Types of Meatballs


Simmered in spaghetti sauce, tossed in a salad, served as an appetizer or sliced in a sub sandwich, meatballs are chameleons of culinary delight. From Italy to Japan, Norway to Mexico, these tasty treats pop up all over the world and come in all different sizes and flavors. Try your hand at the classics or invent your own recipe and get the meatball rolling.

Italian and Italian-American Style

  • You won't find spaghetti and meatballs on the menu in Italy, but polpettes -- torpedo-shaped or round fried meatballs -- are typically served with antipasto or just alone as a main course. The are made with anything from pork and beef to fish or tripe. Similarly seasoned with garlic, salt, pepper, chopped parsley and Parmesan cheese and held together by bread crumbs, milk and eggs, Italian-American meatballs are more commonly made with beef and served in a tomato sauce over spaghetti. Some cooks bake the meatballs, some prefer to fry them in hot oil, creating a crispy crust, while still others do the crisping under the broiler. Whole or sliced meatballs with sauce can be found in submarine sandwiches all over the United States.

Northern Neighbors

  • Although geographically close to one another, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Germany part ways when it comes to meatballs. Swedish meatballs are primarily beef and served in a rich sauce of bacon drippings and sour cream, while Germans prefer veal meatballs in creamy wine sauce. Norwegian meatballs are made from equal parts beef and veal, seasoned with allspice and pepper, bound with rye bread crumbs and served in a heavy cream sauce. Frikadeller, the Danish meatball favorite, are a combination of minced beef and pork held together by flour and egg and fried in butter. Danes serve the meatballs with brun sovs, a brown gravy made with the pan drippings, butter, flour, beef stock, sherry and sometimes a bit of freshly chopped dill.

Asian Style

  • Meatballs don't spring to mind when you think of Far East cuisine but they are featured in dishes all over Asia. In China, large pork meatballs are flavored with ginger, sesame oil and scallions and garnished with ruffles of cooked Napa cabbage to create Lion's Head meatballs. Chopped water chestnuts and cilantro in a veal and pork meatball held together with panko bread crumbs and fried in sesame oil gives a Japanese twist on the classic meatball. Porcupine meatballs are made of chopped shrimp with Asian seasoning such as ginger and ponzu sauce. Rolled in cooked rice and then steamed, these unusual meatballs are often presented in lettuce cups. Vietnamese pork meatballs incorporate hot chili sauce and fish sauce and are a popular ingredient in sandwiches.

South of the Border

  • Tiny Mexican meatballs turn up with a panoply of vegetables including the mildly spicy albondigas soup, but there are more varieties of this meaty treat. In different parts of Mexico you'll find large meatballs in a blazing hot serrano pepper sauce or spiced with cilantro and minced jalapeno in a rice dish. Mexican meatballs are made with beef, pork or goat and turn up in rolled in soft flour tortillas or served as finger food with a variety of salsas.

Serving Suggestions

    • Make your favorite meatballs and put them in small slider buns, accompanied by lettuce, tomato, onions and a selection of condiments such as ketchup, mustard, barbecue sauce and a variety of relishes.

    • Toss small meatballs in a salad with a light dressing.

    • Use large meatballs in tomato sauce in a hoagie roll for a classic meatball sandwich.

    • Add meatballs to vegetable, beef or chicken soup.

    • Spear cooked meatballs on a skewer, brush them with barbecue sauce and give them a quick grill.

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