5 Ways to Make Even Better Meatballs

5 Ways to Make Even Better Meatballs

Not only are meatballs something everyone looks forward to, they also go remarkably well with most dinners. Drop them in soups, nest them in pasta, or toss them in a green salad—there’s no bad place for meatballs. There is, however, the issue of the bad meatball. Since that is not a fate I want for your future dinner, here are my top tips for tender and juicy meatballs every time. 

Use bread crumbs

A few months ago, I was lifting more weight in my workouts and trying to eat more protein so I could build. In an effort to pack in as much lean protein as possible, I started to leave out the bread crumbs in my meatball mixture and go full-meat. These were the most dense and rubbery meatballs the world has ever known. Bread crumbs in your mix aren’t just nonsense, they serve a greater purpose for keeping the texture tender.

All animal proteins, whether it be egg proteins or muscle tissue, go through the same denaturing process when cooking. The protein strands tighten up, expel water, and become firmer. This is part of what you see when meat cooking in a pan shrinks. A meatball does all this too, and if there’s nothing breaking up those protein strands, you get a tight, rubbery meatball. 

You don’t need much—a quarter cup of breadcrumbs (or even graham crackers), with a bit of liquid for moisture is just the thing to break up these tight protein connections. When you bite into the meatball, the starchy pockets provide easy breaking points, which reads as tenderness to your palate.

Go on, “over-do” the seasoning 

I recommend going heavier on seasoning meatballs, especially large batches, than you would with whole meat cuts. Since the seasoning is intended to permeate throughout the meat, instead of just sitting on top like with steak, what seems like a lot of flavor will actually be spread throughout quite a bit of meat real estate. 

When in doubt, set up a frying pan next to you while you’re seasoning the mixture. Fry a small patty (the size of a quarter), and taste it. If you need to adjust the flavor, you can do it now. This adds a few minutes to your prep time, but at least you can ensure a properly tasty meatball.  

Don’t skimp on the fat

While you can make meatballs out of any meat—beef, pork, chicken, or faux-meat—always consider the fat content. Fats melt down and become the juicy flavor you look forward to in a good meatball. If you’re using beef, pork, turkey, or any combination of these, look for packages labeled with at least 7% fat. In the event that you can only find lean meats, or you prefer proteins like chicken instead of beef, go ahead and add the fat yourself. Use the large holes on a box grater and add a few tablespoons of cold, grated butter to your mixture.

Use a light touch

Once you’ve got all the right ingredients in your bowl, it’s time to smash it all together. While your first instinct might be to reach for a spoon, stay your hand—and then put on a food-safe glove. It’s best to mix with your hands. 

Ensuring a tender meatball happens in each stage of its development, and that includes mixing and shaping. You made sure to incorporate breadcrumbs to keep the structure delicate, and add enough fat to avoid dryness; the last thing you want to do is over-mix. Over-mixing will compact the protein and minimize those perfect pockets of breadcrumb and fat you incorporated, sending the meatballs back into rubbery territory. This is all-too-likely with a spoon. Instead, use your hands to lightly break up the meat and gingerly blend the ingredients with your fingers. Shape the meatballs with a light touch too.

Portion the meat evenly

Not only is it important to gently shape the meatballs so they don’t become compacted and tight, but it’s vital to portion the meat into equal sizes. Keeping the meatballs uniform means that they’ll cook at the same rate. If you have large and small meatballs cooking together, the smaller ones are likely to dry out while the bigger ones cook through, especially if they’re baking in the oven. 

There are two easy ways to keep the meatballs the same size. My favorite way is to use an ice cream disher because it’s quick and it’s easy to see if you’re overfilling the scoop. Be sure not to densely pack the meat when you scoop. If you don’t have a disher or you don’t seem to have the right size, use this trick instead. No fancy tools are necessary, and you can make sure you’re using every last bit of meatball mix. With these tips in mind, you’re well on your way to a top-quality meatball dinner.


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