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Tips (or Recipes) for Moist, Tender Meatballs

What are your tips for the ultimate moist and tender meatballs? Incorporate soaked bread (the softer and whiter, the better)? Slow cook them in the sauce, or pan-fry vs. baking? A certain combination of meats?

I generally have the added challenge of using lean 90/10 ground beef (we buy it in 10 lb. tubes, thus it's the beef most plentiful in our freezer). Any tricks for adding back the essential fat, or at least the moisture?

Bonus points if you can direct me to a recipe for authentic Italian meatballs with red sauce. ;)

Thank you!

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  1. I'd add some ground pork fat and use both soaked and dry 'fresh' bread crumbs. Make sure to squeeze out the soaked crumbs.

    1 Reply
    1. re: treb

      Thank you for these tips, I'll have to get my haunches on some pork fat -- or rather, some pork fat on my haunches. ;)

      I wonder if simply drizzling in some olive oil would also do the trick for my too-healthy 90/10...

    2. Yes, soaked bread, a bit of heavy cream to add fat and slow-cook in sauce without browning first -- that will give you very tender, moist meatballs.

      You also might get some ideas from the Meatball Dish of the Month (DOTM) thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/866162

      2 Replies
      1. re: GretchenS

        I've never tried using heavy cream....great tip, I'll have to try it. Thanks.

        1. re: GretchenS

          I've heard of though haven't yet tried cooking the meatballs entirely in the sauce; usually I bake them. I may try the slow cooking method tonight.

          Thank you the link, a wealth of information I will peruse! :)

        2. Yeah, the 90% lean can be a problem for moist meatballs.

          Mrs Porker uses an equal amount of beef, pork, and veal. She uses Italian-seasoned bread crumbs (non-soaked) as well as oregano, parsely, and grated parm.
          She also chops onion and garlic super fine then sweats in olive oil (if not chopped fine, they will fall out of the meatballs leaving unsightly holes in their place). Once cool, she adds to the mix along with a coupla eggs (sorry, she doesn't measure).
          She browns them on a cookie sheet in a hot oven then drops them into the red sauce.

          2 Replies
          1. re: porker

            Please tell Mrs. Porker to expect a stranger from the Chow boards at her dinner table when next she's serving meatballs. ;) Hers sound scrumptious; thanks for sharing these inside tips.

            1. re: unpoedic

              Hop on the 90 East to Chicago, skirt Lake Michigan onto the 94 past Kalamazoo towards Detroit then north where you can cross into Canada at Sarnia.
              Now the 402 will bring you to London and the 401. Relax, 'cause you'll be staying on the 401 right through Ontario (past Toronto, Kingston, and Cornwall). Once in Quebec, it'll turn into Highway 20 into Montreal.
              ~22 hour drive.

              Call us when you get in {;-/)
              (any post is worth it if you can mention "Kalamazoo"...)

          2. Rao's fame uses water added into the ground meat mixture. I would suggest you incorporate more fat....as 10% is too lean....You can do so by adding to your ground beef....ground veal, ground pork and ground Pancetta.

            I soak my stale bread in milk....I also add Ricotta cheese to my other ingredients....Kosher Salt, Fresh Cracked Black Pepper/ find grind, Eggs, Grated Onion and Garlic, Flat Leaf, Parsley and Parmigiano Reggiano.

            1. For beef, I use bread soaked in milk (usually leftover texas toast from making french toast), along with regular breadcrumbs, and then pan fry to brown and then cook the rest of the way in the sauce. Also I've never tried it, but along the lines of pork fat, what about adding in some bacon? I did that for my self-ground hamburgers and they yielded very juicy burgers.

              For turkey I use shredded carrot and/or zucchini. I suppose you could use those for beef as well, but I have not tried it.

              For sauce I really like this recipe(no idea how "authentic" it is but really, what is authentic when it comes to italian food...everyone seems to have their own ways of making things) , I have not tried the meatballs: http://www.canyoustayfordinner.com/20...

              1. Echoing others' comments - based upon the meatballs I made for New Year's Day football viewing, fat content and soaking the bread in milk both seem to contribute to moist, tender meatballs. I used 85/15 ground beef rather than my usual 90/10 or 93/7 because that's all that was left at the Whole Foods butcher counter at 6pm on New Year's Eve, and I also used white bread soaked in milk rather than my usual oatmeal and egg. I did bake the meatballs in the oven first so that I could drain off some of the fat, but they still came out more tender (without falling apart in the sauce) than my standard healthier version.

                1. To those who cook meatballs in the oven: at what temp, size & for how long? Tried that just once, and while it was convenient, I missed the browned taste. Willing to try it again, but would like to read of others' successes. TIA.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: pine time

                    I only do it when I'm doing turkey meatballs, because when I'm doing turkey meatballs is when I'm trying to make a lighter meal so pan frying doesn't work. You don't get the browned taste you do when you pan fry, that's the downside of doing it in the oven. But, I do it under the broiler for 10 minutes. 2 1/2" ish balls. This gets them mostly cooked, and you finish them off in the sauce.

                    1. re: juliejulez

                      Thanks--my one attempt at oven cooking 'em was also with turkey meatballs, only 'cause I needed to use the whole 20 oz package. Didn't use the broiler, so I'll give your method a try. Appreciate it.

                    2. re: pine time

                      Smallish (maybe 1-1/2"?) meatballs at 350' for 10 minutes. As long as there's enough space between them on the pan, I find I do get some browning.

                      1. re: pine time

                        I'm never in a rush, so I use 250* for a half hour before dropping them into the sauce. If you want more texture, I would finish with a high heat blast, not cook at a higher temperature..

                      2. One tip to make them tender...don't work the meat too much or they will get tough.

                        1. Do not overmanipulate them and compress them too much. Mix them together lightly and form into balls gently. Use breadcubes softened in some milk for moisture. As well do not use any extra lean meats as you will have a very dry meatball.

                          1. Buying ground meat in "10 pound tubes" is your number one problem. Go to a butcher and buy ground beef fresh. Add extra cold small chunks of clarified butter. SV the meat balls then brown them.