How to Make Perfect Meatballs with Ground Beef for Spaghetti

Spaghetti and meatballs is a classic Italian-American dish that is beloved by many. The tender noodles coated in rich tomato sauce and paired with savory, juicy meatballs is comfort food at its finest. While store-bought jarred sauce and frozen meatballs work in a pinch, nothing beats homemade. With just a few simple steps, you can learn how to make incredible meatballs with ground beef that will take your spaghetti up a notch.

Benefits of Homemade Meatballs

Making your own meatballs offers several advantages over premade options:

  • Better flavor – You control the seasoning so the meatballs taste amazing.

  • Healthier – No preservatives or artificial ingredients like frozen meatballs.

  • Cost savings – Homemade is cheaper than buying prepared meatballs.

  • Customizable – Adapt the recipe to your tastes.

  • Fun activity – Kids can help shape the meatballs.

With simple ingredients and easy instructions, homemade meatballs may become your new favorite!

Tips for Making Meatballs with Ground Beef

Follow these tips for tender, flavorful homemade meatballs every time:

  • Use 80/20 ground beef – The higher fat content keeps meatballs moist during cooking.

  • Don’t overmix – Gently mix just until combined so they don’t get dense and tough.

  • Wet hands when shaping – Prevents meat from sticking to your hands.

  • Use fresh breadcrumbs – They impart more flavor than dry crumbs.

  • Pan fry first – Browning the meatballs adds texture and flavor.

  • Simmer in sauce – Finish cooking in tomato sauce to infuse flavor.

  • Make ahead – Meatballs can be made 1-2 days in advance.

  • Freeze extras – Allowed meatballs to cool completely before freezing in an airtight container.

Follow the step-by-step instructions below for perfect meatballs for spaghetti every time!

Ingredients for Spaghetti and Meatballs

To serve 4 generously, you’ll need:

For the Meatballs:

  • 1 pound 80/20 ground beef
  • 1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup minced onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

For the Sauce:

  • 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

For Serving:

  • 1 (16 oz) package spaghetti, cooked
  • Grated parmesan cheese

Step-by-Step Instructions

Follow these simple steps for how to make meatballs with ground beef for spaghetti:

Prepare the Meatballs

  1. In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, breadcrumbs, egg, onion, garlic, parsley, salt, and pepper.
  2. Gently mix with your hands until just combined. Be careful not to overmix.
  3. Scoop and shape the mixture into 12-15 equal sized balls. Wet your hands if the meat sticks.
  4. Place the shaped meatballs onto a plate or baking sheet. Refrigerate for 15-30 minutes to help them hold their shape.

Cook the Meatballs

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the meatballs in a single layer and cook for 5-7 minutes, turning occasionally until browned on all sides.
  3. Transfer the browned meatballs to a plate and set aside.

Make the Sauce

  1. In the same skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat.
  2. Add the onion and cook for 3-5 minutes until translucent.
  3. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute until fragrant.
  4. Stir in the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper.
  5. Add the cooked meatballs and any accumulated juices to the sauce.
  6. Bring the sauce to a gentle simmer.
  7. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook for 15-20 minutes, gently turning the meatballs occasionally.

Finish the Dish

  1. Cook the spaghetti according to package directions until al dente.
  2. Drain the pasta and return to the pot.
  3. Add several ladles of the meatball sauce and toss to coat the noodles.
  4. Serve the spaghetti topped with additional sauce and meatballs. Garnish with parmesan cheese.

And that’s it! With these simple steps, you’ll have tender homemade meatballs and savory sauce ready to enjoy over pasta.

Variations and Tips

  • For an authentic Italian flavor, use a mix of ground beef and ground pork or Italian sausage.
  • Add milk-soaked bread slices instead of fresh breadcrumbs.
  • Mix in chopped herbs like basil, oregano or Italian seasoning.
  • Grate cheese like parmesan, pecorino or romano into the meatballs.
  • Add an egg yolk only to help bind instead of a whole egg.
  • Bake the meatballs at 375°F for 20-25 minutes instead of pan-frying.
  • Use different noodles like linguine, angel hair or rigatoni.
  • Sprinkle with parsley or basil leaves for a pop of color.
  • Serve with crusty garlic bread for dipping into the sauce.
  • Leftover meatballs and sauce make amazing meatball subs!

Feel free to customize and tweak the recipe to suit your tastes. The important thing is to use high-quality ground beef and handle the meat gently when shaping for tender results.

Frequently Asked Questions

What type of ground beef is best?

Ground beef with 80% lean meat and 20% fat content works best. The higher fat keeps the meatballs tender and moist, while the lean still provides texture.

Can I use ground turkey or chicken?

While you can use lean ground turkey or chicken, the meatballs will likely be drier. Be sure to mix in breadcrumbs and an egg to add moisture.

What’s the best way to brown meatballs?

Pan frying in a little oil creates delicious caramelization and texture. Turn gently to brown all sides evenly.

How do I keep meatballs from falling apart?

Gently mix the ingredients without over-handling. Chilling shaped meatballs firms them up. Cook at a gentle simmer and turn carefully.

Can I freeze homemade meatballs?

Yes! Allow cooked meatballs to cool fully then freeze in an airtight container up to 3 months. Thaw in the fridge before reheating.

Cooking and Serving Tips

  • Cook the spaghetti just until al dente so it doesn’t get mushy when mixed with the sauce.

  • Add a splash of pasta water to the sauce to help the noodles absorb more flavor.

  • Simmer the sauce and meatballs as long as possible to meld the flavors.

  • Grate cheese over each serving for a savory, satisfying touch.

  • Accompany with salad, garlic bread and wine for a classic Italian feast.

  • Refrigerate leftovers up to 4 days or freeze meatballs and sauce for quick meals later.

Making meatballs from scratch is easier than you think. In less than an hour, you can enjoy the amazing flavors of homemade meatballs and sauce over pasta. Impress your family with your culinary skills by mastering this traditional recipe. Buon appetito!

Spaghetti and Meatballs, Your New Favorite Recipe!


Do I need to cook meatballs before putting in sauce?

Adding raw meatballs to the sauce and gently simmering till cooked yields ultra-tender results, and infuses the sauce with meaty flavor—a slow cooker gives great results.

Is it better to fry or bake meatballs for spaghetti?

The high makes the crust and the slow keeps them tender. Whether making meatballs to go with spaghetti or something else I prefer to bake them. Frying them gives a nice crust but takes a lot of watching as they can easily burn. Baking gives the same result with less work.

What makes meatballs stick together?

Add a lightly beaten egg, but not too much. Egg acts as a binder for the ingredients, but you only need a small amount. One small egg will do for one pound of minced meat. Alternatively, if you’re following an egg-free diet, you could soak fresh bread in milk, squeezing out any excess milk, to use as a binder.

Do beef meatballs have to be cooked all the way through?

Either way, you need to cook the meatballs in simmering sauce to finish cooking them. Meatballs, being a ground-meat product, must reach a minimum internal temperature of 160°F (71°C) for food safety. Use an instant-read thermometer like the Thermapen® or Classic Thermapen to temp the meatballs in the sauce.

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