I think I’ve hit the September Challenge jackpot with this one, folks. When I had my first bite of these Skillet Meatballs and Marinara I literally moaned and let out a quiet “Oh, hell yeah…”
These super easy skillet meatballs only have four ingredients (thanks to Italian sausage, which is basically like pre-seasoned ground meat) and they come together in just a few minutes. If you want to be extra fancy, you can add a little grated Parmesan to the meatball mix, or even some frozen spinach (thaw and squeeze out the moisture first). But if you ask me, they’re insanely delicious just the way they are and I’m a big fan of the easy, no-fuss prep.
Half way through making these Skillet Meatballs and Marinara I realized that it probably would have been about the same price (or maybe less?) to buy a jar of marinara at the store and just pour that into the skillet. So, if you want even faster prep for this meal, go ahead and use jarred marinara sauce instead of making your own like I did below. I’m a big fan of having good food fast!
See this recipe used in my weekly meal prep.
How to Cook Meatballs: Pan Fry
There are several different ways to cook meatballs. For the rustic and traditionalists, the only way to cook meatballs is the ‘old fashioned’ or pan fried way. (That’s probably because hot ovens were not always immediately available to Italians hundreds of years ago.)
Cooking in a pan or pot was faster and did not require an oven or the time it would take to heat one. Unfortunately, frying in a pan can be messy and requires you to stand over the pan to turn over the meatballs so they cook evenly. This can be quite a chore if you have more than a couple dozen meatballs to cook.
Meatball traditionalists espouse that the benefit that pan-frying produces a crispy outer crust on the meatball and for many this is what they grew up eating and their preference. We won’t argue because we know it can lead to an angry exchange of protocol which could lead to fisticuffs in an Italian kitchen.
How to Cook Meatballs: Braised
By far the best meatballs served in our family were always braised. Braising essentially cooks the meatballs in liquid. If you intend to serve your meatballs with a pasta sauce (Marinara, Ragu, or Cream-based sauces) already in a pot on the stove-top, then take the raw meatballs and submerge them directly into the sauce and cook them right in the pot with a lid on top.
You may need to add a little water if your sauce is thick. If you intend to cook a lot of meatballs, remember you are going to need a fairly large pot.
In all Italian kitchens, there is always a pot of pasta sauce on the back burner. What gets left over, gets used in meatball sandwiches or keeps refrigerated or frozen for later use.
The meatballs take a little longer to cook when you braise but the sauce gets all the juices that each meatball imparts and flavors the sauce while they cook. 25-45 min. cooking time for 1 1/2 inch meatballs.
How long do you cook meatballs in tomato sauce?
- If fully uncooked you can add them (in a covered pot) on a low-medium heat for 25-30 minutes.
- If already browned you can simmer them for 10 minutes.
- If frozen and raw cook them (in a covered pot) on on medium heat for 30-35 minutes.
- If frozen, but you’ve just browned them, cook them (in a covered pot) on medium heat for 15 minutes.
How to make easy homemade meatballs?
- Keep the seasonings simple, this gives you the most flexibility when cooking them with different sauces.
- Instead of adding breadcrumbs to the mixture, I add milk soaked bread.
- Freeze the meatballs before they’re browned which keeps the shape of them as you brown them. They finish cooking through in the sauce.
- To make large batches I use an ice cream scoop, lightly roll and place onto a cookie sheet.
- Line with parchment paper and freeze on a full cookie sheet. You can break them apart and freeze in dinner sized portions.
- You can brown them as much as you’d like, then simmer them slowly in your desired sauce to finish.
Cooking the meatballs from frozen does a few amazing things for them:
- They brown evenly and maintain their ball shape and don’t cook down into sort of lumpy looking rocks.
- They keep their interior moistness as they are still only about half cooked in the middle by the time the gravy is added.
- They take almost no time at all to cook the day you want to make them because its a matter of cook the meatballs for 5-7 minutes, add gravy and serve with either mashed potatoes or pasta.
I’m listing below a bunch of different mix-ins, but don’t worry this is actually a short list for upcoming meatballs recipes on the blog! And they all start with this same meatball base.
Make these homemade meatballs unique with different flavors:
- Homemade Italian Meatballs: To the recipe add 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning and 3 minced cloves of garlic.
- Salisbury Steak Meatballs: To the recipe add 1/4 cup brown mustard, 1/4 cup ketchup and 2 teaspoons beef better than bouillon base to the meatballs.
- Greek Meatballs: use olive oil instead of butter, add 3 cloves minced garlic, swap half the meat for lamb if you’d like, 1 tablespoon each of oregano, coriander, cumin and 1/2 tablespoon of cinnamon
- Perfect Swedish Meatballs
- Korean Beef Meatballs: Add 1 tablespoon minced garlic and 1 tablespoon minced ginger with 2 tablespoons soy sauce and 2 tablespoons brown sugar with only 3 tablespoons milk instead of 1/3 cup.
Tools Used in the making of these Swedish Meatballs:Meatballer: The less you handle ground meat the less the heat of your hands will break down the fat in the meat making a tougher meatball/burger/etc.Ice Cream Scoop: If working in bulk it can be easier to use an ice cream scoop, scoop a bunch quickly then roll them all at one time.Cast Iron Skillet: This is my most used pan in my kitchen, heavy, keeps heat well and gives the BEST sear ever.Kosher Salt: Different than regular table salt, I don’t bake with this but I almost always season with this while cooking. Lower sodium, but still better flavor. Save Recipe
- Yield: 40 Servings
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 15 minutes
- Total Time: 25 minutes
- Course: Main Course
- Cuisine: American
- 3 slices bread
- 1/3 cup milk
- 1/2 cup yellow onion minced
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter 4 tablespoons if cooking immediately
- 2 pounds ground beef 80/20
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
Note: click on times in the instructions to start a kitchen timer while cooking.
- In the bowl of your stand mixer add the milk to the slices of bread.
- Melt the butter in a pan and add the minced yellow onions.
- Cook them on medium low until translucent but not browned.
- Remove from heat and let cool.
- In your bowl with the milk soaked bread add the rest of the meatball ingredients including the cooked onions.
- Mix it on low until the bread is broken apart and the meat is combined with the ingredients (using the stand mixer and not your hands helps keep the mixture cold and tender).
Using a meatballer/ice cream scoop or your hands scoop them into balls about the size of a ping pong ball.
- Freeze on a cookie sheet if possible.
- If cooking immediately, add the rest of your butter to your skillet and cook on medium high on all sides for a total of 4-5 minutes.
Remove the meatballs from the pan and serve with your favorite sauce.
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