Out of the Box Meatball Recipes
Grab a plate — and definitely a napkin — for a big helping of these favorite meatballs, from slow cooker to sliders and Asian to Italian
Slow Cooker Coconut Curry Meatballs. Recipe and photo by Ashley Strickland Freeman
Meatballs are always a hit with my family, no matter the type of meat used, and almost no matter the seasonings. We love classic Italian meatballs simmered in a jar of marinara and served over “finger pasta” (aka rigatoni, which my son used to place on each finger). For nights when we’re feeling a little more adventurous, I’ll make customizable Mediterranean meatball bowls with store-bought tzatziki and salad greens — all of which diners can enjoy very much separately, if that’s their thing.
Perhaps what I love even more than meatballs’ versatility is how easy they are to make ahead. I try to meal prep when I can (more on that below). With meatballs in the freezer, they’re ready to go when I’m in a pinch for dinner. I can just add them to sauce and simmer away, letting the meatballs thaw and finish cooking at the same time. Boom, the dinner dilemma is solved.
I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking I need more than one kind of meatball at the ready. That’s where this recipe collection comes in. Let’s get cooking!
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3 tips for the best meatballs
What’s the secret to good meatballs? I try to follow these 3 tips:
1. Use a mix of ground meats, and don’t go too lean
A mixture of different meats in your meatballs means more flavor, so I like to use a combination of meats. I also stay away from lean ground meats like extra-lean ground beef, ground chicken breast, and turkey breast, and opt for ground chuck and ground chicken or turkey thighs. Lean meats have a tendency to dry out and get tough.
2. Keep your ingredients cold
When making meatballs, make sure the ground meat (and everything else you add) is cold. The fat from the meat is what gives the meatball juiciness and flavor, so keeping it cold while mixing will help prevent the fat from escaping out of the meatballs when you cook them.
3. Bind in moisture with a panade
What the heck is a panade? It’s the binder that’s often added to homemade meatballs so they’re tender, not rubbery or bouncy. I usually make my panade with panko breadcrumbs or fresh breadcrumbs as well as a liquid like milk or broth, or both. The mixture thickens to a paste and then serves as the “glue” to hold the meatballs together.
While homemade meatballs are really easy to make, you might encounter a few issues along the way. Here are some common questions I get for how to make the best meatballs.
1. How do I make meatballs tender, not tough?
This is a common problem for many people, and it used to be for me too. Most likely if your homemade meatballs are tough, you’ve overworked the meat mixture. Try to handle it as little as possible. I like to use a cookie scoop to shape the meatballs. It keeps them uniform in size, keeps my hands clean, and prevents my hands from making the mixture too warm.
2. What spices can I add to meatballs?
Meatballs are so versatile: The spices you can add are endless. If you’re not craving an Italian meal with dried Italian seasoning or oregano, try adding curry powder for an Indian twist. Or take a trip to Vietnam and add fish sauce, brown sugar, and soy sauce. You can even add Buffalo sauce and blue cheese to ground chicken for Buffalo wing-inspired meatballs.
3. Is baking or frying meatballs better for browning?
Personally, I prefer baking the meatballs on a baking sheet in the oven to a pan-fry on the stovetop. As my husband will attest, I can get a little messy while cooking. Another option is to brown them in an air fryer.
4. What can I serve with meatballs instead of pasta?
What goes well with meatballs, you may wonder. When making Italian meatballs, pasta is the obvious choice. However, polenta and risotto are also great options for Italian meals. If you’re serving meatballs with a curry sauce, sweet and sour sauce, or soy-based sauce, then rice is terrific. Swedish meatballs are delicious served over mashed potatoes. And what to serve with meatball subs? While meatball sandwiches are good on their own, a green salad or slaw rounds out the meal.
5. What should I do with leftover meatballs?
Leftovers are a lifesaver for me and my family. And thankfully my husband and son don’t mind them. You can keep leftover meatballs in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days along with any leftover sauce. Frozen meatballs keep 4 to 6 months; I find they freeze best without sauce.
How to meal prep meatballs
If you’re wondering if you can make meatballs ahead of time, the answer is yes! Do yourself a favor and whip up a batch of meatballs to toss in the fridge or freezer. Your future self will thank you.
1. Shape with a cookie scoop
Save time and mess by shaping the meatballs with a cookie scoop. Place them on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan if you’re going to be browning them in the oven.
2. Brown and let cool
Follow your recipe instructions to brown the meatballs in the oven, on the stovetop, or in an air fryer. Let them cool completely.
3. Refrigerate or freeze
Stash the meatballs in the fridge. Or freeze meatballs individually on a sheet pan (without sauce), then transfer them to an airtight container. When you need a quick dinner, just add frozen meatballs to sauce and simmer until they’re thawed and hot.
Meatballs with Asian flavors
From Chinese-American sweet-and-sour meatballs to curried meatballs with Indian seasonings, these delicious homemade meatball recipes are sure to be a hit.
My slow cooker is a lifesaver when I know a weeknight will be busy, so I love this all-in-one meal that I created for Yummly. Lamb meatballs are browned on a baking sheet in the oven and then simmered along with veggies and a coconut curry sauce in the slow cooker. I like to serve the tender meatballs over rice along with warmed naan (or pita bread). They’re even better the next day.
