Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Baking a large batch of meatballs for the freezer



Yesterday, I told you about my 20-lb purchase of ground beef, and what I did with it all. In the comments, I was asked how to keep them from sticking. There are a few tricks with meatballs, some of which really help with the sticking aspect. Here's how I make mine.

I use bread torn into small pieces, soaked in 1 beaten egg. I mash up the egg/bread, then add seasonings (for Italian, I add garlic powder, onion powder, red pepper flakes and salt). I mix the seasoning/egg/bread with the ground meat, and knead it all together with my hands. (Not my favorite thing to do with raw meat, but it gets everything incorporated well.)

Working on a large sheet of waxed paper on the counter, I make 1-ounce meatballs. To decide how big to make each, I take the total ounces of the meat used, divide the meat into that many portions on the sheet of waxed paper, and form into balls. Keeping the balls uniform in size ensures even cooking of all meatballs. An easy way to do this is to pat out the meat mixture into a rectangle, about 1-inch thick. Then use a knife to cut the meat into equal squares (the number of squares being the number of ounces of meat you are using). Each square should be a 1-ounce portion of meat to form into a ball.


As I make the balls, I set them into pyrex baking dishes. I refrigerate all of the uncooked balls for at least 1 hour. Refrigeration does two things. It allows the flavors of the seasonings to develop. And it firms up the balls, so when baked or cooked in a skillet, there isn't too much flattening of the underside. A lot of flattening of the underside means a lot of surface contact with the baking sheet, which in turn leads to more surface which can stick.

While the balls are chilling, I grease an insulated jelly roll pan (I use butter, but any solid fat will work). A jelly roll pan is a large baking sheet with raised edges all around. Using an insulated baking sheet prevents over-caramelization on the bottoms, which lessens sticking. And greasing the baking sheet helps the balls release from the pan.

I preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.


After the balls have chilled, I transfer all of them to the greased baking jelly roll pan. I bake for about 20 minutes, and check for all over browning and clear juices. If you have an instant-read meat thermometer, the internal temp of the balls should be about 160 degrees F.


After taking the baking sheet from the oven, I prop up one long end, and pile all of the meatballs along the high end, to drain excess fat.


Next, I wrap a clean baking sheet in plastic wrap. After the meatballs have cooled and drained for about 10 minutes, I transfer each ball to the plastic-lined tray/baking sheet. (Silpat would also work for freezing.) I freeze for about 30 minutes, then transfer all to a zippered bag. Freezing separately prevents the balls from glomming onto one another in the freezer, and I can use however many I want at a time, with ease.


So, that's how I make meatballs and keep them from sticking to the baking sheet.

If you regularly bake with a silpat or parchment, you could also bake meatballs on pans lined with either of those.

21 comments:

  1. Even with several steps, you make your detailed instructions sound so simple.

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    1. Hi live and learn,
      when you just do things, semi-automatically, it never seems like much work. But maybe my mind is elsewhere, while I'm working, so time just slips past me. But meatballs are easy to do, just have a few steps, as you say.

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    2. This makes me think of bread making. Today I helped another librarian with a program for kids about bread and baking. We made bread in a bag. I was talking (as the "expert" -- HA!) about yeast and flours and so on and one of the parents in the room mentioned how long it takes and how many steps there are. And it's true, but I don't really ever see it like that since I mostly try to work the baking into my schedule.

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    3. Hi Laura,
      Once you develop a rhythm to the work, it all seems to flow, almost effortlessly, doesn't it?

      What's bread in a bag? Is this like baking apple pies in a bag?

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  2. Mmm...smart move, making all those ahead! You now have me hungry for meatballs. While my mom never did them with spaghetti, she did her version of "swedish" ones which is what sound so good right now. Thanks for giving me a menu idea!

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    1. Hi Cat,
      how do you serve your Swedish meatballs? I see them in menu plans, but have never thought to do them that way.
      The real bonus to doing all of these meatballs ahead is, when I'm craving meat, and nothing else sounds good for my own lunch, alone at home, I can pop a couple into the microwave for my own little self! A meatball or two, cut in half, on top of some French bread, and covered with some quickie marinara sauce -- yummy!

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    2. My mom did her "cream" sauce with cream of mushroom soup with less milk added (she used canned). Also, she put thyme in the meatballs, but I imagine you could just put a bit in the cream sauce. I have not made them since going gluten-free so will have to re-work things a bit.

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    3. Oh, and my mom liked egg noodles, but I am not a fan of them myself, so I have always done mashed potatoes. Mmm.

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    4. Hi Cat,
      Oh, those sound delicious! My dad was half Swedish, but I don't recall my mom ever making anything like that. I'll have to give those a try. And thanks for the suggestion to add potatoes as the side. I do sometimes make stroganoff with meatballs, in place of chunks of beef. Sounds a bit similar.

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  3. Lili,
    Thank you :) I had not been putting them in the frig. Also I am gong to us your method for getting them the same size. :) . I have some ground meat thawing and guess what we are having for dinner. When I make my Swedish
    meat balls I add allspice make a white sauce with some of the pan drippings
    and serve over mashed potatoes. I have put them over pasta but we prefer
    potatoes.Have a really great day.
    Blessings,
    Patti


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    1. I have a similar swedish meatball recipe using a white sauce but my recipe has me add green peas and spinach leaves! I serve mine over noodles. So, good.

