Rao's Meatballs

February  8, 2022
47 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Cook time 30 minutes
  • Makes 28 meatballs
Author Notes

Spaghetti and meatballs doesn't have to be a meal that you slave over and simmer all day, nor does it need to put you into hibernation once you've eaten it. You can mix, shape, and fry these meatballs in exactly the time it takes for Marcella Hazan's tomato, butter, and onion sauce to cook (or even this 20-minute marinara, if you're really fast). The caveats: 1. Make your own fresh breadcrumbs (i.e., grind up some stale bread) or, if your crumbs are purchased and quite fine, cut back by half, and don't use quite as much water. I can't be responsible for your stiff, mealy dumpling-balls if you don't heed this. 2. Use local, pastured, not very lean meats if at all possible. Good flavor and fat go a long way here.

Helpful tools for this recipe:
- Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Signature Sauteuse
- Five Two Wooden Spoons
- Five Two Double-Sided Bamboo Cutting Board

Genius Recipes

Test Kitchen Notes

Adapted slightly from Rao's Cookbook by Frank Pellegrino (Random House, 1998) —The Editors

What You'll Need
Watch This Recipe
Rao's Meatballs
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 1/2 pound ground veal
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup grated Pecorino Romano
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
  • 1/2 small clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
  • 2 cups lukewarm water
  • 1 cup good-quality olive oil
  • Your favorite marinara sauce (we like Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce With Onion and Butter, also on Food52)
  1. In a large bowl, combine the beef, pork, and veal. Add the eggs, cheese, parsley, and garlic; season with salt and pepper. Using your hands, mix to combine. Add the breadcrumbs and mix again to combine. Slowly add the water, 1 cup at a time, until the mixture is quite moist. Shape into 2½- to 3-inch balls.
  2. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm the oil. When the oil is very hot but not smoking, fry the meatballs in batches. When the bottom of the meatball is very brown and slightly crisp, turn and cook the top half. Remove from the heat and drain on paper towels.
  3. Lower the cooked meatballs into the simmering marinara sauce and cook for 15 minutes. Serve alone or with pasta.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Smaug
  • AnnMarie B.
    AnnMarie B.
  • BeckandBulow
  • maxi1712
  • Andrea
Genius Recipes

Recipe by: Genius Recipes

225 Reviews

Giudee October 29, 2023
Until very recently, there as not a jarred sauce I would touch. I religiously stuck to my own. Recently someone recommended a jar so heartily I had to try it. They were right, I loved it. Now I will occasionally use it if I don’t have time to make it. Ironically it’s Rao’s brand. Crazy, since you don’t even recommend that one, despite using Rao’s meatballs.
Smaug October 30, 2023
From other discussions, it would seem you have a lot who agree about Rao's sauce. The sauces they mention are seemingly chosen for speed mostly; Hazan's is more a butter sauce than a tomato sauce; I wouldn't put it on these already fatty meat balls. The 20 minute marinara- there's some dubious stuff in the recipe, and I'd like to see someone do it in 20 minutes, but it's mostly pretty basic- a lot of cooks will have their own methods for a quick sauce, and the takeaway is that the meatballs will work with any tomato sauce, not a real eye opener.
zoumonkie October 31, 2023
Roa's sauce is more expensive but no better than others in my opinion. It's good but others are too.
Kevin K. October 13, 2023
Made as directed just to see. Meh.
zoumonkie October 13, 2023
[email protected] August 31, 2023
Very quick recipe. I lightly fried mine because I’m going to freeze most of them. Delicious!
Smaug May 16, 2023
Nothing particularly distinguished or distinct about this recipe, but it is a classic. And they have the sense to fry them properly (needs to be enough oil so that they'll be half floating for them to stay at all round.
zoumonkie May 16, 2023
You are right there is nothing particularly distinguishing about Rao's meat balls. That said, the recipe can be screwed up using cheap cheese from a shaker can. Turkey is a substitute for veal only for those who have lost their sense of taste from covid. I do other thing to my meat balls, but they are my meatballs not Rao's.
zoofunkywow April 22, 2023
Made these the other night. Turned out better than Rao’s. Didn’t have to cut the breadcrumbs (store bought) and added as much water as it called for. Didn’t turn out mealy! Substituted the veal (unethical for my taste) for ground turkey. Made 28 3” Rao balls - perfect! Also added 6 cloves of garlic. Don’t know who only uses half a small clove of garlic for 28 balls….
zoumonkie April 23, 2023
If you used Turkey you didn’t make Rao’s. It’s that simple. There is nothing wrong with eating veal; it’s good. Ethically there is no difference between eating an egg or consuming veal.
AnnMarie B. June 10, 2022
Good simple recipe, but it can even be easier - I do not see the need for frying in the pan, just plop them in dutch oven full hot hot red sauce, of course longer cooking time required. Also added half water, half milk instead of just water, no garlic (garlic added to the sauce)
zoumonkie April 17, 2023
So, you didn't make Rao's meatballs. There are lots of different meatballs, many very good. Rao's isn't the only good meatball, but it is the only Rao's meatball.
AnnMarie B. October 14, 2023
Oh is that you Rao? No, I did not make Rao's meatball recipe, I improved upon it.
BeckandBulow February 7, 2022
I would eat the onion-spinach-herb-garlic reduction(?) by itself honestly. The smell in the pan. It’s perfect. I gobbled up a 2-lb batch of these delicious meat bombs alone within 48 hours. I’m obsessed! Thank you!
zoumonkie June 10, 2022
No spinach in the recipe. Interesting, but it wouldn’t be Raos. Worth trying; spinach replaces some water?
maxi1712 December 28, 2021
Did really taste as good as expected - don't let salt and pepper come too short, a good amount is needed. People who are not too much into cheese should really watch out as it contributes a lot to the meatballs' taste. Overall a good recipe worthy of getting on the favorites-list.
zoumonkie December 28, 2021
Refreshing review from someone who actually follows recipes
Stephanie July 21, 2023
You have WAY too much time on your hands. Lighten up! You sound grumpy and bitter.
Happygoin September 26, 2023
Stephanie, zoumunkie is a loser who lives in his mother’s basement and has nothing better to do than troll this thread. He’s been at it since 2015.

