Learning how to make all beef meatballs that are still moist and delicious isn’t difficult at all, even when using lean grass fed beef. Growing up in an Italian family, I loved the flavor and texture of my mom’s homemade meatballs. Later in life my husband and I wanted to create a healthier version that didn’t forfeit the moistness of the ones we each grew up with.
We finally found the secret and I’m excited to share it with you!
In this article, I’ll share our recipe, along with helpful tips to ensure your Italian meatballs turn out moist and full of flavor every time.
Meatballs are like an Italian delicacy. They are held in the highest regard among Italian families, and everyone believes they have the best Italian meatball recipe ever created! However, I think we all agree that the ideal meatball should always be moist, not dry and that it should be full of Italian flavor.
All Beef Meatballs
The concern of using lean beef when making all beef meatballs is that they will become too dry from a lack of fat. This is why using sausage is so popular, since it has such a high fat content. The more fat, the juicier and moister the meatballs become.
However, when using beef as the only meat, we need to compensate for the lack of fat, especially if you use lean beef of 93%. This is something that we experienced first-hand, even when the meat wasn’t grass fed.
Do You Lose Flavor with an All Beef Meatball?
Some will argue that to have a flavorful meatball you have to use the standard meat trio of beef, veal and pork. This is not true; you do not need all three or any “mix” of meats. People add in pork because it’s got fat and it’s cheap, which makes it a nice filler.
What you really need are quality ingredients. Yet with all beef meatballs, you have a few obstacles to overcome, which I’ve personally had to overcome as well.
Obstacle #1: Fat’s flavor factor
Some claim that fat is what imparts flavor to meatballs. While fat does enhance taste, beef has less fat than pork, making it leaner. So, do we sacrifice flavor? No, keep reading.
Obstacle #2: Trying to make a healthy meatball with leaner meat
In our house, we strive for a healthier approach opting for leaner cuts of beef. No more 75/25, we’ve often used 93/7 or a mix of both 93/7 and 85/15 for larger batches.
Yikes! 93/7? The truth is using very lean beef resulted in very dry meatballs. With less fat, they were also less moist and seemed to lose flavor during cooking. We needed a solution, fast.
Using Grass Fed for Your All Beef Meatball
Despite trying to go with an all beef meatball, my husband and I also wanted to use grass fed beef. Although there are health benefits from using grass fed beef for our meatballs, we have to deal with some factors that make it even more challenging to achieve the level of moistness and flavor we love.
- Lower fat content. Grass fed cows naturally have a lower fat content which makes the meat leaner. This is due to their ability to graze out in the open fields, getting the exercise they need. Another contributing factor is the feed itself. Cows that eat grains such as corn or soybeans have a higher fat content in their feed, vs cows that feed on grass such as clover.
- Lack of consistency in flavor. Grass fed cows graze in the open fields but depending on what season it is or where they are feeding can determine what they eat. And what they eat can determine the flavor. This can create distinct changes in flavor from one season to the next.
Soaking Bread in Milk or Water for Added Moistness
We never added soaked bread to our meatballs when growing up. But that was because we used sausage and fatty beef. My Sicilian mother-in-law is the one who tipped us off to the secret for having moist meatballs, and I’m so glad she did! It’s all about the bread.
Her advice was that for each pound of ground beef, soak a slice of white bread in water and lightly squeeze out the excess water.
However, she didn’t use lean meat in her meatballs. So, the 1 slice per pound is fine for an 85/15 mix but for leaner beef or even grass fed beef at 85/15 I at least double the number of slices per pound.
If the bread slices are thin, I may decide to use three slices instead of two. As you’ll see in my images, I used 2 slices of thick Italian bread for a pound of 93/7 grass fed beef I bought at BJs Wholesale Club.
No Italian breadcrumbs are needed. Just dipping the bread in milk or water for a few minutes to get it soaked is fine. I’ve seen recipes where people even use 4 slices just for a pound. So, it may take a batch or two until you find your own degree of moistness that you prefer.
Why use Soaked Bread Instead of Breadcrumbs?