      Alice

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    2. Hi Patti,
      I hope chilling them helps. the other thing I was thinking is I don't use a lot of bread crumbs, one slice of French bread per pound of beef. And I don't use milk to soak the bread. Those two things could also help prevent sticking.

      One other trick, to keep the shape, and might help with sticking to the pan. Some folks microwave the meatballs for 2 or 3 minutes, to set the shape, before pan-frying.

      Have a great day, as well, Patti!

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    3. Hi Alice,
      Adding peas and spinach would make this a full meal! I like that idea. And it would make a few meatballs look less "lonely" on the pile of noodles. Sounds yummy!

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  4. I have never successfully made round meatballs....always squarish from pan frying. So usually I end up just browning the hamburger. Thanks for the tip and individually freezing the meatballs is a good idea.

    Yesterday, I was very happy to see Subway's Customer Appreciation offer 12/1 - 12/31 for a 6" meatball or cold cuts sub sandwich. Just wondering, how much would 4 homemade meatballs cost (usually the number that is put in the 6" sandwich)? At $1.99/lb for 16 meatballs plus ingredients, maybe 15 -20c per meatball? We're relying on eating a few meals at Subway during our trip, and I am thinking $2 should be a pretty bottom basement price for meatball sandwich with all the trimmings. Plus we ask for extra packets of mayonnaise to tide us over, when making room camp sandwiches on other nights.

    YHF

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    1. Something I do for Italian Wedding soup is to make the meatball mixture, then press it into a pan and bake. Then I score it into little "cubes" and use. I am thinking you could do some in a 9 x 13 pan (thinly) then cut it into pieces to fit your buns?

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    2. Meatball cubes would fit the sub sandwich buns a lot better than round, that's for sure. So often the meatball falls out of the sandwich lol. Good idea to bake in a large pan, and cut into cubes, rather than individually frying. Now I'm thinking, it wouldn't look bad served with spaghetti either!! Thanks, Cat, for sharing what you do, now square doesn't seem so horribly wrong, although I might try making round meatballs the way Lili suggested at least once for the record. I know she talked about "neatballs" using beans, haven't tried that yet.

      YHF

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    3. Cat, cubes sound terrific, especially on busy nights! A little bit like how I make beef for French dip sandwiches, by pressing thin into a jelly roll pan, then slicing into strips after cooking.

      YHF, When I make meatball subs at home, I allow 3 meatballs per sub (3-oz of beef per person). They seem to fit right, with my homemade meatballs and buns. Another thing I have done in the past is to cut the meatballs in halves. They rest on the bun better (don't slide out as much). So, at 3 meatballs per sandwich (and using 1 egg for 3-lbs beef, and 3 slices of homemade bread, plus seasonings), it's about 40 cents for 3 meatballs, and another 10 cents for enough quickie marinara (tomato paste, salt, garlic powder, homegrown herbs), and 10 cents for the homemade bun. that's 60 cents per sandwich, homemade. If topped with cheese, too, another 10-15 cents.

      I do these with "neatballs". Very tasty, and even more affordable!

      Thanks for reminding me of meatball subs. I haven't made those in a little while, and it is one of my favorites at Subway. Homemade is a money-saving alternative. We may do these over the Christmas break, along with a library-borrowed movie.

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  5. I haven't made meatballs in a long time, usually just add a little ground beef to my spaghetti sauce, but yours are making me want to make them, Lili! My family would thoroughly enjoy them.
    I made your pie crust recipe over the weekend, making one into a pumpkin pie, and three more are in the freezer. It turned out great, and I am happy to know that the rest are available in the freezer!
    Mary

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    1. Hi Mary,
      I'm so glad you liked the pie crust recipe! I post these things, as I know I like them. But I'm never sure other people will like them as much. the convenience really is fantastic. I can add a pie to the day's menu, without too much extra work.

      My family loves the meatballs, more than beef added to the sauce. I think because it just seems "meatier". If I'm pressed for time, then ground beef added to the sauce, really is faster, though. So I can understand why you'd opt for that.

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  6. I bake my meat balls too. Although your method sounds maybe better than mine, so I may have to change things up a bit. I only use the meat, no bread crumbs or eggs as I like the all meat taste, but maybe I will try them that way next time. I bake mine in a dutch oven with the sauce on them & then separate them into individual meal sizes for the freezer with the sauce on them. But it may be better to just bake them the way you do & freeze & add the sauce later. I can tend to do things the lazy sometimes when with not much more effort on my part another way may be better!
    Rhonda

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    1. Hi Rhonda,
      I know what you're saying. I like the "meaty" taste of an all-meat meatball, too. I only use 1 egg and 3 slices of French bread (kind of small slices) for 3-lbs of beef. I don't care for the meatballs which have an overly breaded texture. I'm the same way with meatloaf. When we were first married, there was so much bread in my meatloaf that we called it wheat-loaf.

      Having them already in the sauce sounds super convenient! I will try that next time! What a time-saver -- all I'd need to do is cook a pot of noodles, and microwave the meatballs/sauce. Thanks!

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