How to Make Meatballs Without a Recipe (2024)

Meatballs are the most adaptable, make-ahead-friendly way to turn any ground meat into dinner. And with this simple ratio, you can make them exactly the way you want.


Meatballs can be made with groundbeef,pork,veal,lamb,chicken, orturkey. You can mix two or three together for your own personal blend, or stick with just one meat. A bit of finely choppedbaconorpancettacan also be added to any of these for richer, smokier meatballs. And any rawsausage(removed from its casing) counts as ground meat, too.

A pound of meat is enough to make meatballs for 4. But while my meatball ratio scales up to serve more people, I don’t recommend scaling down. Instead, make the full 1 pound batch of meatballs and freeze whatever you don’t want to eat. (Freeze the meatballs raw.


For every pound of meat, you want to add about one handful (or about 1/4 cup) ofbreadcrumbs, which also help hold everything together. I like to use fresh breadcrumbs made by blitzing a piece of stale bread in the food processor—they’re softer and mushier and more absorbent that way. (You can use any kind of bread for this, including gluten-free bread.) If you don’t want to make your own breadcrumbs, go for panko rather than traditional dried breadcrumbs; panko has better texture.


For both flavor and textural variety, you want to add the same amount offinely choppedalliums(onions, shallot, and/or garlic) as breadcrumbs: one handful (or 1/4 cup) per pound of meat you use. If you can’t stand alliums (or maybe you’re allergic?) you can totally skip them, or add less. But don’t add more—too much will compromise the structure of your meatballs.


No need to mix the ground meat, breadcrumbs, and alliums together yet. Just get all of it into the same bowl and start seasoning. Begin with a good sprinkle ofsalt. From there, it’s up to you. I like a lot offresh herbs(try lamb meatballs loaded with choppedmint,dill,parsley,cuminandred pepper flakes). For classic Italian flavoring, add a generous dose of gratedparm, someoregano(dried or fresh) and someparsleyandfreshly ground black pepper. Add a dollop oftomato pasteif that’s your thing. Or considercurry,paprika,miso,gingerorchipotle. Play, but don’t go crazy: it’s better to add too little than too much. How do you know how it’ll taste? We’ll get to that in a second, but first…


For every pound of meat you use, you need oneeggto help hold it all together. Whisk the egg in a bowl, then pour it over your the meat, breadcrumbs, alliums, and seasonings. (Using two pounds of meat? Use two eggs. A pound and a half of meat? Whisk one egg, discard half of it, then add a second egg.) Now use your hands—yes, your hands—to mash and squish and combine everything together until well combined.


Once you cook a meatball, there’s really no way to change its flavour. So you have to taste the meatballs before you cook them.

Of course, you don’t want to put a mixture of raw meat and eggs into your mouth. Instead, heat a small amount of oil in a skillet, add a little spoonful of meatball mixture and cook, turning once, until it’s cooked through. Now eat it, and adjust the seasoning of your mixture according to your taste. You can also adjust the texture. To make your meatballs softer, add a little liquid such as milk or applesauce or tomato sauce. To make your meatballs firmer, add more breadcrumbs. Run another taste test after each adjustment. Once the meatballs are how you want them, you’re ready to start shaping.


It’s up to you what size your meatballs are; just try and make them all match so they all cook at the same rate. Line them up on a plate or baking sheet and stick them in the fridge until you’re ready to cook them—you can make them up to two days before cooking. Or, if you only want to cook some of the balls, put the rest on a baking sheet in the freezer until frozen, then transfer to a resealable plastic bag or container and store in your freezer for up to four months.


You have a few options for how to cook meatballs. You can sear them in a bit of oil (put the skillet over medium-high heat) and finish cooking them in a pot of simmering sauce. You can also finish them in the oven, or cook them entirely on the stove. You could bake them on a baking sheet in a 400°F oven. Or you could drop them into the simmering soupand let them poach. To know when they’re fully cooked, simply slice one open: if it’s still pink or red inside, it’s not done yet. However you cook them, meatballs are best if you have something to dip them in—a thick, minty yoghurt sauce, say. You canmake that without a recipe, too.


