Grandma’s Meatballs Cooked in Sauce

Making homemade Italian meatballs usually requires either baking meatballs or frying but grandma’s meatballs are cooked right in the tomato sauce. Learn how much quicker and easier it is to simmer meatballs in sauce on the stove making the most tender Italian meatballs! Watch your crew run home for family dinner!

a finished white pot of meatballs cooking in sauce

If you love the thought of making homemade Italian meatballs but the extra steps of baking the meatballs in the oven or batch frying them on the stove feels daunting, then, my friend, you’ve come to the right place! Get ready to roll…meatballs, that is…and tuck them right into a simmering pot of rich Italian red sauce so good you’ll be singing arias.

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What makes this the best stovetop meatball recipe?

Saves time

Because I know you’re smart, I know you value your time. And would much rather be watching the latest episode of the show you’re streaming than you would be standing over a hot stove frying meatballs in batches. That’s why in this Italian meatball recipe, we are skipping a step and poaching the meatballs right in the sauce.

Make Italian meatballs ahead of time—everyone knows meatballs taste better the next day. Or even the day after that.

Big flavor

And we aren’t sacrificing one bit of flavor either! That’s because when the meatballs cook in the sauce, their juices release into the sauce adding a whole layer of umami.

Meatballs…the best party recipe

cheesy meatballs on a hoagie roll with fresh basil leaves

Meatballs are a crowd pleaser.

I have served them with skewers as appetizers, piled into meatball sandwiches for graduation parties….we even had over 700 made with homemade Italian sausage for our wedding!

Imagine opening a pretty chafing dish and seeing a pile of tender homemade Italian meatballs. Now that’s a party trick worth repeating!

What to gather

kitchen scale with ground pork and beef to make meatballs cooked in sauce
The best ground pork and 80% ground beef you can buy for authentic meatballs cooked in sauce.

Main meatball ingredients

You can’t have tender meatballs without the right blend of meat. And it’s our firm belief that a juicy meatball is born with a little fat thanks to a blend of 80% ground beef and ground pork.

  • Ground beef & ground pork.
  • Blend of homemade breadcrumbs (for flavor) and panko (for lightness).
  • Warm water. The secret ingredient to tender meatballs!

Sauce highlights

Sauce. Not just any kind of sauce. The base is my tried and true homemade red sauce recipe with amped up flavor from the meatballs.

  • San Marzano tomatoes. The best tomatoes come from San Marzano —it’s worth finding them near you!
  • Tomato paste. Adds another layer of richness and depth of flavor.
  • Garlic, herbs and seasoning. A simple blend of garlic, oregano and thyme adds that classic Italian flavor.

How to cook meatballs in sauce

See why busy moms (like mine 😊) know that the best meatballs are cooked right in the sauce!

Make the sauce

making homemade sauce for meatballs
Caramelizing tomato paste in a blend of onions, garlic, herbs and seasoning for the best flavored sauce for meatballs
a pan of homemade red sauce with fresh basil to cook meatballs.
Add fresh basil leaves for fresh bright flavor.
  • Saute onion in olive oil until golden, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic followed by herbs and seasoning.
  • Caramelize tomato paste in the herbs a bit and add the tomatoes and fresh basil.
  • Simmer sauce for about 2 hours.

Ready to roll?

black sheet pan with uncooked meatballs on it
Mix the meat together and then add all the ingredients. Lay on sheet pan to rest.
tongs dropping a meatball into red sauce.
Drop meatballs into sauce before simmering for 2 hours.
  • Mix the ground beef and pork together in a bowl. Add both kinds of breadcrumbs, seasoning, garlic, cheese
  • Add the warm water. Trust me, it’s going to add so much tenderness to your meatballs! Mix together and set aside.
  • When sauce is heated and simmering, make meatballs using a medium sized cookie scoop and drop into the sauce.

Pro tip

A sprinkle of nutmeg in meatballs adds a spicy warmth that will have your guests guessing and wanting more!

-Josie + Nina

What does ‘simmering’ mean?

When simmering meatballs in sauce, we are cooking things low and slow. That means a pot that very slightly bubbles over top and not a rapid boiling scenario.

Need another time saver?

Simmer homemade meatballs in 2-3 bottles of store bought sauce instead of making your own to save even more time.

Serving ideas for meatballs

tray of spaghetti and meatballs cooked in sauce with fork and napkin
Nothing like a big plate of spaghetti and meatballs cooked right in the sauce for a quick dinner!

Spaghetti and meatballs. This is meatball 101, right? Make these tender simmered meatballs in sauce and ladle over a steaming hot plate of pasta.

Meatball sliders. Grab some small slider buns, add some slices of sharp provolone and top with a meatball and some sauce. What a great tailgate party recipe!

Meatball pizza. Roll out some homemade pizza dough, top it with pizza sauce and slices of meatballs cooked in sauce. This is a guaranteed favorite for the kiddos!

Top tips for cooking Italian meatballs in sauce

  • Make the meatballs a couple of days before you plan to eat them for amazing flavor.
  • Sauce too thick? Stir in a little more water (1/4 cup at a time)!
  • Sauce too thin? Keep the lid off the pot until the sauce thickens and reduces a bit.
  • Simmer the sauce with the lid slightly open for a richer sauce (bonus: your stove top will be cleaner, too!)
  • Stir the sauce frequently so as to not burn the bottom.
  • Flavor booster: add a piece of leftover steak or pork to the meatballs while they cook for a big umami boost.

Storage and freezer info

  • Store leftovers in airtight containers or resealable bags for up to 4 days.
  • Freeze cooled meatballs in freezer safe bags for up to 3 months.
  • Reheat leftover meatballs either in a saucepan on the stove in sauce over medium heat until warmed through.

Made this recipe?

I’d love it if you’d share your review and leave a star rating and comment!

a finished white pot of meatballs cooking in sauce
5 from 1 vote

Grandma’s Stovetop Meatballs Cooked in Sauce

Making homemade Italian meatballs usually requires either baking meatballs or frying but grandma's meatballs are cooked right in the tomato sauce. Learn how much quicker and easier it is to simmer meatballs in sauce on the stove making the most tender Italian meatballs! Watch your crew run home for family dinner!
Prep Time:20 minutes
Cook Time:2 hours
Total Time:2 hours 20 minutes
Servings 8



For the meatballs

For the sauce


For the sauce (or use premade sauce)

  • Sauté onion in oil. After 5 add in garlic and tomato paste.
    1/2 cup chopped onion, 3 cloves garlic, 2 T olive oil
  • Add 1/2 tsp salt, a little pepper and caramelize paste in herbs for about 2 minutes stirring the whole time. Add in tomatoes and water. Add fresh basil and follow recipe below for meatballs.
    6 oz can of tomato paste, 28 oz can of whole tomatoes or tomato purée, 30 oz tomato sauce

For the meatballs

  • In a large bowl and using your hands, blend the meats together until mixed well. You don't want to see big clumps of either meat but a nice uniform mixture.
  • Add the salt, pepper, oregano, both breadcrumbs, Parmesan, parsley and spices. Mix well into the meat along with the eggs.
  • Add the warm water and mix gently with both hands making sure to incorporate all the water. It will feel like it won't mix together but it will eventually!
  • Shape into 2” balls using either your hands or a medium-sized scoop. The mix will be very wet. As you go along and your hands start to get a little sticky, rinse your hands with warm water but don't dry them and go back to making your meatballs.
  • Drop meatballs in sauce and cook for 2 hours.
Course: Dinner, Main Course, Pasta
Cuisine: Italian
Author: Lori Murphy
Did you make this recipe? Tag @josieandnina or tag #josieandnina!

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