This is my Sicilian family's traditional meatball recipe using beef, pork, and veal. These are the best Italian meatballs you'll ever taste!
Straight from my Sicilian family's traditional recipe using beef, pork, and veal and oven-baked to tender perfection, these are the best Italian meatballs you’ll ever taste! Better than even the best Italian restaurant.
The Best Homemade Italian Meatballs from Scratch
Just like my Beef Braciole, Spiedini alla Siciliana and Crispy Breaded Chicken Cutlets, these old-fashioned Italian meatballs have been passed down from my grandparents to my parents to me. It's a classic family recipe that I've been making since I was a kid, but after working as a chef, I tweaked it to be even better. These authentic Italian meatballs are so flavorful, tender and juicy, they will absolutely melt in your mouth!
While a few steps for making the best Italian meatballs are non-negotiable, there is some flexibility with the recipe. My mom always used beef for her homemade meatballs, but I prefer a mixture of beef, pork, and veal, just like in my Lasagna alla Bolognese. What's most important is using high quality fresh ingredients for the best results.
Why This Recipe Works
- Authentic Italian meatball recipe that’s been in my family for generations.
- Easy to prepare and make in large batches – make and freeze them for later!
- Finely grated fresh onion and garlic melt into the meat, adding moisture and flavor.
- Baked instead of pan-fried for beautifully browned meatballs that hold their shape.
- Can be used in a number of different ways – as an entree, with pasta, in a sub, or for an appetizer!
- Ground meat - A mixture of beef, pork, and veal is the traditional way to make old-fashioned Italian meatballs. The combination of meats is creates an incredibly flavorful, savory, tender meatball. But you can use whatever meat you prefer - homemade Italian meatballs are delicious made with all beef, all pork or a combination of the two. Just avoid super lean meat - 80/20 is recommended.
- Cheese -The key to the best Italian meatballs is using a lot of freshly grated pecorino Romano cheese. It adds the perfect sharp and salty flavor to the meatballs. Locatelli is the best brand if you can find it. You can also use a good quality parmesan cheese like Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano, or a combination of parmesan and pecorino. Always grate your cheese fresh for best results.
- Milk - Any type of dairy milk will work. I wouldn’t recommend using plant-based milk. If you avoid dairy, just use water - many Italian cooks do.
- Breadcrumbs - Using Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs adds an extra pop of flavor, but you can also use fresh breadcrumbs or day-old bread torn into pieces and soaked in the milk for a few minutes before adding other ingredients. You can add a ½ teaspoon of Italian seasoning or omit the seasoning altogether.
- Tomato Sauce - I always simmer my meatballs in my homemade Marinara sauce. It's really easy to make while the meatballs are baking, but you can use your favorite jarred tomato sauce if you prefer.
- Cookie Scoop - This little scoop is perfect for to portioning out the meatballs - it makes evenly sized balls and helps the job go really fast.
- Microplane Grater - This is super helpful for grating the onions and garlic so that they add tons of moisture to the meatballs without big chunks. You can also use it to freshly grate the parmesan cheese.
- Danish Dough Whisk - I recently started using one of these tools to mix my meatballs and it does a really great job of quickly creating a homogeneous mixture.
Step by Step Instructions
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, combine the breadcrumbs and milk. Use a microplane grater to finely grate in the garlic and onion into the mixture.
- Add the salt, egg, grated cheese, and parsley, then use your fingers to mix until everything is combined and smooth.
- Add the meat to the breadcrumb mixture and mix with a fork or your hands until the breadcrumbs are evenly distributed and the mixture is well combined.
- Wet your hands and form the meat into whatever size balls you desire - I like them to have around ¼ cup of meat in them. Space them out evenly on the parchment-lined baking sheet.
- Bake for about 7 minutes, then turn to the other side and bake for an additional 7 minutes. The meatballs should brown nicely on two sides. While the meatballs are baking, prepare your sauce or heat it up on the stove.
- Place the meatballs directly into the sauce after cooking. Simmer on the lowest heat setting possible for approximately 1 hour, stirring every so often to make sure the bottom of the pan doesn't burn.
Note: If you’re not ready to eat them immediately, turn off the heat and just let the meatballs sit in the sauce until ready to serve, then gently bring them back up to temperature over medium heat.
Tips for Making the BEST Italian Meatballs
- If the breadcrumbs and milk get hard while sitting in the bowl, add a few splashes of milk until it’s looser and easy to mix together.
- Adding the meat at the end is key! Mix all other ingredients together first, and be careful not to overmix the meat, or it will become tough.
- I can’t say this strongly enough: use parchment paper! Parchment paper on your pan will keep the meatballs from sticking to the pan, which will ruin their shape and make a huge mess to clean up.
- Let your meat get to room temperature, or at least sit out for 10-15 minutes. Everything will be easier to combine if the meat isn’t too cold (just out of the refrigerator).
- Use a cookie scoop or small ice cream scoop to portion the meatballs before rolling them out with your hands.
- I like to rub my hands with a little oil when forming the meatballs. You don’t need any extra oil as long as you use parchment paper!
- Be gentle with the meatballs. Roll them firmly, but don't pack them too tight.
- It's okay if the meatballs don't cook all the way through in the oven, they will simmer in the sauce. The key is to get them browned on the outside.
- For an extra indulgence, add some of the brown bits and drippings from the pan to the sauce.
- If you're not ready to eat the meatballs when they're finished cooking, turn off the heat and let them sit in the sauce until ready, then warm them back up before serving. They will continue to get more tender as they sit and soak up all of the delicious sauce.
How to Serve Meatballs
How you eat your meatballs is entirely up to you, but here are a few delicious ways to enjoy them!
- On a plate with extra sauce, a sprinkle of freshly grated parmesan cheese, fresh basil and a dollop of ricotta cheese.
- WIth a simple green salad or Caesar Salad
- Rigatoni is traditional to serve with meatballs in my family, but spaghetti or any pasta will be great!
- On a meatball sub with buttered garlic bread and melted mozzarella.
FAQS About Baked Italian Meatballs
I prefer baking meatballs over frying them on the stove. They still get browned (just bake at high heat) but have none of the mess and hold their shape much better than they do when frying them!
Bake your meatballs at a high temperature until browned on the outside, then let them simmer in the sauce for at least an hour.
Yes! They turn out wonderful in the air fryer. Cook them at 425 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until nicely browned on the outside.
Yes! You do not have to simmer the meatballs on the stove, they work incredibly well in a crock pot.
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