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My meatballs ALWAYS fall apart!

I've made many different recipes of meatballs. I do not overmix them, and I gently form the balls. However, when I saute them, at some point, most of them start falling apart.
Any suggestions?

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  1. Before you sauté , I roast them
    In a 425 degree oven for 15 minutes, remove them and then into the fry pan for browning , then into my gravy

    2 Replies
    1. re: PHREDDY

      I grew up with my father frying the meatballs. Now I bake or broil. Faster, cheaper (no oil to buy) and less fat.

      I bake them in a 400 degree oven for about 16 minutes (8 each side) and then toss them into the gravy. I've bypassed the browning and frying and have noticed no discernible difference in taste. Or you can broil them if your heart is set on browning, but not directly under the coil; use one of the lower level racks and monitor carefully. Ovens are tricky, as you know, so tweak accordingly.

      1. re: MysticYoYo

        I roast them too. Easier. Keeps the intact. They brown nicely. No grease spatter to mop up. And you leave some of the fat on the baking sheet.

        Then proceed with recipe.

    2. Always add egg to meat mix... 1-2 depending on how much meat. Used to only add bread crumbs, but saw something on TV about soaking bread in milk till mushy to add to meat. I like to fry/saute till nice and brown before dumping into sauce for a nice slow simmer. Maybe meat/fat ratio has something to do with problem? If just using beef, will go with 80/20 or 85/15... never need any oil or additional fat to brown them up.

      3 Replies
      1. re: kseiverd

        I totally concur with the bread soaked in milk as a binder, stock also works. Doesn't just help with binding, also helps keep the moisture content up. The French have a word for it, but it escapes me.

      2. I concur with cooking the meatballs in the oven. I always use egg and rolled oats to help bind the meatballs and I leave the mix to rest in the fridge for 1/2 hour or preferably longer in the fridge before I roll and cook them. I find the oats absorb plenty of moisture so the meatballs aren't dry but also keep their integrity.

          1. I cook my meatballs right in the sauce. They will brown on the bottom I turn them several times. Mine are light and almost fluffy by most standards. I soak my bread in milk and never squeeze it out - that is key IMO. Just let it drain for a few seconds then into the mixing bowl. I combine all my ingredients before I add the meat - usually beef, or veal freshly ground at home. Once in a while one falls apart, but they almost melt in your mouth so I don't mind. I hate tough meatballs.

            2 Replies
            1. re: mike9

              I do that too. You *do* have to be gentle as your stir the sauce at the beginning so as not to break up the meatballs. The beauty of this system (besides being healthier than frying) is that the meat flavors the sauce, and the sauce flavors the meat.

              1. re: mike9

                i cook mine in the sauce, too. everything is made more delicious.

              2. You should share your recipe. Does it have bread, milk, and eggs?

                3 Replies
                1. re: sandylc

                  No problem. For the sauce I infuse a cup, or two of EVOO with red pepper flakes, handful of garlic clove and a big handful of basil. Bring to a light boil then simmer covered for 5 minutes then remove from heat and let steep for 20 minutes. Meanwhile for one box of pasta I use one 28oz can of tomatoes - (if San Marzano you'll need to blend them at some point) otherwise use crushed. One half can of tomato paste, salt, shot of balsamic, maybe a drizzle of honey. I let that simmer for 40 minutes.

                  Meatballs -

                  1lb. fresh ground beef
                  1/4 cup diced onion
                  2 small, or 1 large clove garlic diced
                  1 whole egg
                  handful of torn bread + enough mild to saturate
                  fresh parsley
                  1/2 cup of grated Parmigiano, or Romano or blend (so long as it's dry)
                  salt and pepper to taste

                  Saturate the bread in milk
                  Sweat the onion and garlic in a little EVOO till soft
                  put a fine chop on the parsley.

                  In a bowl combine the onion mixture, egg, cheese, parsley, salt pepper and drained bread.
                  Add the beef a handful at a time till incorporated - don't over mix.
                  It's going to seem loose, but form meatballs.
                  At this point I whisk in some of the infused EVOO into the sauce then add the meatballs and cover and simmer. Checking every 8-10 minutes for browning on the bottom. If brown then gently turn and do this till cooked.

                  Meantime get your salted pasta water ready -
                  remove the cooked meatballs from the sauce and let rest.
                  Whisk some more of the infused oil into the sauce.
                  Cook your pasta to just before al dente, drain and finish cooking in the sauce. The pasta will soak up the sauce as it finishes cooking.

                  Serve the pasta with the meatballs on the side and enjoy!!!


                  1. re: mike9

                    Clearly sandylc was asking for the OP to share recipe details, so that more pertinent suggestions for alteration can be made.

                    1. re: mike9

                      YUMmy recipe, @mike9! THANK you!

                  2. Convection oven, on a rack, about 375 F for 15-25 minutes depending on the size of meatballs. The convection feature crisps up the outsides perfectly---turn them once if you're a perfectionist.

                    1. Not about falling apart, but I LOVE this meatball thread.


                      1. Add egg to the mix, don't overdo the breadcrumbs or a panade (if you use either or or both) and roast or fry the meatballs before simmering (and if you do it right, the fried ones contain no more fat in the end than roasted ones).

                        1 Reply
                        1. If your meatballs are falling apart while cooking, chances are the ingredients were not diced finely enough. Onions are usually the main culprit, but hard bread crumbs and parsley stems can also be the problem. Make sure to finely dice your onions, or even mince your onions (use a food processor if necessary). You'll want them to be no bigger than a piece of rice.

                          When chopping other herbs like parsley and oregano, make sure to remove all stems. You don't have to mince the herbs as finely as you do the onion, but stems can cause the meatball to break apart while cooking.

