Meatballs are an American staple dish made by creating balls of ground meat mixed with binder and seasoning. The best meatballs begin with the right proportion of lean meat and fat before mixing with other ingredients like breadcrumbs, herbs, spices, and cheese. Meatballs can be consumed on their own or doused in a rich marinara sauce with some pasta.
While meatballs gained popularity in the United States, the marinara-based meatballs are created for Italian restaurants to complement their fresh pasta. Other countries like China, India, and the North-Western regions mix their meatballs with vegetables, soup, and thick sauces. Other ground meats like lamb, chicken, and duck are combined with the original beef and pork-based balls.
After preparing your meatballs, the next question relies on the cooking method to prepare this dish. Typically, meatballs can be prepared through deep-frying and baking—with each technique providing a different take on making your meatballs.
How to Prepare Meatballs
Prepping your meatballs can be done hours before cooking and stored inside the fridge or freezer for weeks. While meatballs are commonly made with ground beef, you can also select any protein such as lamb, turkey, pork, and chicken. Before mixing other ingredients, make sure that the meat is thawed and drained.
The next step is the easiest. Prepare a mixture of breadcrumbs, spices, salt and pepper, cheese, onions, and vegetables. Ideally, it would help if you mix half a cup of breadcrumbs and an egg per pound of ground meat. The egg will act as a perfect binder with the breadcrumbs. It will help retain the other ingredients together.
If you add a handful of Parmesan cheese, make sure that you’ve not placed salt on your meatballs yet. Sodium elevates the food’s natural flavor, but consuming too much may produce kidney stones, affecting your urination.
If you are experiencing cooking a meatball that is falling into pieces, adding a bit of egg or two will provide moisture to prevent your minced meat from flaking. Adding breadcrumbs will also help in bringing the humidity together. If you don’t want to include these, you can substitute those with the following ingredients:
- Mixing a couple of tablespoons of ricotta or yogurt can help with the binding process of your meat.
- If you don’t want to use dairy-based binders, substituting it with unsweetened apple sauce can also be used. Apples complement with pork, and it can help on keeping the food tender.
- Instead of using breadcrumbs, you can substitute them with ground oats or crushed saltine crackers. Stale white loaf bread can also be used as a binder replacement.
Is It Better to Fry Meatballs?
Meatballs can be prepared in many flavorsome ways, but the traditional method of cooking them is through pan-frying. This cooking method is derived from the Italian roots of this recipe since the collected juices from the frying pan are incorporated with the marinara sauce. Adding the sauce with the meatballs will also help cook the meat through the sauce.
Fried meatballs are recommended for people with minimal time for cooking. While it is not considered a healthier choice than baking, frying your meatballs will enclose its deep-seated flavors, making it tastier than the baked counterpart. If you want to reduce the chance of adding oils to your diet, you can use healthier oils like canola or olive oil when frying. However, reusing oils will also increase the risk of producing bad cholesterol and other complications in the digestive tract and the heart.
To fry your meatballs, you first need to bring your skillet filled with cooking oil to medium heat. You can test if the oil is already ready for frying through the water method. Flick a few drops of water using your fingers and observe the water’s evaporation. Once the pan is already heating, you may fill your pan with meatballs.
While frying, make sure that there is still space for the oil to penetrate on the edges of the meatballs. Overcrowding your meatballs will not only lower your oil’s temperature but can also create an uneven cooked surface to your protein.
Allow your meatballs to be submerged with oil for three to five minutes on one side. Then, carefully, roll the meatballs over and allow them to cook for another minute or when the meatballs are already golden brown. Next, grab a strainer and let the fried meatballs drip away their excess oils.
If you don’t want to use the skillet frying method, you can prepare your meatballs by deep-frying them. Just make sure that your meat is covered with generous amounts of breadcrumbs and flour to prevent the meat’s surface from overcooking. Use a medium-high temperature when you are deep-frying your meatballs.
Is It Better to Bake Meatballs?
If you want to reduce the meatballs’ fat content, it is recommended to bake them. Baked meatballs are easier to prepare since you don’t have to oversee them during the entire cooking process. Baked meatballs are also created with higher temperatures, which means that they can be prepared faster—depending on the size of your ball.
Take note that baked meatballs are suggested for people who don’t have enough time to check the cooking process from time to time. Baking meatballs also reduces excess oils compared to frying. However, the released juices and meat oils can significantly affect the baked meatball’s flavor. In that case, make sure that you serve baked meatballs with marinara sauce to mask its blandness.
Since baked meatballs can dry faster, this variant is commonly more prominent than fried ones. For instance, baked meatballs can be twice or thrice larger than their fried variant. To prepare your baked meatballs, make sure that you have preheated oven for 30 minutes.
While it is preheating, spray your baking sheet with a thin layer of cooking spray. Using parchment paper or silicone baking pads can reduce your meatballs’ oil content effectively. Just like frying, you should align your meatballs properly. Make sure that the meat’s surface is not touching one another.
If you want to collect oil drippings, you can place your meatballs on top of a wire rack. Place a baking sheet underneath to help prevent the meat’s juices from spilling throughout the oven. Excess oil will drip down under the wire rack, and the baking pan is responsible for collecting it.
Set your oven timer for 15-25 minutes and allow it to cook at a temperature not more than 400°F (204°C). For the spacing, make sure that the meatballs are on each away from one another. If you don’t have parchment paper, it is recommended to use cooking oil or any form of grease instead of wax paper. Wax paper is not for baking purposes, and the burnt paper will affect the flavor of the meatballs.