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Meatballs - to brown or not brown 1st?

i'm talking your standard red sauce meatball here - what's your take, brown before simmering or not?

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  1. i'd brown them first just to give em more flavaflav.

    1. I have browned before simmering but we prefer the texture when we throw them right into the simmering sauce. I think it makes the sauce taste better too.

      3 Replies
      1. re: southernitalian

        I don't brown either. Must be a southern Italian thing. :-)

        1. re: southernitalian

          They hold together? Big ones? I had never considered not browning. I think the earth is quaking below my feet because of that revelation!

          1. re: Sal Vanilla

            I guess I typically make them about 2 inches in diameter. I skim the fat off the top each time I check the sauce.

        2. I brown.

          But there is no right way to do this. Just depends on your preferences re: texture and the flavor profile of your sauce.

          1. Definitely brown. A quick sear really brings out the flavor of the meat.

              1. I brown--prefer the texture over the soft ones that are just simmered.

                1. I generally brown them first and then drop them in the sauce. It gives them more flavor and helps them stay together in the sauce.

                  1. If I make them with beef - I brown them first so that I can drain off any fat. If I make them with chicken or turkey, I drop them straight into the sauce. As other posters have commented - it depends on what you're going for - flavour or texture.

                    1. Always brown them first. Make mine pretty big, so as not to have to roll so many, and brown in a 475 oven for 20 mins before adding to my sauce. Browned meat will add way more flavor than raw.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Phurstluv

                        Ditto. I brown them in the oven first, and then add to the sauce.

                        1. re: jeremyn

                          Ditto! We always preferred our balls pan fried until a nice crust formed. Sometimes for parties we would simmer in sauce but that was rare. I like the sauce just drizzled on the outside if any is used. We ate our spaghetti with sauce next to our plain meatballs and it was fantastic.

                          I have never tried just throwing in the sauce but I think I wouldn't like it because it would make the meatball very moist and I don't like "wet meatballs" that fall apart easily when you cut into them. Maybe I'll try it next time to just throw them in the sauce?

                          1. re: melpy

                            I always cook in sauce w/o browning (beef) and they never fall apart.

                            1. re: BubblyOne

                              Nor do mine, but they do get quite soft so if you like the mouth feel of the crispy outside they could come across as too mushy. That's why I do both kinds, depending on the meal.

                              1. re: BobB

                                My kind of guy! Unfortunately, my SO does not like them any other way- so I make the sacrifice:) I wonder if some of the posters that always brown have ever tried this method or object merely because browning seems to be the more traditional way of cooking.

                                1. re: BobB

                                  EXACTLY- I don't like the mushiness!

                                2. re: BubblyOne

                                  No, not fall apart in the sauce. I said when you cut them. I don't want them so tender that they have a grainy texture with the sauce running through them. Like I could mash it easily with a fork.

                            2. I do half and half actually, because I like variety and like the way the sauce tastes when the meat isn't browned, the meat cooking in it lends it flavour.

                              1 Reply
                              1. Brown the meatballs, pour off any fat from the pan, and then deglaze the pan with a couple of ladlefuls of sauce. It adds an incredible taste and richness to the sauce.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: roxlet

                                  We do a variation of this. Brown the meatballs, remove from pan, drain but a small amount of fat from the pan (keep any brown bits), then make the sauce right in the same pan, adding the meatballs back. Good for cleanup too as it's one pan for meatballs & sauce.

                                  1. re: cookie44

                                    When I make meatballs and sauce, I usually make a lot and fry the meatballs in s couple of cast iron skillets, so the amount of tomatoes I use would never fit. Good idea for a smaller amount, though.

                                2. Brown the ones for sauces, poach the ones for soups.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. Definitely brown first, and if you want the hints of beefy flavor that (over)cooking them in the sauce gives you, brown them in the pot that you plan to make your sauce in and then once the meatballs are removed, sautee your onions, garlic, etc. in that pot and de-glaze the pan with your tomato liquid, wine, etc.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: benoit48

                                      well i bake them in a glass or ceramic dish to brown them. it saves all that watching & turning. then drain off the fat & pour the sauce over, cover with foil & return to oven to simmer awhile. this way you can bring the same dish to the table if desired & the oven is ready for the garlic bread.

