Rao's Meatballs

February  8, 2022
36 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.

  • AnnMarie B.
    AnnMarie B.
  • BeckandBulow
  • maxi1712
  • Andrea
  • sara del favero
    sara del favero
Genius Recipes

Recipe by: Genius Recipes

208 Reviews

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)
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
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!:)
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
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
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.
sara D. March 14, 2020
I don’t understand why these are called Rao’s meatballs when this is NOT Rao’s recipe. Save yourself a mistake and a complete waste of time and go to the Rao’s website instead.
zoumonkie March 14, 2020
I see your point. The web site calls for romano cheese and this calls for parmesan. I looked a little further and found a Roa's recipe using parmesan too. The web site calls for using Rao's marinara which makes more sense than using your favorite. None of these variations use turkey or elliminat veal
Julie March 31, 2020
Not quite sure I understand what your complaint is. This is pretty much exactly the same recipe as the one on the Rao's website:
zoumonkie March 31, 2020
You are 100% right. I only agreed with Sara because it made no sense to argue
Allison February 21, 2021
Are you blind? Rao’s website calls for one half cup of breadcrumbs and this calls for two cups!!!! This is one half clove of garlic as opposed to three cloves. It’s more than Parmesan.
Terri4M May 15, 2021
I agree! I’d be furious if I were Rao’s! Call these meatballs anything but don’t call them Rao’s!
Connie S. October 27, 2021
I don’t know what the website says, but the Rao’s cookbook says 2 cups of breadcrumbs and 2 pounds of meat.
Luciana November 12, 2021
I think a lot of people miss that the recipe calls for fresh breadcrumbs, made from soft white bread. Not that dry sandy stuff in the tube. Missing that detail completely changes the texture of the meatball taking them from tender and moist to dense and dryer. The blend of meat is key, too.
zoumonkie November 13, 2021
Good point. I’ve long wondered how some people screw up a simple recipe. You hit the nail on the head
Linda January 5, 2020
Like most cooks, I did tweak the recipe just a bit by using powdered garlic and onion rather than the fresh garlic in the recipe. Also, I followed the directions that said if using fine store bought bread crumbs, to half the amount of bread crumbs and thus the water. Also, some reviews mentioned that they were a bit bland, so I used seasoned bread crumbs. I hope this is not too much tweaking, as I do not want to insult the chef.
The consistency is what I have been searching forever! Soft and tender, yet firm enough to not fall apart! I 'fried' mine in the oven to save my back from standing there frying and got a wonderful crisp on them.
They will be served in a basil tomato sauce along side my homemade manicotti!
Thank you for the wonderful recipe that I was able to make my own!!!!!!
zoumonkie January 5, 2020
Good comments. Nothing you suggested fundamentally changed the recipe. I'm thinking those who thought it was bland used some cheap sauce from a can.
Alamobecky February 22, 2020
I used turkey instead of "meat" and also oven-baked. They are delicious but not at all crisp or browned. How did you bake yours?
zoumonkie February 23, 2020
Your tweaks sounds like a copycat recipe for Chef Boyardee from a can, not Rao's.
teri October 6, 2020
I noticed that you have relentlessly followed this thread for months as nothing more than an antagonist. It’s a recipe thread and a form of casual networking and an odd place to find someone so desperate to button push behind the safety of a screen! Boredom maybe?
zoumonkie October 6, 2020
I’m flattered you noticed, but I’m married... sorry.
Terri4M May 15, 2021
Right?! It’s probably his/she/her/him recipe! Someone needs a job! #clown
Patty W. September 24, 2019
142 posts to argue about whether to use veal or not? Time for everyone to pull up their big girl/boy pants and move on. Unless you are baking, recipes are a “guideline” not gospel. Adjust to your own tastes. Don’t like veal, substitute equal amounts of the beef and pork then. What is the big deal? Will it be authentic Rao’s? Not quite, but equally excellent! Enjoy the meatballs and then find something else to do. Tell your story walking!! It’s supposed to be “reviews” not all out war!
zoumonkie September 24, 2019
143 posts. This is not a meatball guideline. It is a recipe for Rao's Meatballs. It is what you would taste if you dined at Rao's restaurant. You won't know what the food tastes like at a famous eatery if you change the ingredients. If you don't like fresh food with veal, eat something else.
Juliapepin September 24, 2019
What is veal?
kasia S. December 26, 2019
its a barbaric treatment of a baby cow basically locked in a crate so it can't move, hence why the flesh is so pale.

You can eat your meat, but eating veal is extra evil and personally I'd never support that.
kasia S. December 26, 2019
zoumonkie December 26, 2019
Veal tastes good. Veal is essential in Roa's meatballs for both taste and texture. it's the veal deal meal. Meatballs feel no pain.
kasia S. December 26, 2019
Roa's meatballs are about gluttony, on one needs to eat 3 animals in a meatball, especially not poorly treated baby cows.
zoumonkie December 26, 2019
That does it! You’re not allowed to eat a Roa’s meat ball. You can eat yours from a can.
kasia S. December 30, 2019
There is no such thing's as Roa's. It's called RAO'S you dolt.
sabrina September 13, 2020
I always agreed with you and boycotted veal for many years after becoming aware of this cruelty. However, if you live near a Wegman's store, they only allow veal that is from free-range calves - also marked clearly on packaging, and will not allow any other veal in their stores. No, I'm not from Wegmans, but fortunate enough to live very close to one of their stores.
Terri4M May 15, 2021
As if you ever sat your clown ass in one of Rao’s 33 seats! How’s your Mom’s basement?
katie008 September 24, 2019
zoumonkie, What a freaking TROLL. Stop making people feel horrible about themselves because they choose different ethics to live their lives by. Some people eat lamb, some people don't. Some people don't eat pork. So freaking what. Did Rao's cookbook PR team hire you to troll people here? Move on troll. Shoo
zoumonkie September 24, 2019
If you don't eat pork, don't serve pulled pork sandwiches! If you don't eat veal don't try to pass off whatever you make as Rao's meatballs. Enjoy your Spam
Bruce V. July 3, 2019
I've been doubling this recipe for years and freezing them. They freeze fine, no one would ever know the difference.