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Why did my meatballs fall apart?

Too much egg? Not enough breadcrumbs?

They starting to fall apart when I was browning them in the oil. What did I do wrong?

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  1. Probably too much breadcrumbs. While they do make the meatballs more delicately textured, going overboard can ruin their ability to hold their shape. Another problem might be too much liquid, if you used any. Good luck!

    1 Reply
    1. re: operagirl

      I use 1 egg per lb of meat; if I use more they get too soft. I like to use English muffins along with just a little Japanese breadcrumbs. Run some water over the muffins and squeeze out the excess. I do add a dash of heavy cream too, and another good dash of worcestshire sauce. They're soft but don't fall apart at all.

    2. Without knowing the amounts of ingredients it's hard to know if you have too much of one ingredient. It's unlikely that it's too much eggs as they would bind the mix as it cooked. Nonetheless, I don't pan fry my meatballs. I make big batches and cook them in the oven in foil trays. I then drop them into my spagetti sauce to finish and to flavor the sauce. I've included my recipe below. You can cut it down if needed.

      for 110 – 120 meatballs 2” diameter:

      • 10 lbs ground beef or meatball mix, ¼ veal, ¼ pork & ½ beef;
      • 2 dz large eggs;
      • 24 oz grated pecorino romano or parmegiano;
      • 24 oz fresh bread crumbs or Progresso Italian bread crumbs;
      • 3-4 large yellow onions, chopped fine;
      • 1 bulb garlic, minced;
      • basil to taste, fresh or dried;
      • parsley to taste, fresh;
      • salt and pepper to taste; and,
      • olive oil, for sautéing.

      Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil over low to medium heat until soft and remove from heat. Thoroughly mix the meat, eggs and other ingredients as well as the contents of the pan with the onions and garlic. Form into balls using an ice cream scoop and lay out on foil pans. Cook until well browned on top…about 45 minutes depending on how many pans are in the oven. (cook tomato sauce at the same time and drop the balls into the sauce to flavor)

      1 Reply
      1. re: Den

        My recipe is quite similar, but I'll often sub ground turkey or ground chicken. Lovely to have them pre-cooked and ready to grab from the freezer (when we had unexpected lunch guests, I even made 'em into hot meatball subs).

      2. Thanks, those sound great. Do you cook for an army? hospital? That's a lot of meatballs!

        1. Thanks, I always get that comment. It's only 2 of us at home and I make them and freeze them in the sauce. You need to freeze the balls in the sauce or they'll get freezer burn. Anyway, I freeze the meatballs in quart containers and that way I can take them out and just thaw in the MW whenever I want.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Den

            I agree about making a large batch, although I don't quite make that much. We're only two too. No point going through the bother unless I'm making extra. I like throwing extra in the freezer (in the sauce, same as you) and knowing I have several dinners at hand for those lazy nights where I just don't really have the energy to cook.

          2. Perhaps the oil wasn't hot enough to start, and/or you tried to turn them too early. I usually start on a fairly high heat, get them good and crusty on the outside until they're sturdy enough to turn.

            1. I now add water to my meatball mixture. I know I had the same "you gotta be kidding" reaction. It take about:

              2 eggs
              2 lb meat (i use half beef, 1/4 veal, 1/4 pork).
              2 cups of water
              2 cups of breadcrumbs
              1 Cup cheese
              Seasonings, garlic and/or a little onion
              A smidgen of red pepper flakes

              Before you throw me under the bus try it once. I then fry all sides in evoo and then either freeze or place in some red gravy to simmer. These are the moistest meatball I have ever tasted.

              6 Replies
              1. re: jfood

                I was surprised to see water in your recipe so I had to try it. I did them in the oven as Den described above. Just tried one and it was really delicious! They are holding together beautifully and have a nicely browned exterior with tender and moist insides. Really nice. Would never in a million years have thought to add a large amount of water.
                I now have a pan of meatballs to add to tomorrow's red sauce and more for the freezer.
                Muhlyssa, so glad you asked this question. I have had trouble with crumbly meatballs, and meatloaves, too.
                Many thanks to all.

                1. re: xena

                  The old meatball recipe I got from my family involves wet bread. They must be handled gently, but I rarely have any fall apart. I never made them any other way, so I never realized that the water helped so much.

                  1. re: xena

                    scared the heck out of me as well the first time i tried it but the results are unbeliveable. Glad you're enjoying. :-)))

                  2. re: jfood

                    Thanks Jfood, I too am going to try your recipe. I have on occassion had them "break up" and not known why. I usuall go by the feel when making them so this is great to have a foolproof technique to fall back on. I love to use ground turkey so will try it with that.
                    Just one question the cheese? Are you using a grate parm or romano?

                    1. re: chef chicklet

                      Usually what's in the fridge, but I like romano better than parm for a little more zip. I and am leaning towards trying a little asiago next time. Some red pepper flakes are also a nice touch.


                      1. re: jfood

                        Good choice! It is my preferred dry cheese...

                  3. One trick - use a 2 tablespoon cookie scooper (the type you squeeze to release the dough/filling) to form them so you can make them faster and don't get goop all over your hands. My fiancee has been making swedish meatballs all her life and learned this trick from me!

                    1. I had the same problem when I tried to make the Annie and Frank meatball recipe from Rao's in NYC...they just fell apart. I used exact portions that the recipe called for.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: BellaDonna

                        Very unusual.

                        I've made this recipe (and a slightly doctored version w a little red pepper flakes) at least a dozen times. In fact had two MB's from the freezer last nite with Mrs Jfood sauce. Did you add the water in batches?

                        What I do is make all the balls at once and leave them on a wax papered cookie sheet and fry 6-7 at a time in a 10" deep skillet. I use a spatula and the back of the spoon to flip them to brown all sides.

                        Sorry it did not work out. The end result is spectacular. Try again.

                        1. re: jfood

                          Figured out what happened: I used my Dutch oven to "fry" the meatballs.

                      2. I don't use breadcrumbs. We use stale old italian bread. We soak it in water till it gets soft, then squeeze out all the water and mix it with the rest of the ingredients. It makes the meatballs so moist. I know it sounds strange, but the meatballs are delish!

                        1. Many people also soak the bread in milk as opposed to water to add a richer flavor.

                          1 Reply
                          1. I usually mash a few ounces of bread in buttermilk, then let it soak and pour off any excess. This makes very tender meatballs and I've never had them fall apart. I also mince the onion and parsley very fine, plus one egg per pound of meat.

                            1. 1 lb HB meat; 1 egg; 1/4 cup breadcrumbs
                              Instead of cooking them in oil, just stick the raw meat straight into the sauce and let it simmer until fully cooked