                                    2. Definitely brown, but be careful not to overcook or they will become tough.

                                      1. Clearly I'm in the minority on this W. I'd encourage you to try both because I've been making, or watching the making of, meatballs in red sauce since I could stand and have never enjoyed the precooked. Just had a large crown over for my made in the gravy meatballs and I have a lot less leftovers than I had hoped. Happy Mother's Day all!

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: southernitalian

                                          Another vote for not precooking. It was the first recipe I learned as a kid and I love the texture/flavor so much better than fried or baked.

                                        2. i go both ways, depending on how i feel, and what mix of meats i have in the ball. I do turkey meatballs often, and i think they do just a bit better if browned, ie, they hold together better and caramelize a bit.

                                          I dont brown in a skillet though, i generally brown in the oven under a broiler and turn them.

                                          OR.

                                          i put them in my biggest hot cast iron skillet and let the bottoms brown for a minute or 2, then stick them under a broiler for a few minutes to finish off

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: TSQ75

                                            Yes, TSQ! Agreed about precooking turkeyballs to keep them from going to pieces. If using turkey I always make mini meatballs and microwave them till they're almost cooked, then simmer with the sauce. I love the taste and texture of turkey (get to use spices you'd use with veal), but I don't like it browned.

                                            I do brown all my other meatballs/sausage chunks

                                            1. re: WhatThePho

                                              I've come to decide that soy sauce is one of the best additives to ground turkey. just a bit gives it the depth of flavor that is sometimes lacking in the turkey...and a mix of white/dark meat turkey helps alot too.

                                              1. re: TSQ75

                                                Yes, soy or Worcestershire sauce. I use that when I make turkey burgers. And honey mustard, esp for the kids' they love it that way.

                                          2. My family alway's browned first...
                                            I distinctly remember the first time I ever had meatballs that were not browned..I was facinated that you could do that and I fell in love with the soft texture of them...A totally different experience!
                                            My grandma fried her balls first and they were PERFECTION, but my moms - ick!
                                            Don't get me wrong usually my mom is a fantastic cook but she always over-browned the meatballs (and put too much garlic IMO) - so that her balls always had a thick crunchyish crust which I never liked...However the meatballs that were cooked in the sauce were soft and lovely...it really was a revelation to me.

                                            So now I usually play it by ear...
                                            I like to have a few plain balls to snack on so I do usually fry them first - but just for a bit...but sometimes I just throw them in the pot of sauce.

                                            I personally don't find that browning them adds any flavor at all - it's totally a textural thing.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: NellyNel

                                              Hmmm, it's my experience that browning always adds flavor, but it is a trade off in regard to "tenderness".

                                            2. I've come to like them both ways. I have always made them in the oven simply because they are easier to manage, they keep their shape, and they exterior doesn't get too crispy. But I have also made them with turkey, broth, and a few other things, and just dropped them into the sauce. They were excellent that way too. I like smaller meatballs, but then when I want a really hearty spaghetti that I serve in these deep individual casserole dishes I like to make larger ones.

                                              1. It's a size thing for me. I make two kinds - big ones (2" - 3" diameter) get browned and finished in the oven, and small ones (1" or less) go raw into the sauce to cook.

                                                1. I just toss 'em in the sauce.

                                                  If I want browning, I make Sunday sauce and brown pork chops and sausage before I make the sauce. The meatballs, however, are always cooked in the sauce.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: shaogo

                                                    I love a good Sunday gravy.....Mmmmmmmm. But I still maintain they add more flavor when browned first, and I make big Honkin' size ones like BobB, and then put them in the sauce.

                                                    1. re: shaogo

                                                      i brown everything, and am very keen on using pork bones in the sauce as well. meatballs are usually a mix of ground pork and ground beef, with plenty of fennel and parm cheese mixed in.

                                                    2. I just made spaghetti and meatballs tonight, and the ground beef I used had a lot more fat than I would have liked. So that's another reason to brown the meatballs first -- there was a lot of fat in the skillet that would have gone into the sauce otherwise.

                                                      10 Replies
                                                          1. re: roxlet

                                                            Yup, there's fat and then there's FAT. Browning first eliminates the too much fat prob.

