Recipe Review

Anne Burrell’s Meatballs Have Hundreds of 5-Star Reviews — And They’re Worth the Hype

published Feb 25, 2020
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk; Design: The Kitchn

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been reviewing some of the most popular meatball recipes in search of the very best one. While narrowing down the contenders is often a difficult process, there was one meatball recipe we knew we had to include: Anne Burrell’s recipe for “excellent” meatballs has hundreds of five star reviews, and several comments confirming that they are, indeed, excellent.

After reading through the recipe, a few steps stood out to me. Rather than adding raw onions and garlic to the ground meat, you sauté them first to boost their flavor. The recipe also calls for frying the meatballs, finishing them in the oven, then adding them to the simmered sauce. The sauce itself starts off with pancetta, and then cooks down for a few hours. 

Is this labor-intensive recipe actually worth the time? I was eager to see if these meatballs lived up to their Internet hype.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk; Design: The Kitchn

How to Make Anne Burrell’s Excellent Meatballs

This recipe has a few more steps than most meatball recipes. First, you’ll sauté the onions with salt in olive oil until they’re aromatic but still pale. Then, add the garlic and pepper flakes and cook until aromatic. 

While the onion mixture cools to room temperature, you’ll add the ground veal, pork, beef, eggs, Parmigiano, and breadcrumbs to a large bowl and use your hands to combine. Add the sautéed onion mixture to the meat mixture and season generously, mixing again until just combined. Gradually add the water and squish with your hands until the mixture is moist, then form into your desired-size meatball. I went with a 2-inch meatball. 

Heat the oil in a large pan and brown the meatballs on all sides, then place them on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes in a 350°F oven until cooked through. You can either freeze the meatballs for later use, or eat them right away by simmering them in marinara sauce. 

Next, you’ll need to make the sauce. Cook the pancetta in a large pot with olive oil until it begins to crisp. Add onions and more salt and cook until soft and aromatic. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, then put the canned plum tomatoes through a food mill and add them to the pot with the pancetta and onions. Taste the sauce and season with more salt as needed. Simmer the sauce for two to three hours until slightly reduced and thickened. 

Finish the dish by adding the meatballs to the sauce and serving with spaghetti. 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

My Honest Review of Anne Burrell’s Meatballs

These meatballs have ruined all other meatballs for me. That’s how good they are. Sure, they take a long time and require some extra leg work, but every extra step results in even more flavor. 

The sauce alone is award-worthy. It’s built on a base of browned pancetta and sautéed onions, which will make your kitchen smell amazing. Simmering it for three hours creates an intensely flavorful sauce, and I felt like I could really taste each ingredient. I tasted it after two hours, but ultimately decided to go with the full three hours, and I was glad I did.

The meatballs themselves were also incredibly flavorful. Sautéeing the onions and garlic before adding them to the meat mixture gave them a more intense, aromatic flavor. The texture of the meatballs was also spot on. Frying the meatballs before baking them meant that they had a great crust, and their shape stayed intact. 

There were, however, a few steps missing from this recipe which could give a beginner cook a few hiccups. The recipe doesn’t specify that you should turn down the heat to low when you’re simmering the sauce; if you keep it on medium-high the whole time, it’ll burn and stick to the pan. The size of meatballs is up to you, but if you go bigger than a classic 2-inch ball, you’ll probably need to bake them for a few more minutes to ensure they’re cooked through. Salt quantities aren’t specified, and although Anne continuously specifies adding more salt than you think you need, I can imagine that some people might still under season.

Small hiccups aside, this is my new go-to meatball recipe. 

Credit: Alexis deBoschnek
Anne Burrell Meatballs

If You’re Making Anne Burrell’s Meatballs, a Few Tips

Before you make the best meatballs ever, read these tips.

  1. Plan accordingly: As fantastic as this recipe is, it’s not a weeknight meal. Your best bet is to wait until the weekend and expect it to take at least four hours to make. Don’t worry, these meatballs are absolutely worth the wait. 
  2. Make the sauce first: Save on time by making the sauce before the meatballs. The sauce needs to simmer for 2 to 3 hours, at which point you can be working on the meatballs so everything is ready at about the same time. 
  3. Generously season: Throughout the recipe Anne reminds you to continue tasting and seasoning as you go. Both ground meat and tomatoes take a good amount of salt to really shine. This isn’t the time to skimp on seasoning! 
  4. No pancetta? No problem: If you can’t find pancetta, you can use bacon for a similar flavor. 

Rating: 9.5/10

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk; Design: The Kitchn