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Are Bread Crumb Necessary for Meatballs?

Or it is merely an extender, and thus omittable?

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  1. The moistened bread crumbs, commonly referred to as a panade, are important to the extent that they keep the meatball tender.

    7 Replies
    1. re: Bob Brooks

      Yup. Without the bread crumbs (or oatmeal, which I sometimes use instead) you can end up with hard lumps of overcooked ground meat.

      1. re: Bob Brooks

        And use fresh bread crumbs made from good bread soaked in milk.

        1. re: alwayscooking

          Quality bread crumbs make all the difference.

          1. re: alwayscooking

            That is what I do, always tender and moist and soft, fresh herbs and I love grated onion, a few other things, but the onion and bread crumbs or soaked bread to me make the meatballs

          2. re: Bob Brooks

            Different countries use different starches to extend the meat. Others also put in bits of fruit (South East Asian and Southern African countries in particular) and I am personally fond of using dried apples - which are amazing when reconsituted in milk and meat fat! Dried apricots and/or cherries chopped down into really small pieces can also be yummy.

            I find that too much gluten makes me get UTI's so I like to use potato flakes and eggs as my extenders rather than bread/crackers. I've also used rice flour, sweet potato flakes, and rice bread crumbs which work well with my 'Asian' and 'Hawaiin' inspired meatloafs.

            1. re: Bob Brooks

              I've never understood why the breadcrumbs should be moistened. Logically, dry matter would suck up more meat juice than wet. Maybe it's because wet crumbs make a better glue or perhaps they provide for loss by evaporation.

              What's your take?

              1. re: Paulustrious

                I don't want them soaking up the meat juice. They are there to add moisture and for texture.

            2. Agree with BB about panade. Soak a slice or two of plain sandwich bread (or and old hotdog or burger bun....) in alittle milk or buttermilk. Mush it into a paste and add it to your meat/ eggs/ onions. Works great for turkey or leaner cuts of beef because it adds proteins from the dairy. adam

              1. Also, the filler holds onto the fat, and the fat has the flavour.

                Bit of a bummer really.

                1. The "filler" does indeed help with the texture. If you're GF, you can use substitute rolled oats, which by definition contain no gluten.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: KiltedCook

                    Or pork rinds, crushed in a food processor. (Yes, really.)

                  2. When I'm making korean meatballs, I add drained firm tofu. Same for mandu filling.

                    1. But I believe some cultures do like firm meatballs. I'm thinking for example of Middle Eastern or Indian kebabs.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: paulj

                        Or the rubbery beef balls in pho.

                        But yes, for Euro-American style meatballs, you need bread(crumbs).

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          I've wondered about them. They seem to be like ordinary meatballs, but use wood glue rather than breadcrumbs.

                          1. re: Paulustrious

                            Potato starch/corn starch/tapioca starch. Work em really well, not gently like you would other meatballs.

                        2. re: paulj

                          They are much firmer. I think it depend on what you want. Sometimes I experiment by dividing up the meat and try something slightly different for each partial batch to see what I like better. I've also tried different cooking techniques (pan fry, baking, muffin tin etc.) Personal preference is everything. I don't like the fall apart type of meatball and always use seasoned breadcrumbs for my Italian meatballs.

                          1. Use either bread crumbs or bread soaked in milk. Got to have them makes the end product taste better and it makes them lighter and tender.

                            1. One year I was out a bread and bread crumbs, but last minutes friend for dinner I decided on meatballs. Well I had 2 or 3 onion dinner rolls in the freezer, thawed and soaked in bread a few minutes and used that. Best meatballs by far.

                              Then I decided to try a twist. Chicken meat balls, green chilis, cumin, those same onion rolls, paprika, garlic but served with a spicy mexican tomato sauce. I fell in love with a twist on a classic.

                              1. you need something to absorb and hold the juices and the bread(crumbs) do the trick perfectly. Add jfood to the list of people who absolutely use them.

                                7 Replies
                                1. re: jfood

                                  ...and may I recommend some parmesan as well...

                                  1. re: Paulustrious

                                    OK. I always use bread crumbs too, but was just wondering. So, if bread crumbs are necessary in meatballs, what is the ideal ratio - bread to meat?

                                    1. re: lattelover

                                      here's jfood's latest twist

                                      Jfood adaption of Frankie’s Meatballs (Rao’s)

                                      This recipe is Jfood's adaption of Rao’s meatball recipe. After many attempts to improve an already great recipe, this is his favorite variation. The meat is sometimes found in the grocers as “Meatloaf Mix.” It is so good and easy, Jfood normally makes a double batch and freezes in 2-meatball packages in a sandwich bag and then in a freezer bag. To defrost Jfood places in the Microwave (on a plate without the plastic) for 5 minutes at 40%. Then into some sauce if desired.

