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How to Fix Dry Meatballs (And Prevent It)

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Most people love meatballs, and you can put them on anything, which makes them a fun dish to cook at home. Plus, most recipes are simple to follow and taste delicious. However, if you have a problem with them, it’s going to be that your meatballs turn out dry.

You can fix dry meatballs by poking them with a fork and stewing them in a sauce. Meatballs absorb moisture from the sauce quickly, in just half an hour. If you have the time, you can even allow them to simmer in the sauce for a couple of hours. To prevent it, add more fatty or moist ingredients.

If you want to understand more about making moist meatballs, make sure to keep reading. I made sure to cover everything you need to know in this article. Your meatballs are sure to turn out delicious if you use all of these tips, so let’s begin!

How Do You Add Moisture to Meatballs?

To add moisture to meatballs, add some fats, which bind to the proteins in the ground meat. You can add a tiny bit of Parmesan cheese to the ground meat. The cheese won’t alter the taste, but it will help the meat retain moisture as it cooks.

Additionally, ground meat that is higher in fat content tends to be moister than low-fat ground meat. To add moisture, you will want to use ground meat with a ratio of 70% lean and 30% fat. 

If you’re going to use a leaner cut of meat, make sure to include more moisture-adding ingredients.

To avoid dry meatballs, you want to ensure they have enough moisture before you cook them. The best way to do this is to include the water before putting in any other ingredients. You can also use tomato juice or even milk for this.

Take your ground meat and add 1 tbsp (14.7 mL) of ice water. Work the water into the meat until it is completely absorbed. You can continue adding water until you get a slightly wet texture. 

Pro Tip: Tomato juice, milk, and vegetable purees also add a lot of moisture and make them taste better. 

Hand-in-Bowl-of-Ground-Beef
Adding a bit of moisture can make all the difference.

Moisture-Adding Ingredients

There are plenty of moisture-adding ingredients that you can use. Fats and veggies are some of the best options, and they add a lot of flavor to your meatballs. For example, you can include cheese and onions. 

Here are some other ingredients to consider adding to the ground meat:

These ingredients all taste amazing in meatballs. You can add in your favorites to develop a unique flavor that you love. I recommend keeping track of the recipes you use to find the one you enjoy the most.

Why Fat Makes Meat Moist

When the fat melts, it adds moisture back into the meat. Fat makes the meat tender and juicier, which is excellent for meatballs. However, the added fat can be unhealthy, which is why so many people prefer lean meat.

Fat may also impact the water-holding capacity of meat, making it more tender. 

You can replicate this with lean ground meat by adding water before preparing the meatballs. Many people prefer this since water doesn’t add calories to the dish.

Overall, fattier meat will be naturally tender and the best choice for meatballs. As the fat melts, it disperses through the food. However, you shouldn’t let that stop you from using lean ground beef for health reasons. You can still achieve a similar taste and texture in the meatballs.

Why Are My Meatballs Too Hard?

Do your meatballs keep turning out tough and hard to chew? Making a few small changes can help immensely.

Your meatballs are too hard because you might have overmixed or overcooked them. Overmixing can lead to meatballs that are too compact, so always mix the minimum amount. Using a wooden spoon or your hands is the best way, as automatic mixers often go too far. 

You may want to look at the recipe you used. 

If your meatballs turned out too hard, try lowering the cooking time slightly. Everyone’s oven and stovetop are somewhat different so that your appliance could be overcooking them. 

In short, dry meatballs are most often caused by overcooking and overmixing. You can tell when the ingredients are combined and stop there when you use your hands. That way, the meat doesn’t turn out too compact.

How To Get Tender Meatballs

You can get very tender meatballs by combining different types of meat, and the best flavor results from a blend of pork and beef because it’s tender, juicy, and very flavorful. You can combine meat to alter the fat content, although you don’t want it to be too high.

Adding veal is another way to get highly tender meatballs. Overall, don’t hesitate to combine different types of ground meat.

Do Meatballs Get More Tender the Longer They Cook?

Meatballs do become more tender the longer they cook. However, if you simmer them for too long, they take in too much moisture. When that happens, you get soggy meatballs. Only simmer the meat in sauce for a minimal amount of time.

You can tell that your meatballs are ready to eat when they’re slightly browned on the outside while having an internal temperature of 165℉ (73.88℃). If you don’t have a cooking thermometer, you can cut open one of the meatballs. 

You should not see any red or pink on the inside of it. 

The best way to prepare meatballs is in the oven. Once they feel firm, you can simmer them in the sauce for 10 to 15 minutes. Baking them first allows the meat to form strong without removing too much moisture. 

The sauce should also help add more, as the meatballs absorb it.

Cooking them in the oven can dry them out if left inside for too long at high heat. The simmering stage is where you can make the meat tender. However, overdoing it will cause them to have a weird, wet texture.

