Baked Meatballs in Sauce are quick and easy comfort food. With juicy beef meatballs in a simple tomato sauce smothered with a layer of cheese on top this recipe will win hearts and fans. Follow my tips and tricks to master the recipe from the get go and make it part of your weekly dinner rotation! When you are getting asked ALL day about dinner know that homemade meatballs in sauce will tick ALL of their boxes 😉👌.
🤍 Recipe Highlights
I have summarised everything that you will come to know and love (LOVE ❤) about the recipe in the points below:
- Back to basics: we make a very simple tomato sauce for this meatballs recipe. Not going so far as to add carrots, onion and celery like we would a bolognese and similar to marinara with a little less effort, we keep this well flavored, yet easy and straight forward at the same time.
- Comfort food without the carbs: these meatballs are versatile and can be served in a number of ways that don't include pasta! You can try serving them with zucchini noodles for an easy option or simply with a side salad.
- Budget friendly: this is a cost effective recipe which won't blow the budget. Beef mince is a fantastic inexpensive cut of meat to use and it makes for a great tasty meal!
- Simple ingredients: everything you need to make baked meatballs in sauce with cheese will be easily found at your local grocery store. You might have some of the basic ingredients in the pantry already.
- Family friendly: this is a recipe that the whole family will love. The flavor is there with taste and texture. Yet this is no spice or intense flavors that little kids aren't into. You can all sit around the table and enjoy this dish together.
The photo below is to show you everything you need to make the easy baked meatballs recipe. Please refer to the printable recipe card for specific ingredient measurements as well as detailed instructions.
As you can see the recipe calls for:
- Olive oil: we use this to brown the meatballs on the stove top before we put them into the oven.
- Salt and pepper: we use a little salt and black pepper to season the meatballs.
- Dried parsley: an excellent dried herb to have in the pantry. It works well for so many recipes! We add this to the meatball mixture.
- Onion powder: another excellent pantry staple. It can dry out if left in pantry and not used for a while. So check your bottle before you head to the shops.
- Garlic powder: as above this can dry out depending on how long ago you used it. Another excellent pantry staple that saves peeling, chopping or mincing!
- Egg: we use this to help bind the meatball mixture together.
- Dried basil: we use this as our herb in the simple tomato sauce.
- Panko breadcrumbs: bright white and excellent to use for meatballs. These are commonly used in Japanese cooking and will be found in the Asian foods section of the supermarket.
- Parsley: funny thing! I took the photo here with fresh parsley from the garden, then later decided to use basil to present the dish. Opps 🤣. Forgive me please! Realistically you can use either of these fresh herbs .
- Diced tomatoes: these give the sauce a little texture.
- Passata: this forms the base of the sauce. It is smooth and rich in tomato flavor.
- Parmesan cheese: this brings the 'cheese flavor' to the cheese layer.
- Mozzarella: an excellent melt worthy cheese, but it is rather mild in flavor. Paired with the above - heaven sent!
- Beef mince: also known as ground beef. This is the primary ingredient needed for the meatballs. You can choose a lean ground beef if you prefer.
Top Tip: I like to provide you with a number of substitutions and variations giving you an array of options when making my recipes. If in doubt of any of the above ingredients, or wanting alternatives, read this section (further below) before jumping into the instructions on how to make the recipe which are coming next 😉👌.
Here are the step by step instructions to make the recipe. We start by gathering the ingredients to make the meatballs.
- Add meatball ingredients to a bowl (Photo 1)
- Use clean hands to combine meat mixture (Photo 2)
- Portion mixture out onto chopping board (Photo 3)
- Roll the portions into meatballs (Photo 4)
👩🍳 How to Make Baked Meatballs in Sauce
We want to start by making the meatballs. To do this we need a large mixing bowl. Add the beef mince, panko breadcrumbs, garlic powder, onion powder, dried parsley, salt, pepper and egg.
I will segway for a minute to add in that you can turn the oven on at this point so that it can preheat whilst we do the next steps 😉👍.
Then use clean hands to work this into a consistently combined meat mixture.
Next take a mini cookie scoop and portion the mix out, putting the portions onto a chopping board as you go. Once you have done all of the portions, use the palm of your hands to roll these portions into meatballs.
Place the meatballs onto a clean chopping board and continue until all of the mixture is used up.
- Brown meatballs (Photo 5)
- Absorb excess oil (Photo 6)
- Add passata and diced tomatoes (Photo 7)
- Add the dried basil and stir to combine (Photo 8)
Next, we want to brown the meatballs.
