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Authentic Italian Meatballs

Deeply flavorful, authentic Italian meatballs.

The best authentic Italian meatball recipe, with tomato sauce, from my Italian-American family to yours. These meatballs tender and flavorful, baked in the oven or pan fried.

bowl of authentic italian meatballs and tomato sauce

Meet This Old-Fashioned, Authentic Italian Meatball Recipe

Everyone deserves a real Italian meatball recipe. This one was handed down to me by my mom, who has been making these to perfection for years.

Meatballs inspire a lot of debate. Is it ok to put meatballs on a sheet pan to bake? Or, do authentic meatballs require standing over a hot skillet and frying them until your clothes, hair, and home are saturated with the smell of garlic, onions, and meat? What is the deal with those recipes calling for raisins? (Hint: That is Sicilian style.) Do you need to use beef-pork-veal blend, or can you just use beef? Where is a great flavorful Italian meatball recipe that I can use forever?

You may also enjoy these classic Italian recipes:

classic Italian meatball ingredients in bowl breadcrumbs cheese onion egg parsley garlic

I think that the answer to all those debates is the same: Yes. In other words, a good authentic meatball is not one that follows a rigid set of rules.

Rather, the best meatballs adhere to the general rules of Italian cooking: some of this, some of that, and a lot of love. That said, some guideposts will lead you to your best classic Italian meatballs.

What’s In Authentic Italian Meatballs?

This old-fashioned Italian meatball recipe sticks to classic meatball ingredients. You will need:

  • 2 1/2 pounds beef, pork, veal mix (equal portions)
  • 2 cups plain breadcrumbs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup freshly-grated Pecorino-Romano cheese
  • 1 bunch fresh, flat-leaf Italian parsley, chopped fine
  • 3 large cloves fresh garlic, finely grated or minced
  • 1 medium onion, grated on the large-grate side of a box grater
  • Salt and pepper

tray of baked Italian meatballs

How to Make Meatballs: Recipe Tips

A truly good Italian meatball may not require a lot of ingredients, but you do need the right technique to make sure they are tender. Here are a couple of important tips:

  1. Do not over-mix the meatball meat or squeeze the meat into tight balls. This will result in tough, hard meatballs. The best meatballs are tender.
  2. Secondly, take the time to prep the meatball ingredients correctly. Grate the onion; don’t do big chunks. Same for the garlic. Whisk the eggs. Mince the parsley. That way, all of the flavors will melt together into the meat and make a deeply flavorful result.

Authenti Italian meatball and tomato sauce

How to Make Italian Meatballs in the Oven

The Italian meatball recipe gives directions for baked meatballs instead of fried. I have found that making meatballs (especially a big batch like this) is much neater and more convenient — the trade-off being that they will not have quite the same meaty crust as fried meatballs.

However! Here’s a baked meatball tip: If you line the sheet pan with foil instead of parchment before baking the meatballs in the oven, then place the sheet pan on top of a hot pizza stone in your oven, I find that you will get a tasty crust on the bottom.

How to Cook Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

Once you have your batch of homemade Italian meatballs, you’ll want to to add them to tomato sauce (or gravy as I call it).

Here’s the trick: Do not add the meatballs to the sauce too far in advance. If the meatballs are in the tomato sauce too long, they will break apart, especially when the gravy is stirred. Instead:

  • Add the meatballs to the tomato sauce about 15 to 20 minutes before serving,
  • Make sure that the meatballs are fully submerged in tomato, and
  • Make sure you don’t stir the pot too much. You don’t want the meatballs to break apart.

Whether you fry or bake your meatballs, the result will be a flavorful Italian meatball (actually, about two dozen of them) that taste meaty and tender, with just the right hints of onion and garlic. Have fun, and happy rolling.

garlic bulb on wood

Did you make this authentic Italian meatballs recipe? Share below.

bowl of italian meatballs in tomato sauce with rigatoni pasta

Classic Italian Meatballs

A big, best meatball recipe for a Sunday sauce crowd. This recipe can be easily halved, and extra can be frozen in a gallon freezer bag and saved for other dinners.
Prep Time20 minutes
Cook Time20 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Keywords:: italian, meatballs
Servings: 30 or so medium-sized meatballs
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Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 pounds beef, pork, veal mix (equal portions)
  • 2 cups plain breadcrumbs
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 bunch fresh, flat-leaf Italian parsley, chopped fine
  • 1 medium onion, grated on the large-grate side of a box grater
  • 1/2 cup freshly-grated Pecorino-Romano cheese
  • 3 large cloves fresh garlic, finely grated or minced
  • 15 turns fresh-cracked black pepper, or 1 teaspoon
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 425°F and lightly grease or line with parchment two half-sheet pans.
  • Put the meat in a large mixing bowl. Add the breadcrumbs, and pour the milk over the breadcrumbs and allow it to soak in for a minute.
  • Add the eggs, Pecorino-Romano cheese, chopped parsley, minced garlic, grated onion.
    PRO TIP: Include the upper half of the parsley stems when chopping. The stems of most soft herbs, like parsley and cilantro, are completely edible and have great flavor.
  • Remove your rings and bracelets and put them safely on the windowsill or a ring holder. Your hands are about to get a little messy. Mix the meatballs until combined -- mixing with your hands is the best, and arguably only, way.
    PRO TIP: Mixing the meatballs is an important step. It is important not to over-mix the meat. If the meat becomes too over-mixed, it will lose its ideal, fall-apart consistency. Using your hands helps control the mixing.
  • Using a 1/2 cup scoop, lightly shape the meatballs with your hands into loose but solid rounds, and place them on the prepared sheet pans, with at least 1" space between each.
  • Bake for 20 minutes, rotating the pans halfway. "Sample" one or two hot out of the oven, then smother them with Sunday sauce or marinara, and serve with pasta.

6 comments

  • Hi Lisa …

    Can you please clarify the difference between “Sunday Sauce” and Marinara?

    Thanks!
    Lisa

    • Unpeeled

      Sure! Marinara is a quick, simple tomato sauce made without meat and only a few ingredients. Sunday sauce is the whole shebang: tomato sauce cooked for hours with sausage, meatballs, the whole thing 🙂

  • Hi
    How much will a bunch of parsley be. 1 cup, 1/2 cup, 1/4 cup etc.

    • Unpeeled

      Hi, Jackie! It’s about 3/4 to 1 cup loosely packed chopped celery.

  • 4 stars
    These are very, very good. Mine broke apart in my tomato sauce a bit, but that’s all. The flavor was good.. Do you think it would be as good without the veal? Thanks.

  • Mary P.

    5 stars
    Yes to baking instead of frying! These are delicious.

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