Perfect Meatballs in Red Sauce – The Best Meatball Recipe in the World!
This is the best meatball recipe in the world. These perfect meatballs in red sauce are the absolute best you’ll ever have. Your family will want them again and again, and your friends will beg you for the recipe!Jump to Recipe
Spaghetti and meatballs were a childhood comfort food, but it’s a meal that until recently I rarely made or ordered. I loved it as a kid, and it was the only thing I’d go for at an Italian restaurant. But as the years rolled on, the fond memories of my mom’s spaghetti and meatballs (she used to make them from scratch back in those days) were replaced by traumatic memories of institutionalized clods of meat product in a watery red juice that were unceremoniously plopped atop a tangled nest of flaccid, oily spaghetti served by indifferent cafeteria workers in drab gray dresses and hair nets.
Grades changed. Schools changed. States changed. Girls got pretty, and boys got hairy.
The spaghetti and meatballs remained awful.
Wednesdays were “Prince Spaghetti Days” at school: one lunch period a week sponsored by the Prince Spaghetti Company. What a coup for Prince Spaghetti! They got their brand into every school and home in New England with that little slogan. I’m sure their spaghetti is just fine, but they way it was prepared, dressed and served by passionless cafeteria hands has scarred me for life. Pro tip: if you want to pimp your food brand into a school, or any other such large institution, make sure that it’s prepared in a manner consistent with your company’s vision.
Like what happened with pot roast, spaghetti and meatballs ceased to exist for me for many years. My brain just edited it out of my consciousness. Only recently did I take an interest in it again. But instead of going to the nearest restaurant ending in o, i or a, I decided I would craft my own. I wasn’t worried about the spaghetti part. Anyone should be able to make decent spaghetti, even with Prince. As long as it’s not drowning in vegetable oil and smothered in a metallic-tasting sauce that’s sold in 55-gallon drums, spaghetti is pretty basic. But the sauce and the meatballs were another matter entirely. They would require some study.
I started playing around with recipes, and I would always brown the meatballs before plopping them into the sauce for their final simmer.
And then I came across some crazy guy on the internet (shocking, right?) who claimed that meatballs shouldn’t be browned first, but rather dunked raw right into the sauce and simmered for 3 hours.
What the heck, I’ll try almost anything once. So I tried it with my next batch. And it was a revelation!
Oh my Gawd! He didn’t sear his balls!
I never thought it would have come to this.
I’ve spent my whole adult life pontificating on the importance of searing meat. Oh, not because it “seals in the juices” – that’s a total load of horsecrap that’s been thoroughly debunked by modern science – but because it adds a ton of flavor through a chemical reaction between amino acids and sugars called the Maillard Reaction. I won’t bore you with the science, but that’s why a brown steak tastes better than a gray one. But you’re not going to brown these meatballs.
Seriously madam, I can hear your screeching from here!
I repeat – you don’t need to sear your balls. Not for this recipe. Try it once my way. Then try it another time your way. Could you tell the difference in flavor? I bet not, though your seared balls may be a little chewier. That’s the beauty of these balls! They are tender and delicious and are way easier to make than seared balls.
One more thing – don’t overwork your meat. Be gentle. Mix it with your hands just enough to combine all the ingredients. Ditto when you’re rolling the balls. Roll only enough to get them into shape. Nobody likes chewy meatballs.
I hope this recipe re-acquaints you with an old childhood favorite like it did for me. Oh, and this recipe makes a lot of meatballs and sauce, so you’ll have enough for a dinner party, for leftovers or to freeze for another time. Enjoy!
Let’s get to it. Printer-friendly recipe at the end of the post.
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The Best Meatball Recipe in the World!
for the sauce
2 (28) ounce cans tomato puree
1 (35) ounce can of peeled whole Roma tomatoes
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 yellow onion, finely diced
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
10 cloves (not garlic, but spice cloves)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
for the meatballs
2 pounds ground beef (I like 80%)
1 cup bread crumbs
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
1 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese (don’t sub Parmigiano Reggiano – it won’t have the same flavor)
1/2 cup milk (I use whole milk)
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
small handful fresh parsley, chopped
Start by making the sauce. In a large pot, combine all sauce ingredients, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer and cover.
For the meatballs, combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and gently mix together with your hands until all the ingredients are combined. Gently roll meatballs the size of golf balls.
Add meatballs to sauce, cover pot and simmer for 3 hours. Yes, you have to simmer for the full 3 hours. Trust me. 🙂
Perfect Meatballs in Red Sauce
for the sauce
- 2 28 ounce cans tomato puree
- 1 35 ounce can of peeled whole Roma tomatoes
- 4 cloves garlic - crushed
- 1 yellow onion - finely diced
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
- 10 cloves - (not garlic, but spice cloves)
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons dried basil
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
for the meatballs
- 2 pounds ground beef - (I like 80%)
- 4 eggs
- 1 cup bread crumbs
- 1 small yellow onion - finely diced
- 1 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese - (don't sub Parmigiano Reggiano - it won't have the same flavor)
- 1/2 cup milk - (I use whole milk)
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- small handful fresh parsley - chopped
- Start by making the sauce. In a large pot, combine all sauce ingredients, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer and cover.