Get a life already. Sheesh
ann H. November 13, 2021
I followed the recipe precisely and the meatballs were amazing.
This will be added to our regular rotation.
Thanks so much for sharing.
Gailp November 5, 2021
Followed recipe exactly. Needs salt (and more garlic for my Italian palate, probably more flavoring overall). Hope cooking them in sauce jazzes them up! Not much taste.
bonnie59 March 7, 2021
These are delicious and I made them the 2nd time using the air fryer to cook them...highly recommend as the “balls” were perfectly cooked, browned on all sides and no turning required!:)
vdalis April 17, 2023
What temp in the air fryer and how long? Did you turn them halfway through cooking?
Allison February 21, 2021
These are not Rao’s meatballs and are awful. This recipe calls for 1/6 of the garlic and four times the amount of breadcrumbs as the authentic Rao’s recipe. These were like paste. Horrible, disappointing waste of ingredients. I don’t understand how people are raving about this monstrosity.
zoumonkie February 21, 2021
Frank and Anna used 2 cups of bread crumbs. You must have adjusted or forgot to add water. Next time follow the recipe
hwarner529 February 12, 2021
I've made these twice now, so good! No complaints from anyone on these meatballs. This time I had some wagyu beef and ground elk that I wanted to try. The only thing that we have done differently is keep cooked batches in the oven on low heat instead of on paper towels.
No need to serve with anything, they are simply delicious by themselves.
Jeff February 3, 2021
I haven't made these, yet, I'm planning to make them tonite using Samin Nosrat's Pomarola sauce. I typically read comments to get tips or other ideas for how to make a great recipe better, or at least more reliable. But this message thread is so full of arguments and strange passive aggressive maneuvers that it wasn't very helpful. So my review is for the message thread: 2 stars.
Lula M. February 3, 2021
Jeff, they don't need a separate sauce–the meat flavors the sauce. Just follow the recipe–it doesn't need to be improved.
Andrea February 2, 2021
I thought my meatballs were perfect....I was wrong! THESE are!
zoumonkie February 2, 2021
It's the veal that makes them great
Babs I. December 21, 2020
I make these about every other month. Today, for the first time, I’m cooking them in the oven, like all the other meatballs I make. Last time that I fried them, I ended up with too many burns, on top of the messy stove. I’m not sure why it took me so long to figure it out.
Alja M. February 18, 2021
Hey there. What oven temp and for how long please. Thanks!
Babs I. February 18, 2021
Depending on the size, at 375 F, start checking at 20-25 minutes. They’ll be starting to brown when done. I use a meat thermometer to check.
Carolyn K. June 4, 2021
425 for 20-25 minutes.
Connie S. October 27, 2021
I always bake mine. 375 for about 35 minutes. And I don’t use veal - half beef and half pork.
Linda October 12, 2020
I have not made these meatballs. I use my family recipe which is similar and equally delicious. But I must say we have been to Raos in Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas and the meatballs are absolutely fantastic.
zoumonkie October 27, 2021
If you haven't made them, you can't say yours are equally delicious
barbara April 15, 2023
I think they said they had them at the restaurant. If it's the same receipe, what's the difference who made them?
suzanne October 11, 2020
Made these last night. Cooked in oven at 425 convection for 20 minutes instead of frying and they were perfect.
cdotg May 8, 2020
This recipe is badly written and edited. Two pounds of meat plus fillers does not make 28 3-inch wide meatballs, you don't need a full cup of olive oil to sauté them, and one batch of Hazan's tomato sauce will never produce enough to finish cooking this quantity of beef. The meat mixture is good but the directions stink.
zoumonkie May 8, 2020
make 28 2 1/2 inch meatballs like the recipe calls for
Smaug May 16, 2023
Actually, it says 2 1/2 to 3". Next time I'm grinding meat I'll have to see how much a 3" ball actually weighs; I'd guess the better part of a pound. Certainly it would have some structural difficulties.
Julie March 31, 2020
This is one of my all-time favorite meatball recipes, and everyone I've ever served them to has RAVED. Honestly, they can be made with the meat that you have, even if it's not the classic Italian beef/pork/veal mix, although it's very good that way. For instance, today, in the middle of quarantine when I'm not going shopping, but rather using what I have, that's ground beef, some ground pork, and some...ground venison. And I will bet that they're still going to be sumptuous, especially served in Marcella Hazan's fabulous tomato-butter-onion sauce (hot tip -- that sauce is easily made in the Instant Pot as a dump-it-and-go recipe, no watching/stirring required, while you make the meatballs). A perfect meal for watching "My Brilliant Friend" for any fans out there.
zoumonkie March 31, 2020
I hope they are scrumptious too
Erika L. April 22, 2020
You’re just a peach, aren’t ya!
zoumonkie April 22, 2020
Yes, you might say I am both sumptuous and scrumptious.