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Meatballs - to brown or not brown 1st?

thew Apr 24, 2010 12:51 PM

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

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  1. linguafood RE: thew Apr 24, 2010 01:01 PM

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

    1. southernitalian RE: thew Apr 24, 2010 01:01 PM

      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
        pdxgastro RE: southernitalian Apr 26, 2010 11:23 PM

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

        1. re: southernitalian
          Sal Vanilla RE: southernitalian Jun 8, 2010 04:52 PM

          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
            southernitalian RE: Sal Vanilla Jun 9, 2010 04:59 AM

            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. ipsedixit RE: thew Apr 24, 2010 01:22 PM

          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. g
            gastronomad RE: thew Apr 24, 2010 01:34 PM

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

            1. b
              bear RE: thew Apr 24, 2010 01:41 PM

              A few more ideas in this thread...


              1. chowser RE: thew Apr 24, 2010 02:13 PM

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

                1. s
                  StheJ RE: thew Apr 24, 2010 02:37 PM

                  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. a
                    Apple RE: thew Apr 24, 2010 04:04 PM

                    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. Phurstluv RE: thew Apr 24, 2010 05:15 PM

                      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
                        mrgdess RE: Phurstluv Jun 9, 2010 02:22 PM

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

                      2. j
                        jeremyn RE: thew Apr 24, 2010 05:19 PM

                        Brown, but don't simmer!

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: jeremyn
                          melpy RE: jeremyn Jun 11, 2010 05:11 AM

                          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
                            BubblyOne RE: melpy Jun 11, 2010 07:17 AM

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

                            1. re: BubblyOne
                              BobB RE: BubblyOne Jun 11, 2010 07:20 AM

                              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
                                BubblyOne RE: BobB Jun 11, 2010 07:31 AM

                                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
                                  melpy RE: BobB Jun 11, 2010 08:56 AM

                                  EXACTLY- I don't like the mushiness!

                                2. re: BubblyOne
                                  melpy RE: BubblyOne Jun 11, 2010 08:55 AM

                                  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. BamiaWruz RE: thew Apr 24, 2010 06:56 PM

                              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. re: BamiaWruz
                                johnlockedema RE: BamiaWruz Apr 24, 2010 09:06 PM


                              2. roxlet RE: thew Apr 24, 2010 11:00 PM

                                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
                                  cookie44 RE: roxlet Apr 25, 2010 05:26 AM

                                  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
                                    roxlet RE: cookie44 Apr 25, 2010 07:32 AM

                                    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. Karl S RE: thew Apr 25, 2010 08:37 AM

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

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Karl S
                                    bushwickgirl RE: Karl S Jun 5, 2010 10:21 AM

                                    My technique as well.

                                  2. b
                                    benoit48 RE: thew Apr 26, 2010 06:34 PM

                                    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
                                      tullius RE: benoit48 May 9, 2010 10:55 AM

                                      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. Funwithfood RE: thew May 9, 2010 02:08 PM

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

                                      1. southernitalian RE: thew May 9, 2010 03:47 PM

                                        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
                                          BubblyOne RE: southernitalian May 10, 2010 08:50 AM

                                          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. TSQ75 RE: thew May 10, 2010 09:34 AM

                                          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.


                                          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
                                            WhatThePho RE: TSQ75 May 10, 2010 11:03 AM

                                            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
                                              TSQ75 RE: WhatThePho May 10, 2010 11:12 AM

                                              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
                                                Phurstluv RE: TSQ75 Jun 2, 2010 04:21 PM

                                                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. NellyNel RE: thew May 10, 2010 11:13 AM

                                            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
                                              Funwithfood RE: NellyNel May 14, 2010 10:33 PM

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

                                            2. chef chicklet RE: thew May 28, 2010 06:52 PM

                                              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. BobB RE: thew Jun 4, 2010 10:47 AM

                                                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. shaogo RE: thew Jun 4, 2010 10:54 AM

                                                  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
                                                    Phurstluv RE: shaogo Jun 4, 2010 03:59 PM

                                                    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
                                                      hotoynoodle RE: shaogo Jun 5, 2010 07:19 AM

                                                      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. roxlet RE: thew Jun 5, 2010 11:17 AM

                                                      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
                                                        hotoynoodle RE: roxlet Jun 5, 2010 11:11 PM

                                                        but fat is flavah, my friend. :)

                                                        1. re: hotoynoodle
                                                          roxlet RE: hotoynoodle Jun 6, 2010 12:57 AM

                                                          Not like this, bud. :-)

                                                          1. re: roxlet
                                                            bushwickgirl RE: roxlet Jun 6, 2010 01:30 AM

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

                                                            1. re: bushwickgirl
                                                              roxlet RE: bushwickgirl Jun 6, 2010 02:23 AM

                                                              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
                                                                hotoynoodle RE: roxlet Jun 6, 2010 06:50 AM

                                                                ok, yes, ew.

                                                                1. re: hotoynoodle
                                                                  roxlet RE: hotoynoodle Jun 6, 2010 09:14 AM


                                                                  1. re: roxlet
                                                                    johnlockedema RE: roxlet Jun 6, 2010 12:06 PM

                                                                    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.

