A Spicy Perspective

Oven Baked Meatballs (Old School Italian Meatball Recipe)

Oven Baked Meatballs Recipe – Classic Italian Meatballs are made with a combination of ground beef, pork sausage, and veal for a perfectly tender texture and incredible flavor. They’re baked in the oven before simmering in a simple tomato sauce to serve as a delicious dinner or appetizer.

baked meatballs in tomato sauce

We love the versatility and tastiness of making homemade meatballs… Of all kinds. From tangy Asian Meatballs with Edamame to Saucy Greek Lemon Meatballs, tender morsels of seasoned meats are great to feature as the star of nearly any delicious dinner!

Now we want to share with you a classic “old school” Oven Baked Italian Meatballs Recipe. By far this creates the best, softest, most flavorful Italian meatballs ever. Seriously, grandmas will give you a round of applause for this one.

We use a trinity of ground meats that are hand-formed and baked for structure, then simmered in a thin luxurious tomato sauce. The result is a delicious batch of perfect meatballs to serve over pasta, in sub rolls, or as an appetizer.

baked italian meatballs

The Best Oven Baked Italian Meatballs Recipe

These meatballs have ultra-rich Classic Italian flavor from the combination of 3 meats: ground beef, Italian pork sausage, and veal. 

They are SO soft, due to 3 Key Secrets:

  1. Including milk-soaked breadcrumbs (the enzymes in the milk break down the texture of the meat.).
  2. NOT over-mixing the meatball mixture.
  3. Baking the meatballs before adding them to the sauce.

The sauce is a very simple tomato-butter-onion blend that tastes bright and comforting without overpowering the meatballs. Perfection.

the best baked meatballs recipe

Why Bake Meatballs Before Simmering

If you are wondering whether it’s really worth it to bake your meatballs before simmering, the simple answer is a very loud YES! A quick bake beforehand helps “set” the meatballs, so they retain their juices and stay moist on the inside.

When you cook them directly in the sauce, most of the moisture works its way out into the sauce, creating flavorful sauce but bland meatballs. Plus, if the meatballs don’t have an exterior skin/crust they will fall apart easily.

Baking first, therefore, helps hold in the meatballs’ moisture and flavor, so it doesn’t all escape into the sauce.

italian meatballs in homemade tomato sauce

Ingredients for This Baked Italian Meatballs Recipe

To make the meatballs you need:

  • Ground beef chuck
  • Ground veal
  • Ground pork Italian sausage
  • Breadcrumbs – regular breadcrumbs or panko
  • Milk
  • Garlic
  • Italian seasoning
  • Eggs
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Fresh parsley
  • Salt and pepper

To make the easy tomato sauce for simmering the meatballs you need:

  • Canned tomato sauce
  • Butter
  • Onions
tomato sauce and onions

How to Make Tomato Sauce

First, set a large 7-8 quart saucepot over medium heat. Add the butter to the pot. Once melted, add the onion wedges and sauté for several minutes to caramelize, soften, and release the onion juices.

Then add the canned tomato sauce and stir. Partially cover the pot and simmer on medium-low for 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally.

These three ingredients create a rich and tangy sauce that is thin and inviting!

tomato sauce and onions

How to Make Oven Baked Meatballs from Scratch

Meanwhile, set out a large mixing bowl. Combine the breadcrumbs and milk in the bowl. Then add in the minced garlic, Italian seasoning, eggs, grated parmesan, parsley, 2 ½ teaspoons salt, and ½ teaspoon ground black pepper. Mix well.

milk, breadcrumbs, eggs, and seasonings

Next, add in the ground beef, veal, and Italian sausage. Gently break the ground meat into small chunks with your fingers.

Then toss it with the milk and herb mixture to coat the meat chunks. This pre-mixing process helps to get the ingredients evenly distributed, without over-mixing.

ground beef, pork, and veal with seasonings

Now mix the meatball mixture with your hands until evenly combined, but not a moment longer.

Pro Tip: Over-mixing meatballs makes them tough! You want the mixture to be even, but not packed down.

If you are cooking right away, now is when you should preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and set out a large rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Then use a 2 ½ – 3 tablespoon scoop to portion out the meatballs. Roll them well, but do not press and pack them tightly. If needed, use your fingers to pinch any cracks together. Set them on the baking sheet.

At this point, you could cover and chill the meatballs for up to 2 days before cooking. Or, you could freeze them and keep them stored for up to 2 months.

formed meatballs on a baking sheet

How to Bake Meatballs in the Oven

Bake the meatballs for only 20 minutes to set. They should be lightly golden on the inside but not cooked all the way through: the Italian meatballs will finish cooking in the tomato sauce.

Pro Tip: If you plan to use the meatballs in a different way and are not going to simmer them in sauce, bake them for 25 minutes to fully cook.

meatballs baked in the oven

Simmer the Meatballs in the Sauce

Use tongs to pull the chunks of onion out of the tomato sauce, and discard the onions. Then use tongs to carefully move the meatballs into the tomato sauce. Pour the savory baking pan juices into the sauce, and gently stir to combine.

Simmer on low for about 10 minutes, until the baked Italian meatballs are cooked throughly.

