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Meatballs 101 - how to get them round?

Hi all, what are your techniques for cooking perfectly round meatballs that are still tender? My thoughts are to use a fine grind, pack them tight, use lots of filler (using pork, mushrooms, and probably milk soaked crumbs.), and make a small meatball. Am I on the right track? My meatballs usually taste fantastic but I often use some kind of thick sauce to mask the surface irregularities : ) I have a broiler, grill pan, and a crock pot. Can steam as well - would that help? Trying to avoid wasting too much meat experimenting but will report back my results.

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  1. I'm thinking that you don't want to pack them too night or use lots of filler because both would take away from the flavour and texture. My Italian roommate swears by Nonna's technique of baking them in the oven on a rack. At high heat you will get some yummy carmelization on the outside. You could also cook them in the sauce, suspending them in the liquid to keep them as perfect orbs.

    Personally I like the crispy outside and therefore can never enjoy the perfect looking meatball, much to the chagrin of my A-Type cooking personality.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Mila

      I have moved away from baking and browning and now suspend them in hot tomato sauce when I cook them. I started doing this years ago when it occurred to me that the browning seemed to add too much cooking oil to the tomato sauce when I transferred the meatballs to the sauce pot.

      The trick is to have the sauce at a high temperature, and to gently drop the meatballs in. You can even layer them if need be, because the high cooking temperature of tomato sauce (higher than boiling water) will sear the meatballs on the outside and help keep them round. The trick is to leave them undisturbed for at least ten to fifteen minutes, and not to try to stir them too soon because undercooked meatballs will break up. If you are worried about scorching, lower the burner under the pot after five minutes.

      No one has even noticed that I don't brown them. BTW, it is best to use a leaner ground meat than a high fat content here, since the fat will render into the sauce when cooking and might add too much "grease" when it renders.

    2. the only way you're going to get them perfectly round is to deep fry them quickly so that the outside gets crusty and hard enough to support the structure of the thing without collapsing into lopsided meatballs

      4 Replies
      1. re: bw2082

        And the converse of bw2082's advice is don't do them in the crockpot, they just get all squishy and mushy and don't hold a shape well.

        ~TDQ

        1. re: bw2082

          Yes - mine are always lopsided with odd looking flat sides to them! As long as they taste good, I've decided to stop worrying about it.

          1. re: MMRuth

            Ha! This has ALWAYS been my problem...they look more like some kind of geometrical food creation than a "ball." But, they almost always taste good, so maybe that counts a little more.

            1. re: Val

              Mine look like rounded triangles of sorts ... I've only ever cooked them on the stove top though - Swedish meatballs and various albondigas.

        2. over the years jfood has made lots of meatballs. And he does not remember once the little jfood saying, "hey dd these meatballs look like dice." but he does remember the little jfood smiling and saying how great the meatballs are.

          jfood uses the Rao's method for meatballs with meatloaf mix and about one cup of water per pound. Then he fries them in olive oil and they do take on the squarish shape. Then into some mrs jfood sauce for a leisurely bath and onto the pasta.

          So if there is a tradeoff between flavor and texture over shape, give jfood flavor/texture any time. So jfood recommends relaxing the shape constraint.

          6 Replies
          1. re: jfood

            i tried jfood's water-added method for burgers yesterday. very tender!

            trick to keep meatballs round and still be tender: don't pack tight. if browning in skillet, keep turning in skillet.

            1. re: alkapal

              glad to help alka but jfood stole the idea from Diane of Bexley.

              if you make the matballs though, you have twice as much water to add because of the breadcrumbs.

              jfood had a good burger to cap off the fourth after two dogs for breakfast. :-))

              1. re: jfood

                I whiz some baby bellas in the FP and add instead of other liquid. I think they're called duxelles? And some crumbs to soak up the moisture.

                1. re: toodie jane

                  Almost:

                  "Duxelles, pronounced dook-SEHL, is a finely chopped (minced) mixture of mushrooms or mushroom stems, onions, shallots and herbs sautéed in butter, and reduced to a paste (sometimes cream is used as well)."

                  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duxelles

                  Do the mushrooms ever give off too much liquid or shrink too much? That sounds like a really tasty addition...

            2. re: jfood

              In addition to adding water - I make sure the water is iced and I strain it into meatballs, the cold helps keeps fats cold and helps to sepaerate and hold in the water throughout product. I also use ice water on my hands while i roll them as well.

              1. re: coastie

                You can also keep the mixture in a chilled cold-friendly bowl like metal or glass, and you can put that on a bowl of ice if it's a hot day.

            3. The oven-rack method will get you pretty nicely round meatballs. Do not go overboard on the filler or pack them tight, though. Meat, spices, a little milk-soaked bread and egg to hold them together and keep things moist, and just carefully roll perfect balls.

              That said, I prefer them craggy and interesting if you're going to serve them with red sauce.

              If you're making meat or meat-and-veggie balls for soup, that's another matter. Form them carefully and simmer in broth. That's a case where it's nice for them to be round.

              2 Replies
              1. re: tmso

                I scoop the meat with an ice-cream scoop, roll lightly between my hands, then put on a baking rack and put them in the oven. A light touch makes a more tender meatball.

                1. re: lattelover

                  Double-L

                  Do you place them on a baking rack or a baking pan?

              2. Just made some this am to take to a potluck. I use a scoop (large cookie size) and then by hand roll them between by palms lightly. I agree with other posters...too much filler will not help. Then I bake them at 325 degrees for 30 minutes, on a jelly roll pan lined with parchment paper to eliminate sticking. Next I bake them for an hour in the sauce. They turn out round and attractive every time.

                3 Replies
                1. re: Tripper

                  Wait. 325 straight 30 minutes, then bake them in the sauce? How do you do that please?

                  1. re: chef chicklet

                    Line up the meatballs with a little space between them on a parchment lined jelly roll pan. Bake for 30 minutes at 325 degrees. Then assuming you are making a sauce for them, place in casserole dish, pour the sauce over and bake for 30 minutes. You could also do the last step stove top if you prefer.

                    1. re: Tripper

                      Well now, that seems to be like having a little bit of the best of both worlds. A nice browning, and then into the sauce for tender juicy meat balls. Thanks! I'll try this next time.