Sunday Dinner

Our Essential Meatball Guide

April  8, 2016

There are few foods out there as dependable, comforting, and versatile as the humble meatball. You could easily go ahead and give your mama's beef and breadcrumb meatball a home in a pot of red sauce and a bowl of spaghetti, tuck your napkin into your shirt collar, and call it a night. But much like its cousin, the meatloaf, there are countless combinations of meats, spices, and preparations that can make a meatball great.

If you're looking to branch out from your regular meatball and macaroni routine, or just want a bit more gusto than what you'd expect at the checkered tablecloth joint down the road, here's a look at the wide world of meatballs, and how to choose the one that's right for you:

Photo by James Ransom

The quintessential "Italian"

You know, the meatball that infamously sat on top of spaghetti, all covered with cheese? These recipes are for that meatball. Italian-twinged in flavor and ready for your meat sauce, they're the perfect accompaniment to pasta. Try this ultra tender recipe, which incorporates ricotta, or give this Genius method for the classic combination a shot.

The multipurpose meatball

You could argue that any meatball is a multi-purpose meatball, but these recipes are especially so because they create flavor profiles that are so basic, they can be easily manipulated to fit any of your meatball needs. Put them on a sandwich, eat them on pasta, tuck them into a salad, or just go at them with your fingers (trust me, you'll want to).

Meatballs made with poultry

Many meatball recipes focus on the likes of beef, pork, or lamb (or some combination of the three), but this does not always have to be the case. Poultry, like chicken or duck, can make an equally tasty meatball mixture, and offer a great alternative for anyone looking to lighten up a meal while maintaining an element of meat.

The meat-less, er...meatball

Not everyone eats meat, but that doesn't mean they should be excluded from such an ingenious dish. These recipes use pantry staples like lentils and nuts, as well as the leftovers greens you have on hand, to riff on the meatball concept.

The multi-cultural meatball

In America, meatballs are usually tied to Italian imagery—simmering tomato sauce, swirls of pasta, and Italian-American inspired meatball heroes—but these recipes switch up that flavor profile to create a multi-cultural twist on the taste we have come to expect. If you're looking from an unexpected update on your meatballs, try a Swedish classic, a recipe with a spicy-sweet Korean kick, or a hearty, Hungarian mixture.

Meatballs, and then some

Meatballs are great all on their own (see above for proof), but that doesn't mean your meal has to be completely meatball-forward. These soup recipes include meatballs, but only as one piece of a greater, well-rounded dish.

Still don't know what you're looking for?

If you still can't make up your mind about meatballs, that's okay! Learn how to make any meatball you can dream up without a recipe.

How do you make meatballs? Let us know in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Rachel Smith
    Rachel Smith
  • Susan Bellwood
    Susan Bellwood
Sarah E Daniels

Written by: Sarah E Daniels

It's mostly a matter of yeast.


Rachel S. December 7, 2017
Rachels Meatballs
Yield 40 tbsp size balls
½ lb. ground beef
½ lb ground pork 40%fat or as much as you can get
1 Egg
4 ½ tbsp. Worchester
1 ½ tbsp. Soy Sauce
5 garlic cloves or 1 tbsp. Garlic Powder
½ tbsp. Garlic Salt
Bread Crumbs to stiffen
To make meatloaf use 2 lbs. ground beef and double all other quantities. Then add ¼ to ½ C of coarsely chopped celery and carrots and 1/4C finely chopped onions or 1 packet of Lipton Onion soup mix. Bake on 350 for 1 hour or internal temperature of 155 F.

Sauce for Meatloaf
1 C. Ketchup
¾ C. Brown Sugar
1 or 2 tsp. Dry Mustard
Susan B. April 9, 2016
Buffalo chicken meatballs, lamb meatballs with tzatziki sauce and a kind of sidekick, Porcupine balls in tomato sauce are how I roll.