To do this place a pan that is also suitable to put into the oven (cast iron works) on the stove top and turn the heat to high. Add the olive oil and give it a swish around in the pan.
Then use kitchen tongs to place half of the meatballs (working in batches) into the pan.
Brown meatballs and use tongs to rotate them as you go for around 5- 6 minutes.
Once done use a slotted spoon to lift them up and out of the pan. Then do the same with the remaining meatballs.
Once the meatballs are browned, use a folded piece of paper towel and kitchen tongs to absorb the excess oil from the pan.
Then turn the heat down to medium low and pour in the passata. Follow this by the diced tomatoes. Then add the dried basil and stir to combine the sauce.
- Add browned meatballs (Photo 9)
- Combine the 2 types of cheese (Photo 10)
- Sprinkle with the cheese (Photo 11)
- Bake for 15 minutes (Photo 12)
Once combined, use the kitchen tongs to place the browned meatballs into the sauce. Keep the top of the meatballs visible (ie no need to cover them in sauce).
Then take the mozzarella cheese and parmesan and combine these in a small bowl.
Sprinkle the combined cheese over the top of the meatball to form a top layer.
Then pop the pan into the hot oven on the middle shelf.
Allow the meatballs to bake for 15 minutes and the cheese to melt.
Once done you can use oven mits to remove the pan and place it on a heatproof surface ready for garnishing and serving.
🍽 Serving Suggestions
Ok, so I did mention at the top of the post that if you want to consider this as comfort food without the carbs you can. A crusty bread helps to mop up the sauce 😉.
If you want to explore the option of turning this into subs (or leftovers into subs) that idea is seen in the Baked Meatball Subs recipe.
If you want to see the absolutely gluttonous way in which I sat down at night the day I made this recipe and devoured it with my homemade garlic bread you can see that photo here. Don't judge me, there is veggies on that plate too...somewhere near the carbs and yummm! And oh boy oh boy was it delicious. I am still thinking about how good it was 🤣👍😉.
👍 How to Guide
How to Store
Next day leftovers taste even better than the day the meatballs were made!
Store leftovers of the meatballs in sauce in an airtight container in the fridge. They will last for 3-4 days and are best reheated before being consumed.
How to Freeze
You can either purchase the beef mince and freeze it, thawing it and making the meatballs when ready. Or you can allow the cooked meatballs in sauce to cool. Once cooled portion into a freezer-safe container and freeze for up to 3 months.
How to Reheat
Use the microwave to reheat leftovers. Simply put them in a bowl and cover with cling wrap then heat on high for 2-3 minutes until warmed through.
Frozen portions of the dish should be thawed fully before being reheated using the microwave method above.
😉 Substitutions and Variations
Here are my sub ins and outs that you might be thinking about as you read the post and I will tell you if I think they will work or why they won't:
- You can use regular bread crumbs in place of the panko breadcrumbs if you wish too (equivalent amount).
- You can use ground pork or ground chicken in place of the beef if you wish to. These will be pork meatballs or chicken meatballs, with the rest of the recipe staying as is.
- Ground turkey will work too if you want to try a lighter protein.
- If you want to use the dried basil in the meatballs and the dried parsley in the sauce, this switch will work.
- You can use crushed tomatoes in place of the diced tomatoes if you wish to. Or have them and not diced in the pantry.
- For whichever of the 2 options above ie diced tomatoes or crushed tomatoes, try and get the plain style. This is because the tin won't have extra 'Italian herbs' in it which we don't know what they are unless we read the tiny little writing on the side of the tin.
- For garnishing either basil as shown in the photos or parsley will work. Choose your favorite!
- Re the point above, I don't add extra cheese when garnishing as I feel there is enough on there...however, if you wish to my friend, I won't stop you 😘😉.
💡 Tasty Tips
Here are my top tips and tricks that I want to share with you so that you master the recipe from the get go:
- One of the things that you will see me do and is shown in the photos in the post is using a mini cookie scoop to portion the meatball mixture as one task and then roll the portions as the next task. This helps to ensure we have uniform sized meatballs and makes the tasks flow easier than stopping after each portion to roll it into a ball. If you don't have a cookie scoop you can use a soup spoon to help portion and then roll once done.
- We want to brown the meatballs on the stove using olive oil before putting them in the oven. This ensures the meatballs have the crispy surface and golden brown colour. It is best not to skip this step 😘!
- We do want to remove the excess oil that we used to cook the meatballs before we make the sauce. The best way to do this is to fold a piece of paper towel and use kitchen tongs (pan is hot!) to absorb this oil.
