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Secrets to good meatballs?

I had meatballs I didn't like at what should be an otherwise good Italian restaurant I wondering why I didn't like them. Asking them how they cook them might be a good start, but parking is difficult there and I'm not sure when I'll be getting back. I'm not much of a cook, more of an eater, so I"m wondering what the board members think goes into a good meatball.
The meatballs I didn't like seemed to have two problems. One is that there seemed to be too much of a filler like breadcrumbs or something else. A second is that I think they used too lean of meat. Does this sound like a potential problem to any one else?
I don't think they spiced it properly either.
On the other hand, on Friday at another restaurant I had meatballs with linguine and a French sauce described as Swedish meatballs that were excellent. They weren't heavily spiced, either. But there didn't seem to be a lot of filler.

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  1. I use half beef and half pork. I also take a few slices of white bread, crusts remove, soak the slices in milk and then add them to the meat mixture.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Suzie

      I use half beef 1/4 pork, 1/4 veal, freshly grated reggiano, minced garlic and chopped parsley and one egg per lb. of meat. I first soak sourdough bread (crusts removed) torn in pieces in buttermilk for about ten min. mashing the bread into a paste. People say my meatballs are the best!

      1. re: budlit

        If you google either Tyler's Ultimate spaghetti and meatballs, or Giada's, you will find their recipes. Both are tender, and delicious. Not alot of filler.

      2. re: Suzie

        its the bread soaked in milk that makes the difference (all ingredients equal) rather than bread crumbs.

        1. re: Suzie

          ...gramma's trained loving hands...

        2. I use 3 meats like budlit(veal, pork, beef)and avoid overhandling--that makes them tough. Fine Cooking had a good recipe that used maybe 1-1/2 cups fine soft breadcrumbs which also contributes to tenderness. It keeps the meat from being "packy".

          1. Meatballs are an easy but amazing thing.
            3lbs. ground beef, 70% lean
            1 egg
            1/2 cup seasoned italian dry crumbs
            1/2-3/4 cup FRESH romano, grated
            4 large garlic cloves, crushed
            1 T parsley

            Mix lightly and gently. I use about 2T per meatball and drop them straight into a hot crock of sauce and let them go all day. I skim the grease as necessary. Pre-browning just sucks the moisture right out of them. I never add milk or anything like that. The more freshly grated the romano, the better. The green can....BLECH!!!! Enjoy!

            1. As others have said, it is getting a balance of not-to-lean groundmeat(s), bread in some form, egg, parsely or cilantro, seasoning--and options such as garlic, Worcestershire/fish sauce, chili flakes; and then not over-mixing and not over-compacting. A good browning followed by finishing in the oven does the trick. Ever so slightly rare is my preference.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                its interesting becuase my gut tells me to go with all meat and no filler like breadcrumbs/bread, etc. however, mario batali, who is a real cook's cook in my opinion, always says that the best meatballs come about directly because of the use of adequate filler like breadcrumbs. supposedly its that perfect marriage of bread and meat.
                for my money at home i always go 100% meat. i think the pan searing makes a big difference. in other words, no matter your ingredients, you want to pan sear the meatballs in a VERY hot pan with oil on all sides for a quick minute or two to bring about that superflavorful browning and then transfer to the oven, or the pot of simmering/reducing sauce to finish cooking through. this initial step will really bring about another dimension, a new layer, of flavor to your meatballs. nomatter the ingredients.

                1. re: ben61820

                  I'm with Mario: the breadcrumbs absorb juice and fat and keep the meatball from drying out and becoming tough. Getting the right balance is important, though -- I think my favorite recipe calls for a couple of tablespoons per pound.

                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                    i'm also with mario.
                    I use a lot of filler(50%)...probably 30% of which are fresh bread crumbs (not dry) and I add liquid -either milk or water to make a rather loose mix. Plenty of onions or sometimes I use pesto. Always wonderful and moist meatballs.

              2. Last time I made meatballs, I had a little bit of fresh parmasan leftover from another recipe so I ground it up with a smaller amount of breadcrumbs than I would normally use and mixed it in. What a difference!

                Hubby noticed the improvement in taste immediately. He also said that the lesser amount of crumbs improved the texture. I think at least one egg is essential if you want the balls to hold their shape.

                Also, I don't fry my meatballs. I broil them for a few minutes, turning once. since some in my family don't like them in sauce, we store them dry in a separate container and add them to sauce as needed.

                3 Replies
                1. re: newbatgirl

                  This is the best meatball recipe I ever made. Unfortunately, I only made it once, because I'm sure it was super fattening, and that's probably the secret to this great meatball! It was from a chef who showed how to make them on MSNBC or NBC. They posted the recipe for free.

                  Sicilian Sweet and sour meatballs
                  1/3 pound ground pork
                  1/3 pound ground beef
                  1/3 pound ground veal
                  1/4 cup pine nuts
                  1/4 cup raisins
                  1/4 cup parmesan
                  1/4 cup bread crumbs
                  3 eggs
                  2 cloves garlic (minced)
                  Salt and pepper to taste
                  Oil to saute the meatballs
                  In a mixing bowl, add all ingredients together and mix until fully combined. Roll small meatballs (about 2 ounces each). Heat a frying pan on medium high heat and saute the meatballs until golden brown. Add the meatballs to the simmering sauce (see recipe below). Cook for 1 hour on a low temperature.
                  Tomato sauce
                  2 tablespoons olive oil
                  1 small onion (diced)
                  3 cloves garlic
                  8 ounces crushed tomatoes (canned is fine)
                  1 teaspoon dry oregano
                  In a sauce pan, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and garlic and saute for 2 minutes. Finally, add the tomatoes and dry oregano and simmer.

                  1. re: puppymomma

                    yep, you got that browning step in there - all important.

                    1. re: ben61820

                      I stick to beef and pork (about 2/3 beef and 1/3 pork) because I don't think the veal adds much to the flavor. I agree with other posters who have said that bread or breadcrumbs are a good thing as long as you don't overdo it. Likewise, you can't make good meatballs if the meat is too lean. Lastly, and the comment on browning above made me think of it, I think the best meatballs I've eaten were cooked in the drippings left by Italian sausage It added to the flavor, and definitely kept them from sticking to the pan.