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Italian meatballs in marinara sauce over spaghetti in bowl.
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4.93 from 14 votes

Italian Meatballs (Moist, Tender, Bake-or-Fry)

I make and freeze these tender, moist Italian meatballs to have on hand for quick meals of spaghetti, subs or wedding soup. Admittedly, a few disappear before they hit the freezer. Delish.
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time20 minutes
Total Time35 minutes
Course: Main Course, make ahead
Cuisine: Italian
Servings (change as needed): 60 meatballs


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium sweet onion, finely chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 teaspoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
  • 3 pounds ground beef, veal, chicken and/or pork (any combination), Note 1

Seasoning and Binding Mixture (Panade)

  • 3 slices white bread, Note 2 (to make 2 cups coarsely torn bread)
  • 1 1/4 cup milk (or water)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh Italian (flat) parsley
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, Note 3
  • 2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • Optional variations: Note 4.


  • PREHEAT OVEN to 450F/232C. Line 2 pans (with 1 inch sides) with tin foil and spray with oil. I use one large and one smaller pan to fit side by side in my oven, but use whatever you have.
  • PREPARE INGREDIENTS: Onion and parsley can be chopped with knife. Bread can be torn into small pieces by hand. Alternatively, use processor to first finely dice onion, then coarsely process bread, then finely mince parsley.
  • SAUTE ONIONS AND GARLIC: Heat oil on medium high heat. Add onions and sauté for 4-6 minutes until soft and translucent (not brown). Add garlic and saute another minute. Allow to cool while you continue.
  • MAKE MEAT MIXTURE: In large bowl, add seasonings/bindings for meat (bread, milk, parsley, eggs, salt and Parmesan). Mix to combine well. Mixture will be mushy. Add ground meats, onion and garlic. Using clean hands, mix all ingredients together GENTLY. Don't overwork the meat. (I spread fingers on one hand, form a claw and use a twisting motion to mix). Wet hands (to avoid sticking) and lightly form balls about 1 1/2-2 inches (3.8-5 cm) diameter -or any size you like. I make about 60 balls. Lay on prepared pans 1/2 inch (1.3 cm) apart.
  • BAKE MEATBALLS: Bake meatballs for 10-12 minutes, depending on size. If pans don't fit side by side, bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, rotating pans halfway through. Meatballs will be light on top and nicely browned on the bottom. If desired, turn meatballs over halfway through to brown more evenly. I don't bother. To pan fry meatballs, Note 5. This will take longer due to multiple batches. Serving suggestions: Note 6.


  1. Ground meat: Use any combination of ground beef, veal, chicken or pork. I recommend buying ground meat with a fat content of 10-15% for moist and tender meatballs. For example, choose lean ground beef instead of extra lean. 
  2. Bread substitute: Instead of fresh bread crumbs, use half the amount of dried breadcrumbs (1 cup/110 grams). For a gluten-free option, use gluten-free breadcrumbs if you can find them. Or replace with oats, almond flour or crushed cornflakes (check boxes to ensure gluten-free). 
  3. If omitting the Parmesan cheese, add a little less milk. 
  4. Variations to try
    • Feel free to add 1-2 teaspoons Italian seasonings or Worcestershire if you like.
    • You can omit the Parmesan cheese. Just reduce the milk a bit.
    • Add other fresh herbs like fresh basil, thyme or rosemary.
    • You can use plain breadcrumbs instead of fresh bread if you prefer - just use less.
  5. To pan fry meatballs: If they are large, brown them on all sides in vegetable oil on medium-high heat in a large skillet (you will have to do more than one batch). Then slip them into a preheated 350F/177C oven on a baking sheet to finish cooking for about 10-15 minutes. You can skip the baking portion if the meatballs are smaller or if you plan to simmer them in a sauce. 
  6. Serving suggestions: Add to marinara sauce and serve over spaghetti. Or use in another meatball recipe (see post), subs or wedding soup.  
  7. Shortcuts:
    • I use a food processor to chop the onions, bread and parsley (one at a time).
    • Use onion and garlic powder instead of sautéing fresh onions and garlic (but fresh is better!)
    • Buy pre-grated fresh Parmesan cheese.
    • Use breadcrumbs instead making fresh breadcrumbs (but use half).
  8. Make Ahead:
    • How to make frozen meatballs:
        • Freeze cooked meatballs for 30-40 minutes in a single layer on a pan, then transfer them to a ziploc bag or other airtight container. They can be frozen for months.
        • You can also freeze the uncooked meatballs the same way, then bake them when needed at 450F/232C for 12-15 minutes from frozen.
        • Leftover meatballs will also keep in the fridge for several days
        • To reheat and serve frozen meatballs:
            • thaw them in the refrigerator overnight. Reheat them the next day in spaghetti sauce or in the oven for about 8-10 minutes at 350°F/177C.
            • If you are in a time crunch, you can also microwave them on high for about 2-3 minutes or until they are fully heated through
Nutritional information is estimated. 
Calories: 77kcal | Carbohydrates: 3g | Protein: 6g | Fat: 5g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Cholesterol: 26mg | Sodium: 164mg | Potassium: 96mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 77IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 36mg | Iron: 1mg