Breadcrumbs are made by drying out the bread, right? With regular dried breadcrumbs, they soak up the existing moisture… which we are lacking when we have lean beef.
By soaking breadcrumbs, they will soak up the moisture of the liquid. But they’ll also retain that liquid – which means less liquid for adding extra moisture into the meatball.
Slices of bread, however, already have moisture content present. By adding the already moist bread slices you are allowing the meatballs to retain even more moisture.
This means that although they’ll soak up the milk or water, they’ll release that excess liquid while the meatballs are cooking because they already have moisture!
Recipe Ingredients and Seasonings
This is an easy and simple recipe and as with all my simple Italian recipes, that’s often the best kind of recipe! Specific measurements are located in my recipe card below.
Here are the ingredients you’ll need to for our all-beef meatball recipe.
- Ground beef – This can be grass fed or grain fed. For lean beef use 93%. Don’t go below 85%.
- White bread (artisan bread is fine). Avoid breads with high sugar content as this can change the flavor. I recommend basic artisan bread.
- Water or Milk for soaking.
- Egg – A general rule of thumb is to use one egg per pound of beef.
- Romano or Parmesan Cheese. We use Romano in our house, but Parmesan works just as well.
- Dried basil. You can also use fresh basil.
- Dried parsley. You can also use fresh parsley. Italian or curly parsley is fine. Italian parsley has a slightly more bitter taste.
- Olive oil. Use a good quality olive oil; we use extra virgin.
- Garlic. You can use either garlic powder or 3 cloves of minced garlic.
You’ll notice I don’t use a lot of seasonings for my meatballs. You only need a few herbs to make a great tasting meatball.
Baking vs. Frying Beef Meatballs
Yes, sometimes you can fry them in a pan then transfer them to the oven. I do not do this. I bake the meatballs from start to finish.
As you can see in my picture from a previous batch, I use my Stainless steel Cuisinart 5 qt pan which works great! And yes, the one in the middle was my taste test. 🙂
And here’s another image above that’s a more recent picture of baking a larger batch in a bunch of stainless steel baking pans. These are the same pans I use for making my healthy meatless meatballs.
Steps For Making All Beef Meatballs
Even though I prefer baking 100% as my method, you have three options for how to cook your beef meatballs.
- Bake only
- Sear/fry them and then finish cooking in the sauce (my mother makes them this way)
- Sear/fry them and then finish cooking in the oven
My recipe is for baking them in the oven from start to finish. I don’t even add olive oil to the pan in the oven, it’s just not needed. Instead, we add the olive oil in the meatball mixture.
But if you’re sold on frying to give them that nice dark brown crust, then go ahead and do your thing. They will still taste amazing and might hold in some extra moisture.
I just go healthier and bake them. Plus, it’s easier and cleaner.
Regardless of which method you choose, the recipe measurements and ingredients are the same no matter which cooking method you use.
Soak the bread
Start by soaking the bread slices in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes then squeeze out the excess liquid and place in a large bowl.
Some people recommend using whole milk due to the fat content. I find that either way works well.
Mix all ingredients in a bowl
In the same bowl add the beef, cheese, basil, parsley, olive oil, and garlic. Mix together until all the ingredients are well incorporated.
Form the meatballs
Form into 1 ½ to 2-inch balls by using your hands. I like to use gloves for less mess and easier clean up.
Bake meatballs in the oven
Place in an oven proof baking dish and bake at 350F for 30 to 40 minutes. If you sear the meatballs first in a frying pan with oil, then reduce the baking time by 10-15 minutes, making sure the internal temperature reaches 160F.
Other Ways to Make Moist Meatballs
Is this the only way to make moist meatballs? No, I’m sure there are many other methods. But I’ve tried using more olive oil, I tried adding milk, I tried doubling the eggs.
They still came out as not-as-moist-as-I’d-like meatballs.
Fast forward to present time and I just soak the bread for a minute or so in water, not milk, and lightly squeeze out the excess liquid and mix it in with the other ingredients.
How many pounds of beef to make 100 meatballs?
One pound will create approximately 12 (dozen) meatballs depending on how small or large you make them. You will need 8 to 9 pounds of beef to create 100 meatballs using my recipe.
