Leftover Stuffing Meatballs and Marinara

updated Nov 24, 2020
Leftover Stuffing Meatballs and Marinara

These ingenious meatballs use stuffing instead of breadcrumbs. They're great when faced with Thanksgiving leftovers, and freeze well for future dinners.

Serves8 to 10

Makes50 meatballs

Prep20 minutes

Cook20 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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Leftover stuffing meatballs with tomato sauce in pan.
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

Leftover stuffing is great for a few meals after Thanksgiving. (Even Julia Child relished stuffing sandwiches the day after!). But stuffing tends to go from marvelous to meh in just a few days. Don’t pitch the last of that bready goodness, though, for it’s got another meal to contribute to: meatballs!  

I know it sounds odd, but hear me out. Traditional meatball recipes use breadcrumbs to plump up meatballs and help the ingredients bind together. Since stuffing is essentially breadcrumbs, onions, and herbs, it’s a natural fit for meatball-making. The sage in stuffing melds with the bold flavors of Italian seasoning, garlic powder, Parmesan cheese, and tomato paste in this recipe, so no one even will guess they’re eating leftovers. 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

Just about any stuffing can be used for these meatballs, from your grandmother’s homemade stuffing to store-bought cornbread dressing. (Although oyster dressing might be a little out of place). The fine texture of most packaged stuffing mixes means you can likely add it as is, but if you’ve got leftover homemade stuffing with large chunks of bread, celery, or other hard ingredients, it’s best to pulse them in a food processor into small bits that will blend more easily with the ground meat. 

Over-stirring ground meat can result in tough meatballs, so I like to mix the stuffing, egg, cheese, and seasonings before adding the meat. And instead of fussing with browning the meatballs on the stove, I bake them. They’ll brown nicely and once bathed in sauce, no one will know the difference. 

Since the idea here is to use up leftovers, I make a double batch of meatballs. They freeze well and, when simmered in sauce, reheat from frozen in about 20 minutes, so they’re a Thanksgiving gift that keeps on giving.

Leftover Stuffing Meatballs and Marinara

These ingenious meatballs use stuffing instead of breadcrumbs. They're great when faced with Thanksgiving leftovers, and freeze well for future dinners.

Prep time 20 minutes

Cook time 20 minutes

Makes 50 meatballs

Serves 8 to 10

Nutritional Info


For the meatballs:

  • 2 cups

    leftover bread stuffing

  • 2 ounces

    Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1/2 cup)

  • 1/4 cup

    tomato paste

  • 2

    large eggs

  • 1 tablespoon

    Italian seasoning

  • 1 teaspoon

    garlic powder

  • 3/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 2 pinches

    red pepper flakes (optional)

  • 1 pound

    lean ground beef

  • 1 pound

    ground pork

For the sauce (enough for half the meatballs):

  • 1 (about 24-ounce) jar

    marinara sauce

  • 1/4 cup

    fresh basil leaves

  • Serving options: cooked pasta, soft polenta, or mashed potatoes


  1. Arrange 2 racks to divide the oven into thirds and heat the oven to 425ºF. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

  2. Place 2 cups bread stuffing in a large bowl. (If your stuffing is chunky, place it in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment and pulse until the pieces are no larger than a pea first.) Finely grate 2 ounces Parmesan cheese (about 1/2 cup) and add to the bowl.

  3. Add 1/4 cup tomato paste, 2 large eggs, 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and 2 pinches red pepper flakes if desired. Mix with a wooden spoon or your hands until the mixture is well blended.

  4. Add 1 pound ground beef and 1 pound ground pork and mix with the wooden spoon until blended. Do not over-stir or the meatballs will become tough. Form the meat mixture into 50 walnut-sized meatballs (about 2 tablespoons each), and place on the prepared baking sheets, spacing them at least 1 inch apart so they brown evenly.

  5. Bake, rotating the baking sheets halfway through, until the meatballs are just cooked through, about 15 minutes total. (An instant-read thermometer will register 160ºF when inserted into the center of a meatball.) Meanwhile, coarsely chop 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves.

  6. Pour 1 (about 24-ounce) jar marinara sauce into a large saucepan, then add half of the meatballs. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is heated through, about 5 minutes. Top with the basil and serve over pasta, soft polenta, or mashed potatoes.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: Freeze the remaining meatballs on the baking sheet until solid. Transfer to a zip-top bag and freeze for up to 3 months. To reheat, place frozen meatballs in marinara sauce. Cover and simmer over medium low heat, stirring frequently, until heated through, about 20 minutes.

Storage: Cooked meatballs can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months.

Ingredient/Equipment Variation: If you don’t have a food processor, use a chef’s knife to finely chop chunky stuffing.