Air Fryer Meatballs

published Jul 14, 2021
Air Fryer Meatballs

These quick and easy air fryer meatballs are as moist and flavorful as they come, thanks to a combination of ground meat and the addition of ricotta.


Makes20 to 24 meatballs

Prep10 minutes

Cook12 minutes to 24 minutes

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15 small meatballs sitting on a gray round plate with red sauce in a small round bowl on the plate, with three basil leafs on top
Credit: Tara Holland
Air Fryer Meatballs

These quick and easy air fryer meatballs are as moist and flavorful as they come. I tried lots of variations, which means I ate a lot of meatballs, and I can assure you that this is the absolute best recipe there is. Serve them in a sub with gooey, melted cheese, or plop them on top of creamy mashed potatoes — there’s no wrong way to enjoy this comfort food classic.

The Secret to Moist and Tender Meatballs

Air frying is a fast, more healthful way to “fry” foods — but it can sometimes dry out meat. After trying many different methods, though, I discovered a few secrets to ensuring great flavor, a rustic shape and texture, and firm yet juicy meatballs.

  1. Use a combination of ground meat. Instead of using purely ground beef, try using a combination of ground beef, pork, and veal. This not only gives great flavor, but it also helps with the texture and juiciness. Using a meatloaf ground meat mix is a quick and easy way to get the perfect combo of meats and ratio. If you can’t source meatloaf mix at your local store, then 50% beef, 25% pork, and 25% veal is a good ratio. Failing that, do a 70% ground beef and 30% pork combo.
  2. Don’t overmix. This is the key to avoiding tough meatballs. Use your hands to combine the ingredients and quickly distribute all the herbs and aromatics. Don’t worry too much if they’re not uniformly distributed — that’s what makes the meatballs rustic! 
  3. Reach for ricotta. The real secret to moist meatballs is adding a little ricotta to the mixture. The richness of the cheese prevents the meatballs from drying out in the air fryer and keeps them nice and juicy.

What Do Eggs and Breadcrumbs Add to Meatballs?

Eggs — usually one or two per pound of meat — are used to bind the mixture together. Be careful not to add too many eggs, as they can create a spongy texture. This recipe calls for just one due to the extra moisture created by using ricotta.

Breadcrumbs are used to soak up some (but not all) of the moisture, which helps create firm meatballs.

Credit: Tara Holland
Air Fryer Meatballs

A Few Ways to Serve Air Fryer Meatballs

  • Pile into sub rolls with sautéed onions and bell peppers, tomato sauce, and melted mozzarella or provolone.
  • Tuck inside slider buns with mozzarella, mustard, and pickles.
  • Serve them over mashed potatoes with gravy.
  • Stick with toothpicks and serve alongside pesto for dipping.
  • Serve over creamy polenta with mascarpone and balsamic glaze.

Air Fryer Meatballs

These quick and easy air fryer meatballs are as moist and flavorful as they come, thanks to a combination of ground meat and the addition of ricotta.

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 12 minutes to 24 minutes

Makes 20 to 24 meatballs

Serves 4

Nutritional Info


  • 1

    small yellow onion

  • 2 cloves


  • 1/3 cup

    Italian-style fine breadcrumbs, or 1/3 cup plain, fine breadcrumbs mixed with 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

  • 1

    large egg

  • 1/2 bunch

    fresh basil or parsley, or a combination

  • 1 pound

    unseasoned meatloaf mix (ground beef, pork, and veal)

  • 3 ounces

    Parmesan cheese, finely grated (about 3/4 cup store-bought or 1 1/2 cups grated on the small holes of a box grater)

  • 4 ounces

    whole-milk ricotta cheese (1/2 cup)

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    dried oregano

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • Cooking spray

  • 1 cup

    marinara sauce for dipping, or 1 (about 24-ounce) jar if serving under the meatballs (optional)


  1. Grate 1 small yellow onion on the large holes of a box grater into a large bowl (just over 1/3 cup onion and juices). Using a Microplane or the smallest holes on a box grater, grate 2 garlic cloves into the bowl. Add 1/3 cup Italian-style fine breadcrumbs. Using your hands and mix until the breadcrumbs are thoroughly moistened.

  2. Beat 1 large egg in a small bowl until combined. Finely chop 1/2 bunch fresh basil or parsley leaves until you have 3 tablespoons, plus more for garnish if desired. If needed, finely grate 3 ounces Parmesan cheese (about 1 1/2 cups).

  3. Add the egg, fresh herbs, Parmesan, 1 pound meatloaf mix, 1/2 cup ricotta cheese, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Using your hands or a wooden spoon, mix until just combined, being sure not to overmix.

  4. Scoop the meat mixture out into 20 to 24 (1 1/2-tablespoon) portions, each about the size of a ping-pong ball, and place on a baking sheet. Roll with damp hands into smooth balls.

  5. Heat an air fryer to 400ºF. Coat the air fryer basket with cooking spray, then place as many meatballs in the basket as will fit in a single layer without touching. Air fry until the meatballs are lightly browned, cooked through, and firm to the touch, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a plate and tent loosely with aluminum foil to keep warm.

  6. Wipe the air fryer basket clean with paper towels held on tongs. Repeat frying the remaining meatballs. Meanwhile, warm the marinara sauce if desired.

  7. Serve the meatballs on a bed of marinara sauce, or serve the sauce in a bowl for dipping. Garnish with the reserved fresh herbs if desired.

Recipe Notes

Make-ahead: The meatballs can be shaped, covered, and refrigerated for up to 2 days before air frying. They can also be frozen solid, then transferred to a zip-top bag and kept frozen for up to 2 months. Air fry from frozen; they will take 14 to 16 minutes.

Storage: Leftover meatballs can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days.