HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


Sunday Sauce / Gravy: Do Meatballs Make it Greasier?

This fall/winter my wife and I are making it a point to try different variations on the meat that we use in our sunday sauce (or gravy). Typically we used hot sausage, meatballs, pork rib and pork braciole.

This past Sunday our pork store in Westchester County NY was out of ribs so the owner recommended using pork chops instead. His advice was to drop them in raw and let them cook in gravy, but instead I browned them for about a minute and then added to the gravy. Suffice to say, the gravy was excellent and the pork chop, which we ate in our meat course after the pasta, was unreal. Has anyone ever tried using pork chops in their sunday sauce? I think the bone added some wonderful additional flavor notes to the mix.

For the record, the meat used in the gravy was as follows:

pork braciole
beef braciole
pork chop

My wife wanted to add her beloved meatballs but I won the battle this time as I feel that they make the sauce greasier due to oil that is absorbed in frying. I've raised this point on our blog and some readers replied that they avoid the grease runoff by not frying the meatballs and just dropping them in raw and letting them cook in sauce. I would think that would cause them to break up in the sauce though. Any thoughts?

I have a picture of the gravy with penne and a bit more wriiten about it here:


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Meatballs made with egg and bread crumbs (or another starch binder) hold together when dropped raw into softly-simmering sauce. You leave them alone for 15-20 min or longer - depends on how firm and how large they are - then carefully turn them over with the aid of a spoon and allow them to cook through before stirring the sauce.

    1. Two answers. 1.) I'd use well trimmed pork chops from the shoulder side of the loin. 2.) The balls will make the sauce a little greasy, but that's not from the fat absorbed by frying them, it's cause meatballs are not lean meat items.

      1. Personally, I do not like the idea of using Loin or Center Cut Pork Rib Chops, as the meat/loin/tenderloin is not meant for braising in my opinion, however using a Rib End Roast portion is fine as this cut has more naturally marbled meat. Using Country Ribs may actually be a better idea, or separating the loin from the ribs and saving that for a roast, boneless chops or pounded cutlets....just adding the rib bones to the pot.

        As for the meatballs, consider baking them first in the oven and then finishing them in the sauce. If you want to try to drop them directly into the sauce, this works fine....just be careful when you stir the sauce. Myself, I cook the sausage and meatballs during the last 45 minutes of a 3-4 hour pot...first cooking the Pork Braciole. I am not a fan of Beef Braciole. If I want beef, I would rather use Short Ribs as an option.

        I never find my Sunday Gravy to be excessively greasy and i make a larger amount of meatballs for leftovers.....plus, I use Olive Oil for sauteing the onions and garlic.... and browning of the braciole.....any grease or olive oil is spooned out with sauce and used to coat the pasta when it comes out of the water.

        Here's a recent thread where I provided my Sunday Gravy preparation and my recipe for Meatballs with Ricotta Cheese.


        3 Replies
        1. re: fourunder

          Greygarious: Thanks, I have tried this method with my own meatballs and still found that they did shed a bit too much into the sauce when I (lightly) stirred, transforming it into something more similar to a bolognese or meat sauce and I didn't want that texture/consistency

          HankStramm: I think we used shoulder side of the loin, will check with Joe the pork guy tomorrow.

          Forunder: Thanks for the technical notes on the specific types of cuts. Will have to try that Rib End Roast. We did consider baking but they just seem to come out different when cooked in a electric oven. Since you first cook the pork braciole, how long do you keep it in there until adding the sausage/meatballs?
          Love the thread, will link to it off the blog...

          1. re: SundaySauce

            How long my braciole stays in the sauce depends on two keys.....the diameter of the rolled pockets and the amount of filling in each. When I purchase premade braciole from a source, it rarely reaches two inches in diameter, but most likely will always be 1.5 inches, which I consider small or average sized. These generally take two hours to become tender in the large pot and amount of tomatoes I have simmering. When I make a smaller amount, the time may be reduced to 1.5 hours. I suspect the smaller pot(5-6qt) keeps the heat at a higher constant temperature than the larger stock pot (24-30 qt) I use for family gatherings.