To make double the amount, are the ingredients the same?
Yes, to double the recipe, simply double all the measurements. However make sure that the meatball mixture if very moist. If not, add in extra slices of soaked bread.
Are all beef meatballs healthier than other meatballs?
Yes, beef contains less fat than other meats such as sausage. Choosing to use grass fed or organic beef makes it an even healthier choice due to higher levels of omega-3 and no GMO ingredients or additives, often used in non-organic farming.
You can read more from this article published by the NIH about the importance of agricultural practices that are helping improve our health and our enivoronment.
Can I freeze all beef meatballs?
You can freeze both raw and cooked beef meatballs without any difference.
Uncooked: Place the uncooked meatballs on a parchment-lined pan in the freezer for around 20 minutes until firm. Then transfer them to an airtight container or freezer bag and store for up to 6 months.
Cooked: Cooked meatballs must be cooled, placed in an airtight container or freezer bag, and stored for up to 6 months. However, their freshness may decrease over time.
To reheat: Thaw the frozen meatballs in the fridge, and they will last up to 5 days in the refrigerator in an airtight container.
Where to buy organic meatballs or grass fed meatballs?
If you’re looking to simply buy organic or grass fed meatballs, check with your local grocer or online. Here are some resources as of today’s date.
- Beetnik brand – can be bought online direct or at Walmart
- Kroger Simple Truth brand carries grass fed meatballs
What to serve with Italian Meatballs
You can use your meatballs as a standalone meal or serve other items with them. In Italian cooking, meatballs are frequently served with short or long pasta. You can serve the meatballs separately in their own bowl, or in the pasta sauce.
Here are some additional side dishes that go with Italian meatballs
This is a simple Italian green salad that uses fresh lettuce and a few vegetables. Salads always go great with any kind of meatball.
You can’t go wrong with a delicious Italian tortellini salad that is served with fresh tomatoes, olives, and other Italian flavors!
Meatballs and pasta go great together, but in the summer everyone loves their cold angel hair pasta salad too!
You can also incorporate your meatballs into other dishes, such as an Italian meatball sub.
Additional Meatball Recipes
You may also enjoy the following recipes.
Try my 100% Italian meatless meatball recipe full of Italian flavor! It’s healthy and delicious.
My homemade Italian wedding soup also uses all beef meatballs. It’s also quick and easy to make.
I hope you enjoyed this recipe for my grass fed meatballs Italian-style! If you have your own tips for making the perfect all beef meatball that come out moist, let me know in the comments. And if you’re Italian, I’m sure you will!
Moist All Beef Meatballs
- 1 lb ground beef I use organic grass fed 85/15
- 1-2 slices white bread artisan bread works too
- 1/3 cup grated Romano cheese
- 1 egg
- 2 tbsp dried basil fresh is fine in season
- 2 tbsp dried parsley fresh is fine in season
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder or 3 cloves minced garlic
- Soak the bread in a bowl of warm water
- Lightly squeeze out the water from the bread and mix together the bread with all the other ingredients in a mixing bowl
- Mix well and form into meatball size balls (about 1 1/2 inches diameter).
- Place in baking pan and bake at 375 F (350F convection) for 35-40 minutes until fully cooked through.
- If you want to add the meatballs to a pot of sauce, you can reduce the baking time by about 10 minutes and finish cooking them with the pasta sauce for at least an hour or so.
- I’ve been asked if you have to use white bread or will whole wheat bread work just as well. I have only used white bread, and have not experimented with whole wheat. However, I don’t see why it wouldn’t be okay as long as the bread is not sweetened with honey which will alter the flavor.
- The general rule of thumb is 1 slice per pound of beef, but you can certainly add more to help as filler and especially if the beef is really lean. It is the soaked bread that helps makes the meatballs become moist.
- Using breadcrumbs will not yield the same moist results. I do make meatballs with breadcrumbs as well, but I am using soaked bread more and more because we purchase very lean beef.
- I do not add other meats like pork or veal. This is an all beef recipe and it’s the only type of meat use when I make meatballs!