- For the meatballs, combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix together with your hands. Make meatballs the size of golf balls.
- Add meatballs to sauce, cover pot and simmer for 3 hours. Yes, you have to simmer for the full 3 hours. Trust me.
OMG I am trying this weekend! Looks yummy. Do you think it would work well with ground turkey? (only because I just bought a ton on sale! lol)
Hi Erica – I think it would be great with turkey. Just make sure there’s enough fat in the meat, so they stay tender and juicy. If you think the meat is too lean, you could add in some beef or pork fat (if you happen to have some in your freezer). Good luck, and let me know how they turn out!
Update, turned out amazing!! A friend of ours doesn’t like turkey meatballs or meatloaf. He was scarfing this down before I told him it was turkey! 😉 lol. He kept eating. 🙂
Was pretty lean, but was still super tender, I would recommend less milk for turkey only because they were too liquid-y. but Yummmm. Also, FYI, couldn’t find a 35 oz can of tomatoes, so winged it. turned out yummmm!
Thanks for the recipe totally keeping it. Will try with beef next time
Awesome! I’m so happy you and your guests liked them! I can’t wait for you to try them with beef 🙂
omg yum, i love s’getti and meatballs i hope i can talk my kids into making it like this, does so remind me of my childhood food xx
Tell your kids that Handan and I are formally requesting them to make it for you 🙂
Hi – your recipe calls for 4 cloves garlic, then further down in says 10 cloves. But 10 cloves of what? I can’t wait to try these!
Hi Barb, I see how that could be confusing, lol! I mean 10 cloves – like those little things you might stick into a ham. Cloves, the spice. I edited the post to make that more clear. Let me know how it turns out!
This way sounds good. My husband is usually the Sunday night meatball maker and he actually bakes them in the oven for about an hour. (not seared) Always tastes yummy, but your recipe sounds like something I’d like to try.
Hi Jennifer, I’m sorry for my late response! Yeah, ask your husband to try this recipe. I think you guys will like it!
Haven’t made tis since the kids were all still at home! I love the spice cloves! Can I hit you up for more lamb dishes? I have bought a farm raised lamb and should have over 30# coming! Yum! I could especially use a good “Leg of” recipe since I have offered that for Thanksgiving! Thanks 🙂
Oh crap, Derry, I totally forgot to answer you. I’m sorry! Yes, I have some awesome lamb recipes, and I’ll be happy to share them with you tomorrow when I’m back at my computer.
Hi…I don’t believe my reaction to spaghetti and meatballs. I had just finished dinner of delicious breaded pork chops and rice..saw your post-read it and started to get hungry ALL OVER AGAIN! ? This looks delicious and will definitely try it. By the way..how did the awards go? I haven’t seen.
Hi Bernice, they haven’t announced the winners yet…we have to wait until October 25th! Please try the meatball recipe – they are so good! Let me know if you do!
This sounds like a recipe I would like to try but I want to be sure I’m reading correctly. Are you stating that the 10 cloves are those little brown things you use when baking ham.. I have never heard of using cloves in spaghetti sauce, but I’ll give it a try,
Yes, Margaret, I know it sounds crazy, but trust me on this one! Please let me know how it turns out.
Been making these for years BUT just last weekend I did a few things different you have to try!! Take your hamburger and put it in the food processor! Process it first, then, process 2-3 pork chops, ( obviously without the bone haha) Next add some mild sausage and do the same….Then use your recipe and you will not belive how much better they are… Only needed 2 eggs though… Throw into your sauce along with 2 pork chops and if you can, use a crockpot!!! OMG I finally found my perfect method!! My Sicilian Grandmother was looking down at me with a big smile!! Enjoy! Let me know what you think!!!
Wow, Susan, that sounds amazing! I will definitely try that the next time I make a big batch!
Can’t wait to try this!! Can I prepare sauce and meatballs the day before, and then cook them the next day?
Absolutely, Rosemarie! 🙂
I’m trying it in the slow cooker first on high to boil then reduce to low to simmer because we have to go out for awhile. I will let you know how it goes. Looks delicious thank you ☺️
Let me know! 🙂
I couldn’t get it to boil in slaw cooking so I transferred to a large pot brought it to a boil and then returned to slow cooker 3 hours. Long and short of it if you want to use a slow cooker, start it on the stove then transfer to slow cooker. Delicious!!!
So glad to heat it, Marsha! 🙂