How to Make Meatballs Without a Recipe (2024)


What makes meatballs stick together? ›

Add a lightly beaten egg, but not too much. Egg acts as a binder for the ingredients, but you only need a small amount. One small egg will do for one pound of minced meat. Alternatively, if you're following an egg-free diet, you could soak fresh bread in milk, squeezing out any excess milk, to use as a binder.

What is the secret to making tender meatballs? ›

Egg and breadcrumbs are common mix-ins to add moisture and tenderness. Another binder option that people swear by is a panade, which is fresh or dry breadcrumbs that have been soaked in milk. “The soaked breadcrumbs help keep the proteins in the meat from shrinking,” as food writer Tara Holland explained in the Kitchn.

Should meatballs be fried or baked? ›

Baking will result in meatballs with a crunchy exterior, though the caramelisation achieved from frying will be superior. Baked meatballs take the least amount of effort, as you'll only need to turn them once or twice throughout the cook and you can make a larger batch at once.

What makes meatballs not fall apart? ›

Bind but don't overwork

Because meat shrinks when cooked, mince proteins are likely to separate and crumble unless bound together. Whether it's breadcrumbs or egg (or both), or simply salt, binding the mince is a crucial step in maintaining the softness of your meatballs while preventing them from falling apart.

What can I use instead of eggs to bind meatballs? ›

Thankfully, mashed potatoes work as an excellent egg substitute for meatballs. The function of egg in meatballs has very little to do with flavor and more to do with its binding properties, similar to why you might use breadcrumbs in meatloaf or burgers: to help everything hold together.

Should I put egg in my meatballs? ›

You only need a small amount of egg – it's there only to help the cooked meatball retain its shape, and shouldn't detract from the meat's flavour or texture. Filler ingredients like breadcrumbs or flour are important too because they stop the meatballs becoming dry.

How to easily form meatballs? ›

Then take a knife an cut through the meat horizontally then vertically to form little squares. Viola–each one of those squares is a meatball–just pick it up and roll it quickly between your palms to change it from a cube into a ball.

Is it better to use milk or water in meatballs? ›

While water and broth may keep the meatballs moist throughout the cooking process, milk's extra fat and luscious consistency add an unmatched level of complexity to any classic meatball recipe.

What does adding milk to meatballs do? ›

The Key to Tender Meatballs

Here, we're soaking fresh or dried breadcrumbs in a little milk until the bread becomes soggy, then mixing that right into the meat. This binder (aka panade) helps add moisture to the meatballs and also prevents the meat proteins from shrinking and becoming tough.

Why are my homemade meatballs tough? ›

Too much time spent forming the balls can also make them tough, and you're more likely to overwork them if you can't get them off your hands. To avoid this sticky situation, keep a dish of cold water next to you as you work, and dip your fingers in as you make the balls.

How do you make meatballs that aren't tough? ›

Add moisture.

Eggs and binders like breadcrumbs mixed with milk all help with keeping meatballs tender and moist, so don't skip any of these.

Is it better to cook meatballs in sauce or oven? ›

The best meatballs are tender, baked and browned in a hot oven to seal in all the juices. Simmered in robust sauce for a couple of minutes ensures they soak up all of those saucy flavours, this is an easy dinner recipe that will be a hit with your family!

Do you fry or simmer meatballs? ›

Letting your meatballs cook on the stove in a simmering sauce is the way to go. You'll end up with the most tender meatballs because as they simmer they soak up so much of that tomato sauce.

How to heat meatballs in the oven? ›

If you don't plan to serve the meatballs with sauce or gravy, reheat them in the oven at 300°F. Place the meatballs in a single layer on a baking sheet or in a baking dish, then cover them with foil to prevent drying, and heat until warmed through.

Is it better to bake or simmer meatballs? ›

Poached meatballs are as tender as can be, but because they simmer uncooked, I always end up with a few meatballs that break up in the sauce. Frying or baking the meatballs first develops a crust, so they stay together better, though the crust means they're not quite as tender as a poached meatball.

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