How to Make Moist Meatballs

Learning how to make moist meatballs isn’t difficult at all.  My recipe uses all beef, and on top of that I use lean organic grass-fed beef, so when I finally learned the secret for making an amazingly moist meatball with the odds stacked against me I had to share it with you. 

The trick is to use soaked bread instead of breadcrumbs. 

The recipe I am sharing is what I use and in fact, I made them last night and that’s what reminded me to write this post! 

By the way, this recipe is so simple you can have these on the table in less than an hour!

Moist All Beef Meatballs

Course Main Dish
Cuisine Italian
Keyword all beef meatballs
Servings 10 meatballs

Ingredients

  • 1 lb ground beef I use organic grass fed 85/15
  • 1-2 slices white bread artisan bread
  • 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

Instructions

  1. Soak the bread in a bowl of warm water

  2. Squeeze out the water from the bread and mix together the bread with all the other ingredients in a bowl

  3. Mix well and form into meatball size balls (about 1 1/2 inches diameter). 

  4. Place in baking pan and bake at 375 F (350F convection) for 35-40 minutes until fully cooked through.

Recipe Notes

  1. 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.  
  2. 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.   
  3. The last time I made these I used some homemade bread that was really dense (I think the yeast was old), and I just made sure to soak the bread until it was soggy and removed the hard crust.   They still turned out great.   
  4. 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 very very moist. 
  5. 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. 
  6. 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!  

Can an all-beef meatball still be moist?

First, you’ll notice I never use anything except beef in my meatballs. It’s the only way my own Italian family and my husband’s Italian family makes them too.  

And trust me, we take our meatballs seriously.  

In fact, I really don’t care to make meatballs for Italian family members.   Everyone has an opinion and we literally sit there discussing what we like and what we don’t like about how the meatballs turned out…. and we ask each other 100,000 times , “are you sure you like them?”  or “I don’t know, you think they’re okay”…. and so on and so on. 

Then two days later out of the blue they say, “eh, yeah you know, those meatballs they were good but they were a little dry.”  

For those who grew up in Italian homes, I know you’re shaking your head and laughing because it is SOOOO true!!

So anyway, the answer is yes, you can have an all-beef meatball that is moist by using slices of bread soaked in water and then squeezed to remove any excess liquid. I explain further down.

Will you lose flavor this way?

Some will argue to have a flavorful meatball you have to use the standard meat trio of beef, veal and pork.  No.  This is myth.  It 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 is quality ingredients.   Yet with an all beef version of meatballs, you just might have a few obstacles to overcome. All which I had to as well. 

Obstacle #1: The Fat holds the flavor

Some will say that it’s the fat that gives it flavor.   Sure, fat gives anything flavor but beef has less fat than pork thus making less fat.  I don’t like pork, I don’t like the way it tastes (except with crispy bacon), I don’t like the fact that it is terribly difficult for the body to digest.  

And pork is so fatty, it’s just not a healthy meat.   

Do we have to sacrifice flavor?  No.  Keep reading.

Obstacle #2:  Trying to make a healthy meatball with leaner meat.

In our attempt to be healthier without going vegetarian, we started buying leaner beef.  No more 75/25, not even 85/15, I’m talking 93/7. 

Yikes!   I admit 93/7 is not my favorite, I like 85/15.   But we’re trying to be healthier.   This caused my meatballs to be more dry.  Less fat means a less moist meatball.

And without the extra fat, it didn’t hold as much flavor either. It was like it just cooked away.

I’m not finished yet…

Obstacle #3: Trying to be even healthier using Grass Fed Beef which is even Leaner!

To make matters worse, we not only went lean, we went all grass fed.  I have found this to be more lean as all grass cows are healthier and less fatty unlike grain fed cows that typically don’t roam around like their lucky grass fed brothers do.

In addition,some people complain that with all grass fed you have less flavor than grain fed, or that there are subtle changes in flavor due to the seasonal changes in the grass itself.  

This is the problem I ran into when making meatballs when we switched over to 93/7 100% organic and 100% grass fed beef.  Yikes!!!  

How To Make Your Meatballs Moist… and Bake them in the Oven!

I can’t tell you how it came up, I think it was when my mother in law asked us to make some meatballs for her.   And she started telling us to make sure we soak the bread instead of breadcrumbs.

What?!!

Wait.. whoa…  are you serious??? 

15 years I’ve been married and I’m just hearing this now??    She always told me she used breadcrumbs!   

I blurted out without time to bite my tongue.. “After 15 years you finally decided to tell me this??!!”  Talk about total palm to forehead!

I couldn’t help but think she at one time steered me wrong in some sinister plot to prevent me from making her son better meatballs than her.  

Eh, probably not… probably just old age and the fact that Italians in previous generations NEVER WROTE DOWN RECIPES!!!! UGH!

Then again, sometimes you just can’t trust even the most lovable old Italian  ladies!  Including me. 🙂  

So, this is what we did.  For each pound of ground beef, we soaked a slice of white bread and squeezed.  No breadcrumbs. 

By adding the already moist bread slices you are actually allowing the meatball to retain more moisture!  With regular dried breadcrumbs, those soak up the existing fat… which we are lacking when we have lean beef.

Baking vs. Frying

Yes, sometimes you can fry them in a pan then transfer to the oven.  I do not do this.   I bake the meatballs from start to finish.  I don’t even add olive oil to the pan in the oven.   You don’t need to. 

But if you sold on frying to give it that nice dark brown crust then go ahead and do your thing.   

I go healthier and bake.   And it’s easier.   And cleaner.

As you can see in my picture, I use my Stainless steel Cuisinart 5 qt pan which works great!  

baked moist meatballs

Other Alternatives to Try

In case you are wondering, I tried other ways for compensating for the lack of fat.  I tried using more olive oil, I tried adding milk, I tried doubling the eggs…. but now, I just soak the bread for a minute or so, squeeze out the excess liquid and mix it in with the other ingredients. 

No more breadcrumbs.  No more making last minute breadcrumbs by toasting bread at a low setting then trying to get them to cool down super fast.  

Don’t get me wrong, I still love breadcrumbs and I will still use them, but not when I am using lean beef and I want really moist meatballs. 

Do it.  Try it.  You won’t regret it!   

I hope you enjoy this recipe and will appreciate the tips I provided.  If you have your own tips, feel free to let me know!  

Grazie!

Liz