On the ball

This article was originally published in September 2014

A humble dish? Maybe. But meatballs date back at least as long ago as ancient Rome and continue to be enjoyed around the world. Some are grilled, but most commonly, they’re cooked with a flavorful sauce or broth and served with potatoes or pasta for a hearty meal.

Thanks to 1940s-era cookbooks, adding ingredients like breadcrumbs, eggs and milk is still seen as a way of stretching a small amount of meat to provide enough for the whole family. While that’s true to some extent, adding these “fillers” does more than stretch the portions — they also improve the texture of a meatball, making it light and soft rather than dense and tough. It’s fine to use gluten-free bread crumbs if you prefer.

The longer you mix the ingredients together, the sturdier your final meatball will be. A typical Italian-American meatball should be so tender it’s downright fragile, while a classic Swedish meatball is a bit more dense. Truly, the final texture and your choice of ground meat are simply a matter of personal choice; feel free to use ground chicken for a very lean meatball, or all ground beef, if that’s what you have on hand. If you have trouble with them falling apart when you shape them, mixing them a little longer before forming them could solve the problem.

When you’re making a batch, it’s important to keep an eye on the size and make them fairly consistent; you can even use a cookie scoop or measuring spoon if you want perfect precision. The point is to avoid having half your meatballs well done and half of them undercooked. And, you’ll only be frustrated if you try to pack them too firmly together — use a light touch if you’re forming them by hand.


5 great meatballs

From Indian Kofta (meatball curry) to updated party meatballs, we’ve got five great recipes to try. You can make any of the meatballs ahead of time and freeze them!


3 make-ahead tips


To keep meatballs from sticking together, spread them on a baking sheet without touching and pop the pan in the freezer. Once they’re frozen, pack into tubs or freezer bags.


It’s important to use safe thawing technique: Have them thaw overnight in the fridge, rather than on the counter. Or cook them straight from the freezer!


Plan on an extra 15 to 25 minutes of cooking time if you’re adding them to a recipe without thawing first.

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