                                                            1. re: bushwickgirl

                                                              Right. There's fat, and then there's greasy. There was serious fat in the frying pan. This would have made a very greasy tomato sauce. I had some leftovers, so I made a meatball sandwich for my son to take to Alexandria today. When I went to spoon on some sauce, I had to skim off congealed fat that had hardened on the surface. I can't imagine what this sauce would have been like had I not fried the meatballs first. Yeech.

                                                                  1. re: roxlet

                                                                    We brown them, and the kids usually snatch a browned meatball or two before they ever make it to the sauce-something I did as a kid too.

                                                                  1. re: BubblyOne

                                                                    Beef. It was sliced into steak-like things, and then taken by the butcher and ground. There was visible fat on the outside, which the butcher obviously did not remove since he didn't understand my pantomime (he spoke no English).

                                                                    1. re: roxlet

                                                                      Ok, I see you aren't in the US. If you ever want to try the "right in the sauce" method, use ground sirloin (assuming it's available). You won't have the fat issue. I sometimes do brown a couple pork chops to add extra flavor to the sauce. But even without, this method produces the divine meatballs.

                                                        1. jfood has moved from the brown camp to the bake camp recently. He takes the meatballs places them on "cooling" racks over a rimmed baking sheet and bakes in the oven. He really loves the texture of the meat that's been baked and then simmered in the sauce.

                                                          27 Replies
                                                          1. re: jfood

                                                            What temp and how long? Do you turn them over while they are baking or just leave them alone?

                                                              1. re: linguafood

                                                                nope. since they are elevated they loose a lot of their fat but do not brown. the texture is more spongy after they spend some time in the sauce as the post baking part.

                                                                  1. re: roxlet

                                                                    :) @ roxlet

                                                                    good to know. Along the same wavelength...

                                                                    I normally do not brown larger meatballs because of the fear of undercooking them. I more "steam" them in a dry pan with the lid on till they're fully cooked. Would it be a better idea to brown them in a dry pan (no lid) and not worry about being fully cooked, finishing them in the sauce? Does it matter one way or t'other?

                                                                    1. re: WhatThePho

                                                                      I wouldn't think so, they do get cooked in the sauce, as long as it's simmering.

                                                                      1. re: Phurstluv

                                                                        :) right-e-oh. I gotta stop getting freaked out around ground meat.

                                                                      2. re: WhatThePho

                                                                        I always finish them in the sauce. What you want is a nice caramelized exterior, and then the sauce will do the rest. Why are you freaked out around ground meat? One of the nice things about browning the meatballs first is that you get to have one before you pop it them into the sauce. They're not 100% cooked through, but they're delicious. Don't be freaked out!

                                                                        1. re: WhatThePho

                                                                          Oh yeah theres nothing to fear -
                                                                          My favorite part of making meatballs is eating the raw ones!
                                                                          I can and do and have always done it since I was a kid...Then again Io have an iron stomach!

                                                                          1. re: NellyNel

                                                                            AHH!! haha I am not that brave. Got friends that dig on Tiger Meat too and that freaks me way out.

                                                                            1. re: WhatThePho

                                                                              hee hee!

                                                                              Mind - I don't do it when there is pork in the mix! Only beef.
                                                                              They are yummy and I'm getting a craving right now!

                                                                              Tiger meat? Hmmm
                                                                              Might be too close gene wise to my beloved kitties!!

                                                                              1. re: WhatThePho

                                                                                That's kind of harsh. Aren't they endangered??

                                                                                1. re: Phurstluv

                                                                                  Tiger meat = some horrid mix of raw hamburger and a spicy component, generally considered a delicacy by .... people whose views on food stray far from mine. Best served on stale saltines. So I'm told... :)

                                                                                  1. re: WhatThePho

                                                                                    You should try a mettbrötchen some time = raw ground pork with s&p and raw onions on a kaiser roll. Delicious, but not attractive food (fat stuck in your teeth and serial bad breath from the onions). My man won't let me eat it >sigh<

                                                                                    1. re: linguafood

                                                                                      raw ground pork, you say.......um,nothankyoukindly :)

                                                                                      I can kind of imagine what it might taste like, and that thought isn't a bad one, but I'm sure I could never get it past the thresh hold of my lips to find out. Sounds outlandish compared to the German foods I'm used to, btw. Very interesting.