Suggestions for Serving Oven Baked Italian Meatballs

Serve bold and zesty Italian meatballs as a cocktail party appetizer with toothpicks or as cute little sliders on rolls.

Load them into sliced baguettes with mozzarella or provolone cheese for full meatball subs. Give your assembled subs a quick bake in an oven for extra deliciousness!

And, of course, they are perfect to enjoy as part of a classic Italian spaghetti and meatballs dinner.

Buon appetito!

old school Italian meatballs

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you freeze meatballs?

You can freeze meatballs raw for up to 2 months before baking. Once you’ve formed the meatballs and placed them on a baking sheet, flash-freeze them for one hour until firm. Then transfer to a freezer safe bag before putting back in the freezer to store.
Baked meatballs can be cooled, stored in an airtight bag, and frozen for up to 3 months. Plus the entire dish – meatballs and sauce – can be transferred to an airtight container and frozen for up to 3 months as well.

How long do homemade meatballs keep well in the refrigerator?

Meatballs baked, but not simmered, will keep for up to 3 days in the fridge. Just be sure to bake them a bit longer though if you’re not planning to simmer!
The meatballs and sauce will keep well together for up to 4 days stored in an airtight container in the fridge.

How many meatballs does this recipe make?

This baked meatballs recipe makes roughly 45 golfball-sized meatballs. However, you can double or halve the recipe as needed to make smaller or larger batches. I love to freeze half of what I make to enjoy later!

the best italian meatballs and sauce

Looking for More Classic Italian-Inspired Recipes?

Let Us Know How You Serve Homemade Meatballs and Tomato Sauce in the Comments Below!

simple sauce and classic meatballs

Oven Baked Meatballs (Old School Italian Meatball Recipe)

Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 25 minutes
This classic oven baked Italian meatball recipe features ground beef, pork, and veal to make the most delicious meatballs that are perfect for simmering in a rustic tomato sauce.
Servings: 45 meatballs

Ingredients

For the Meatballs –

For the Tomato Sauce –

  • 112 ounces tomato sauce 4 large cans
  • ¾ cup butter
  • 2 large red onions cut into wedges

Instructions

Start with the Tomato Sauce:

  • Set a large 7-8 quart saucepot over medium heat. Add the butter to the pot. Once melted, add the onion wedges. Sauté the onion wedges for 5-8 minutes, to caramelize, soften, and release their juices.
  • Add the tomato sauce. Partially cover the pot and simmer on medium-low for 45-60 minutes.

Methodically and Delicately Make and Bake the Meatballs:

  • Meanwhile, set out a large mixing bowl. Combine the breadcrumbs and milk in the bowl. Then add in the minced garlic, Italian seasoning, eggs, grated parmesan, parsley, 2 ½ teaspoons salt, and ½ teaspoon ground black pepper. Mix well.
  • Add in the ground beef, veal, and Italian sausage. Gently break the ground meat into small chunks with your fingers. Then toss it with the milk and herb mixture to coat the meat chunks. This pre-mixing process helps to get the ingredients evenly distributed, without overmixing.
  • Now mix the meatball mixture with your hands until evenly combined, but not a moment longer. (Overmixing meatballs makes them tough! You want the mixture to be even, but not packed down.)
  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Set out a large rimmed baking sheet and line it with parchment paper.
  • Use a 2 ½ – 3 tablespoon scoop to portion out the meatballs. Roll them well, but do not press and pack them tightly. If needed, use your fingers to pinch any cracks together. Set them on the baking sheet. (At this point, you could cover and chill the meatballs for up to 2 days. Or you could freeze them.)
  • Bake the meatballs for 20 minutes to set. (The meatballs will finish cooking in the tomato sauce. If you plan to use the meatballs in a different way, bake them for 25 minutes to fully cook.)

Simmer the Meatballs in the Tomato Sauce:

  • Now use tongs to pull the chunks of onion out of the tomato sauce. Discard the onions. Then use tongs to move the meatballs into the tomato sauce. Pour the pan juices into the sauce and gently stir. Simmer for 10-15 minutes. Serve warm.

Notes

Once cooked, you can freeze the meatballs and sauce for up to 3 months.

Nutrition

Serving: 1meatball in sauce, Calories: 141kcal, Carbohydrates: 6g, Protein: 8g, Fat: 10g, Saturated Fat: 4g, Cholesterol: 40mg, Sodium: 532mg, Potassium: 344mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 4g, Vitamin A: 466IU, Vitamin C: 6mg, Calcium: 52mg, Iron: 1mg
Course: dinner, Main, Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Author: Sommer Collier

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4 comments on “Oven Baked Meatballs (Old School Italian Meatball Recipe)”

  1. These meatballs are so soft and delicious! Such a great idea for meal prep!

  2. Such a really comforting dinner! Everyone at my house loved it!

  3. Hi, can I substitute almond milk for dairy and rolled oats for breadcrumbs?

    • Hi Cassie,

      Yes, you can. However, it’s good to remember that the dairy enzymes break down and soften the texture of the meat, so the meatballs will be slightly tougher without the cow’s milk.