We love a “meatloaf mix” that includes ground beef, ground pork, and ground veal, but you can also use 100% ground beef, or try a 50/50 blend with ground beef and Italian sausage.
  • Next, do not overwork the meat mixture. Use a fork or your hands to gently combine the ingredients. The more gentle you can be, the more light and tender your meatballs will stay.
  • Keep the ingredients cold. This prevents the fat from melting and breaking down before you cook them, so you end up with perfectly moist, flavorful meatballs.
Rolled meatballs on a baking sheet before cooking

Should you fry or bake meatballs?

Either method works! I like to bake my turkey meatballs because it’s a tad bit healthier (no frying in oil) and it eliminates a few minutes of hands-on time in the skillet. A more traditional pan-fried method; however, seems like it’s worth a little extra effort when I’m preparing classic Swedish meatballs or a perfect Italian meatball recipe.

Frying meatballs creates a crispy, browned exterior that adds texture to the meatballs, locks in juices, and gives the meatballs a ton of extra flavor. Finishing them in a warm pot of simmering marinara sauce keeps them nice and moist, while also marrying the flavors of the sauce and the meatballs together. You can’t quite replicate these benefits when you bake meatballs in the oven.

How do you keep homemade meatballs from falling apart?

Add a binder (such as the egg and breadcrumbs here) to help hold the meat mixture together. Also, browning the meatballs on the stove top until they’re golden-brown first, before adding them to the tomato sauce, helps them hold their shape.

Homemade meatballs in a skillet

Ingredients for Homemade Italian Meatballs

This is just a quick overview of the ingredients that you’ll need for a pan of homemade Italian meatballs. As always, specific measurements and step-by-step cooking instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • Ground meat: use ground beef, or (our favorite) a “meatloaf mix,” which is a combination of ground beef, ground pork, and ground veal. Ground turkey, ground chicken, or Italian sausage will work too.
  • Egg: gives the meatballs structure.
  • Italian-style bread crumbs: these seasoned bread crumbs act as a binder to hold the meatballs together. The breadcrumbs also prevent the meatballs from becoming too dry by absorbing some of the meat juices released during cooking. If you only have plain breadcrumbs, you can add some italian seasoning of your own for extra flavor.
  • Parmesan cheese: for rich, salty, cheesy flavor in the meatballs.
  • Garlic: for savory flavor. Substitute with ¼ teaspoon garlic powder if you don’t have fresh garlic cloves in your kitchen.
  • Parsley flakes and dried oregano: give the meatballs even more Italian flavor.
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper: to enhance the other flavors in the dish.
  • Olive oil: for frying the meatballs in the pan.
  • Marinara sauce: for serving with the meatballs and pasta. Store-bought or homemade will work, so use any sauce that you prefer.
Stirring meatballs in a pot with marinara

How to Make the Best Homemade Meatballs from Scratch

Don’t be intimidated by the process of making your homemade meatballs from scratch. It’s as easy as 1-2-3, and only requires about 20 minutes of hands-on time. They’re perfect for a cozy Sunday supper, and they’re a great make-ahead option if you’d like to stash them in the freezer for a busier day.

  1. Shape. Combine the meatball ingredients with your hands and shape into 2-inch balls. A cookie scoop is a great tool for making uniform-size meatballs!
  2. Fry. Fry in a skillet for about 5-7 minutes, or just until they’re browned on all sides.
  3. Simmer. Finish cooking the meatballs in a pot of warm marinara sauce. Simmering the meatballs in the sauce for about 20-30 minutes will keep them tender and adds so much flavor to the dish!
Overhead shot of homemade meatballs and spaghetti in a bowl with marinara on a dinner table

What to Serve with Easy Homemade Meatballs

Spaghetti and meatballs is the best combination! Pair the pasta dinner with a Caesar salad and garlic bread for the ultimate comfort food feast. Here are a few more easy meal ideas that take advantage of the meatballs:

Horizontal overhead shot of a bowl of homemade meatballs with spaghetti

Make Ahead

You can shape the meatballs, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and store in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. When you need a quick dinner, just pull them out, fry, and simmer! You can also freeze the raw meatballs to enjoy them at a later date (see the freezing instructions below).

Storage

Leftover meatballs will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. Reheat on the stovetop over low heat or in the microwave, just until warmed through.

How to Freeze Basic Homemade Meatballs

You can freeze the meatballs before or after cooking. To freeze raw meatballs that you’ll fry later, arrange the raw meatballs on a baking sheet, freeze until solid, and then transfer to a large Ziploc freezer bag. Freezing them on the baking sheet first will prevent the meatballs from sticking together or falling apart.

To freeze cooked meatballs, you can pan-fry (as instructed in the recipe) or bake in the oven (those instructions are included below), cool to room temperature, and then freeze in a single layer on a baking sheet. When the meatballs are frozen, transfer to a Ziploc freezer bag. The meatballs will last in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Square side shot of a bowl of spaghetti and homemade meatballs

How to Bake Meatballs in the Oven

While I prefer the crispy texture and the added flavor that you get from frying the meatballs, you can also prepare these homemade meatballs in the oven. If you’d like to bake your meatballs, arrange them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake in a 425°F oven for 10-12 minutes, or until the meatballs reach an internal temperature of 160°F on an instant-read thermometer. Transfer the cooked meatballs to a pot of warm sauce, then serve!