            When I make the braciole myself, I tend to make them large and the diameter is usually just over 3.0 inches and 6.0 inches in length....the larger size will take 2.5-3.0 to cook. In a small pot of sauce, I would cook the braciole separately until done and add the sausage and meatballs afterwards. In the large pot/large braciole I always factor in the cooking time and add the sausage and meatballs for the last 45-60 minutes....total cooking time 3.5-4.0 hours, where the braciole, sausage and meatballs all cook together until done/served.

            1. re: SundaySauce

              You need to use lean beef. If you are using 80-20 or 75-25, which would make a great hamburger, you will get puddles of grease floating to the top of your Sunday gravy if you drop the meatballs in raw.

              There is no need to use a higher fat ground beef when making meatballs, because egg, breadcrumb, and in my recipe, one cup of the tomato sauce (cooled) are added to the meatball mix before I shape the meatballs. If you use enough egg and breadcrumb, the meatballs will be very juicy and you can get away with very lean beef. I use 93-7, or grind my own, which may be even leaner.

              No, this is not an exercise in reducing cholesterol, as you are adding eggs while removing beef fat, but it does result in great, juicy meatballs and one less step while cooking.

              IMO, sausage always needs to be browned, (I use a grill pan) or oven baked for this reason. The casings are less rubbery too, when cooked prior to adding it to the sauce.

              Finally, any time you add meat to a sauce, the hot tomato sauce will render fat from just about every type of meat, so you may find that you need to skim the top of the pot to eliminate this. It does add flavor, however. I never have to skim my sauce when I cook meatballs raw in the sauce, and that is the only or primary meat added.

          2. I almost always add my meatballs raw to the sauce. My MIL (excellent cook) taught me to do it this way, says she was taught by " a little old Italian lady". I use pretty lean meat, bread crumbs, egg, sometimes grated cheese, sometimes spinach . . . you get the idea. Anyway, form them, drop into gently simmering sauce & cook for 3+ hours. I do not stir them for the first half hour or so, then stir very gently after that. I usually lose a couple, but they stay together pretty well.

            1 Reply
            1. re: elfcook

              i have always found that meatballs cooked in the sauce have a very different texture from those cooked separately and then added. cooked in the sauce, they are denser and just, well, different.

              i prefer mine cooked separately and added. i'm a big fan of baking in the oven and then adding. but my favorite sauce uses ground beef, no meatballs.

            2. I used to always brown them and then build the sauce from some of the stuff left in the pan. Then one day I stopped doing that and never went back. Much nicer just put in uncooked and they don't break up at a light simmer. On a side note about the pork chop bones adding flavour - completely agree. My Italian friend makes fantastic sauce, as her mother and grandma did. She gets a bunch of pork neck bones to brown (w the other meats) before adding the tomatoes, and then lets them simmer in the sauce. Amazing depth of flavour.

              1. Lately I use country ribs, if I can find them with big enough bones. Mostly because they're always on sale and the hunks of meat after cooking are so tender that they fall off the bone. I used to always use shank bones, after the marrow cooks out the sauce becomes as thick as you can get. But not always available, and getting so expensive lately with the popularity of osso bucco.

                Meatballs, I pan fry first and then use the fond to start the pot of sauce. Never greasy, I would think the bread absorbs the little grease there is in the balls. I use meatloaf mix, so maybe pure chop meat would be greasier.

                Sausage and braciole (pork only, so much more tender than beef) I brown in a separate cast iron pan. Any grease I get would come from the sausage, so that eliminates that problem. The bone meat I bake in the oven for a half hour or so, rubbed with a little olive oil and some herbs. Just to get it started, not too much. Then all into the pot once the tomatoes are seasoned and starting to simmer.

                1. When meatballs add grease to your sauce, it's because of the of the fat content from the ground meat you use to make the meatballs, I have found. I use 85 % lean. I vary some of the meat that Iam using to brown, when making my sauce/gravy. Cheaper cuts, tend to have more flavor.
                  But, I was taught to brown my meatballs seperately and add to the sauce afterward. Hmm, never asked why. I feel that the more flavor you have in your sauce/gravy is directly related to the different kinds of meat added to it. I buy packages of cheap cuts of meat on sale and freeze just to put in my sauce/gravy. After 40+ years, here is my usual meat for mine: 2 pigs feet, 2 Italian sausage, and a strip steak. When I was being taught to cook, my now 96 year old MIL always had me add a piece of salt pork, which I no longer do.

