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Italian meatballs and sausage. Cooking preference?

When you're making meatballs and/or Italian sausage with marinara sauce, do you prefer to add raw and cook in the sauce? Or, do you prefer to brown and cook before adding to sauce?

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  1. I cook the meatballs raw in the sauce. I have occasionally browned prior to adding, but my MIL always simmered them in sauce so husband prefers them that way! I can't eat red sauce, so I am all for easier/less cleanup when I do make them for him & the kids.

    1. Meatballs are cooked first in the oven on a cookie sheet to brown. Sausage is added in raw to the sauce.



      1. jfood bakes his meatballs in the oven on the rack he cools cookies so the fat drains off.

        jfood griddles the sausage to a nice brown before adding to the sauce.

        1. After observing decades of grandmother, mother and aunts cooking meatballls in various ways, I have taken to cooking them raw in sauce as my preferred method. Browning does seem to help sausages, however, so I do brown those.

          I came upon this many years ago after observing my grandmother, whose meatballs and sauce were the best, of course, when she was in a hurry and did not brown the meatballs she was preparing as she usually did. It was the first time I had ever seen her do it, and they were delicious and juicy when they were done. I concluded that you can skip this step and avoid inadvertently adding cooking oil (as a result of browning) to the sauce.

          I think for this to work, a couple of things are required. For one thing, I use a mix of beef/pork/veal, but the meat is somewhat lean. I have heard that the rendered fat from beef in the 75-25 range ends up floating on top of the tomato sauce. I would just skim it, but some people object to this. I also think you need to have very hot sauce ready in the sauce pot, and that you must carefully place the meatballs in, in layers if you have to. You must be patient enough to hold off stirring until the hot tomato sauce sears the outside of the meatballs to some degree of firmness, so patience is very, very important or they will break up.

          I have heard of people baking their meatballs before dropping in sauce too.

          My secret is to add some tomato sauce to the meatball mix (before it gets hot in the pot) so that there is some tomato flavor inside the meatball as well. Not quite a delicious as what I remember from Grandma's kitchen, but darned close.

          1. I love the texture of the meatballs cooked in the sauce, and the flavor of the sauce is improved tenfold by the cooking of the meat in the sauce.

            1. My grandmother was German, my uncle married an Italian, one of my aunts married an Italian and I've cooked alongside kitchen magicians of every ethnic background. I can tell you that my grandmother wouldn't use a meatball if she didn't brown it first, either in the oven or in a skillet, and none of the Italians in our family would think of browning a meatball before introducing it to their sauce. So it depends on who is doing the cooking and what they expect from the finished dish. Most of the Italians I've cooked with skim off the bulk of any oil/fat that collects on top of their sauces. Because I've learned to do that, especially with red sauces where oil and fat are not generally welcome, I cook my Italian meatballs in the sauce. I would also echo the comments from RGC1982 re: stacking the meat balls and handling them very carefully to prevent them from breaking up in the sauce. I sometimes cheat by using a bit of egg in the meat mixture to hold them together better.

              1. Guess we're not the only ones who go back and forth...

                1. I always brown fairly thoroughly and drain off the grease.

                  1. To me it really depends on the meatballs, the sausage and the sauce. If the meatballs and/or sausage are subtly seasoned and have delicate herbs and they're going into a delicate sauce, then browning would overpower the flavors. For meats that have a lot of garlic/onion and/or herb flavor or with sauces that are strongly flavored, I find that the meat tends to get lost if it's not browned first. Just my 2 cents.
                    I cooked at a high end regional italian restaurant for a while, and the chef always cooked his meatballs in the sauce without browning. Both the sauce and the meatballs had a lot of subtle flavors that would have been overpowered by browning.

                    1. Best sauce, meatballs & sausage I've EVER, EVER had is cooked in the sauce, never browned first. Put meatballs, sausage and stew beef in the sauce RAW and slow cook for 3-4 hours. It is SO worth the wait. Everything turns out so flavorful and the meat is all deliciously moist and never dry.

                      1. I brown my meatballs in a hot pan in a 475 convection oven for 20 mins. They render some fat and get good and crispy before adding them to the sauce.

                        1. I like to cook both in the oven first but then allow plenty of simmering time in the sauce before serving. The main reason is to reduce the fat in the sauce. Baking cooks a lot of it out so that all that grease doesn't end up in my sauce (and then in me!)