This recipe has been a long time in the making, and it’s taken me a lot of time and effort to get it to where it is today.
And where that is: perfection. If I do say so myself.
I pride myself on these meatballs. It sounds odd to say that, but I have my reasons.
I did not grow up eating meatballs. Or much Italian food in general. My mom was a fabulous cook, but she did not grow up eating those foods, and as a result, my sisters and I did not grow up eating those foods.
It wasn’t until we moved to the Philly area right before I started high school that we were exposed to tons of Italian American foods. South Philly is notorious for having a dense population of Italian Americans, many of whom have moved to the suburbs over the years. Our town, in particular, is a very popular place for South Philly Italians to move. There are pizza places and small Italian bakeries on every corner, and almost every restaurant in this small town are mom-and-pop Italian eateries.
As a result, we were exposed to tons of delicious food that we had not really had much of before. Pizza (like, GOOD pizza), pasta, classics like braciola, chicken parm, and meatballs. Real deal meatballs.
Side note: people in this area refer to their red sauce as “gravy.” So, if you are a local reading this: think of this as my version of meatballs and gravy. If you’re from anywhere else, this is meatballs and SAUCE (and yes, this is what I call it. No hate, please. This is often a heated debate in these parts, hah).
Years later, I found myself on the hunt for the perfect at-home meatball recipe. I asked all of my Italian American friends for their meatball secrets. I did tons of research. I read Italian cookbooks. I was on a mission to perfect my own meatballs and sauce.
And that is exactly what I am sharing with you today. My perfected recipe.
This recipe is one of my biggest culinary accomplishments. I have served these countless times to friends and family, some of whom are Italian, and I have been told countless times that they are, hands down, the BEST meatballs they have ever had in their lives. And they swear they aren’t blowing smoke.
I take it as a huge compliment, and even though I hate to sing my own praises, I agree with them. These meatballs are actually THE BEST.
Bold statement. But I back it up.
My meatballs are mostly traditional, although I do a couple things that may make purists gasp. But trust me! The tricks WORK.
I like to start with a mix of ground beef, pork, and veal. These meatballs are the ONLY time I cook with veal. It’s traditional, and I think it makes a huge difference in texture here. The beef and pork add a ton of flavor and the pork brings its fat content into the picture to keep these moist and succulent.
Into the meat goes the following ingredients: finely chopped onion, minced garlic, dried Italian herbs, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, panko breadcrumbs (and yes, they MUST be panko), pecorino romano cheese, some milk, eggs, and…wait for it…KETCHUP.
Gasp. Go on. I can hear you.
I know. Ketchup is almost blasphemous to Italian purists, but I swear, it makes these meatballs what they are. It adds tomato flavor, a touch of tang, and some sweetness. It is absolutely necessary here, and I really ask that you just trust me. If you skip the ketchup, these simply will not be as good. I say that after a lot of trial and error.
The key to making these perfect is to mix all of those flavors together BEFORE adding in the ground meats. You really want to handle the meat as little as possible so that the meatballs don’t get too dense. We want them tender and moist. So mix everything else together first and then mix in your meat.
I also like to do a taste test of the flavorings before I add in the eggs or meat. It is the entirety of the seasoning for the meatballs, and it must taste good BEFORE you add in the meat. It should taste a little over seasoned, as well, because we need all that flavor to make the meat taste amazing.
The second thing I do that is against tradition is to BAKE the meatballs. I do not believe in pan frying them. Nope. Way too much work. Adds too much grease. And it makes a huge mess! I roast them on sheet pan with some olive oil until they are cooked through and golden brown all over. I will never pan sear meatballs ever again.
After they have baked in the oven, the trick is to finish them in the sauce you are serving them with. I always make a big batch of my bolognese and add the meatballs in for about 15-20 minutes before I want to serve. You can also do these in marinara or any other pasta sauce you prefer. The bolognese, though, really sends these over the top. It’s how I always serve them.
These are SO good that I often serve them as an appetizer at parties. I put the sauce and meatballs in a crock pot and allow people to help themselves. They’re so good that they don’t require any extra cheese or even a roll. They stand alone.
People cannot get enough of these. They are truly the best, and I would enter a meatball competition with these, if there was such a thing.
As weird as it sounds, this type of food is the kind of thing I want to make or eat on Valentine’s Day. Is it sexy? No. Is it romantic? Hell yes.
It’s slow-cooked, lots-of-love-put-in, comfort food. It takes some time and effort, but it is so worth it. And if you do decide to make this for a loved one on Valentine’s Day, they will feel your love in the food. These taste like love.
A swirly bowl of noodles with the sauce and a few of these meatballs on top is all we need.
And it pairs wonderfully with a nice glass of red wine.
See? Ideal for V Day!Print
Our Favorite Classic Meatballs
- Total Time: 40 minutes
- Yield: 25 meatballs (6-8 servings) 1x
These Classic Meatballs are THE BEST! They’re tender and moist, full of incredible flavor, and have been declared the best meatballs ever by countless family and friends. They’re easy to make but taste decadent and comforting.
- 1 small yellow onion, finely diced or grated
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 cup Panko breadcrumbs (you may need up to ¼ cup more)
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon dried Italian herbs
- 3 tablespoons ketchup (yes, really!)
- ⅓ cup milk
- 1 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 lbs ground beef, pork, and veal (roughly equal parts of each)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 batch of my bolognese sauce (marinara works great too)
- Cooked pasta or toasted rolls, for serving (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 425°F and line a large baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.
- In a large mixing bowl, mix together the onion, garlic, panko, spices, ketchup, milk, and cheese.
- Add the salt and pepper and then taste the mixture. It should be VERY well seasoned – even a touch too salty. This will ensure that the meat has good flavor in the end. I always taste it before adding the raw egg or meat.
- Once you have it seasoned to your taste, stir in the eggs until everything is well combined.
- Add in the meat last, mixing it into the seasonings gently and until everything is well mixed. If the mixture is too gummy, add a few tablespoons of breadcrumbs and mix again. I sometimes have to add up to ¼ cup of additional breadcrumbs – it really depends on your meat. The mixture should be easy to roll into balls – not too sticky or wet.
- Form the mixture into roughly 1.5-inch balls and place them on your baking sheet. Drizzle lightly with olive oil.
- Bake for 15 minutes, turn them once, and then bake for another 10 minutes.
- While they are baking, heat your sauce in a large pot. Add the baked meatballs to the sauce and let them simmer in the sauce for about 10 minutes (or longer!).
- Serve over pasta or on toasted rolls or by themselves with a little cheese grated on top.
- Prep Time: 5 minutes
- Cook Time: 35 minutes
- Category: dinner
Keywords: the best classic meatballs, classic beef and pork meatballs, meatballs and sauce recipe, homemade meatballs recipe
These meatballs are hands down the BEST!!! I don’t know how you get such a perfect texture and have them packed with flavor?!? Keep the great work coming.
The best meatballs I’ve ever had! Hands down..shhhh don’t tell my mom I said that!!
These meatballs are AMAZING! Tender, juicy and Full of Flavor!! Perfection is right!
Simply the best! I’m excited to try and take a run at making these! Thanks Molly!
Best meatballs ever! I made these for my Italian American family and they were all raving. I love that these are baked and not pan fried – makes it so much easier. Tender, fluffy, incredibly flavorful meatballs – you have to try these.