There’s an Italian restaurant in town that’s been here since the dawn of time (aka I was a kid) and they have the most INSANE meatballs. Baseball-sized, fork tender, and packed with comforting flavor. It’s the meatball you think of when you sing “On Top of Spaghetti“.
You know the one!
Anyway, it’s with this meatball in mind that I developed a homemade gluten free meatball that’s not only tender, light, and juicy, but truly tastes like a restaurant’s — or even better, your Grandmother’s.
We’ve cracked the code y’all!
Gluten Free and Dairy Free Meatballs
I’ll admit to buying a bag or two of frozen gluten free meatballs over the years, but each time I bite into one I’m reminded of why they’re not a regular purchase. The texture can be spongy and gristly, plus they’re usually loaded with sodium.
Homemade gluten free meatballs though? Absolutely LUSCIOUS, and YOU control the ingredients. That said, these meatballs are also dairy-free which is a common request for gluten free meatballs (although I can’t say this dish isn’t LOVELY with parmesan cheese sprinkled on top!)
What I also love about this recipe is that I always have the ingredients on hand so I can make spaghetti and meatballs, or gluten free meatball subs at a moment’s notice. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Ground beef: I prefer using 85/15 ground beef vs lean meat because the meatballs come out extremely tender. If there’s not enough fat in your meatballs, they can become tough and dry.
- Gluten free bread: No breadcrumbs needed for these gluten free meatballs! Simply remove the crusts from whatever gluten free white bread you have on hand then tear the bread into small pieces. Again, this will create a fall-apart tender meatball.
- Grated onion + juices: The torn gluten free bread is soaked in finely grated onion plus its juices until soft so it melts into the ground beef meatball mixture.
- Egg: a whisked egg helps keep the meatballs together.
- Garlic, dried parsley, salt, and pepper: Everyday seasonings and spices bring cozy flavor to each bite of gluten free meatball.
Meatball Binder: Gluten Free Breadcrumbs vs Gluten Free Bread
You may be surprised to see torn gluten free white bread in this recipe instead of breadcrumbs, but in my experience it makes for a much more light meatball that’s soft and creamy on the inside, like a restaurant’s. Gluten free bread crumbs can create a dense meatball that’s tough and chewy.
Just grab a couple slices of gluten free bread from whatever loaf you have on hand then remove the crusts and tear into small pieces. Easy!
Can I Freeze These?
You can absolutely freeze these gluten free meatballs! Here are two freezing options:
- Fully cook then cool the meatballs and sauce, transfer into Ziplock freezer bags / freezer safe storage containers, then freeze. Thaw in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours before you want to eat then reheat in a pan over medium-low heat, or in the microwave.
- Roll the meatballs then place onto a baking sheet covered with parchment paper and freeze solid. Transfer the frozen meatballs into a freezer safe Ziplock bag then freeze flat for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours before you want to eat then proceed with the recipe as written.
The Secrets to the Perfect Gluten Free Meatballs
I truly think using torn gluten free bread instead of gluten-free breadcrumbs is the secret to the amazing texture of these meatballs, but the other secret is simmering them in high quality marinara sauce, which makes the whole dish taste slow cooked and comforting. Homemade is great, but a good jar of store-bought sauce works fine too. I’ll share my favorite brands below.
Both of these “secrets” render meatballs that taste like they came from you Grandmother’s kitchen or the best Italian spot in town (hey, maybe that’s one and the same!) aka really authentic and absolutely decadent tasting. I can’t wait for you to try this recipe!
How to Make Gluten Free Meatballs from Scratch
Step 1: Make the Gluten Free Meatball Mixture
Start by grating an onion on the fine side of a box grater (vs the large side) to ensure the onion melts into the meatballs.
Add the grated onion plus its juices to a large bowl with gluten-free bread that’s had its crusts removed then torn into small pieces. I prefer Canyon Bakehouse Mountain White bread for the job, but any soft gluten free bread will work.