                                      • 1 pound lean ground beef
                                      • 1/2 pound ground veal
                                      • 1/2 pound ground pork
                                      • 2 large eggs
                                      • 1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
                                      • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
                                      • 1/2 to 1 small garlic clove, minced
                                      • Pinch of red pepper
                                      • Salt and pepper to taste
                                      • 2 cups plain bread crumbs
                                      • 1.5 -2 cups water
                                      • 1 cup olive oil
                                      • 1 clove garlic, lightly smashed

                                      1. Place the beef, veal, and pork in a large bowl.
                                      2. Add the eggs, cheese, parsley, minced garlic, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper to taste and blend the ingredients together.
                                      3. Add the bread crumbs 1 cup at a time and blend into the meat mixture.
                                      4. Slowly add the water, ½ cup at a time, until the mixture is moist.
                                      5. Shape the meat mixture into 1½ - 2 -inch balls.
                                      6. Place the meatballs on a rack placed over a rimmed baking sheet.
                                      7. Place in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.

                                      1. re: jfood

                                        Are these the ones you "spoke" of recently and how much you like them baked?

                                        1. re: jfood

                                          I make the same recipe, with my own tweaks, and have omitted the bread crumbs with no big changes in texture. The hubby was doing atkins so I upped the cheese and left out the bread crumbs.

                                        2. re: lattelover

                                          For me, and we will all differ, I use 1-2 pieces of bread soaked in milk and squeezed to 1 lb of meat approx. That is my general ratio. Sometimes I may have 1 1/3 or so. I am also sure I make them a bit different each time. I'm not a recipe follower but more a technique. If I thought the consistency of the "balls" with the addition of the egg and once piece that is all I use. I know that sounds difficult but I want a very moist loose meatball and it seems to always vary just a bit.

                                    2. Definitely use the bread, or something else to lighten them. In México we use rice.

                                      1. Bob Brooks has it correct - it's a panade and you definitely need them for all the various reasons listed in the replying posts.

                                        I soak mine in milk, then add sauteed onions, garlic & red pepper flakes. Meatballs that are light, tender and delicious, everytime.

                                        1. Absolutely not necessary. I never include bread.

                                          There was a similar thead many months ago when I was very much in the minority (as this thread). I went off to check my various recipe books - and got the confirmation that there was only a small minority of recipes that suggested bread.

                                          Therefore the practice of including, or not including, bread may be something related to where you are. Most of the meatball recipes I have are written by British cooks - or Italian ones who are cooking in the UK. Must be how we prefer our meatballs. Certainly after the last thread, I cooked some with bread to see how they compared and have to say I prefer the firmer texture of my normal recipes.

                                          5 Replies
                                          1. re: Harters

                                            "Absolutely not necessary. I never include bread."

                                            I guess we shouldn't ever listen to Mario Batali anymore then. He explains (as many here do as well) that the bread is what makes them tender. When Italians came to America and suddenly had a wealth of goods at their fingertips they started making meatballs without bread simply because they could. They felt that meaballs made from all meat were a sign of wealth. Little did they know that the meatballs then turned dry, hard, and tasteless.

                                            So pick and choose who you want to believe. I will follow the advice of Mario Batali.

                                            1. re: Fuller

                                              Being British, I'm afraid I've never heard Mario Batali's advice on the subject (and am not too sure even who he is - although I've read the name here on Chowhound).

                                              Of course, meatballs feature in several cuisines other than Italian (including our own humble rissole) - but I'm happy to follow Gennaro Contaldo's recipe for polpette when I want an Italian flavour.

                                              1. re: Harters

                                                I also don't make meatballs with bread crumbs (I avoid grains). The trick is not to overcook them. If I'm making a sauce with meatballs I throw them in maybe fifteen minutes before I'm planning on serving them, ten or even five if they're small.

                                                1. re: Fuller

                                                  i usually add bread crumbs but not all the time, i always thought that it was just a 'kind of insurance' so the meatballs don't dry-up. if i can spare the time to keep a close watch as i fry over a low flame, bread-crumbs will not be necesarry - regardless of what batali has to say. i am also partial to italy-born genarro contaldo and valentina harris being a better authorities on authentic italian cooking.

                                              2. I often use oatmeal instead of bread crumbs. I occasionally use rice.