                  I do feel that adding meatballs "eats up" the gravy though. So now, when making a batch for my freezer, I wait and add the meatballs to my sauce/gravy right before I am serving it. And I always freeze my meatballs seperately in a little sauce/gravy.

                  1. Wow, every post on here is so informative. Thanks to all.
                    There are so many phenomenal and DIFFERENT ways to approach the meat portion of Sunday gravy that I think Nikki and I are going to set up a running experiment on our blog this fall and winter where each week we'll try a different variation and report the results both here and on the blog.

                    CinammonGirl - I am on the same page about the bones. Letting that bone simmer in there for a few hours made the gravy just explode with flavor.

                    Missmasala - that's how Nikki (my wife) approached meatballs and their part in the sauce

                    Fourunder - the braciole notes are great. I think we're going to have to start a new thread about making homemade braciole . Didn't you say you don't have a use for beef braciole? Can you expand on that?

                    Elfcook - if a little old lady an a 90+ yr old MIL taught you how to do it, then it must be right. We are definitely going to try the raw meatball approach. Just need to be VERY gentle when stirring.

                    Coll - do you find that going with a 100% pork-based gravy makes it ultra-sweet? I would think you would need some semblance of beef to balance out flavor?


                    2 Replies
                    1. re: SundaySauce


                      Simply, I just prefer Pork Braciole......typically, top round is used to make Beef Braciole and I just find the meat dry, dull and tasteless, even (especially) for London Broil. Flank Steak makes a nicer Braciole, but I prefer that grilled or roasted...rather than braised. If I'm going to have beef in my ragu, I would rather make the gravy with short ribs or ox tails. Beef Braciole is for me is not worth the effort to make or the space taken in my belly for the other meats I prefer. I would enjoy two pork bracioles more than one each of pork and beef......

                      1. re: SundaySauce

                        There's beef and veal in the meatballs. If I thought it was too sweet I could use a beef shank bone I guess. Sometimes I'll add a bone in piece of lamb too, that richens it up. But to me, it basically tastes just like Grandmas, which is all I care about!

                      2. my family (and i) always brown the meatballs first. i prefer the contrasting texture of the caramelized outside to the softer inside. i don't like the mushy balls cooked only in the sauce.

                        also, the meatballs do not "absorb" oil when you pan-fry them, they release some of their own fat. i don't like the mess from cooking them on the stove anyway, so i bake them at a high temp to crisp the outsides before adding to the sauce. usually my meatballs are a combo of ground pork and beef.

                        imo, pork chops are too lean for braising, so prefer ribs or something fatty. but yes, the bones add major flavor and texture.

                        1. YAY for pork braciole! Just reading those words makes me drool (and weep for joy!)

                          I like to fry my meatballs or bake them off first- I just like the texture better. Same w/other meats... Also I need to be able to taste the sauce by dunking hunks of bread in there & I can't do that with tons of meatballs floating around too!

                          I use neckbones, etc- let them brown up first- and cook in w/the tomata. if we are doing sausage/meatballs/braciole they get put in the sauce already cooked, maybe an hour or so before dinner.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: Boccone Dolce

                            I was told by the guy at A&S Pork Store to use neck bones as well.
                            Discussing all of this with Nikki the wife and we will let you all know which combination we use next.

                            Eat well!

                            1. re: SundaySauce

                              The only reason I stopped using pork neck bones is that they sometimes fall apart in the sauce and you end up with a small piece or two on someone's plate. That's why I started going with bigger, sturdier bones.

                              1. re: coll

                                Yeah don't leave 'em in forever- they get angry and splinter up.

                              2. re: SundaySauce

                                Use spare ribs in place of neck bones to avoid splintering. Brown under broiler first.