Overhead shot of hands holding a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs

Meatball Recipe Variations

  • Double the Recipe. Using 1 lb. of meat yields about 16 meatballs. If you’d like to prepare a larger batch to feed a group or to save leftovers in the freezer for another meal, just double all of the ingredients. You’ll need to fry the meatballs in batches, since you won’t be able to fit them all in a single layer in one skillet.
  • Use other Meats. I prefer the “meatloaf mix” because the blend of three different types of meat yields meatballs with so much flavor! That said, you can substitute with a 50/50 blend of ground beef and ground pork, or use all ground beef, ground turkey, ground chicken, Italian sausage, or ground pork. Just make sure that the meat totals 1 lb. and is about 85% lean. If using chicken or turkey, cook the meatballs to an internal temperature of 165°F instead of 160°F.
  • Add more flavor with more herbs. Use fresh herbs when available, and include any of your favorites. Basil would also be a nice addition!
  • Include ½ cup finely-minced or grated fresh onion for moisture and flavor in the meatballs. A dash of onion powder would also work well.
  • Add crushed red pepper flakes for spicy meatballs.
The best meatball recipe served with pasta and marinara in a white bowl

Tips for the Best Homemade Meatball Recipe

  • Pick a ground meat with some fat in it. I like a meatloaf mix or 85% lean ground beef, but any similar ground pork, beef, veal, or lamb will work. The fat in the meat helps to keep the meatballs tender and juicy, so if you pick a lean meat like chicken or turkey, you’ll need to watch the cooking time carefully to make sure that they don’t dry out.
  • Combine the meatball mixture with your hands — not with a wooden spoon. The more gentle you can be, the more light and tender your meatballs will stay. Don’t overmix, or you’ll end up with tough, dense, and dry meatballs.
  • If you have some extra time, chill the meatball mixture for at least 1 hour before shaping. I don’t always do this (it’s not necessary), but it does make the shaping easier if the mixture is more firm.
  • A cookie dough scoop helps form even meatballs that cook in about the same amount of time. Scoop, roll gently in your hands, and then fry!
  • Use a high-quality store-bought marinara sauce (we love Rao’s brand), or make your own quick recipe at home. The sauce is such an important component of spaghetti meatballs, so you want it to be the best!
Close overhead shot of a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs on a dinner table

More Homemade Meatballs to Try

Square featured image of homemade meatballs and spaghetti in a bowl

Homemade Meatballs

Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 25 minutes
0 minutes
Total: 45 minutes
Servings 4 – 6 people (about 16 meatballs)
Calories 346 kcal
Treat your family to spaghetti and meatballs tonight! These easy Italian meatballs are truly the best — and so simple!

Ingredients
  

  • 1 lb. ground beef or "meatloaf mix" consisting of a combination of ground beef, ground pork, and ground veal
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • ¼ cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 teaspoons minced, grated, or pressed fresh garlic (about 1-2 cloves)
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley flakes
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, or more, for frying
  • 1 large jar (at least 24-35 oz) marinara sauce (or use homemade sauce)
  • For serving: pasta of choice, cooked according to package directions

Instructions

  • In a large bowl, combine meat, egg, breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, garlic, parsley flakes, oregano, salt, and pepper. Use your hands or a fork to gently mix. Shape the meat mixture into 2-inch balls.
  • Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat until oil shimmers. Add the meatballs to the skillet (working in batches, if necessary) and brown on all sides, about 5-7 minutes. Add more oil to the skillet, as needed, to prevent the meatballs from sticking. Remove meatballs from the skillet and drain on paper towels.
  • Warm the marinara sauce in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add the meatballs and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes (or until the meatballs are cooked through and no longer pink). If the sauce starts to get too thick as it simmers, you can cover the pan at any point.

Notes

  • Pick a ground meat with some fat in it. I like a meatloaf mix or 85% lean ground beef, but any similar ground pork, beef, veal, or lamb will work. The fat in the meat helps to keep the meatballs tender and juicy, so if you pick a lean meat like chicken or turkey, you’ll need to watch the cooking time carefully to make sure that they don’t dry out.
  • Combine the meatball mixture with your hands — not with a wooden spoon. The more gentle you can be, the more light and tender your meatballs will stay. Don’t overmix, or you’ll end up with tough, dense, and dry meatballs.
  • If you have some extra time, chill the meatball mixture for at least 1 hour before shaping. I don’t always do this (it’s not necessary), but it does make the shaping easier if the mixture is more firm.
  • A cookie dough scoop helps form even meatballs that cook in about the same amount of time. Scoop, roll gently in your hands, and then fry!
  • Use a high-quality store-bought marinara sauce (we love Rao’s brand), or make your own quick recipe at home. The sauce is such an important component of spaghetti meatballs, so you want it to be the best!
  • If you’d like to bake your meatballs (rather than pan-frying them), arrange them on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Bake in a 425°F oven for 10-12 minutes, or until the meatballs reach an internal temperature of 160°F on an instant-read thermometer. Transfer the cooked meatballs to a pot of warm sauce, then serve!

Nutrition

Serving: 4meatballs and sauceCalories: 346kcalCarbohydrates: 15gProtein: 30gFat: 18gSaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 120mgSodium: 1471mgPotassium: 973mgFiber: 3gSugar: 8gVitamin A: 864IUVitamin C: 13mgCalcium: 139mgIron: 5mg
Keyword: homemade meatballs, italian meatballs
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: Italian
Author: Blair Lonergan

This recipe was originally published in November, 2020. The photos were updated in August, 2022.

blair

Hey, I’m Blair!

Welcome to my farmhouse kitchen in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by local traditions and seasonal fare, you’ll find plenty of easy, comforting recipes that bring your family together around the table. It’s down-home, country-style cooking!

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