How to Cook Meatballs on a Stovetop in Sauce (cooked & raw)


meatballs in sauce lg

Meatballs are always a crowd-pleaser and are easy to make. But despite how easy they are to prepare, many people still want to know how to cook meatballs on the stove in sauce.

Heat fully cooked thawed meatballs in a pot on low heat for 15 minutes in sauce. If still frozen, cook on low heat for 20-30 minutes. Raw meatballs should be browned in oil first in a skillet and then cooked on low heat in sauce for 30 minutes for pork or up to 2 hours for beef or veal. 

Check raw meatballs for an internal cooking temperate of 160°F

There are different ways to cook meatballs in sauce on the stove if you don’t have an oven or don’t want to use it in the hot summer months.

But it’s handy if you have a few tricks at your disposal. For the most flavorful results, it would be best if you traditionally prepared your meatballs in Italian tomato sauce. However, if you want to save time, you can buy canned sauces from the grocery store.

The fact that meatballs are a good source of protein undoubtedly explains why they are found in almost every cuisine. All children enjoy homemade meatballs as finger foods, but they also make a filling meal for everyone.

Stovetop Italian meatballs are prepared in a single large pot, typically a cast-iron skillet or a Dutch oven.

Although ground beef is mostly preferred for making meatballs, you can make yours from ground pork, ground chicken, or even ground turkey. Meatballs that have been cooked work nicely with pasta dishes, sauces, and mozzarella cheese.

It is simple to prepare by using your Italian meatball recipe card and storing it for those busy weeknights.

Can you cook raw meatballs directly in the sauce?

You can indeed cook raw meatballs in sauce.

However, for best results, if you want to prepare Italian-style meatballs cooked in tomato sauce, brown them in a sauté pan before adding the raw meatballs to the sauce.

You can cook the raw meatballs in the sauce without browning them, but that crunch from browning them first gives them a MUCH better texture.

Cooking the meatballs directly in the simmering sauce means they continue to be extremely tender after being cooked. However, some people prefer a darker exterior color for meatballs, so browning them in an oven or a pan before adding them to the sauce gives them that.

The next time you are planning to make meatballs, you can decide to brown them before adding them to the sauce. But they wouldn’t need to cook for as long in the sauce.

A slow cooker produces excellent results when directly adding raw meatballs to the sauce. 

The slow cooking method allows for gradually simmering the meatballs until cooked. That produces ultra-tender results and infuses the sauce with a meaty flavor.

However, critics of this approach worry about the flavorless meatballs and oily sauce.

It is essential to note that your meatballs may fall apart when you add them directly to the sauce, but you can do a few things to prevent that from happening.

You can decide to add breadcrumbs or flour for great meatballs, but using an egg and grated parmesan cheese also serves as a binder for the flavorful meatballs.

Keep the meat as cold as possible to help the meatballs maintain their shape.

This aids in their formation and prevents them from losing as much fat before being cooked in the sauce. After shaping your meat, you can either prepare them while the sauce is already simmering on the stove or store the uncooked meatballs in the fridge while you finish the sauce.

Should you cover meatballs when cooking in sauce?

Yes, you can. When cooking meatballs in sauce on the stovetop, you can drop the meatballs in the tomato sauce and cover them.

While covered, you can cook your meatballs for 10 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring them occasionally. Afterward, you can decide to remove the lid and cook for another 10–15 minutes or until the food is done.

When bringing your homemade marinara sauce to a simmer or a boil, covering the pot allows you to keep the heat inside.

But once the pot reaches the boiling point, removing the lid will stop it from boiling over. However, the lid will prevent spattering all over your stovetop.

Although some people decide to cook their meatballs in sauce uncovered, cooking the sauce this way allows water to evaporate, so if your goal is to thicken the sauce, you might have to skip the lid.

Making homemade tomato sauce for delicious meatballs is pretty straightforward. In a big pot or large skillet, heat your little olive oil to a medium-high temperature while you sauté the onions. Bring it to a boil after adding your red sauce. Reduce the heat to medium and add your Italian seasoning to taste.

When adding the most tender meatballs to the crushed tomato sauce, the best way is to let it boil for a few minutes before stirring in the meatballs.

The uncooked meatballs can then be added to the stew and simmered one at a time. Dividing them up nicely in the saucepan will go a long way to ensure that the red sauce almost completely covers them.

How long does it take to heat cooked meatballs in sauce?

Cooked meatballs simply need to be heated.

Heat fully cooked thawed meatballs in a pot on low heat for 15 minutes in either tomato sauce or BBQ sauce. If still frozen, cook on low heat for 20-30 minutes. 

Some claim that the meatballs get better the longer they cook in the Crock-Pot. Others claim that letting them cook for too long would give them an odd texture and a disagreeable appearance.

But if you use a Crock-Pot, can you let them go all night??

If you are wondering if you truly can leave your meatballs in a Crock-Pot overnight, then you might want to visit my recent article.

Here I explained when you could decide to leave your meatballs in a Crock-Pot and how long they should stay. Perhaps you also want to ascertain if you need to thaw meatballs before putting them in a Crock-Pot; the article also examined that.

