Now that’s a spicy meatball. That’s one of those phrases that makes me ponder the eternal question: What exactly makes a really great meatball? Is spicy the key characteristic? Is it the type of meat used? Is it the moisture content, or maybe how it’s cooked? These questions can be debated for years, but there’s really only one thing you need to ask about meatballs: How can you Chef them up? To do this, you need to understand the true essence of a meatball: its makeup, its purpose, its rightful place in the universe. That would be in my stomach — just sayin’.

At its most basic, a meatball is simply a way to utilize tougher or less desirable cuts of meat. But chefs, being the most insatiable, creative and driven members of society, can never leave anything at its most basic level. We have turned making meatballs into a complex craft and elevated the process to an art. From the numerous interviews taken in the process of researching this article, I learned that most people (being lazy, stubborn or just plain ignorant) skip one or more basic steps needed for the proper execution of an astonishingly great meatball.

Here’s the deal: Technique is important. A proper meatball is a combination of emulsifying proteins and braising. Each step must be completed in the proper order for a great result.

The first step: Selection of the proteins (meats) involved. Use a combination, such as pork and beef. In fact, I recently had the opportunity to try the “best meatballs ever.” They were all beef, and let me just say, you Mickey-Ds-eating shoemakers have some very limited palates. Blah — they reminded me of old high-school cafeteria hamburgers.

The next crucial step: Mixing. For meatballs to be moist and succulent, we need to add items that assist in moisture retention. Eggs, bread crumbs and cheeses work great. The mixing step is also the time to season and taste. Take a small sample and lightly sauté. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

The next step? Follow a basic braising technique: Sear the meatballs to brown them and caramelize the natural sugars (this adds depth to the flavor). Once this is completed, eat them. Hah! Wrong! Fooled you all! A little patience will satisfy the soul. Now simply add the meatballs to whatever sauce you’re using, cover the whole thing and place in a slow oven. I braise this for about an hour or two. Now that you’re salivating beyond imagination, you may eat them.

CHEF BILL’S Meatballs

  • 3 pounds pork butt
  • 2 pounds beef chuck
  • 1 pound stale bread
  • 8 oz. pancetta
  • 3/4 cup parsley, chopped
  • 2-1/2 tbsp. kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp. oregano, chopped
  • 1-1/2 tbsp. fennel seeds, toasted
  • 1/2 tbsp. red pepper flakes, toasted
  • 2 cups ricotta
  • 8 eggs
  • 2 oz. milk


  1. Grind the pork butt, beef chuck, pancetta, bread and parsley through the large die.
  2. Toast the fennel seeds and pepper flakes.
  3. Mix the salt, oregano, fennel seeds and chili flakes into the meat mixture.
  4. In another bowl, lightly mix the  ricotta, eggs and milk.
  5. Combine the contents of the two bowls,  and mix until tacky.
  6. Break off a small piece, cook and taste. Adjust seasoning as necessary.
  7. Roll into 2-ounce balls. Sear in a sauté pan.
  8. Remove to a deep roasting pan, with prepared tomato sauce, cover with plastic and foil, and braise for 1-1/2 hours.

Until We Cook Again,


Contact Chef Bill Thompson, owner of Amelia Island Culinary Academy in Historic Fernandina Beach, with your recipes or questions at [email protected] for inspiration to get you Cheffed Up!