Everyone loves a good meatball – they’re succulent, filling, and versatile. You can eat meatballs in any kind of meal, from pasta dishes to mashed potatoes, and they can be made of different meats according to your personal preference.
Beef meatballs are arguably the most familiar to many people in the world, but meatballs are also made from pork, chicken, venison, or a mixture of meats. You can even get non-meatballs, allowing you to enjoy the taste and texture of meatballs if you follow a plant-based diet! The possibilities really are endless with these tasty treats.
One of the most common issues people face when making meatballs is that they often fall apart during the cooking process. Whether you are frying, boiling, or oven-cooking your meatballs, they are all prone to the same fate – ending up as piles of broken meat, rather than individual balls.
While they still taste the same regardless of what they look like, it can nevertheless be a shame when you’re trying to serve an outstanding meal and it crumbles right in front of your guests’ eyes, through no fault of your own.
Luckily, there are ways to prevent this from happening. Here, we will explain the reasons why meatballs fall apart, and let you into the secrets of achieving top-quality results every time. You will never make a dud meatball again!
All meatballs must have some kind of binding agent added to the meat to hold it together. This acts like a glue, because the meat itself isn’t sticky when heated so it can’t hold a shape without additional help. The binder is usually a mix of breadcrumbs and egg, but some people use milk instead of egg, add a flour paste, or use egg on its own.
Whatever binder you’re using, it is vital to use exactly the right amount; if you put in either too much or too little, the meatballs will not hold together long enough to be cooked. You could say that there is a magic formula to make successful meatballs, but this will unfortunately depend on the individual recipe and the measurements of the other ingredients.
Certain experts have found that using a combination of fresh breadcrumbs and bread soaked in milk provides an ideal amount of moisture for the binder to do its thing. Others swear by just adding egg to the mixture as a simple binder that won’t alter the texture of the meatballs, which also works as a gluten-free option.
Even things like applesauce, tomato paste and ricotta cheese can be used instead of egg to give meatballs a good amount of moisture. There are several ways to make successful binders, so the most important thing is to not to try and skip the binder element entirely.
You may not have realized this, but your cooking environment can have a big impact on how well your meatballs turn out. We don’t mean you need to buy the most expensive appliances and play some inspirational music to encourage the meat to stick together – we’re talking mainly about the ambient temperature of your kitchen and equipment.
Meatballs need to stay cool while you prepare them for cooking, which can seem counter-intuitive. After all, they’ll only get hot anyway once you introduce the heat element. The problem is, if you allow them to get to room temperature or handle them too much up to this point, they have a higher chance of falling apart.
If you can, let the mixed ingredients sit in the fridge for a minimum of half an hour before you start shaping them. Try to have the meat in your hands only long enough to form a tight ball, and wet your hands in cold water between each one.
Best Meatball Recipes That Won’t Fall Apart
Here are some of our favorites tried and tested recipes that are sure to produce excellent meatballs.
This luxurious recipe uses not one, not two, but three different meats – pork, veal and sirloin are all on the menu here! It’s the perfect solution if you can’t decide between them, and you’ll get to enjoy all the delicious flavors. The binder is a classic egg and breadcrumb blend, and the other ingredients such as parsley and parmesan work beautifully together.
Despite what the name might suggest, the actual meatballs in these delicious sandwiches won’t pull apart easily. They are designed for sharing, so that each person can tear off a bite-sized piece and enjoy it without the sauce making a mess everywhere. Again, the binder used is egg and breadcrumbs, and there are lots of FAQs answered alongside the recipe to help you out.
In this recipe, egg alone provides an ideal binder to keep all the ingredients together. The meatballs have a base of beef and lamb, adding a touch of class to your dinner and giving it a unique flavor. We haven’t come across many lamb meatball recipes, so we found this one to be a breath of fresh air when we made it. The garlic and onion provide a pungent taste, while the black pepper adds a spicy kick.
The main reason meatballs fall apart is because the mixture doesn’t have the correct amount of binder. This is not always due to not following the recipe accurately, because some recipes give bad advice when it comes to binding. Even if you do get the binder right, other factors can come into play, including the mixture being too hot or using unsuitable cooking equipment.
As you can see, it is possible to prevent the breakup of your meatballs, and you should begin to see improvements if you take all our advice on board. There is no single approach that works for everyone, though, so sometimes the best way to achieve perfect meatballs is to experiment and see what works for you.