                            2. I brown my meatballs in the oven at 475 convection for twenty minutes before dropping them in my sauce, and they never make the sauce greasy. You can even raise them on a rack, so they will drain some grease, but with ground chuck & italian sausage meat, they are not greasy at all.

                              1. I love pork chops in my sauce. I usually use neck bones, but I've used pork chops in a pinch. I usually pull them out when they start to fall off the bone. My husband and I fight over them - chef's treat you know......

                                I always brown my meatballs first. I think the texture is totally different when you don't brown them, and I don't love 'boiled meatballs'.....

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: jeanmarieok

                                  Hey all, just wanted to update...we haven't made a gravy the last two weeks due to family engagements and such, but we're aiming to try some of the ideas you guys put forth this weekend. One thing I'd like to try is "cutuna" the skin braciole. I used it one time about 5 years ago but I want to give it another whirl and see what Nikki thinks. In any case, I'll update everyone with plan and results. Ciao!


                                2. Alton Brown has a great tip for cooking meatballs in the oven first....put them in a mini muffin pan--you make them big enough to sit on top of the muffin cup, and the fat drains in the bottom of them!!! I love AB. :)

                                  1. I always add my meatballs/sausage raw to the sauce, although with the sausage I tend to make the sauce the day before I need it and refrigerate it so I can get the fat off.

                                    1. There are as many sauce or gravy recipes as there are Italians! My family, quite the cooks, swears by cooking the meatballs first. To avoid too much grease I bake them and drain them on paper towels. You would be amazed at how much grease goes into the paper towel. The baking gives them that nice crusty outside and tender inside which I think is critical to a good meatball. Also, the sauce is improved by the infusing of the meatball flavor so they need to be put into the sauce early. Otherwise, make a marinara which is a totally diffferent animal than the traditional Sunday Sugo.

                                      1. It seems like I'm a little late to the party, but I do have a little insight that I what to share (FWIW :) )

                                        Jonny, from one New Yorker to another, I'm gonna tell it to you like it is . Stop being such a wimp :P Fat is a beautiful thing. This whole 'it's greasy', artery clogging, 24 hour malaise, fat phobic paradigm that you've got going on needs to be shown the door. Kicked to the curb. Our ancestors have been enjoying fatty foods since the beginning of human history. If it's good enough for them, it's sure as heck good enough for us.

                                        Fat is flavor. Fat is mouthfeel. Fat is juicy. Fat is tender. Fat is feeling satiated. It's your friend. It's why people pay thousands of dollars for Kobe beef. It's the difference between great sausage and garbage sausage. It's one of the most joyous substances the world has ever known.

                                        I'm really only channeling what your Sicilian ancestors would be telling you if they were here: Embrace the meatballs- they're the best part of gravy :D

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: scott123

                                          You know, I just had a moment yesterday: I use MelFry shortening to fry, I have for years, but now can only get trans fat free (in this area anyway). So for the first time, I made breaded eggplant with the new oil. I really don't like greasy food, but it was SO different I couldn't believe it. It's sort of crispy, but no unctious mouthfeel. I wouldn't have believed it if I didn't experience it. It was so boring, I like to eat healthy but something is gone from the recipe.

                                        2. The pork chop idea is one I learned from my father's side of the family. You were right to brown it first, much more flavor.
                                          I never bake meatballs since I think it gives them an unappetizing taste.
                                          My family loves fried meatballs all on their own. Or, you could partially fry them and add to the sauce.
                                          A friend of mine owns a restaurant and they actually poach their meatball in water before adding to the sauce. This insures that they'll stay together.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: markjbillet

                                            A fried meatball, right out of the frying pan, squished on Italian bread with some soft cheese, is the cook's rightful reward for making the sauce.

                                          2. we are very fond of serving pork chops with sunday gravy. we use heirloom rib chops. these likely would tolerate a long braise, but we only cook them in the sauce for the last 45 minutes or so--after browning.

                                            maybe 50 years ago, we used to get a "lamplighter's special" at hojo's--spaghetti and a side chop. my dad's favorite. today, if we choose to serve a chop beside--or after--the pasta, we like parm/crumb/egg-crusted rib shops--browned, then finished in the oven.