- We also want to turn the heat down before adding the sauce ingredients. This will prevent the tomato puree from bubbling and flicking out of the pan onto your splash back.
- For the tomato sauce, we keep it very simple. Add the ingredients, stir to combine and then pop the meatballs in. That is the beauty of the recipe...we don't take 4 hours to make a sauce 🤣😁😉.
🤓 Frequently Asked Questions
Is it better to cook meatballs in sauce or in oven?
Browning meatballs before putting them in a sauce is a widely popular cooking technique. This method helps lock in the flavour of the meat and will give a slightly different texture to your cooked meatballs.
You can simply add raw meatballs to a tomato based sauce and cook them in the oven. However the meatballs will not have a browned, crispy surface. They will simply be 'baked meatballs'.
How long does it take to cook meatballs in sauce?
It will take 15 minutes to cook meatballs in sauce once they have been put into the oven. There is also a 5-6 minute period before this time where the meatballs need to be browned on the stove.
😍 More Easy Dinner Recipes
If you want to have some options up your sleeve when you hear 'What's for Dinner' every night read through the following for inspiration. I try to offer a range of recipes here that will tick a few different boxes. Wouldn't it be boring if it was 'same, same' every night of the week!
- Easy Penne Bolognese
- Crumbed Lamb Cutlets
- Slow Cooker Spaghetti Bolognese Recipe
- Crispy Fried Mushrooms
- Oven Baked Beef Back Ribs
- Chicken Ribs
- Baked Polenta (this is vego!)
- Fettuccine Alla Bolognese
- Honey And Mustard Sausages
It's time to get a roll on my friend. Your meatballs need you! You can also find all of my comfort food recipes in the one spot.
Baked Meatballs in Sauce
- 500 grams/16 oz grams beef mince (ground beef) Note 1
- ⅓ cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon dried parsley
- 1 egg free range
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 700 grams/24.5 oz passata
- 400 grams/14.5 oz grams diced tomatoes Note 2
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- ½ cup mozzarella cheese grated using a hand held or box grater
- ⅓ cup parmesan cheese freshly grated using a micro plane zester, Note 3
- basil leaves
- black pepper
- Preheat your oven: to 180°C / 350-375°F / Gas Mark 4-5.
- Meatballs: add the beef mince, panko breadcrumbs, garlic powder, onion powder, dried parsley, salt, pepper and egg to a large bowl. Use clean hands to combine. Then take a mini cookie scoop and portion out a small amount of the mixture onto a chopping board. Next, repeat to portion the rest of the mixture. Once done roll the portions into meatballs using the palms of your hands then place onto a chopping board. Repeat this process till all of the mixture is used up.
- Brown meatballs: place an oven proof pan on the stove top, turn the heat to high and add the olive oil. Work in batches and use kitchen tongs to place the meatballs into the bottom of the pan. Cook, browning the outsides of the edges for 5-6 minutes. Then use a slotted spoon to lift the browned meatballs up and out of the pan. Place them into a paper towel lined bowl.
- Absorb excess oil: once the meatballs are browned, fold a piece of paper towel in half and use kitchen tongs to push this around in the pan absorbing the excess oil. Then discard.
- Tomato sauce: turn the heat down to medium low and then add the passata, diced tomatoes and dried basil to the pan and stir to combine.
- Meatballs into sauce: use kitchen tongs to place the meatballs gently into the sauce. Allow their tops to poke up and out of the sauce.
- Cheese layer: use a small bowl to combine the mozzarella and parmesan cheese. Then sprinkle this combination of cheese over the top of the meatballs and sauce.
- Oven bake: place the pan into the preheated oven on the middle shelf. Allow the meatballs and sauce to cook for 15 minutes. During this time the cheese will also melt and turn golden brown. Once done, use oven mits to remove the pan and place onto a heatproof surface.
- Garnish: season the top of the dish with black pepper and basil leaves. Provide forks, spoons and bowls for serving.
- Note 1 - Beef mince: For juicy beef Italian meatballs of course! Other options you can also are lamb, ground pork or chicken mince.
- Note 2 - Diced tomatoes: you can use crushed tomatoes here if you wish to. For both options try and get 'plain' not 'Italian flavored' or another variety that has additional herbs in the tin.
- Note 3 - Parmesan cheese: you can use pecorino romano here in place of the parmesan (equivalent amount) if you wish too.
I published this recipe initially way back in 2020. In August of 2023 I have updated the post with new photos and minor recipe alterations (more juicy meatballs of course 🤣). If you want the original recipe, give me a shout.