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Feb 24, 2013 12:11 PM

Homemade Meatballs: Bake or Fry/Brown in Saucepan. Which do you do?

I decided to scope out on Pinterest and also on how many different recipes for homemade meatballs I could find. Well let’s just say that I found so many different variations and most often than not the person writing it stated that they were the best meatballs. Now I know everyone thinks that theirs is the best and I’m not going to judge and say that one recipe is better than another, except for mine of course being the best.
But they’re seemed to be a few common themes that differentiated the recipes into a couple of categories. I noticed that people either brown/fry their meatballs in a saucepan before adding to the sauce or those that baked their meatballs before adding to the sauce. Now my grandmother did brown/fry her delicious meatballs before adding to the tomato sauce. So I had been doing it that way for years and always thought that baking was the easy way out. Well the last two times I have made meatballs I have baked them. They have come out amazing. The meat has not dried out and is still juicy and extremely tender. Also when I put the meatballs into the sauce they are basically completely cooked and they don’t fall apart when I put them in the tomato sauce like the ones that I fry first in the pan.
So I think I have converted over to the baking method. What are is your opinion? Do you bake you meatballs? Do you brown/fry them? I want to hear what everyone has to say about this.

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  1. When I'm making just a few, I fry/brown them before dropping them in the sauce/gravy. When I make a lot, especially the small ones for baked ziti, I use the oven. For sure, the oven is easier and less messy.

    1 Reply
    1. re: grampart

      Well that makes sense if you are making a lot to bake the meatballs. How have you noticed taste wise between the two. I personally found that I have been liking the taste of the baked meatballs more lately.

    2. Agree that with the oven method, with the meatballs completely cooked, do not add much flavor to the sauce. MBs partially cooked in a pan can add juices and fat to the sauce, maybe better for the sauce. Depends on what you want. Note that you can partially or fully cook by either method.

      3 Replies
      1. re: mwhitmore

        Oh I understand that you can partially or fully cook by either method, but I usually don't fully cook my fried meatballs as I was always taught not to. While I fully cook my baked meatballs. I know that the meatballs that are partially cooked in a pan can add more fat/juice to the sauce, but have you ever had an issue with the sauce being too greasy? I've had a couple of times that there was a shiny layer of grease on the top of the sauce that I had to remove.

        1. re: provreviews

          Yes, but I don't consider it a problem. I like a fatty sauce, if it too much I degrease with a couple paper towels.

          1. re: mwhitmore

            I don't notice much difference in the taste of the finished meatball, but I think the pan fried version makes for a better sauce.

      2. I bake them using convection on a rack over a sheet pan at 475 degrees for twenty minutes. No turning, no splatter, they come out beautifully browned, tender and juicy. These are large meatballs, almost the size of tennis balls. They are practically cooked through, but I add them to the sauce while its still simmering to make sure. Some might fall apart in the sauce, bu t they stay together when browning, and those meat bits flavor the sauce nicely. Okay, now I need to make meatballs this week......

        4 Replies
        1. re: Dirtywextraolives

          Thanks for posting about how you cook them in the oven. I know all this talk is going to have me making meatballs myself in the next couple of days.

          1. re: Dirtywextraolives

            Me too. I find baking them at high heat on convection results in nicely browned meatballs. I cook them on parchment and then scrape all the bits into the sauce.

            1. re: CanadaGirl

              Those yummy brown bits go into my mouth..... I cannot resist as they smell so unbelievable when cooking....

          2. If I am just throwing together a few quick ones for say a meat ball sub or a solo dinner I just pan fry them in my cast iron pam. Quick, easy and a nice crunch.

            However In the winter I do a ton of batch cooking, often with a friend so those meatballs are alway baked as we can do 3 trays a time. We make hundreds at time. These a partially frozen in a single layer and then transferred to zip locks. I always have them hand for those same quick meals and as additions to baked pasta dishes

            However for my classic spaghetti and meatballs only cooking in the sauce will do. These get a quick pan fry so they are browned all over with a nice crust but not cooked thru. They are then transferred to my pot of sauce to simmer slowly for hours.

            4 Replies
            1. re: foodieX2

              I have never frozen cooked meatballs. Do they taste okay when you take them out of the freezer and thaw and heat back up? If you froze the meatballs and were going to add them to a tomato sauce would you just add the thawed meatballs and if so how long would you say to cook them?

              1. re: provreviews

                Oh, I love having frozen meatballs on hand! Makes some easy quick meals and I don't find the texture suffers at all. The frozen ones are fully cooked so I reheat them a differently depending on the meal.

                For quick meat ball subs I micro them until heated thru. Turn on the broiler and layer sub rolls with marinara, sliced cheese and the meat balls. Broil until bread is toasty and the cheese is melted.

                For baked pasta dishes I leave them on the counter while I cook the pasta and prep the other stuff.

                For quick spaghetti and meat balls I will just add the frozen meat balls to the sauce. By the time dinner is ready the meatballs are heated thru. However if they are on the bigger size they might take longer.

                1. re: foodieX2

                  I agree with FoodieX2. When meat goes on sale, I make 50-100 1-1/2 inch sized meatballs at a time, baked. I spritz them with a little EVOO and water in a spray bottle and bake at 425 for about 20-25 minutes. I don't have a convection oven, but halfway I turn the sheet pans. I usually bake them on parchment right on the sheet pans, but if I'm feeling like more cleanup (!) I'll bake them on racks in the sheet pans. Freeze in a single layer, then bag and take out as many as you need. I put them directly into the cold sauce and heat them together for about 20 minutes. this way the MBs thaw and meld a little with the sauce. I don't notice any change in the texture of the meatballs, and this is a great quick dinner.

                2. re: provreviews

                  I bake my meatballs and keep them in the freezer. I love cooking but hate doing dishes so I love having a well stocked freezer.

                  I'll make meatball wraps, sauce the naked balls with sweet chili sauce and ketchup or a little mayo and blue cheese.

              2. I bake them, then put them in the gravy.