The Common Mistake That's Killing Your Poor Meatballs

It's hard to beat homemade meatballs. While the store-bought version works for a quick meal, if you want the real deal, you'll have to make them yourself. Meatballs are pretty straightforward — a mix of beef and seasonings (though you can certainly add other elements like pork or veal), plus chopped onions, garlic, and fresh herbs. But when mixing it all together before you form them into balls, be sure not to overwork the meat; it could end up ruining the dish you've worked so hard on.


When mixing, only mix the meat as much as is necessary to properly combine the ingredients. This keeps the meat tender, ensuring it doesn't become too tough while it cooks. And to avoid the meat drying out, you should choose something that's high in fat. Using 80% lean beef is best, though you could also use 85% lean, but anything 90% or higher could result in dry meatballs (unless it's paired with another type of meat) since it has less fat and less moisture.

Don't overwork the meat for your meatballs

You want the meatballs to hold their shape while still remaining as tender and fall-apart as possible. If you continue to mix the meat long after everything has combined, it will resemble the consistency of sausage links rather than a gently-blended patty. Plus, that tougher texture will be noticeable the moment you bite into one.


To help improve that texture even more, try playing with different meat ratios. While meatballs only need ground beef, other types of meat, like pork or veal, will not only add more flavor but also give the dish a more unique texture. They also bring additional fat to the meatballs to improve moisture and flavor. Fresh garlic or chopped sweet onion will help build flavor, too, and both things only taste better as they're cooked. Plus, it adds a little bit of a different bite compared to the softness of just the meat.

The best way to cook meatballs

Your cooking method also impacts how tough or dry the meatballs become. Just like you don't want to overwork the meat, you also don't want to overcook the meat. Meatballs can be prepared with liquid in a Crock-Pot, which helps keep them moist while they cook low and slow. If you do use the slow cooker method, try cooking the meatballs in some red sauce as opposed to water; the moisture from the sauce keeps the meatballs from drying out while also infusing that sauce with all the flavor from the meat and seasonings.


You can also bake meatballs, but give them a sear on the stove prior to placing them in the oven. That initial sear builds a nice, crunchy crust on an otherwise soft meatball, and it also jump-starts the cooking process, so the meatballs spend less time in the oven and won't get overcooked.