The Best Baked Meatballs

Baked meatballs are a beloved comfort food that combines savory flavors with a satisfying texture. Perfect for a cozy dinner, a casual gathering, or meal prepping for the week, these meatballs are versatile and easy to make. This recipe ensures that the meatballs are tender, juicy, and packed with flavor, while baking them makes the process simple and healthy.

Introduction to Baked Meatballs

Imagine biting into a meatball that’s crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, bursting with the flavors of garlic, herbs, and Parmesan cheese. Baked meatballs are not only delicious but also healthier than their fried counterparts. This recipe will guide you through the steps to create the best baked meatballs, perfect for any occasion.

The Magic of Meatballs

Meatballs are a universal comfort food, enjoyed in various forms across different cultures. From Italian meatballs in marinara sauce to Swedish meatballs in creamy gravy, these savory morsels are always a hit. Baking the meatballs allows them to cook evenly and stay moist, making them a go-to dish for many home cooks.

Ingredients for the Best Baked Meatballs

Before we begin, let’s gather all the necessary ingredients. This recipe makes about 24 medium-sized meatballs, but it can easily be scaled up or down to suit your needs.

For the Meatballs:

  • 1 pound ground beef (85% lean)
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs (Italian style or plain)
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
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For the Marinara Sauce (Optional):

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
  • Fresh basil or parsley, for garnish

Step-by-Step Cooking Instructions

Step 1: Prepare the Meatball Mixture

  1. Preheat the Oven: Preheat your oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or lightly grease it with cooking spray.
  2. Combine Ingredients: In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground beef, ground pork, breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, milk, egg, chopped onion, minced garlic, fresh parsley, dried oregano, salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes (if using).
  3. Mix Thoroughly: Using your hands or a spoon, mix the ingredients until well combined. Be careful not to overmix, as this can make the meatballs tough.

Step 2: Form the Meatballs

  1. Shape the Meatballs: Scoop about 2 tablespoons of the meat mixture and roll it between your hands to form a meatball. Place the meatballs on the prepared baking sheet, spacing them evenly apart.
  2. Repeat: Continue shaping the meatballs until all the mixture is used. You should have about 24 meatballs.

Step 3: Bake the Meatballs

  1. Bake: Place the baking sheet in the preheated oven and bake the meatballs for 18-20 minutes, or until they are golden brown and cooked through. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of a meatball should read 165°F (74°C).
  2. Rest: Remove the meatballs from the oven and let them rest on the baking sheet for a few minutes before serving.

Step 4: Make the Marinara Sauce (Optional)

  1. Sauté the Aromatics: In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook for another minute until fragrant.
  2. Add the Tomatoes and Herbs: Stir in the crushed tomatoes, dried basil, and dried oregano. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If the sauce is too acidic, add a teaspoon of sugar to balance the flavors.
  3. Simmer: Bring the sauce to a simmer and let it cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it thickens slightly.
  4. Serve: Transfer the baked meatballs to the marinara sauce and let them simmer for a few minutes to absorb the flavors. Garnish with fresh basil or parsley before serving.
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Tips for the Best Baked Meatballs

Choosing the Right Meat

A combination of ground beef and ground pork creates the best flavor and texture for meatballs. The beef provides a robust flavor, while the pork adds juiciness and tenderness. If you prefer, you can also use a mix of ground beef and ground turkey or chicken.

Perfecting the Texture

  • Breadcrumbs and Milk: The breadcrumbs and milk help to keep the meatballs moist and tender. Soaking the breadcrumbs in milk before adding them to the meat mixture ensures they blend well and prevent the meatballs from drying out.
  • Egg: The egg acts as a binder, helping to hold the meatballs together.

Flavor Enhancements

  • Herbs and Spices: Fresh parsley, dried oregano, and crushed red pepper flakes add depth of flavor to the meatballs. Feel free to experiment with other herbs and spices such as basil, thyme, or rosemary.
  • Cheese: Grated Parmesan cheese adds a savory, umami flavor that enhances the overall taste of the meatballs.

Baking Tips

  • Even Cooking: Ensure the meatballs are of uniform size to promote even cooking. Using a cookie scoop can help with this.
  • Baking Sheet: Line the baking sheet with parchment paper or grease it lightly to prevent the meatballs from sticking and to make cleanup easier.

The Story Behind Baked Meatballs

Meatballs have a rich history and are enjoyed in various forms across the globe. From Italian “polpette” to Swedish “köttbullar,” these savory spheres are a testament to the culinary creativity of different cultures.

The Italian Connection

In Italy, meatballs are often served as a main course without sauce or in soups. The American version of spaghetti and meatballs, while beloved, is actually an Italian-American creation that highlights the adaptation of traditional recipes to new cultural contexts.

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A Universal Comfort Food

Regardless of their origin, meatballs represent comfort and family. They are often made in large batches, bringing people together around the dinner table to share a hearty meal.

Serving Suggestions and Pairings

Serving Ideas

Baked meatballs are incredibly versatile and can be served in various ways:

  • Classic Spaghetti and Meatballs: Serve the meatballs with marinara sauce over a bed of spaghetti for a traditional Italian-American meal.
  • Meatball Subs: Place the meatballs in a toasted sub roll, top with marinara sauce and melted cheese for a delicious sandwich.
  • Appetizer: Serve the meatballs with toothpicks and a side of marinara sauce for dipping as a party appetizer.
  • With Mashed Potatoes: Pair the meatballs with creamy mashed potatoes and a green vegetable for a comforting meal.

Pairing Suggestions

To complement the rich flavors of baked meatballs, consider pairing them with:

  • Wine: A glass of red wine such as Chianti, Merlot, or Cabernet Sauvignon pairs beautifully with the savory flavors of the meatballs.
  • Salad: A fresh green salad with a tangy vinaigrette provides a refreshing contrast to the rich meatballs.
  • Vegetables: Roasted or steamed vegetables like broccoli, carrots, or green beans make a healthy and delicious side dish.

Make-Ahead and Storage Tips

Preparing in Advance

You can prepare the meatball mixture and shape the meatballs a day ahead. Store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to bake. This makes it easy to have a delicious meal on the table in no time.

Storing Leftovers

Leftover meatballs can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Reheat them in the oven or microwave until warmed through. You can also freeze the baked meatballs for up to 3 months. To reheat, thaw them in the refrigerator overnight and then bake at 350°F (175°C) until heated through.

Conclusion: A Timeless Classic

Baked meatballs are a timeless classic that brings together the best of savory flavors and comforting textures. Whether you’re serving them with spaghetti, in a sub, or as an appetizer, these meatballs are sure to be a hit. Enjoy making and sharing this delicious dish with your loved ones, and savor the warmth and comfort that only the best baked meatballs can bring.