                                                                                    2. re: WhatThePho

                                                                                      Thank goodness. Thanks for the clarification.

                                                                              1. re: linguafood

                                                                                Pardon me? I'm clearly familiar with this term in a different sense than you mean it. Unless you really do want me to exfoliate with meatballs....

                                                                                1. re: WhatThePho

                                                                                  that was in ref to jfood's "spongy texture."

                                                                                  and i think for meatballs to help exfoliate, you'd need to brown them first.

                                                                                  1. re: linguafood

                                                                                    c'mon guys, you cannot exfoliate with meatballs, everyone knows you exfoliate with steak au poivre, need the rough edges. :-))

                                                                                      1. re: WhatThePho

                                                                                        we're just busting (meat)balls here.

                                                                                        1. re: linguafood

                                                                                          all's fair in fun and food. :-))

                                                                                      2. re: jfood

                                                                                        Maybe if you roll your meatballs in panko crumbs first?

                                                                                        1. re: BobB

                                                                                          I was thinking porcupine meatballs that you roll in rice before cooking.

                                                                                      3. re: linguafood

                                                                                        Exfoliate? My mind is enjoying chewing on the visuals on that one!

                                                                          2. Definitely brown first. I love that crisp texture - similar to meatloaf ends - that make the flavor stand out. If the mix is well made and moist, they won't dry out when they brown in the fry pan.

                                                                            p.s. my daughter and I "fight" over the meatloaf ends (ha, my fault because I keep saying how tasty they are!) I have home court advantage - I'm the cook - but I do share!

                                                                            I digress. Meatballs that are crisp on the outside and flavorful on the inside are addictive.

                                                                            5 Replies
                                                                            1. re: breadchick

                                                                              And leave a few meatballs cooking in the pan until they are done on the inside, and eat 'em right on the spot- they make a nice prize for the cook and/or their kids.

                                                                              1. re: TongoRad

                                                                                Yeah, I always have to make a lot more meatballs than I need for the sauce just for that. Possibly the best reason to brown first.;-)

                                                                                1. re: TongoRad

                                                                                  Oh, yes. Because you know, we need to make sure they're not "poison." Haha, wouldn't want the family to get sick for heaven's sake. The sacrifices one must make. :-)

                                                                                2. re: breadchick

                                                                                  It's funny because I love the crispy browned bit of meatloaf...LOVE 'em!
                                                                                  But yet I do not like my meatballs crispy brown! Don't know why - can't explain it..

                                                                                  I guess my mothers way too browned meaballs put me off for life!

                                                                                3. Brown. If just boiled in the sauce, one has Swedish meat balls and browned first, just a little gives one Eye-talian meat balls. Swedish-Italian fusion is not a pleasant thought.

                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                  1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                    Agree, friend. I do not like Swedish meatballs, and the texture or flavor when not browned first. I like the Big Eye-talian kind that are browned first, then finished in the sauce.

                                                                                    1. I always used to brown them first, but a couple of years ago I was rushed (and lazy) and decided to just throw them in the simmering sauce. They taste just as good! I have never browned since that day!

                                                                                      1. For a large party I absolutely do not brown---form small balls, drop into large crock-pot of sauce, and cook. Or even buy frozen meatballs, as long as the sauce is interesting (curry, Tex-Mex, sweet & sour, all good). As the wise man once said, people will eat anything at a party. And even more, people will eat anything in a workplace.

                                                                                        1. Please. There is ONLY one way. Brown them first in a cast iron pan They fall apart because the heat is too high and the stick the pan. Patience. It will be worth it. You'll want to eat the out of the frying pan. Also roll them around in your hand first. Make sure they are solid. Meat garlic( for that glaze) salt pepper and parsley
                                                                                          Meatballs like cooking spaghetti properly is an art. It is not as simple as you think, if you want it right
                                                                                          An extra 30 seconds with the spaghetti and you may as well start over. Probably the hardest pasta to cook right, Capisce?