A Chef-Approved Tip for Better Meatballs, Inspired by a Soup Dumpling Technique

Gelatin and stock are all you need.

February 22, 2023
Photo by James Ransom

Thanks to Los Angeles-based chef David Kuo, a brilliant new hack for making meatballs has come to our attention: Enter, stock jelly.

Taking inspiration from classic xiao long bao (or soup dumpling) techniques, Chef Kuo incorporates coagulated stock into his meatball mixture so that—when cooked—warm, umami-rich liquid flows through each ball.

@chefdavidkuo Sneak peek into a @fattymartla dish: House Meatballs Part 2! 👨🏻‍🍳 This is a super tip for making super juicy, flavorful meatballs at home. We learned this process from making Xiao long bao! 🥟 Have cooking questions? Drop them below and we’ll cover them in a TikTok! #laeats #lafoodie #lafood #losangelesfood #losangelesfoodie #losangeleseats #losangelesfoodtiktok #losangelesrestaurants #losangelesrestaurant #losangelesfoodies #xiaolongbao #soupdumplings #meatballs ♬ original sound - Chef David Kuo

The Technique

The process is simple. Begin by dissolving gelatin mix into heated store-bought stock (about 130 to 180°F) or by making a bone-heavy, gelatinous homemade stock. Next, chill the stock in the refrigerator until it becomes fully congealed. Finally, remove the stock jelly from the refrigerator and push it through a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth so that it forms uniform, grain-sized pieces, then combine with your raw meatball mixture. As the meatballs cook, either in the oven or on the stove, the embedded pieces of jelly will transform into the moisture meatballs lack.

How it Works

The crux of this technique lies in creating stock jelly, a process that relies on your stock having ample collagen, which is what allows it to firm up. Since most store-bought stocks are relatively low in collagen, using an inexpensive gelatin packet to increase collagen makes this technique convenient enough that it could actually become part of anyone’s meatball making process. Of course, if you have homemade, collagen-rich stock on hand—or enough bones in your refrigerator to make some—you absolutely can forgo the gelatin mix and enjoy even richer flavored-liquid coursing through your meatballs.

When to Use Stock Jelly

Stock jelly works for any meatball situation you may find yourself in. As Chef Kuo established, Italian American style meatballs work great. But incorporating beef stock into Swedish meatballs or these gochujang meatballs would also make sense. If you’re more interested in applying this to large-format meat, this technique is also perfect for your standard meatloaf.

Let us know how you’ll be using this technique in the comments below

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

Paul Hagopian

Written by: Paul Hagopian

Content @ Food52


[email protected] March 3, 2023
I took cooking class in junior high. The teacher said never mix egg white with ground meat. She said the job of an egg white is to dry and stiffen! I’ve since used egg yolks only in meatballs and meat loaf to very moist and favorable results.
Smaug March 3, 2023
Yet egg whites are aproximately 90% water.
Ann March 2, 2023
If you use this technique do you reduce the amount of water called for?
kynthelgironan March 2, 2023
Do you have a sample recipe to offer, or at least details for the ratio of broth to gelatin?
bbonar March 2, 2023
So how much stock jelly per pound of meat would you recommend? Thanks!
loganbacon March 1, 2023
When you do this, do you reduce the other liquids in the recipe? I am eager to try it!
ivyandargus February 23, 2023
Amazing idea! I wonder where you found it!
Smaug February 24, 2023
Possibly, as Ms. James suggests, from Serious Eats; Kenji Alt Lopez has taken to putting gelatin (and fish sauce) in all his meat dishes. But it's hardly new; countless cooks with geleed stock in the refrigerator have no doubt done it. I 've done it myself (way back when I regularly kept stock reduced to a jelly in the refrigerator) with shredded beef concoctions.
Catherine O. March 1, 2023
I recently read about this (probably SE/KLA) and liked it hugely. I was already thinking about meatballs.
chefrockyrd February 23, 2023
Great idea. I am going to try it with meatloaf too. Leaner ground meat is so dry sometimes. Thanks David.
AntoniaJames February 23, 2023
I've been doing something like this for the past few years, having read about it in Serious Eats (a Kenji tip, if I'm not mistaken). I don't bother to make a jelly. I just bloom a tablespoon of gelatin per pound of meat in about 1/2 cup water - substituting soy sauce and/or fish sauce for some of the water in recipes where I want that flavor profile - letting it gel while I'm prepping the other ingredients. It's especially helpful for turkey meatballs, which tend to have less fat and flavor than beef and pork.

I first read about (and started) shredding zucchini in my meatballs when I stumbled on an excellent recipe for albondigas by Diane Kennedy in a local SF Bay Area paper, eons ago. I recently read that using zucchini or soaked bread serves to create tiny barriers that prevent the meat proteins from bonding tightly together, which is usually what makes meatballs tough. When zucchini are not in season here, I finely chop 1/4 - 1/2 cup of parsley stems, which add a lot of flavor, too.

It's so easy to add the gelatin, I do that as well. I buy one-pound containers of gelatin (Knox) on Amazon, as that is considerably more cost effective than buying the little packets, and the stuff lasts forever. Some natural foods stores sell it in bulk. (I used to buy it at the Food Mill in Oakland when I lived there.) ;o)
tastysweet February 23, 2023
I take it you heat the water? Or just mix together and add?
AntoniaJames February 24, 2023
No need to heat the water. I use water from my filtered tap, but during cold snaps like the one we had this week (-17 degrees F at night, highs of 4 - 6 degrees F during the day), when the water from the tap is ice cold, I give it 20 - 30 seconds in the microwave. I don't know if that's necessary. I do know that the water does not need to be hot for the gelatin to bloom. ;o)
Smaug February 23, 2023
I don't recall ever feeling that a meatball needed more moisture, but I suppose some do; thus traditional fillers such as bread soaked in milk and shredded zucchini.
judy February 22, 2023
bones cooked down release collagen, the "jelly" that thickens the broth. Save you bones in the freezer. When you get a bunch, cover with stock of same meat (chicken, beef, etc) and cook on simmer until bones are slightly soft and connective tissue and gristle is about gone. Usually 1-2 hours depending on bones. Beef usually longer than chicken. The bone gelatin is exceptional. for Vegans, I was wondering if this could be done with pectin?
Lisle February 22, 2023
I like this idea. Makes total sense. Can't wait for the opportunity to try it!