In short, you want to find a nice balance with your cooking time. Preparing a test meatball is usually the best way to start. That way, you can tell if the recommended recipe will dry them out.

How Do You Soften Meatballs in Sauce?

To soften meatballs in a sauce, all you need to do is let them simmer in the sauce for at least 30 minutes. Meatballs are very absorbent and will take in a lot of moisture during that time. You can even let them simmer for up to two hours to soften them more.

Simmering the meatballs after browning them in the oven gives them an excellent texture. The outside stays brown, but the inside absorbs the sauce’s flavor and stays moist. 

Plus, the taste of the meat disperses through your tomato sauce for a nice balance.

You still need to be careful not to overcook them. The heat doesn’t need to be very high to simmer meatballs, and you can add a lid to the pan to trap in the moisture. Overall, you can significantly alter the texture of your meatballs at this stage.

Meatballs-Cooking-in-a-Skillet-With-a-Lid-Half-Off
For maximum moistness, cook with a lid.

Making Soft Meatballs

To make your meatballs soft, you’ll want to start by forming them into a golf ball size. The outside will dry out if they’re too large when cooking in the sauce. 

Next, you can lightly pan-fry them in olive oil before moving them to the sauce to simmer. The oil sears the outside, trapping the moisture inside. You don’t want to cook them long, so take them out of the oil as soon as you notice they’ve hardened slightly.

Finally, simmer them in tomato sauce while checking on them every half hour. You want the meat to be very tender and moist on the inside. I always make a few extra meatballs, so I can try a few while they simmer. That way, I always know when they’re ready and perfect to serve.

Will Meatballs Over Cook in Sauce?

Meatballs can overcook in sauce, although it’s harder for this to happen. Most of the time, overcooking occurs in the oven. The heat should be somewhat low when they’re in the sauce simmering. Plus, the sauce prevents them from drying out.

Still, you’ll want to make sure you don’t overcook them at any step for the perfect texture. Covering the pan with your lid also traps the water inside, preventing it from getting out of the meatballs.

The best way to prepare the meatballs is to allow the sauce to cook slowly, for a very long time. Thirty minutes is sufficient, but two to three hours is better. Some people even leave the meatballs cooking in sauce in a slow cooker overnight on the lowest heat setting.

In short, it’s hard to overcook your meatballs in sauce, but it could still happen. You’ll want to follow the times given to you on the recipes unless you significantly lower the simmering heat.

How To Fix Rubbery Meatballs

Meatballs get rubbery when packed too tightly. The best way to avoid this is to oil your hands in olive oil, then mix the meat by hand. That way, you can prevent compacting the meat too much.

Additionally, you’ll need to add some more moistening ingredients. Water, milk, cheese, and vegetables will all work well for this.

The best way to avoid rubbery meatballs is to work in batches. Create your first batch and see how they turned out. If they’re perfectly moist, then don’t change a thing. However, you can make any adjustments that you need to for the second batch that goes in the oven.

If the first round of meatballs was too rubbery, try adding water first. You can also change the cook times when they come out on the drier side. Overall, it’s easy to fix rubbery meatballs. This dish gives you a better feel with more experience. 

Luckily, they’re very delicious so you can make many of them.

Meatball Mistakes To Avoid

Several-Meatballs-Cooking-in-a-Skillet

When making meatballs, there are a lot of steps you can take to avoid rubbery, dry food. These are the common meatball mistakes that people make when preparing them at home for the first time:

  • Not seasoning their meat.
  • Not adding a binder, such as fat or egg.
  • Compacting the meat too tightly.
  • Forming multiple sizes of balls.
  • Overusing an automatic or standing mixer.

Always start by seasoning the meat. You can add binders and fats to increase moisture, but you also want to add flavor. Otherwise, you’ll get boring, bland meatballs, as the sauce can only add so much.

Always season your meat before mixing the ingredients. You only want to mix until just combined, without squashing the meat together. 

Finally, having various sizes can cause some of your meatballs to cook faster than others, leading to a few dry meatballs. You want to make all of them the same size. Most people create golf balls since it’s easier to visualize. 

However, as long as they’re all the same, you can go slightly larger or smaller.

As a tip, a small ice cream scooper works well here. I recommend this cookie scoop set from Amazon, as it comes in three different scoop sizes so that you can choose the best one for your meatballs. Plus, it’s easy to use and clean. 

Final Bite

To summarize, you have many options when it comes to correcting dry meatballs. 

Using this article as a guide, you can prevent them from drying out altogether. Using fattier ground meat or adding fats, such as cheese, can help with moisture.

Plus, simmering the meat in sauce for a long time adds flavor and makes the meat tender. If you enjoy making meatballs, you can experiment in the kitchen and develop a recipe that you love. Meatballs are fun to make and eat, so you’ll have an enjoyable time no matter what you decide to do.

For more, don’t miss How To Fix Too Much Garlic Powder | 6 Simple Solutions.

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