Let the onion and bread soak for a minute to soften then add egg, fresh garlic, dried parsley, salt, and pepper to the bowl and stir to combine.
Step 2: Roll the Mixture into Meatballs
Crumble 85/15 ground beef over the top of the bread mixture then mix with your hands until just combined – don’t over mix. Shape the ground beef mixture into 18-20 golf ball-sized meatballs then place onto a plate.
Again, the fattier ground beef makes for a luscious, creamy meatball. Highly recommend!
Step 3: Sear the Meatballs
Heat a large skillet that’s at least 10″ (cast iron works best) over medium/medium-high heat then add enough extra virgin olive oil to cover the bottom in a thin layer. Carefully add half the meatballs then sear until they’re browned on all sides but not entirely cooked through.
Once the first batch is thoroughly browned on all sides, remove to a plate then repeat with the second batch.
Step 4: Simmer the Meatballs in Marinara Sauce
After the second batch of meatballs has browned, carefully add the first batch back into the skillet then remove it from the heat for a few minutes to cool slightly.
Once the skillet has cooled slightly, carefully add gluten free marinara sauce then use a spoon to make sure all the meatballs are covered in sauce. Turn the heat down to medium-low then simmer until the meatballs are cooked through, 15-20 minutes, basting and gently turning the meatballs over every so often. If the sauce gets too thick as it reduces, add in a glug of gluten free chicken broth.
If you’re local to central Iowa, you’ve got to use Gino’s Marinara or Spaghetti Sauce. If you’re not, I also love Bove’s Marinara Sauce!
Once the meatballs are fully cooked, swirl cooked gluten-free pasta on a plate (timing instructions for cooking the pasta are in the recipe below,) then top with a few creamy, classic, INCREDIBLE gluten free meatballs and dig in. Oh, and be prepared for this to become your new go-to gluten-free meatball recipe!! Enjoy!
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Gluten Free Meatballs
Gluten Free Meatballs are fork tender, crowd pleasing, and dairy free, too. Get the Italian restaurant experience at home!
- 1 cup small-torn pieces of gluten free white bread (crusts removed first)
- 1/2 cup finely grated onion + juices
- 1 egg, whisked
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tablespoon dried parsley
- salt and pepper
- 1-1/4lb 85/15 ground beef
- extra virgin olive oil
- 24oz jar good quality gluten free marinara sauce
- gluten free chicken broth
- 1lb gluten free spaghetti
- Mix torn gluten free bread and grated onion in a large mixing bowl then let sit and soften for a minute. Add egg, garlic, dried parsley, salt, and pepper then stir to combine. Crumble ground beef over mixture then use your hands to mix until just combined - don't over mix. Shape into golf ball sized meatballs (about 18-20) then place onto a plate.
- Add enough extra virgin olive oil to cover the bottom of a large, heavy-bottomed skillet that's at least 10" (cast iron preferred) then heat over medium/medium-high heat (6/10 on the heat scale). Add half the meatballs then saute until evenly browned on all sides but not completely cooked through, carefully turning the meatballs with tongs or a spoon as they will be very soft. Transfer browned meatballs to a plate. Brown second batch of meatballs then gently add the first batch back into the skillet. Remove skillet from heat to cool down for a few minutes.
- After the skillet has slightly cooled, carefully add marinara sauce then use a spoon to gently coat all the meatballs in the sauce. Return skillet over medium-low heat then simmer until meatballs are cooked through, 15-20 minutes, basting and gently turning meatballs over with a spoon every so often. If the meatballs are taking too long to cook, place a lid on top of the skillet, or crimp a piece of foil on top of the skillet, and simmer until cooked through. If sauce gets too thick while simmering, add a generous glug of chicken broth.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, season with salt, add pasta, then cook according to package directions. Drain pasta then serve with meatballs and sauce.
This recipe is courtesy of Iowa Girl Eats, http://iowagirleats.com.