Tips, Tricks and Substitutions
Do you have to use the 3 meat mixture? It is the preferred mixture because of the fat content and flavor profiles. The ground mixture of pork, beef and veal gives a unique flavor and keeps the meatballs juicy. Typically you can find it at the grocery store as “meatball mix” or “meatloaf mix.” If you can’t find this particular mix, you can make meatballs with ground beef, with 80/20 fat content. If you go leaner, you run the risk of the meatball being less flavorful and drying out easier. Another solution is to grind the meat mixture yourself.
How do you know if the seasoning is correct? For a lot of things, you can taste the seasoning to ensure it’s good to go. However, you shouldn’t eat raw meat. I usually make sure that the mixture LOOKS like there is plenty of seasoning. Don’t see any dried Italian seasoning? Probably not enough. The best way to check is to make a small patty of the meatball mixture and quickly pan sear it and taste it. That way you can adjust your seasoning to your taste.
Can you leave out the smoked mozzarella? Yes! I like the smokey flavor it adds to the meatball. If you can’t find smoked mozzarella a little bit of smoked cheddar or gouda would work. If you don’t like the smokey flavor use parmigiano reggiano or pecorino romano. Don’t use a ton, but a little bit to flavor the meatballs is perfect.
Can you use seasoned breadcrumbs? If that is all you have in the house, you can use them. However, it may change how much seasoning you need to add to the meatball mixture because they had additional salt and dried Italian seasoning incorporated. I suggest reducing the amount of salt at the very least until you can do a test patty.
What type of sauce do you use? If I have sauce already made in the freezer, I’ll use that. Otherwise I just use two cups of Classico pizza sauce. It’s a smaller jar and it’s the perfect amount to simmer the meatballs on the stove top without having a ton of sauce.
Method - Prep
How do you mix up the meatballs? With my hands. It’s the best way to mix them thoroughly without over mixing the meatballs. If you’re squeamish you can use gloves.
Do you need to beat the eggs before adding them to the meatball mixture? It does help if you beat the eggs quickly with a fork before adding to the mixture. But if you forget, just make sure it is well mixed before you brown them on the stove top.
How well do you need to mix the meatball mixture? Make sure that all the ingredients are well incorporated and no large chunks remain. Try not to overmix because it will make the meatballs too dense.
How tightly do you pack the meatballs? You don’t want to press them together too much because then it’ll be too dense. I like to grab a portion and roll it between my palms until it’s just put together.
Do the meatballs need to be uniform in size? Yes, so that they cook evenly.
Do you need to measure each meatball individually? You don’t need to use a scale if you don’t have one, but it is important that you try to make each meatball similar in size. This will help them cook evenly while they are simmering on the stove top. If you don’t have a scale to measure two ounce meatballs, you can use an ice cream scoop or eyeball it.
How many meatballs does this recipe make? It depends on how big you make your meatballs. I measure mine out to be about two ounces so it makes 14-16 meatballs. You can easily double this recipe and make a big batch for the freezer. They make a quick meal with some pasta, on bread or pizza.
Method - Stove Top Cooking
Do you have to pan sear the meatballs? Pan searing gives you a lot of extra flavor, so yes, I’d recommend pan searing/browning the meatballs on two sides. I use a dutch oven to sear the meatballs and then the same pan to simmer the sauce on the stove top. This builds a lot of flavor that you can’t get with just seasoning. It is an extra step that is worth it.
What do I do if my meatballs won’t release from the dutch oven after browning them? They may need a little bit longer to finish browning. They will release once they are done browning. I usually take mine off between 2 and 3 minutes, it depends on the meatball and how much oil is in the pan. I also use tongs to help release the meatballs and flip them.
Should you remove the oil and brown bits from the pan before adding the sauce? No! This is where a lot of the flavor will come from and it’ll help a jarred sauce taste like it simmered for hours.
How do you know that the meatballs are done cooking? I use a meat thermometer to check that they reach 165 F. I’ve given a general guideline for how long to cook them. At 165 F the meatballs are still juicy, tender and flavorful because of the fat content and sauce they were simmered in.
What other cooking vessel can you use beside a dutch oven? If you don’t have a dutch oven, you can brown the meatballs on the stove top in a cast iron skillet or stainless steel skillet to get a good crust on the meatballs. If it is big enough, you can simmer the meatballs in sauce in that as well. Just make sure you have a cover for whatever pan you use. The meatballs don’t need to be in a single layer to simmer in the sauce.
Do you have to brown the meatballs in a single layer and in batches? Yes, if you crowd the pan you’ll end up steaming the meatballs instead of getting that beautiful color. For my six quart dutch oven I can do 6-8 meatballs in a single layer, so I do multiple batches. However, the meatballs don’t need to be in a single layer while finishing in sauce on the stove top.
Two Methods to Freeze
Can you freeze the meatballs? Yes! I have both frozen meatballs before cooking and after cooking. So feel free to make a big batch.
To freeze the meatballs uncooked: mix and portion out the meatballs onto a sheet tray lined with parchment paper. Ensure meatballs are NOT touching each other. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the freezer until frozen through (a few hours). Remove from freezer and place into an airtight container. Remove and thaw completely before cooking.
To freeze meatballs that are already cooked: simply allow them to cool briefly and then freeze in usable portions with some sauce. When you want to eat them, thaw in fridge overnight or in the microwave. I do this a lot for meal prep. I’ll freeze the meatballs already cooked in portions of 2 or 3 and then throw them over pasta.
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Stove Top Italian Meatballs
- 1 ⅓ pounds mixture of ground beef, pork and veal
- ⅓ cup grated smoked mozzarella
- ¼ cup unseasoned breadcrumbs
- 3 tablespoons fresh garlic minced
- 2 tablespoons dried Italian seasoning
- 2 large eggs beaten
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2-4 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 to 2 ½ cups tomato sauce
- In a large mixing bowl add in the ground meat, smoked mozzarella, breadcrumbs, garlic, Italian seasoning, eggs and kosher salt.
- Using your hands, mix well until all seasoning is well incorporated.
- Preheat the dutch oven over medium heat.
- Using your hands or ice cream scoop, portion out meatballs into 2 ounce portions. Roll gently between two palms and place in a single layer on a plate. Repeat until you run out of meatball mixture.
- Once all your meatballs are portioned out and your dutch oven is heated up, add in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil (enough to coat the bottom of the pan). In a single layer, add in 6-8 meatballs, with space between each meatball. Brown on one side for 2-3 minutes. Flip using tongs and brown on the opposite side for another 2-3 minutes.
- Once 2 sides are brown, remove all meatballs to the original plate. If you need to, add the rest of the olive oil into the dutch oven. Repeat searing process until all meatballs are seared on both sides.
- Be sure to leave all the brown bits and olive in the pan and add all meatballs back into the dutch oven. Try to keep the meatballs in a single layer, but it’s okay if they are touching. Cover all the meatballs with your favorite tomato sauce. Gently coat each meatball with sauce using tongs.
- Cover the dutch oven with the lid and reduce heat to medium low. Cook the meatballs for 5-10 minutes.
- The meatballs are done once they reach 165 F internally.
- If you can’t find a ground mixture of beef, pork or veal, use 80/20 ground beef.
- Smoked gouda or cheddar can be used as a substitute for smoked mozzarella.
- Make a test patty if you’re unsure if the seasoning is enough.
- You can freeze the meatballs before or after cooking.