                                                                2. re: roxlet
                                                                  BubblyOne RE: roxlet Jun 6, 2010 02:30 PM

                                                                  What kind of meat did you use?

                                                                  1. re: BubblyOne
                                                                    roxlet RE: BubblyOne Jun 6, 2010 09:25 PM

                                                                    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
                                                                      BubblyOne RE: roxlet Jun 7, 2010 09:01 AM

                                                                      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.

                                                        2. jfood RE: thew Jun 6, 2010 03:31 PM

                                                          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
                                                            walker RE: jfood Jun 7, 2010 08:26 AM

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

                                                            1. re: walker
                                                              jfood RE: walker Jun 7, 2010 09:23 AM

                                                              350-400 for about 25 minutes

                                                            2. re: jfood
                                                              linguafood RE: jfood Jun 7, 2010 08:44 AM

                                                              they don't brown in the oven?

                                                              1. re: linguafood
                                                                jfood RE: linguafood Jun 7, 2010 09:23 AM

                                                                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: jfood
                                                                  roxlet RE: jfood Jun 7, 2010 10:30 AM

                                                                  Yum. Spongy meatballs.

                                                                  1. re: roxlet
                                                                    WhatThePho RE: roxlet Jun 8, 2010 02:50 PM

                                                                    :) @ 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
                                                                      Phurstluv RE: WhatThePho Jun 8, 2010 04:04 PM

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

                                                                      1. re: Phurstluv
                                                                        WhatThePho RE: Phurstluv Jun 8, 2010 04:06 PM

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

                                                                      2. re: WhatThePho
                                                                        roxlet RE: WhatThePho Jun 8, 2010 09:57 PM

                                                                        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
                                                                          NellyNel RE: WhatThePho Jun 9, 2010 12:48 PM

                                                                          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
                                                                            WhatThePho RE: NellyNel Jun 9, 2010 10:29 PM

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

                                                                            1. re: WhatThePho
                                                                              NellyNel RE: WhatThePho Jun 10, 2010 08:05 AM

                                                                              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
                                                                                Phurstluv RE: WhatThePho Jun 10, 2010 11:40 AM

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

                                                                                1. re: Phurstluv
                                                                                  WhatThePho RE: Phurstluv Jun 10, 2010 11:06 PM

                                                                                  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
                                                                                    linguafood RE: WhatThePho Jun 11, 2010 04:58 AM

                                                                                    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
                                                                                      WhatThePho RE: linguafood Jun 11, 2010 09:48 AM

                                                                                      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
                                                                                      Phurstluv RE: WhatThePho Jun 11, 2010 09:07 AM

                                                                                      Thank goodness. Thanks for the clarification.

                                                                            2. re: roxlet
                                                                              linguafood RE: roxlet Jun 8, 2010 04:30 PM

                                                                              can also be used as loofahs.

                                                                              1. re: linguafood
                                                                                WhatThePho RE: linguafood Jun 8, 2010 04:50 PM

                                                                                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
                                                                                  linguafood RE: WhatThePho Jun 8, 2010 04:55 PM

                                                                                  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
                                                                                    jfood RE: linguafood Jun 8, 2010 04:58 PM

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

                                                                                    1. re: jfood
                                                                                      WhatThePho RE: jfood Jun 8, 2010 05:07 PM

                                                                                      :D oh, ok.

                                                                                      1. re: WhatThePho
                                                                                        linguafood RE: WhatThePho Jun 8, 2010 05:27 PM

                                                                                        we're just busting (meat)balls here.

                                                                                        1. re: linguafood
                                                                                          jfood RE: linguafood Jun 8, 2010 06:01 PM

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

                                                                                      2. re: jfood
                                                                                        BobB RE: jfood Jun 9, 2010 05:10 AM

                                                                                        Maybe if you roll your meatballs in panko crumbs first?

                                                                                        1. re: BobB
                                                                                          chowser RE: BobB Jun 9, 2010 06:03 AM

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

                                                                                      3. re: linguafood
                                                                                        Sal Vanilla RE: linguafood Jun 8, 2010 05:50 PM

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

                                                                          2. breadchick RE: thew Jun 8, 2010 05:33 PM

                                                                            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
                                                                              TongoRad RE: breadchick Jun 8, 2010 06:02 PM

                                                                              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
                                                                                chowser RE: TongoRad Jun 9, 2010 05:05 AM

                                                                                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: chowser
                                                                                  roxlet RE: chowser Jun 9, 2010 06:02 AM

                                                                                  Well, one of them!

                                                                                2. re: TongoRad
                                                                                  breadchick RE: TongoRad Jun 9, 2010 05:59 PM

                                                                                  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. :-)

                                                                                3. re: breadchick
                                                                                  NellyNel RE: breadchick Jun 9, 2010 12:47 PM

                                                                                  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!

                                                                                4. Passadumkeg RE: thew Jun 9, 2010 06:12 AM

                                                                                  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
                                                                                    Phurstluv RE: Passadumkeg Jun 9, 2010 07:56 AM

                                                                                    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.

                                                                                  2. l
                                                                                    Lisbet RE: thew Jun 11, 2010 06:20 AM

                                                                                    A Good Article on Browning.........


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