5 Mistakes to Avoid When Making Meatballs

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Alena Haurylik)

Tender, juicy meatballs are a supper to celebrate. Pick your favorite blend of meat and a sauce to match, and everyone is happy.

But achieving meatball perfection has its tricks and potential pitfalls. Here are five common mistakes to avoid so you can make the meatballs of your dreams.

1. Not seasoning the meat.

If you forget to season the meat when you’re blending the mixture together, expect them to fall flat on flavor.

→ Follow this tip: Make a point to season the meat well before mixing all the ingredients together.

If you’re not quite sure if the mixture is seasoned correctly, go ahead and cook up a test patty. It will give you a chance to taste for seasoning before cooking up the entire batch, so you can adjust the seasoning if necessary.

2. Not adding any moisture to the meat.

Some kind of moisture, like eggs or a binder made from bread crumbs and milk, is essential when making meatballs. Without it, the protein content forces the meatballs to shrink as they cook, and produces a final dish with a tough texture.

→ Follow this tip: To ensure tender meatballs, be sure to include eggs or a binder, like bread crumbs soaked in milk, in the mix.

3. Over-mixing the meat.

There’s something about preparing a meatball mixture that makes us think we need to really mix it. The amount the meat is handled has a direct impact on the texture of the meatballs: We miss out on really tender meatballs when the meat is overworked.

→ Follow this tip: For the most tender meatballs, mix the meat with the binder and other ingredients just until everything is combined.

4. Not shaping the meatballs correctly.

There’s no need to squish the meat into super-tight, compact rounds. When meatballs are packed together too tightly, they cook up tough, rubbery, and chewy.

→ Follow this tip: Being gentle is the name of the game when it comes to forming meatballs. Consider oiling your hands so the mixture won’t stick to them, and then gently and quickly form the meat into evenly sized balls.

5. Not forming evenly-sized meatballs.

When cooking a batch of meatballs of all different sizes, smaller meatballs will end up overcooked and dry, while larger ones will end up undercooked.

→ Follow this tip: We’re not talking exact precision here, but the meatballs should all be shaped into roughly the same size. If you don’t want to use your hands, consider using a small ice cream scoop.

And if you do happen to have tiny meatballs for soup, along with larger meatballs, it’s best to cook them separately to be sure each size is tender and juicy.

What are your best tips for making really great meatballs?