Find out everything you need to know about making meatballs from scratch including how to form the traditional ball shape and how to serve.
If you’re wondering how to make meatballs our how-to guide covers all the basics. Meatballs are tightly compact balls of minced meat. They are pressed together, often by hand, with cooked onion, garlic, breadcrumbs, egg, and seasoning.
Meatballs are thought to have originated from Italy. Numerous countries have their own versions of meatballs, from Spain’s albóndigas to China’s wanzi to Turkey’s köfte.
In this feature, we focus on making classic meatballs served with a rich tomato sauce. Our video below shows you how simple it is to make meatballs from scratch.
Traditionally made with pork mince, meatballs can be served with a variety of different foods such as rice, polenta, noodles, or salad. However, they are most commonly served with spaghetti or pasta in a simple tomato sauce.
In this feature we take a look at the following stages of making meatballs:
One of the most common queries about meatballs is how you stop them from falling apart and how you can keep the minced meat sticking together during the cooking process. The main way to do this is by using an egg. Eggs act as a binding agent keeping the mince and other components together. Breadcrumbs also help to bring the mixture together.
If you don’t want to use egg, you can mix in a couple of tablespoons of ricotta or yogurt instead. If you’re avoiding dairy, use 2-3 tablespoons of unsweetened apple sauce. This method works especially well with pork mince because the flavours complement each other.
Breadcrumbs can also be substituted with ground oats.
Before you start making meatballs you’ll need to make sure you have the following ingredients. We’d recommend measuring out the ingredients so you can make them as efficiently as possible, especially if you’re short on time.
When handling raw meat, please do wash your hands thoroughly before handling other foods and equipment. This recipe shows you how to form the meatballs, brown them on a pan before lightly simmering them in a tomato sauce.
- 4 tbsp light olive oil
- 2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
- Pinch of sugar
- 3-4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
- 1 tbsp green pesto
- 400g can chopped tomatoes
- 1 tbsp tomato purée
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 500g minced pork
- 1 pork or ham stock cube
- 75g fresh or dried white breadcrumbs
- 1 egg
- 2 tbsp freshly chopped parsley
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Spaghetti, to serve
- Parmesan cheese, to serve
How to make meatballs: Step 1
To make the sauce, heat half the oil in a pan and add the onion and sugar, and cook over medium heat for 5-7 mins, until it starts to soften, but not colour. Add the garlic to the pan and cook for 1-2 mins.
Remove half the onions from the pan to use in the meatballs. Tip the tin of tomatoes into the pan, add the purée, stock cube, and 150ml boiling water and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer it, covered, for 15-20 mins.
How to make meatballs: Step 2
To make the balls, add the reserved cooked onion and garlic to the minced pork with the breadcrumbs and egg. Add the parsley, season, then mix well.
How to make meatballs: Step 3
Divide the mixture into 12 or 16 and shape it into balls. Place them on a board or plate, cover with clingfilm, and chill for at least 30 mins or until they’ve firmed up.
How to make meatballs: Step 4
Heat the remaining oil in a pan and add half. Cook until browned on all surfaces, turning them occasionally. Brown the rest.
How to make meatballs: Step 5
Add the pesto to the tomato sauce and season well.
How to make meatballs: Step 6
Add to the tomato sauce and simmer gently for 15-20 mins, or until they are cooked through. Turn them occasionally in the sauce.
How to make meatballs: Step 7
Serve with linguine, tagliatelle, or spaghetti, with Parmesan grated on top.
For the baked version instead of pan-frying put them in a roasting tin, drizzle with olive oil, shake to coat, and – ensuring there’s space between each one – bake in an oven preheated to 220C/200C fan/gas 7 for 25 minutes until browned. Add to a pre-cooked sauce just before serving.
As a rule, the fresher the mince the better the meatballs will taste once cooked. Always brown them before cooking in a sauce etc. Pan-frying seals the meat so it won’t fall apart when added to a sauce.
Putting sugar in a savoury sauce may seem odd but it helps to balance the tanginess of the tomatoes.
As well as egg, breadcrumbs work to bind the mixture. Too many will loosen the mince mixture, though, so stick to the recipe.
How to make vegetarian or vegan meatballs using this recipe
You can make veggie or vegan ‘meat’ balls from various ingredients including Quorn mince, vegetables, chickpeas, kidney beans, and tofu. Just substitute the minced meat in this recipe for one of the listed. The beans or chickpeas are best to crush or mash a little so they stick together better.
For a low-fat option opt for turkey mince or any lower-fat, lean mince.
Store any leftovers in the fridge, covered in clingfilm. Whether cooked or raw, they’re best eaten within a day or two. If you have cooked some and left some raw don’t store these together.
You can freeze meatballs for up to 2 months. If they are raw, freeze (without any touching) in an open container, then wrap in portions. Already cooked but not in a sauce? Freeze them as you would if they were raw. Cooked in a sauce? You can freeze these in portions and simply defrost when required.
Make sure to allow time to defrost before reheating – overnight in the fridge is best – and always cook through until hot.
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