Just click that link to read it on my site.

How long does it take to heat raw meatballs in sauce?

How long depends on whether you brown the meatballs first in a skillet (which is ideal).

But also, whether you used beef, veal, or pork can impact the cooking time too. Beef meatballs need to simmer in the sauce for a long time, ideally two hours, to become tender. But if you browned them first, 1 ½ hours is probably about right.

Pork meatballs need to cook in the sauce for around 45 minutes if not browned. If browned, 30-40 minutes is fine. Before serving, always make sure one or two of the meatballs are cooked all the way through.

Check raw meatballs (beef or pork) for an internal cooking temperate of 160°F.

A great recipe is to start by adding olive oil to your skillet and heating it over medium-high heat if you prefer browned meatballs. The meatballs should be carefully added to the frying pan and cooked for 3–4 minutes or until browned on each side. On low heat, cook your meatballs for 10 to 20 minutes or until done.

This method also works for cooking frozen meatballs for the whole family. 

Use a meat thermometer like this one on Amazon that I own to monitor the internal temperature of the meatballs because the cooking time may differ depending on the meatball size.

The internal temperature of meatballs made of lean ground beef, pork, or chicken should be at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit. But if you go above 170 degrees Fahrenheit, you may find them tough and dry.

Can you overcook meatballs in sauce?

No. When you cook meatballs in sauce, they sit in liquid, making it very difficult to overcook them.

But you don’t get nearly as much flavor from boiling your meatballs in sauce as you do from having the meat contact a hot pan.

So as I keep saying, sear the meatballs to give them a lovely brown crust before braising them in the sauce.

Keep them in the sauce on low or simmer until you’re ready to serve them. Transferring to a Crock-Pot on the “keep warm” setting also works great.

If you’re feeding a large group, distribute the meatballs evenly. Keeping the kitchen as clean as possible when handling raw meat is always ideal. Line the baking sheet pans’ edges with parchment paper to prevent a mess and get perfect meatballs.

It would help if you rolled the meatballs to the size required for the dish, depending on how you would serve them.

For example, it would be best to use smaller, bite-sized meatballs in soup. They should be large, roughly 2 inches in diameter if served alone. A medium meatball will do if it is placed on top of pasta.

Choosing the size of the meatball subs is about preference and how you like them.

If you roll them with dry hands, the meat mixture will stick to your skin and prevent you from properly rolling the best meatballs. Lightly grease your hands to fix this. Only a gentle rolling motion is required to make a loosely rolled ball.

Fresh herbs play a significant role in the typical Italian-style meatball mixture. Your meatballs will end up tasting like hamburgers without them.

However, don’t feel as though you must use basil or parsley. Instead, you can add herbs like:

  • garlic powder (or minced fresh garlic; even better)
  • black pepper
  • oregano
  • marjoram
  • finely minced fresh rosemary

How do you keep meatballs from falling apart in sauce?

Adding breadcrumbs to the meatloaf mix also serves as a filler and prevents the meatballs from becoming overly dry by absorbing some of the meat fluids.

However, too many breadcrumbs might destroy the texture of your meatball, making it more like stuffing than a miniature meatloaf. Additionally, it can make the final mixture lose, which will cause it to crumble when cooked.

You can also decide to add a lightly beaten egg, but not too much.

Using large eggs is not advisable as only a minimum is required as a binder for the ingredients. One tiny egg will be enough for one pound of minced meat. If you’re on an egg-free diet, another option is to soak fresh bread in milk and squeeze out any extra milk before using it as a binder.

But browning raw meatballs in oil in a skillet first will give the meatballs a nice crust which will do a great job of preventing them from falling apart while cooking in sauce.

There are different ways to prevent meatballs from breaking in the sauce. Unfortunately, making homemade meatballs can be notoriously difficult. It’s not merely a matter of mixing your components in a large bowl, shaping them into meatballs, and then perfectly cooking them on medium heat.

It might be necessary to begin by dipping your hands into the large mixing bowl of meatball components and mixing them there. Your hands’ heat will allow the meat’s proteins to break down, which will help the mixture hold together as it cooks.

Then, just a few minutes of mixing will do.

Final Thoughts

It’s far simpler to cook meatballs on the stove than you might imagine, and Italian meatball recipes frequently call for it.

So for your favorite pasta meal, meatball subs, or pizza, try this simple stovetop meatball recipe for juicy, delicious meatballs.

Cooking meatballs on the stove is a straightforward recipe for handmade meatballs with a red sauce that can be prepared during the week for dinner or in large quantities to be frozen.

It is an excellent dish for a meal train or if you are providing care for sick family members or friends.

You can prepare meatballs in advance. They will have an opportunity to take in more of the flavors from the spices and herbs, so this may even be preferable.


Image by EstudioWebDoce from Pixabay

Jeff Campbell

Jeff was a leader for Whole Foods Market for over 2 decades and is now a recovering foodie. When he's not spending time in the kitchen, he can usually be found with 3 daughters, practicing martial arts, making music, or blogging on his other sites. Click to learn more about me

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