Everybody loves this classic Spaghetti and Meatballs! I'm sharing my secrets to the most juicy, tender Italian meatballs, simmered in a homemade marinara sauce.
Spaghetti and Meatballs are a family favorite
Nothing says comfort food like a big bowl of Spaghetti and Meatballs. Wow your family with these super soft and tender meatballs in a homemade marinara sauce tossed with swirls of hot buttered spaghetti.
The BEST Italian Meatballs
The secret to getting super soft and tender meatballs is bread soaked in milk, also called a panade. But not only do I soak the bread in milk, I grate the onion and add it to the panade. This adds a burst of extra flavor.
The softest, most tender homemade Italian meatballs
Another secret to the softest, most tender meatballs is using a light hand when mixing. Overworked meat produces a tough, dry meatball.
Mix all of the ingredients, except the ground meat, really well to form a paste before adding the ground meat. This ensures that everything is well mixed without overworking the meat. It also lets the panade soak up all the added aromatics. Add the meat and mix gently with your hands until the mixture is just combined. It’s ok to still see full pieces of ground meat.
Mixing meatball ingredients (except the meat!) by hand or machine
Combining all of the other meatball ingredients with the meat should definitely be done by hand. But what about the method of mixing all those other ingredients into a paste?
I’ve done a side by side test of combining all of the ingredients except the meat by hand and in the food processor. The food processor is the easiest way and mixes all of the ingredients to a fine paste. It even eliminates grating the onion. However, there is a slight difference in the final meatball.
Mixing the added ingredients in the food processor produces a meatball that is more uniform inside. There are no small pieces of onion, parsley, or cheese. This is neither good, nor bad, but it is up to personal preference. It does make a slightly tighter, more densely packed meatball.
Mixing the added ingredients by hand will have a looser texture in which you may detect small pieces of onion or parsley. This method produces a slightly softer meatball. I find this to be the tastiest method, however if I’m short on time, I just throw all of those added ingredients into the food processor.
No matter how I mix the added ingredients, I always mix in the meat by hand.
Italian Meatball recipe - What are the ingredients to make meatballs?
For moisture, tenderness, and binding
*White bread slices and milk – to make the panade for super soft and tender meatballs
*Egg – to bind everything together
Aromatics for flavor
I keep the meatballs simply flavored:
*Onion and garlic – both savory aromatics
*Parmesan cheese - adds salt and wonderful umami flavor
*Parsley – for its fresh herby flavor
*Pinch of nutmeg – totally optional, but it adds a depth of flavor that you won’t quite be able to put your finger on
*And of course salt and pepper
Ground meat for Spaghetti and Meatballs
I use 85% ground beef to make Spaghetti and meatballs. The fat keeps them juicy and tender. For extra flavor, I replace about 4 ounces of the beef with sweet Italian sausage. For Italian sausage flavor without adding sausage, just add a little of the same spices used in making Italian sausage: a half teaspoon each of crushed fennel seeds, paprika, dried Italian herbs, as well as an extra clove or two of garlic.
How to make Italian meatballs
Mix all of the meatball ingredients, except the ground meat, really well to form a paste before adding the ground meat.
Add the meat and mix gently with your hands until the mixture is just combined. It’s ok to still see full pieces of ground meat.
Form into 1 ½ inch sized meatballs by rolling gently in between your palms. It helps to dip your hands in water or to lightly coat them with oil to prevent the meat from sticking to your hands.
How to cook meatballs
The meatballs are browned all over in a hot skillet but not cooked through. They are removed from the pan while the marinara sauce is being started, then finished by simmering in the sauce.
Oven baked meatballs
The meatballs can also be baked in the oven. While they’ll be 1 spoon of oil healthier, they will be less moist and tender. You’ll also miss out on all the flavor that browning them in a skillet adds.
Bake them on an aluminum foil lined baking sheet or on a baking rack, both sprayed with nonstick cooking spray, at 425 F for about 10-12 minutes. They don’t need to be cooked through. They will finish cooking in the sauce.
How to make marinara sauce for Spaghetti and Meatballs
Are you in the smooth sauce or chunky sauce camp for Spaghetti and Meatballs? I most often make chunkier tomato sauces, but for Spaghetti and Meatballs I love a smooth sauce.
For a smooth marinara sauce:
My favorite tomato to use for a smooth marinara sauce is Pomi Passata or Pomi Strained Crushed Tomatoes. Made in Italy with end-of-summer tomatoes, passata is pureed, strained, uncooked tomatoes. It makes a thicker, more intensely flavored sauce than crushed tomatoes, and it doesn’t need to simmer for a long time to break down into a thick sauce.
I find passata, including Pomi Passata, also called Pomi Strained Crushed Tomatoes, at my local Walmart. You can also find it online. 26 ounces (750ml) of passata, thinned with a little water, is what is used in the pictures shown here.
