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Authentic Italian Meatballs Recipe

Authentic Italian meatballs are based on a recipe my Italian grandma used to make. You won’t believe how easy old fashioned meatballs in tomato sauce are to make. Once you make them, you’ll never go back to store-bought meatballs again!

Authentic Italian meatballs are based on a recipe my Italian grandma used to make. You won't believe how easy old fashioned meatballs in tomato sauce are to make. Once you make them, you'll never go back to store-bought meatballs again!
Authentic Italian Meatballs in Tomato Sauce
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Ever read a food blog and get some lonely blogger’s life story about how they are sharing their grandma’s recipe?

Yeah.

That’s this post.

I’m kidding.

Or am I?

Yes, this authentic Italian meatballs recipe comes straight from – you guessed it – my very Italian grandma’s kitchen.

Of course, I’ve made a few adjustments like including measurements since that was something she didn’t always do, but the meatball recipe is the same as the one I grew up eating and helping her make.

Authentic Italian meatballs place an emphasis on fresh ingredients and flavor.

When you make the meatballs fresh, the results are incredible.

You have probably never tasted a juicier and tender meatball, unless, of course, you also grew up with an Italian grandma.

Ingredients and Kitchen Supplies

Ingredients for Authentic Italian Meatballs: Ground Beef (not shown), Breadcrumbs, Milk, Egg, Garlic, and, Spices
Ingredients for Authentic Italian Meatballs: Ground Beef (not shown), Breadcrumbs, Milk, Egg, Garlic, and, Spices

You don’t need much to make authentic Italian meatballs. You probably have a lot on hand already.

Here’s the list:

  • Ground Beef – You want to use 80 to 85 ground beef. You could also substitute in ground turkey, chicken, or pork, but these will generally result in a tougher meatball. You can also add a mix of ground beef, veal, and pork for another authentic Italian flavor and texture. Make sure you don’t use a fattier beef or the meatballs will be sort of greasy and shrink a lot. Using too lean a beef (think 93/7) will result in tougher meatballs.
  • Breadcrumbs – Breadcrumbs help to absorb moisture and helps to keep the flavor in the meatballs where it belongs.
  • Parmesan cheese – Parmesan cheese adds some salty flavor to the meatballs.
  • Milk – Milk helps to prevent the meatballs from drying out as they cook. No one likes dry, tasteless balls.
  • Egg – An egg helps to keep the meatballs intact as they cook.
  • Spices – To give the meatballs flavor, you should use garlic powder, onion powder, Italian seasoning blend, dried basil, red pepper, and salt.
  • Garlic – Honestly can you not add copious amounts of garlic to meatballs if you are Italian? I think the ancestors would cry if you skipped it.

Kitchen equipment you need includes:

How to make authentic Italian meatballs

1. Mix and shape the meatballs

Mix the meatball ingredients together in a large mixing bowl.
Mix the meatball ingredients together in a large mixing bowl.

Add the ground beef, seasonings, egg, milk, breadcrumbs, cheese, and crushed/minced garlic to a large mixing bowl.

Using your hands (or a sturdy spoon if you don’t like getting your hands dirty), mix the ingredients until well-incorporated.

Mix the meatball ingredients together in a large mixing bowl.
Mix the meatball ingredients together in a large mixing bowl.

The mixture will be a bit loose, but should hold together.

Use your hands to form small to medium sized balls out of the mixture.

Roll the meat mixture into equal sized round meatballs.
Roll the meat mixture into equal sized round meatballs.

2. Sear the meatballs

Sear the meatballs in a large pan with olive oil.
Sear the meatballs in a large pan with olive oil.

To sear the meatballs, heat a pan over medium heat.

If you are not using a non-stick pan, you can add a bit of olive oil or cooking spray.

Once the pan is hot, add the meatballs. They should instantly sizzle if the pan is hot enough.

Flip or rotate the meatballs every 2 to 3 minutes.

Let the meatballs brown on all sides.
Let the meatballs brown on all sides.

You want at least 2 sides to have a nice, seared “crust,” but ideally you will get most of the outer surface seared.

3. Finish cooking the meatballs

You have a few options to finish cooking the authentic Italian meatballs:

  • cooking the meatballs in sauce
  • baking them in the oven
  • finishing them on the stovetop without sauce

To Cook Italian Meatballs in Sauce

This is the best way to finish cooking your meatballs and the way I’d recommend 99% of the time.

This is the longest cooking method as the sauce needs to come up to heat and low simmer.

But this is also the most authentic Itallian meatball exeperience you can get.

Finish cooking the meatballs in tomato sauce until they are cooked through.
Finish cooking the meatballs in tomato sauce until they are cooked through.

Once you sear the meatballs, turn the heat to low and pour in homemade spaghetti sauce or – if you have to – store bought sauce.

The meatballs will absorb the flavors from the sauce and become extra tender as they cook.

Ideally, using this method, you will let them cook for about 1 to 2 hours.

Finishing Meatballs in the Oven

You can set your oven to 400 degrees F and finish cooking the meatballs in the oven.

It will take about 20 to 25 minutes to finish cooking in the oven.

The meatballs are done when the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.

Finishing the Italian meatballs in the oven is a relatively fast option, but it can dry them out a bit and you do not get the added benefit of flavor from the sauce as they cook.

Finish the Meatballs on the Stovetop (without Sauce)

Once seared, you can continue to cook grandma’s authentic Italian meatballs on the stove top.

It helps to cover the pan with a lid to help lock in the heat.

You will want to turn the heat down a bit and continue to rotate the meatballs from time to time.

The meatballs are ready when they reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.

