Whether you’re putting them between a bun for game-ready sliders or rolling them onto a pile of spaghetti, rich, tender meatballs are a simple way to please a room full of hungry eaters. Here, the tips to get them right, straight out of the gate.
Fat Is Your Friend
Meatballs can be made out of any ground meat, but fattier meats—like beef, lamb and pork—yield the tenderest results. If you go the chicken or turkey route, be sure not to overcook them, or they can get tough. Some cooks are fanatical about the ratio of the meatball mix, and while there are no hard and fast rules, a blend of veal, pork, and beef will yield a great, rich flavor.
Go Easy On the Egg
How to keep a meatball moist? It’s not in the egg, advises Bon Appetit. Eggs aren’t a source of moisture—they’re there to hold the ingredients together. Too many, and your meatballs will be dense and spongy, when what you’re after is airy and light. One or two eggs per one to two pounds of meat should suffice.
Try Nonna’s Trick
Great Italian cooks from Marcella Hazan to Mario Batali swear by one rule and one only. “The true secret,” writes Batali, “is day-old bread, soaked in milk or water, to bring lightness to the mixture.” No bread on hand? Mix in breadcrumbs, but use a light hand—a half-cup per pound will do.
Think About More Than Meat
A smattering of fresh herbs like parsley and basil add color and a touch of vegetal brightness (they also keep your meatball from tasting like a burger). But don’t stop at the obvious options—marjoram, cilantro, and oregano can be added to the mix, too. Parmesan or pecorino add big umami flavor; pine nuts can add richness and texture; and a grating of fresh nutmeg works like coffee in a chocolate cake—it just makes the flavors more complex and delicious. Play with the combos that suit your palate.
Get Your Hands Dirty
Once your bowl of ingredients is ready to go, don’t get out the hand mixer or a spoon. Use your hands to gently combine the ingredients so they’re combined but not crushed. You want to keep the integrity of the textures. Then, with water—or oil—wet your hands and roll the balls out to your desired size. Two-inch meatballs will make a nice crown for a plate of pasta. Go smaller if you want to shorten the cooking time.
Choose Your Own Cooking Adventure
As with the rules of the correct meat ratio in meatballs, opinions are heated about the best way to cook meatballs once they’re mixed and rolled. Some insist you must sear them first. Others swear by the ease of baking them on a single sheet pan in the oven. But even Mario Batali says he often goes for the easy option, simply simmering them in a tomato sauce. Home cooks should feel empowered to use the methods that work best for them, and that rule certainly applies to the meatball.