                          Lastly, make sure your bread crumbs are not super hard or too large. Sometimes, cheaper bread crumb manufacturers will use end-pieces and crusts to make bread crumbs, and these have a tendancy to become super hard when stale. The bread crumbs you use should be consistant in size, crunchy but not hard and should bind well to your ingredients. If not, simply make your own to make sure you're using quality bread crumbs.

                          Milk-soaked bread and/or eggs can help, but unless your ingredients are properly diced (or minced) it won't matter much.

                          1. >>> I do not overmix them, and I gently form the balls.<<<

                            Strangely, that's your problem. The more roughly you treat the mix, the more it will hold together. Try it. The other suggestions above will help, but that's your main problem.

                            Use a Food Processor or triple-fine grind your mix, and combine in a KitchenAid. They'll hold together fine. Alton Brown calls for using a planetary mixer for his Swedish Meatballs.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: acgold7

                              My grandmother taught me to really squish it together with your hands while mixing the ingredients, she claimed the slight body heat melded them together. Don't know but I've never had a meatball fall apart on me yet!

                              1. re: acgold7

                                I absolutely con cur with acgold7. You must mix the mixture well. That helps to bind everything together

                              2. Agreed. I squeeze my meatballs into form but also am typically working with some mushy (moist) meat. I like them to fall apart in your mouth.

                                I have to follow up on kseiverd's point. What type of meat are you using? That can make a big difference as well. I'm pretty much always an 80/20 chuck guy myself. Are you using 93% lean ground beef or something? That could be part of the issue as well

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: GutGrease

                                  this was my first thought also. meat that is too lean won't hold as well. i usually use eggs, grated cheese and sometimes panade, but not always, herbs, salt and pepper. i mix everything thoroughly but don't "pack" the meat tightly. that makes something too dense and i don't like the little meat bricks.

                                  i bake in the oven because it's less messy.

                                  i've never had a crumbling apart issue, whether the meat is lamb, turkey or a mix of pork/beef.

                                2. If using frozen meat, this could be the problem, as it has not been drained sufficiently from the dethaw process.

                                  If the meat is not frozen: Perhaps, a good question is, do you sauté the meatballs in Olive Oil ?

                                  The type of oil plays a strong role.

                                  Another issue could be too many eggs which can make the balls too soggy.

                                  I´m Italian and we do not have crumbling meatballs, so I would need to really see your recipe and know the oil amount, the brand and type being used to provide an intelligent specific answer.

                                  My Italian Nonna ( Grandmom´s Recipe is very similiar to Mario Batali´s. However, she used dry Italian white wine in her´s.)

                                  1 egg yolk ( no egg whites ()
                                  1/2 cup stale day old bread crumbs
                                  Evoo 100% hojiblanca, a light olive which produces a very light extra virgin olive oil
                                  salt to taste
                                  1 pound beef ground
                                  1 cup blended: freshly grated Reggiano Parmesano, Pecorino Sardo and Gran Padano or just Reggiano Parmesano
                                  1 tablespoon and 1/2 of tomato paste Italian brand of choice
                                  herbs: basil, orégano, thyme, black pepper freshly ground and a pinch of rosemary swig
                                  1/3 cup dry white wine from Italy

                                  Best of luck.

                                  Best regards Ciao.

                                  1. i'd nix the onion, add another egg, a little more bread perhaps, and mix a little more aggressively, but not too much.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: eLizard

                                      I was going to say this same thing; also, the tip about letting it rest, covered, in the fridge for an hour or two is something someone else mentioned. My mother always did this so I do it too. Mainly, no onion but I use plenty of finely minced FRESH garlic. I always put fresh grated parm, too.

                                      1. re: walker

                                        The OP said nothing about onions - or percentage of fat, or oil, or anything else in her recipe!
                                        Personally, I wouldn't want a meatball that had no onion, not that that has anything to do with the OP's problem. I agree that undermixing is probably part of her difficulty but without knowing her recipe nobody here can be sure of helping.

                                        Not only do I like a lot of onion in my meatballs, I use carrot, bell pepper, cabbage, and sometimes celery as well. Egg and panade are essential for a tender meatball that holds its shape, but my own trick is to use a mandoline to slice the onion and bell pepper into very thin rings. As the mixture is mixed and cooked, the rings break into long strings which form a matrix that holds everything together, even if very lean meat is used.

                                        1. re: walker

                                          oh, yes. parm, of course. was that not in the recipe?

                                      2. When I combine all the ingredients--onion, egg, fresh bread crumbs, Romano, chopped pistachios, parsley, garlic--it needs to be about the same texture and should hold together on its own. Then I add the meat and get it well blended and mushed before forming the meatballs. IF the mixture is loose, as you note in your recipe, then I think that is the problem--it shouldn't be loose. You should squeeze the milk out of the bread and discard and then add more bread crumbs if it doesn't hold together.

                                        1. I usually bake my meatballs but I have always disliked the meat fat/juice goo that comes out of my meatballs. I recently tried a recipe that suggested I roll the meatballs in cornstarch. The meatballs looked beautiful sans fat/juice goo. To note, the meatballs were thai-inspired and were made of chicken.

                                          Always over mash your mix extra well as others have noted.

                                          1. Freeze them first, then sautee them. This is what good ol' America's Test Kitchen suggests. Sorry if this has been stated already, but didn't want to go through all the responses.

                                            1. Use a box grater to grate the onion. Just use the large holes, it will be fine.

                                              Use a panade.

                                              Let the meat rest in the fridge for ~ 1 hr.

                                              I fry mine, then finish in the sauce--it adds flavor to the sauce and the meatballs swell.

                                              Also--I use an ice cream scoop to portion the meat and to avoid overworking the meatball before frying.