A 28 ounce (800g) can of tomato puree can be used as a substitute for passata. Add water if necessary to reach the desired consistency, about a half a cup.
For a chunky tomato sauce
For a chunkier tomato sauce with bits of tomato, use 43 ounces of crushed tomatoes - a 28oz (800g) can plus a 15oz (425g) can. Because crushed tomatoes aren’t as thick and concentrated as passata, no added water will be necessary.
Making the marinara sauce
After the meatballs are browned and removed from the pan, onion and garlic is sautéed in the pan. The tomatoes and seasonings are added and the sauce is brought to a simmer.
The right balance of salt, sugar, and acid gives the tomato sauce the perfect intensity of flavor. If I find my sauce tasting a little flat, I use a teaspoon of each. This may be different for you depending on your taste and the type of tomato sauce you use. Taste your sauce before adding sugar and vinegar. If you're happy with it, you don't need to add any. If it tastes a little flat, add some sugar and /or vinegar and adjust accordingly.
Add the Meatballs to the sauce
The browned meatballs are added back to the sauce and simmered for 15 minutes.
If you use crushed tomatoes, you can simmer them for about 5-10 minutes before adding the meatballs to give the sauce a chance to thicken.
Serving the Spaghetti and Meatballs
You can either top the spaghetti with the meatballs and marinara, or toss them all together.
Garnish with freshly grated parmesan cheese and freshly chopped parsley.Print
Spaghetti and Meatballs
- Total Time: 40 minutes
- Yield: 4 1x
Spaghetti and Meatballs are pure comfort food. Wow your family with these super soft and tender meatballs in a homemade marinara sauce tossed with swirls of hot buttered spaghetti.
For the Meatballs:
- 2 slices white sandwich bread (crusts removed and cut into small squares)
- 1 medium onion
- 3 tablespoons milk
- 1 egg
- One handful fresh parsley ((¼ cup chopped))
- 3 garlic cloves (minced)
- ¼ cup (28g) parmesan cheese (freshly grated )
- 1 tsp salt
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- Optional: Pinch of nutmeg
- 1 lb (454g) ground beef ((See Note 1))
For the Marinara sauce:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves (minced)
- 1 medium onion (finely chopped)
- 28 oz (800g) can tomato passata, puree, or 43oz (1220g) crushed tomatoes (See Note 2)
- ½ cup water (if using passata or puree)
- 1 teaspoon dried Italian herbs mix or 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar (or to taste)
- 1 teaspoon vinegar (or to taste (See Note 3))
- Black pepper (to taste)
- Red chili flakes (optional and to taste)
- 1 lb box (500g) spaghetti cooked until al dente and tossed with 1 tablespoon butter
- Parmesan cheese
- Optional garnish: finely chopped parsley
Make the Meatballs:
- Grate the onion using a standard size grater until you have about ½ cup of grated onion and juices.
- Combine grated onion and juices with bread cubes and milk. Set aside for a few minutes to allow the bread to absorb the liquid, then mash with a fork.
- Add the remaining Meatball ingredients, except the meat, and mix well.
- Add the meat and gently mix until just combined. Don’t overmix or the meatballs will be tough and dry. It’s ok to still see full pieces of ground meat.
- Form into 1 ½ inch sized meatballs by rolling in between your palms. It helps to dip your hands in water or to lightly coat them with oil to prevent the meat from sticking to your hands.
- Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat in a large pan, either a large skillet or a dutch oven.
- Add the meatballs and brown all over - about 3 - 4 minutes.
- When they are browned but not yet cooked through, carefully transfer them onto a plate.
Make the marinara sauce:
- In the same skillet over medium heat, add more oil if needed and sauté chopped onion stirring often until soft and golden, about 5 minutes. Add 4 cloves minced garlic and stir 1 minute.
- Add the tomatoes and the remaining sauce ingredients and bring to a simmer.
- Add the meatballs and any juices to the sauce and simmer on low for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. (If you use crushed tomatoes, you can simmer them for about 5-10 minutes before adding the meatballs to give the sauce a chance to thicken.)
- Taste and adjust the seasonings (salt, vinegar, sugar, chili flakes).
- Serve the meatballs with the hot buttered spaghetti. You can either top the spaghetti with the meatballs and marinara, or toss them all together. Garnished with extra parmesan and parsley, if using.
For an even more flavorful meatball, replace 4 ounces of the ground beef with Italian sausage, casings removed.
For Italian sausage flavor without adding sausage, just add a little of the same spices used in making Italian sausage: a half teaspoon each of crushed fennel seeds, paprika, dried Italian herbs, as well as an extra clove or two of garlic.
A higher fat content produces a juicier meatball. I use 85% lean beef.
