A sturdy cast iron cauldron will be the secret to your Italian meatballs. Just like a good Italian grandmother, she imparts lovingly all that she has absorbed. Whether your Dutch oven is enamel coated or has the live edge of iron, your meatballs will cook in 30 minutes poached in red sauce.
These jumbo meatballs make use of a combination of beef and pork for succulence. Milk drenched bread crumbs make for the tenderest meatball that just holds together. One bite, and these meatballs positively burst with juices.
*If you are here looking for the gluten free, paleo, whole30 version of these meatballs, check out this modified version where I use almond flour in place of breadcrumbs.
…Make the Bread Crumbs
An opportunity to buy marked down bread is worth a smile. Look for day old french bread or allow your bread to go stale so you can grind it up. A simple food processor creates the freshest bread crumbs in under a minute. Simply press pulse until you see coarse sand.
Steps to Cooking Perfect Meatballs
Soak the breadcrumbs in a small amount of milk.
Use a combination of ground beef and pork for the perfect balance of flavor and fat. Toss the meat with soaked breadcrumbs, eggs, cheese and Italian seasoning.
Gently form the meatballs into even balls. Brown them in the Dutch oven over medium heat. They will be fragile at first but will firm up a bit as they cook.
Layer the flavors right alongside the meatballs (bay leaves, red pepper flakes, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper).
Use a combination of tomato paste and crushed canned tomatoes to create a flavorful Italian tomato sauce with all the beefy juices. The meatballs will get poached in the liquid, which will keep them moist and succulent.
Be prepared for clingy and sticky. Minimum handling is in the rule book for making tender meatballs. Therefore, try to work quickly while the meat is cold. Try using an ice cream scoop with a handle release for a uniform size. Once they are formed, try not to move them too much or they will fall apart. Browning them will cause them to firm up just a bit, so take care when flipping over. If a meatball breaks, just leave it alone so it can make your sauce richer with flavor.
Such tiny sacrifices are to be expected when aiming for results. And for heavens sake, leave the lid on so you don’t end up with hot lava all over your stove (or worse, your hand).
Pro Tips: Do not over handle the meat when forming meatballs as this causes them to become dense. This recipe makes incredibly tender meatballs, so try not to over-stir when browning (they are fragile). Don’t worry, they will firm up during the cooking process.
If you like this recipe, you might also enjoy my cookbook: Easy Dutch Oven Cooking which features 100 classic and contemporary recipes in 5 steps or less.
Dutch Oven Meatballs
- 1 cup Italian breadcrumbs
- 1 T milk
- 1 pound 80% lean ground beef
- 1 pound ground pork
- 1/4 cup yellow onion minced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 2 T flat leaf parsley chopped
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
- 2 whole bay leaves
- 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
- 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
- 6 oz canned tomato paste
- 2 28 oz canned crushed tomatoes
- salt and pepper for seasoning
- 1 oz fresh basil for serving
- 6 small bread loaves if desired
- Toss the breadcrumbs with the milk in a large bowl until they soak it up. Add the beef, pork, onion, garlic, parsley, eggs, and parmesan cheese on top and season with salt and pepper. Mix by hand just until combined.
- Use an ice cream scoop or hands to form 10-12 balls of meat. Very gently place them into the bottom of a large pot or 5-7 quart Dutch oven. Brown over medium heat, about 5 minutes, then gently flip over using a spoon to brown the other side.
- Create a flavorful sauce. To the same pot with the meatballs, add bay leaves, crushed red pepper, Italian seasoning, and a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper. Top with tomato paste and crushed tomatoes.
- Cook covered on low heat for 30 minutes, until the internal temperature of the meatballs reads 160°F. Serve meatballs nestled inside toasted white subs with freshly torn basil and parmesan cheese.