These ground turkey meatballs get a big pop of flavor from fish sauce, lime juice, soy sauce, garlic, and cilantro. A cookie scoop makes for easy, mess-free shaping, as does baking the meatballs rather than cooking them on the stovetop. Serve the meatballs as a party appetizer or over rice for a main dish.
Talk about an easy, crowd-pleasing appetizer that’s perfect for game day or your next get-together. These juicy meatballs feature a ground beef and ground pork combo along with panko breadcrumbs and eggs. After shaping and baking them on a baking sheet until golden brown, you’ll douse them in a sweet and sour sauce made from ketchup, soy sauce, brown sugar, and pineapple juice.
Italian meatball recipes
Italian flavors are always a hit at our house. Here are some of my favorite Italian meatball recipes, including pizza!
You can’t go wrong with these tender meatballs made with ground beef, breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, and Italian seasoning, simmered in marinara sauce. You’ll start by browning the meatballs in the oven, then add them to your favorite tomato sauce on the stovetop.
To up the ante, try my Italian meatball recipe with just-like-nonna-made marinara sauce. The homemade sauce tastes like it’s been simmering for hours but only takes 30 minutes. To add flexibility, make the homemade meatballs ahead of time, freeze them, then reheat in the tomato sauce.
A classic Italian meatball sub in pizza form? I’m sold! Use your favorite homemade meatballs or the frozen store-bought variety to top pizza dough with marinara sauce and shredded mozzarella cheese. This meatball recipe is sure to win over the whole family.
Meatball sandwich recipes
If you’re a sandwich lover like I am, you’ll want to check out these delicious meatball subs and sliders.
Cross a meatball sub with chicken Parmesan and you get saucy chicken meatballs blanketed with melty mozzarella cheese in a toasty hoagie roll. In my Yummly recipe, meatballs simmer in store-bought marinara sauce (doctor it up with crushed red pepper flakes and fresh basil if you like) before landing atop toasted buns and getting crowned with cheese. Serve these on any weeknight and watch them quickly disappear.
Roasted garlic cream sauce slathered on the slider buns is the secret ingredient that makes these meatball sandwiches so delicious. The meatballs are also flavored with bacon, and of course, everything is better with bacon. They’d be the perfect appetizer for game day. Or serve multiples as a main dish with steak fries on the side.
Looking for a short cut? A package of fully cooked meatballs simmers in a tasty sauce made from hoisin sauce, soy, and fruity jam. Tuck them into slider rolls with crunchy arugula, and spoon on some cheese sauce if you like. Making them in bite-size slider form means you can enjoy more than just one…right?
Meatball soup recipes
On a chilly day, nothing hits the spot like meatballs bobbing in a a steamy bowl of soup.
To me, Italian wedding soup with turkey meatballs, orzo, and kale is comfort food to the max. Here, the meatballs simply simmer in broth along with the orzo so all the flavors meld together. After you stir in the kale, you’ll add a little lemon juice for extra zing. Serve this soup with garlic bread to round out the meal — perhaps focaccia if you want to go Italian all the way.
If you’ve never had this Mexican meatball soup then you’re in for a treat. The ingredient list may seem lengthy, but believe me, it’s worth it. A richly seasoned tomato sauce broth bathes tender ground beef and ground pork sausage meatballs. The secret ingredient (besides love, of course)? A little cornmeal is added to the ground meat instead of breadcrumbs, along with fresh oregano and other spices.
In the world of meatball soups, pho is my husband’s favorite. In this recipe, the pork meatballs are seasoned with hoisin, fish sauce, ponzu, honey, and fresh herbs. Then they’re simmered in a spiced beef broth along with rice noodles. More fresh herbs are added at the end along with sliced jalapeño and beef broth for a meatball soup that’s just as beautiful as it is delicious.
Family-friendly meatball dinner ideas
We’ve covered a number of easy meatball dinner ideas to please the whole family, but if you’re still searching, these crowd-pleasers might be just the ticket.
Inspired by flavors of the Mediterranean, these juicy meatballs are made using a combination of ground turkey, panko breadcrumbs, and herbs. This recipe I created for Yummly is an all-in-one-bowl dinner, perfect for a hectic weeknight. Even better, it includes a version for picky pint-sized eaters.
This meatball recipe is a comfort food classic for so many reasons. The sweet spices and creamy sauce never fail to please, and you can make them appetizer-size for a party or larger to serve alongside mashed potatoes and your favorite green vegetables for a weeknight meal. For this recipe that I created for Yummly I went with ground beef and ground pork — the perfect tender meatball combination. For convenience, you can even freeze these meatballs ahead of time and reheat them in the sauce.
Homemade meatballs tossed in a sweet-and-sour Hawaiian barbecue sauce made of pineapple juice, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, and spices never go out of style. Here, you can choose your favorite ground meat, including ground pork, ground beef, ground turkey, or even ground chicken. Serve them over hot cooked rice, top with your favorite fresh herbs, and you’ve got a winner, winner meatball dinner!
Comfort food you can count on
Keep reading for more favorite comfort food recipes to put on repeat.