Cheesy Meatball Casserole

published Aug 10, 2021
Cheesy Meatball Casserole

A quick and easy meatball casserole topped with melted cheese.

Serves6 to 8

Makes28 small meatballs

Prep25 minutes

Cook35 minutes to 40 minutes

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meatball caserole in a pot
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Anna Stockwell

Spaghetti and meatballs is one of my all-time favorite comfort foods. When I was growing up, I would practically beg my mom to make it. But it was never about the pasta for me: The saucy, garlicky meatballs were all I really wanted.

This recipe — which lets the meatballs take center stage — perfectly satisfies my cravings. Flavorful marinara, tender meatballs, and a blanket of melted mozzarella cheese bake up into a comforting casserole everyone will love. It’s the low-carb, keto-friendly, spaghetti-free version of the classic, and it’s perfect for any day of the week.

What’s the Best Beef for Meatball Casserole?

Lean ground beef, or ground beef with 5 to 10 percent fat content, works best here. Why? As the meatballs cook, they release some of their fat, so using ground beef with a higher ratio of fat (like a 70/30 or 80/20 blend) could result in a greasy casserole. Ground turkey or chicken would also work well here, as they’re both quite lean.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Anna Stockwell

Do I Have to Brown the Meatballs Before Baking?

Nope! The heat of the oven is enough to fully cook the meatballs and lock in their moisture. Skipping the browning step also helps cut back on prep time and dishes, making this casserole perfect for weeknights.

If you don’t want to make your own meatballs, feel free to use a 24-ounce bag of frozen meatballs instead. To do so, skip the first two steps of the recipe and continue from step three. You can nestle the frozen meatballs directly in the sauce — no need to defrost them. Then, cook as directed. By the time the cheese browns, the meatballs will be perfectly cooked and hot throughout.

Read more: 5 Cheap & Easy Meals That All Start with a Bag of Frozen Meatballs

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Anna Stockwell

What Should I Serve with Meatball Casserole?

I love to serve this casserole with thick slices of toast or garlic bread or a simple green salad. Of course, you can also spoon the meatballs and sauce over cooked spaghetti and sprinkle extra cheese on top. Leftover meatballs are delicious served on a toasted hoagie roll for a quick meatball sub.

Can I Make Meatball Casserole in Advance?

Yes! You can easily make it advance and bake it off later, but because the meatballs are uncooked, you don’t want to prep it more than one day in advance. To do so, assemble the casserole all the way up until you bake it (step five), wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, and store in the fridge for up to one day. When ready to bake, preheat the oven, unwrap the casserole, and bake as directed.

Cheesy Meatball Casserole

A quick and easy meatball casserole topped with melted cheese.

Prep time 25 minutes

Cook time 35 minutes to 40 minutes

Makes 28 small meatballs

Serves 6 to 8

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • Cooking spray

  • 1/2

    medium yellow onion

  • 3 cloves

    garlic

  • 1/4 cup

    fresh parsley leaves, plus more for garnish

  • 2 ounces

    Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1/2 cup)

  • 1 1/2 pounds

    lean ground beef

  • 1/2 cup

    fine, dry breadcrumbs

  • 1

    large egg

  • 2 teaspoons

    Italian seasoning

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 8 ounces

    low-moisture mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)

  • 1 (about 24-ounce) jar

    marinara sauce, divided

Instructions

  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Lightly coat a 9x13-inch or 3-quart baking dish with cooking spray. Prepare the following, placing them all in a large bowl as you complete them: Grate 1/2 medium yellow onion on the large holes of a box grater directly into the bowl to capture its juices (about 1 cup). Mince 3 garlic cloves, finely chop 1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves, and finely grate 2 ounces Parmesan cheese (about 1/2 cup).

  2. Add 1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef, 1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs, 1 large egg, 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper to the bowl. Gently mix with your hands until combined and no pockets of dry breadcrumbs remain.

  3. Grate 8 ounces mozzarella cheese on the large holes of the box grater (about 2 cups). Pour half of jar of marinara sauce (about 1 1/2 cups) into the bottom of the prepared baking dish and spread it into an even layer with a spoon.

  4. Form the mixture into 1 1/2-inch meatballs (about 2 heaping tablespoons each), wetting your hands with water as needed to prevent sticking, and arrange the meatballs in a single layer nestled in the sauce as they are made. (It’s OK if they are touching). You should have about 28 meatballs.

  5. Spoon the remaining sauce evenly over the tops of the meatballs and sprinkle the mozzarella cheese evenly over the top.

  6. Bake until the cheese is lightly browned, the sauce is bubbling around the edges, and the meatballs are cooked through (or an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of a meatball registers at least 165°F), 35 to 40 minutes. Garnish with more parsley leaves, if desired.

Recipe Notes

Substitutions: If you don’t have plain breadcrumbs on hand, Italian-style breadcrumbs can be used instead. If using frozen meatballs, you will need 24 ounces.

Storage: Leftover casserole can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

Make ahead: The unbaked, assembled casserole can be refrigerated tightly wrapped in plastic wrap up to 1 day in advance.