For a smooth sauce, my first choice is Pomi Strained Tomatoes (passata). You can find it in Walmart or order it online. It’s smooth, perfectly thickened, and very flavorful. I use a 750ml carton (26oz). In the pictures above I have used 26oz (800g) of Pomi Strained Tomatoes (passata) and ½ cup of water.
If you can’t find Pomi Strained Tomatoes, you can use a 28oz (800g) can of tomato puree for a smooth sauce. Add water to thin as necessary.
If you like a chunkier sauce, use 43oz crushed tomatoes - a 28 ounce (800g) plus a 15oz (425g) can. It will not be necessary to add water.
Adjust the seasoning as necessary.
The right balance of salt, sugar, and acid gives the tomato sauce the perfect flavor. I use a teaspoon of each. This may be different for you depending on your taste and the type of tomato sauce you use. Taste and adjust accordingly.
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Cook Time: 20 minutes
- Category: Main Course
- Cuisine: American, Italian
Keywords: italian, meatballs, spaghetti
Follow me on INSTAGRAM and PINTEREST for all the latest content and recipes!
Subscribe to FOODTASIA’S NEWSLETTER to receive fresh recipes straight to your inbox.
You might also like:
Looks and sounds delicious, Kelly! A classic meal you can never go wrong with! I am literally drooling at the pictures.
Thanks for your brilliant tips on making them moist and tender.
Hope you find the tips helpful, Balvinder! Thanks so much!
Yes! This is my husband's favourite meal. Your version looks really GREAT!
Aww, thanks so much, Angie! It's a big hit in our house!
Perfect week dinner ! Thank you xo
Thanks so much, Davorka!
This is such a wonderful tutorial Kelly! I love meatballs and these look so perfectly tender. I do t eat pasta much anymore but I would love these over zoodles or spaghetti squash!
They would be wonderful over zoodles or spaghetti squash! Thanks so much, Marcie!
Kim Lange says
OMG you have made my all time favorite meal here! Pinned and swooning so hard! 🙂
It definitely puts a smile on all of my family's faces! Thanks so much, Kim!
Cookie Monster says
My comfort food
Me too! Thanks so much, Cookie Monster!
Yum! Spaghetti and meatballs is just perfect comfort food for the time of year. It's got a bit colder here now so this is just the sort of food I'm craving. Those meatballs look AMAZING! Thanks for sharing your own recipe Kelly and those tips for making the best meatballs too!
The recipe and tips are a lot of years in the making! I hope you find them useful! Thanks so much, Neil!
nicole (thespicetrain.com) says
Those meatballs are gorgeous, Kelly! What a great idea to add nutmeg, that sounds absolutely delicious! 🙂
The nutmeg adds a little something that you can't quite put your finger on. You can't really even taste it. Something I picked up from Middle Eastern and Greek cooking. Thanks so much, Nicole!
David @ Spiced says
A good spaghetti and meatballs recipe is an absolute keeper! And this one looks amazing, Kelly! I love the little bit of Italian sausage that you mix in there. I'll have to remember that next time I make meatballs. I always make extra meatballs and then freeze 'em for easy meals later on. However, I'm not sure I'd be able to get these into the freezer without nibbling on one or six. They look amazing, my friend! Your photography is stunning - as always!
I always make double for meatball subs the next night! Thanks so much, David!
Mary Ann | The Beach House Kitchen says
I'm absolutely drooling Kelly! Hands down, my husband's favorite meal of all time. Can't wait to try your recipe. Pinned!
Thanks so much, Mary Ann!
Katherine | Love In My Oven says
Kelly, as soon as the first picture on your blog loaded I had a big smile on my face! I ADORE spaghetti and meatballs!! This is giving me all the feels. Your photos are beautiful my friend!!! Pass me a fork, and a spoon (for twirling) 🙂
It's such a simple dish, but such a favorite! Yay for comfort food! Thanks so much, Katherine!
oh yes spaghetti and meatballs - such a classic. these look delightful kelly. cheers sherry
It's a family favorite! Thanks so much, Sherry!
I swear I hear 'That's Amore' in the distance as I read this amazing post! You have my heart with this one, my friend!!
That's the coveted seal of approval, my friend! Thanks so much!
Haylie / Our Balanced Bowl says
Kelly, your photos and step by step processes are AMAZING! Wow, you always leave me feel both impressed and inspired! This is the absolute best comfort food for Fall...those meatballs look amazing and I would have never know to soak them in milk! Awesome tip!! Can't wait to try this!!
Awww, thanks so much, Haylie, for your kind words and support! It means the world to me!
What a great post, Kelly! I love all the detail about the Passata - I’ve seen it in store, but wasn’t sure if or how to use it, so this was very helpful! Can’t wait to give it a try! Pinning!
