Meatballs are great aren’t they? They’re pretty easy, you can make them ahead of time, and they turn any grain, noodle, or store-bought chicken broth into a really nice dinner. A great meatball should be tender and soft, and be packed with flavour. Here is the lowdown on how to make the best meatballs overall, followed by my recipe for easy turkey and spinach meatballs.
The 5 Pillars of a Great Meatball
1. Don’t use too much meat
It sounds counter-intuitive, but less meat really does make for a better ball. Unlike a burger, which you’d (hopefully) leave a bit pink in the middle, meatballs usually tend to be the kind of thing you cook right through. When cooked, ground meat is kinda tough. This is especially true when you’re using a low fat meat like turkey breast. The best way to get a fluffy, tender meatball is to add a nice ratio of other stuff to the meat mixture. That means eggs, breadcrumbs (or other starchy filler like oats or cracker crumbs). I always like to jazz them up with either a big handful of fresh herbs or greens too.
2. Use a combination of meats
This is a rule of thumb that I picked up from learning about great Bolognese sauce. The real deal stuff is traditionally made with a combination of ground veal, pork, and beef. The reason for the variety of meats, is that each meat gives a different flavour, texture, and fat level to the mixture. This makes for a well balanced, flavourful, juicy meatball with just the right level of everything. If you are choosing to stick with one type of meat, just try to get a variety of different parts of the animal so that you have a nice blend of fat levels. For these turkey and spinach meatballs, I use turkey thigh because it comes with a fair bit of much needed fat. If you’re making beef meatballs, use a mix of lean and extra lean ground beef. Fattier meat makes juicier meatballs, any way you slice it.
3. Don’t pack them too tight, or work them too hard
A loosely packed ball is your ticket to tender, fluffy, meatball paradise. I like to use a portion scoop to help me with the initial formation of the balls (see the video for further instruction), and from there it’s just a matter of loosely making them round without really packing them. You only want them packed enough that they won’t fall apart. Or if you don’t have a scoop, that’s ok too. Just remember to be gentle. The fluffiest meatballs still have some air in there!
4. Pack a punch with flavour & seasoning
Plenty of salt is the number one tip here. I also tend to use things like onion & garlic powder, even if I am using fresh onion and garlic too. Good things happen when you ‘double down’ on these these flavours. I also like to add some kind of bright high note like lemon zest or chili flakes so that the meatballs have a fresh zinginess even after they’ve been stewing away in a broth or a sauce for awhile. Lots of fresh herbs, parmesan cheese, citrus zest, garlic, these are all welcome additions to any meatball.
5. Make A LOT OF THEM
Once you have a meatball mixture, you can take it in so many different directions. Baked in the oven, poached in broth, mini ones cooked in fresh tomato sauce, these are all great ways for your meatballs to pivot into different dinners throughout your week, without you feeling like you’re eating the same thing over and over. Meatball sandwiches, brothy soups, classic spaghetti & meatballs or served over a nice bowl of soft polenta. I could go on forever.
Meatballs also freeze really well. You can do them “IQF” (a restaurant term for individual quick frozen) which involves spreading them out on a tray to freeze them individually, and transferring them to a freezer bag once they’re solid. You can also put them right into the sauce and freeze them that way, which means they’re sure not to dry out because the sauce is there to protect them. Whichever way you go about it, meatballs are super versatile and they’re the kind of thing you’ll be happy to find in your freezer when it’s time to whip dinner together.
3 Stages of Meatballs – dinner today, lunch tomorrow, dinner for the future.
There you have it! You’re now well on your way to making the best meatballs in the land.
When you use these techniques your meatballs will turn out like little fluffy meat clouds every time. Even sometimes when they end up in the oven a bit too long, they stay pretty soft and tender. I hope you follow these tips and I wish you the greatest success in your meatball endeavours. The recipe for my easy turkey and spinach meatballs is coming up, but first – consider your options for cooking styles.
OPTION 1 – Oven Baked
Preheat the oven to 425. Spread the meatballs out on a tray, with a bit of space between each one. Roll them around in a bit of olive oil, then bake for about 20 mins if they’re golf ball sized, less time if they’re smaller
OPTION 2 – Poached
Bring some low sodium, high quality stock up to a simmer. Place the meatballs in, making sure that they are mostly submerged. Cover the pot with a lid to make sure any part that isn’t submerged is still being cooked with the steam. While the meatballs are simmering away on medium-low heat, add veggies or noodles to the broth at whatever stage they need to cook. If it’s something like spinach, add it right at the end. If it’s pasta, add it with 8-10 minutes left in the cooking time, according to the package directions.
My rule of thumb for cooking time is about 5-6 minutes per centimetre. So, since these are golf ball sized, they take about 20 minutes in the oven. If you’re poaching them in broth, they’ll be a bit quicker. I tend to take them off the heat after 15 or so. There are of course, lots of other ways to make meatballs. These are just two options to help kick things off for you.
I hope you love these turkey and spinach meatballs as much as I do! Be sure to share pictures if you make them, and tag me @howtomakedinner so I can share them too!