There is no better smell on this planet than meatballs simmering in sauce. I know many Italians call it gravy, and my apologies to the Nonnas out there shaking their heads at me, but I call it sauce. These healthy beef meatballs, even if I call it sauce, will make the nonnas proud. They are tender, packed with flavor, and just the perfect dinner.
Lean Beef Meatballs
This recipe uses 96% lean ground beef. Cooking with lean beef doesn't mean that these will be dry, but it does mean you need to add a few extra ingredients to make them magical. To keep these moist and delicious, I add sautéd onion and garlic to the meatballs along with a healthy dose of fresh parmesan.
Can I substitute turkey for beef in meatballs?
You can make a turkey meatball recipe with beef better than you can make a beef meatball recipe with turkey. Turkey meatballs, like lean beef meatballs, requires a little more attention so they don't dry out. This recipe is actually a beef version of my original turkey meatball recipe.
Should I cook meatballs in sauce or oven?
Both cooking methods have their advantages. Personally, I like pan frying my meatballs and then simmering in sauce if I have the time. Depending on the size of your meatballs, they need to simmer for almost an hour. Meatballs cooked in the oven only require about 25 minutes. That being said, I typically pan fry my meatballs.
Why pan fry my meatballs? The FLAVOR and TEXTURE of pan fried meatballs cannot be beat. I use the same large pan to sauté my onions and garlic, pan fry my meatballs, and then simmer in sauce. I use the same pan to get the browning of my meatballs in the sauce. That step is important to get a could crust of the meatballs but a depth of flavor in the sauce you wouldn't get otherwise.
Baked Beef Meatballs
You can bake these. This method has a few advantages besides the oil it takes to pan fry them. One of the biggest factors for me baking meatballs is time. If you are making a big batch of these meatballs (lets say more than 3x), baking really speeds up the process. I make these all the time for parties, and it's really easy to prep and bake them.
Baked meatballs hold their shape better. While I love the crust of a good pan fried meatball, they can come off not perfectly round and you may lose one or two along the way. If precision is important to you, go with baking.
Finally, some people are not super confident in their pan frying abilities, and that's okay. Baking meatballs ensures they are fully cooked and it is easier to not mess up.
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ onion, diced
- 1 lb 96% lean ground beef
- 2 eggs
- 1 oz grated parmesan cheese
- ¼ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped (use 2 tbsp if you use dry parsley)
- 1 tbsp Italian seasoning
- ½ tbsp kosher salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- ½ - 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- ⅓ cup(s) panko breadcrumbs
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- cooking spray
- Preheat the oven to 400° F.
- Spray your preferred cooking spray into a pan or 1 tsp of EVOO, and saute onions with a pinch of salt until they are translucent and golden brown. If you are cooking sauce, save yourself the trouble and cook this in the pot you will cook your sauce in.
- Once the onions begin to get nice and soft (about 5 minutes), add the garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook for another 30-45 seconds, and remove mixture to let cool.
- Once the onion mixture is cool, add all ingredients into a bowl. Mix with wet hands, and form into golf ball sized meatballs. You can make 12 large meatballs or 20 smaller meatballs (points for both below)
- BAKING METHOD: Add oil to the pan you cooked the onions in. Brown meatballs on all sides and finish in the oven. Bake at 400° F for 15-20 minutes. Allow meatballs to simmer in sauce for 5 minutes or more before serving.
- Alternatively, you can pan fry the meatballs in a pot and add the partially cooked meatballs to sauce to finish cooking. Simmer in sauce and medium low for 50+ minutes until fully cooked.
Nutritional Information is for 12 meatballs.
TIP: Make sure you use wet hands when forming meatballs. It is way easier.
TIP #2: After you have panfried your meatballs, pour some sauce into the pan and scrape with a wooden spoon to loosen all the brown bits. This adds so much flavor to sauce.
TIP #3: Real parmesan is worth the investment compared to shaker cheese. It is a world of difference.
Serving Size:3 meatballs
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 252Total Fat: 11gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 111mgSodium: 346mgCarbohydrates: 5gFiber: 1gSugar: 0gProtein: 31g
Weight Watchers Friendly Meatballs
Many people who follow this blog follow WW, count calories, or follow some kind of healthy-ish lifestyle. If making 12 meatballs, this will make 4 servings of 252 calories per 3 meatballs. To track the recipe on the WW app, click here.