I love passata for smooth sauces and it's fresh and intense flavor. (I've only tried the Pomi brand.) Thanks so much, Laura!
Is there anything more comforting than spaghetti and meatballs. These look absolutely perfect too and with so many awesome tips you can't go wrong.
It's definitely a family favorite! Thanks so much, Marie!
I turned to vegetarianism three years back but scrolling down your post, left me so tempted for this meal! Thanks for all the tips to making juicy and soft meatballs. I will definitely try it for my family. Pinning it right away 🙂
Sorry to tempt you, my friend! A vegetarian meatball would be awesome! I'll have to keep my eye out for a recipe! Thanks so much, Taruna!
John / Kitchen Riffs says
Terrific tutorial. I haven't made meatballs in years -- now I'm SO wanting some! I mix by hand, too -- just easier, and I like the texture better. Good stuff -- thanks.
It's such an easy and fun dinner! Thanks so much, John!
You make one MEAN spaghetti and meatballs, Kelly! Thank you for so many great tips and tricks for perfect meatballs every time.
Aw, thanks so much, Marissa! It's definitely a family favorite and I'm so picky about meatballs!
Kelly, without exaggeration, these are the best looking meatballs I've ever seen. And such an amazingly delicious combination of ingredients. I didn't know about soaking the bread, and even better, adding the onions to that. Oh my. I'm totally in, if you hadn't guessed. 😉 Valentina P.S. The photos are so pretty!
Awww, Valentina, thank you so much! You've really made my day!
Kankana Saxena says
I use bread soaked in water but in milk sounds so better. I need to try it next time. And grated onion is clever too. Have you ever tried using yogurt. I did once and it kept the meatballs very tender.
Ohhh, what a great idea, Kankana! I love experimenting and yogurt sounds perfect. I'll have to give it a try next time. Thanks so much!
David Scott Allen says
Kelly - this is (to me)THE classic Italian-American dinner! Reminds me of Sunday suppers at my Uncle Joe’s mother’s house... I can smell it in my mind! Perfection!
What a wonderful memory, David! Sometimes I smell something cooking that reminds me of Sunday dinner my grandmother's house (it's usually roast beef) and I am just transported back there. Here's to cooking up good smells that our loved ones will remember us by!
Cheyanne @ No Spoon Necessary says
I could legitimately eat spaghetti and meatballs every single day of my life and never get tired of it! Yours look like perfection!!! I absolutely love all your tips!!! Great post!
It's a classic we never get tired of! Thanks so much, Chey!
Nancy Buchanan says
One of the best tutorials I've seen on how to make the BEST meatballs! They really are a versatile dish to have around - had some in the freezer and did a "hail Mary" dinner for the crew by turning them into meatball subs! Now I need to replace my stash and will be making this version!
Ahhh, the meatball subs are my fave! Having them in the freezer is a great idea for a quick dinner! Thanks so much, Nancy!
Alexandra @ It's Not Complicated Recipes says
Now this is my kind of comfort food!! Delicious 🙂 I love spaghetti and meatballs! Yum!!
It's definitely a family favorite! Thanks so much, Alexandra!
I'm whipping up a batch of spaghetti and meatballs for my grandsons this weekend! I have a favorite meatball recipe but will definitely be comparing your ingredients and notes before I start. Thanks for a great tutorial!
It's such a favorite with kids! Hope you have a lovely time! Thanks so much, Susan!
Kelly @ Kelly Lynns Sweets and Treats says
Spaghetti and meatballs is a favorite of my boys! Yours looks amazing. I will definitely have to try your recipe!!! So much better homemade than all the store-bought junk!
It's definitely one of our family favorites! Thanks so much, Kelly!
Great meatball tips. Some of them I already knew but I love how clearly their benefits are spelled out here. GREG
Thanks so much, Greg!
Dear Kelly, I believe these are the prettiest, most delicious looking spaghetti and meatballs that I have seen in a very long time! My kids love that Italian American classic too! I am in awe of all your amazing pics and helpful tips!
Thanks for a wonderful post with an amazing recipe!
Aw, thanks so much, Andrea! It's definitely a family favorite!
I have to admire your artistry in forming those *perfectly* round meatballs! Mine always turned out a bit wobbly... I tell people that's part of the charm, but truthfully I'd love to have the dexterity to make them perfect.
I got kind of lucky on these, Frank! I usually go for the 'homemade' look! Dipping my hands in cold water while rolling them does help smooth them. Thanks so much!
bisma khan says
eventually, i got some time to view some of your recipes i have tried some of your main course and dessert recipes and it turn out to be so great we rarely go out for dinner thanks to you and i really need a handy book of your recipes please let me know if its available thanks 🙂
Thanks so much, Bisma! I don't have a cookbook yet, but I'm dreaming about one!