What Not to Do when Making Italian Meatballs

Authentic Italian meatballs are based on a recipe my Italian grandma used to make. You won't believe how easy old fashioned meatballs in tomato sauce are to make. Once you make them, you'll never go back to store-bought meatballs again!
Authentic Italian Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

Here are a few common mistakes when making authentic Italian meatballs:
1. Not adding anything to moisten the meat, such as milk
2. Over-mixing the meat
3. Not adding any or enough seasonings
4. Making non-uniform sized meatballs
5. Not getting the right shape (they are spheres not flat or squares, honestly, some people need to go back to kindegarten)

Storing meatballs

Finish cooking the meatballs in tomato sauce until they are cooked through.
Finish cooking the meatballs in tomato sauce until they are cooked through.

That said, you can – at risk of breaking my grandma’s heart – store authentic Italian meatballs for later.

How you store them depends some on how you finished cooking them.

If you want to freeze the meatballs – yes, you killed an Italian with that thought – I recommend cooking them in the oven or pan without sauce.

You can then place cooled meatballs in an airtight container or zipper bag and freeze for up to 6 months.

You can reheat frozen meatballs in the oven, microwave, or preferrably in a sauce set on low on the stove top or slow cooker.

If you make authentic Italian meatballs using sauce, you can store the sauce and meatballs in the fridge in an airtight container for about 3 to 4 days.

You can reheat the sauce and meatballs on the stove top in a pot or in the microwave.

FAQs

What are traditional Italian meatballs made of?

Traditional Italian meatballs use either ground beef or a combination of ground beef, veal, and pork. All use various spice and herbs, Parmesan cheese, an egg or egg yolk, milk, and bread or breadcrumbs.
Most Italian meatballs also get finished cooking in a sauce. This helps to add additional tenderness and flavor to the meatballs.

What is the difference between regular meatballs and Italian meatballs?

Italian meatballs are often smaller in size compared to Americanized versions. Italian meatball also typically use Parmesan cheese, oregano, and other spices and herbs.
Swedish meatballs often use nutmeg and all spice and get cooked or coated in a semi-sweet glaze.

What not to do when making meatballs?

Here are a few common mistakes when making authentic Italian meatballs:
1. Not adding anything to moisten the meat, such as milk
2. Over-mixing the meat
3. Not adding any or enough seasonings
4. Making non-uniform sized meatballs
5. Not getting the right shape (they are spheres not flat or squares, honestly, some people need to go back to kindegarten)

Tips and Tricks

Authentic Italian meatballs are based on a recipe my Italian grandma used to make. You won't believe how easy old fashioned meatballs in tomato sauce are to make. Once you make them, you'll never go back to store-bought meatballs again!
Authentic Italian Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

Authentic Italian meatballs are pretty easy to make, but you may find these tips and tricks helpful.

  • You can make the mixture ahead of time. For example, if you want, you can mix the meat and other ingredients in the morning and make the meatballs for night. Just store the meatball mix in a covered container in the fridge. Or, once you cook the meatballs, you can store them in the freezer and reheat with your favorite tomato sauce.
  • The exact size does not matter, but you should try to make them roughly even in size for uniform cooking. Using a larger cookie scoop can help you make sure all the meatballs the same size.
  • Also, larger Italian meatballs will take longer to cook compared to smaller balls.
  • You can also use an ice cream scoop or other spoon to scoop out roughly the same size portions – just form them into balls with your hand.
  • You can substitute actual bread for breadcrumbs. In fact, my grandma’s authentic Italian meatballs recipe used bread instead of breadcrumbs.
  • Do not skip the milk or the searing process! These help to ensure the meatballs come out moist and tender.
  • Though you can finish the meatballs in the oven, the most authentic Italian meatballs recipes finish the meatballs in sauce. This makes for tender meatballs that absorbs the flavor of the sauce.

What to make with authentic Italian meatballs

Authentic Italian meatballs obviously pair well with Real Italian Tomato Sauce (Homemade Spaghetti Sauce) and spaghetti or any other kind of pasta you want to serve.

My grandma also used to serve them on the side of Lasagna and Skillet Baked Ziti

If you want something green to put in your body, I recommend these parmesan brussel sprouts.

You could also serve it with fettuccine alfredo or with a side of garlic bread.

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Authentic Italian Meatballs

These authentic Italian meatballs capture the simple – but flavorable – Italian style of meatballs.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 29 minutes
Course: Italian
Cuisine: Italian. American
Keyword: authentic Italian meatballs
Servings: 6
Calories: 259kcal

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground beef (85 or better)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning blend
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1/2 tablespoon salt

Instructions

  • Mix the meat, seasonings, milk, parmesan cheese, bread crumbs, and garlic in a large bowl.
  • Use your hands or spoon to form the mixture into similar.
  • Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil or cooking spray if not using a non-stick pan.
  • When the pan is hot, add the meatballs and cook for about 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Rotate the balls every 2 to 3 minutes, searing all sides of the balls.
  • Option 1: Turn the heat down and continue cooking the meatballs on the stovetop. Place a lid over the meatballs and cook, rotating occassionally, until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F.
  • Option 2: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the meatballs on a baking sheet or use an oven safe skillet. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F.
  • Option 3: Turn the heat to low and pour sauce over the meatballs. Continue cooking for about an hour to two. The meatballs need to reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.

Notes

You can finish the meatballs either in the skillet, in the oven, or smothered in sauce. The sauce method is the slowest, but it also allows the meatballs to absorb the flavors, adds flavor to the sauce, and makes them extra tender.
Do not over mix the meat.
Adding milk may sound odd, but it helps with keeping the meatballs moist when cooking.

Nutrition

Serving: 2meatballs | Calories: 259kcal | Carbohydrates: 11g | Protein: 20g | Fat: 15g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 6g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 60mg | Sodium: 844mg | Potassium: 346mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 167IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 190mg | Iron: 3mg
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