Fry or Oven Cook Meatballs — What's Best?

Pan-frying and baking are among the more common ways to cook meatballs, whether they're ground beef, chicken, pork or a combination of meats.

Meatballs are a high-protein, delicious treat. But what's the preferred cooking method, cooking in the oven or frying in a pan? (Image: Mariha-kitchen/iStock/GettyImages)

Whatever meat you use, most meatballs are prepared in a similar manner — the meat is combined with bread crumbs and eggs for binding and seasoned generously with spices and herbs to enhance the flavor.

While pan-frying is the fastest way to cook meatballs, baking them is simple and can save you a few calories.

Prepping the Meatballs

You can use any type of ground meat for your meatballs, including beef, lamb, turkey, pork and chicken. Combine the ground meat in a bowl with bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese and eggs. You'll want to use roughly a half cup of bread crumbs and one egg per pound of ground meat for balanced meatballs. Add about a teaspoon of salt per pound as well and a few pinches of fresh herbs, to your taste.

You can also add a handful or so of Parmesan cheese, but you'll want to reduce the amount of salt in that case. Other optional additions include onions, garlic powder, chili powder and a dash of nutmeg. Combine the mixture well with your lightly oiled hands, then roll into roughly golf ball-sized meatballs.

Frying meatballs is the traditional Italian cooking method. (Image: AlexeyBorodin/iStock/GettyImages)

Fried Meatballs

Meatballs can be cooked in a variety of ways but are often pan-fried in the Italian tradition. If you plan to add the meatballs to a sauce, you can just sear them quickly in a pan coated with oil over high heat, then add them to a simmering sauce to finish cooking.

To fully pan-fry the meatballs, you'll want to bring the oil-coated skillet to a medium heat level and fill the pan with meatballs, without overcrowding them. Let the meatballs cook for about three to five minutes on one side, then carefully roll them over and cook for another few minutes, or continue turning frequently until they're cooked through.

Although not traditional, you can also deep-fry the meatballs in a pot of oil heated to a medium-high temperature. Fry them plain or rolled in flour and bread crumbs.

Baking meatballs is a way to reduce the fat a little and avoid excess oil. (Image: Magrig/iStock/GettyImages)

Baked Meatballs

Baked meatballs are ideal for those who want to reduce the fat a bit by avoiding the excess oil that comes with frying. They're also easier to prepare, given that you don't have to stay by the stove to turn them frequently.

The oven should be preheated to a medium-high temperature, about 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Add the meatballs, spaced about an inch apart onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or oil. Spray the lining lightly with cooking spray to avoid sticking. Alternatively, you can place a wire rack on top of the baking sheet and put the meatballs on the rack. That way, any excess oil will drip down and collect below the meatballs on the pan.

Once they're in the oven, cooking time will depend on the meatball size and type of ground meat you are using, but should be roughly between 15 and 25 minutes.

Cook your meatballs to a safe internal temperature before serving. (Image: Lilechka75/iStock/GettyImages)

Cooking and Storing Safety Tips for Meatballs

Meatballs made with ground beef, pork, veal or lamb need to be cooked to a minimum of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, as recommended by FoodSafety.gov, for safe consumption. Ground turkey and chicken should be cooked to 160 F.

You can roll the meatballs ahead of time by freezing them uncooked. Stick them on a baking sheet, spaced apart and place them in the freezer until frozen solid, then put them in a freezer-safe airtight container until you are ready to use them. Store the meatballs for up to three months in the freezer. If you cook them and have leftovers, you can store them in the freezer as well, for up to one month.

Albondigas is a Mexican meatball soup featuring hearty broth and healthy vegetables. (Image: vkuslandia/iStock/GettyImages)

Low-Carb Meatball Recipe Ideas

Spaghetti and meatballs is a delicious dish — don't get us wrong — but sometimes you don't want all of that carb-heavy pasta.

Instead, serve your meatballs with "pasta" made from spaghetti squash, shirataki or spiralized zucchini or sweet potato. Alternatively, you can serve your meatballs as a traditional Mexican albondigas soup featuring a flavorful broth and vegetables.

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