The Best Meatballs and Sauce

The Best Meatballs and Sauce Recipe! These meatballs are as tender as can be. Soft and seasoned with oregano and mint - the secret ingredient in my family's decades-old recipe. You'd never be able to pinpoint what that lovely flavor is, because it's not overtly minty, just subtlely fragrant and herbal. The sauce is rich, sweet, and garlicky and the meatballs are cooked right in the sauce, allowing them to retain their moisture, and giving the sauce even more flavor |

photo by Aran Goyoaga, from my cookbook “Eating in the Middle”

I’ve been to eleven cities in Italy and lived in New York City for two years, where there’s some pretty fantastic Italian food. And out of all of the many red checker table-clothed mom and pop shops in Italy and the many famous restaurants, this recipe still makes the best meatballs and sauce.

The meatballs are as tender as can be. Soft and seasoned with oregano and…mint, the secret ingredient in my stepdad’s decades-old recipe. You’d never be able to pinpoint what that lovely flavor is, because it’s not overtly minty, it’s just subtlely fragrant and herbal.

PJ, my stepdad, has been making these for me and everyone we know and love forever. They’re by far the most requested meal in my [sometimes unbearably] large family — before parties, holidays, and most importantly, weekends when I come home to visit Massachusetts.

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PJ’s sauce is rich, sweet, and garlicky. He cooks the meatballs right in that sauce, allowing them to retain their moisture, and giving the sauce even more flavor.

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Trust me here. This is a recipe you’ll make over and over again!

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The Best Meatballs and Sauce Recipe! These meatballs are as tender as can be. Soft and seasoned with oregano and mint - the secret ingredient in my family's decades-old recipe. You'd never be able to pinpoint what that lovely flavor is, because it's not overtly minty, just subtlely fragrant and herbal. The sauce is rich, sweet, and garlicky and the meatballs are cooked right in the sauce, allowing them to retain their moisture, and giving the sauce even more flavor |
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5 from 2 votes

PJ's Meatballs and Sauce

The meatballs are as tender as can be. Soft and seasoned with oregano and…mint, the secret ingredient in my stepdad's decades-old recipe. You'd never be able to pinpoint what that lovely flavor is, because it's not overtly minty, it’s just subtlely fragrant and herbal.
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time1 hour 45 minutes
Total Time2 hours
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American, Italian
Keyword: best meatball recipe, big meatballs, homemade pasta sauce, meatballs and sauce
Servings: 12 large meatballs in sauce
Calories: 320kcal


For the sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 3-4 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 28 oz can crushed or ground peeled tomatoes
  • 1 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper

For the meatballs:

  • 1 lb ground beef 85% lean
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried mint
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper


  • Heat the olive oil in a large stock pot over medium heat. Swirl to coat the bottom of the pan to coat. Add the onion and garlic and saute, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 7 minutes. Lower the heat if they begin to burn. The more color that develops on the onion and garlic, the more flavor they'll add to the finished sauce.
  • Once the onions and garlic are tender and caramel in color, add the crushed tomatoes and the tomato paste and stir until the mixture is smooth and well combined.
  • Add the remaining sauce ingredients (oregano through pepper), stir, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting, cover the pot, and let cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally so that the bottom does not burn.
  • Make the meatballs: Break apart the beef as best you can in a large mixing bowl. Lightly beat the egg in a small bowl and pour evenly over the top of the beef. Add the bread crumbs, oregano, mint, salt, and pepper and use your hands to mix. You do not want to overwork you beef, or it will yield tough meatballs, but you do want to incorporate all of the ingredients into the ground beef so that each meatball will have a bit of the breadcrumbs and herbs and spices.
  • Shape the meat mixture into 12 balls, each about 1 ½ inches in diameter. Drop them into the sauce, stir gently so that they're all covered in sauce, and then let them cook, covered, for about 45 minutes to 1 hour over low heat, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Serve over your favorite pasta.


Nutrition Information for 2 Meatballs and ¾ cup Marinara Sauce


Serving: 2g | Calories: 320kcal | Carbohydrates: 24.7g | Protein: 16.9g | Fat: 18.3g | Fiber: 4.1g | Sugar: 10.1g


113 thoughts on “The Best Meatballs and Sauce

  1. Halley

    fantastic! This reminds me of home as well. I gleaned from the internet that if you add wine/broth to the breadcrumbs it makes them tender and moist. It’s really enjoyable. X H

  2. Johnny

    Bravo!! I can smell them simmering in the pot. They look and I bet, taste delicious! I really look forward to the recipes. Thanks! :)

  3. JaNelle

    How did you know I just had meatball fail the other day? And I’ve been looking for a new recipe to try? Are you in my head? I wouldn’t mind.. thanks!

  4. The Café Sucré Farine

    Yum, these look amazing! I am intrigued by the mint – I add mint to my greek salad dressing and it does the same thing, give an amazing flavor that you just can’t put your finger on. I hadn’t thought of using mint in meatballs but I will be giving your recipe a try, can’t wait!

  5. Bianca @ Confessions of a Chocoholic

    Claiming something to be the best is a big deal, but just by reading the way you describe these meatballs, I’m inclined to believe you! Also, when family makes them, it always seems to be more apt to be called the best ever, right? My mom makes the best fettuccine I’ve ever tasted, and I think your stepdad’s meatballs can share a plate with it ;)

  6. Stacy

    on your way around the Western Hemisphere making these for all previous comment-makers please also come to Colorado and make them for me. pretty pretty please!

  7. Lu @ A Mix of it All

    I love meatballs. And yes, pugs are the best. Mine is great, if not stinky. It happens. We deal. Now about that trip to OK to make meatballs for Lisa…Can you swing by San Antonio please?

  8. Johnny Kocourek

    I believe you when you say the meatballs are phenomenal, however my old man makes the best marinara sauce anyone has ever whipped up. It’s spicy, it’s sweet, it’s delicious, and it has italian sausage stuck right in there. Oh god. I’m gonna faint. Time to fly back home and lock him in the kitchen til he comes out with 3 pots of pasta.

  9. Nicole

    I was just working on my grocery list and looking for a ground beef recipe… Couldn’t find any ideas, so I thought I’d check out your blog. And here is an amazing meatball recipe. Perfect timing!! Ha, ha. Hugs and a ‘thank you’. I can’t wait to make these! :)

  10. Amanda R.

    I would make a turrible I-Talian. I can’t get this sauce to taste “right” and I’ve done it three times. The meatballs though, OY MY TASTEBUDS. I made a triple batch, froze them and started handing them out. I wish I was joking. I now have no less than 3 new best friends that just so happen to fix cars. <3 I feel like I should cite you on the outside of every freezer bag!

  11. TracyJay

    I made these last night, and they are amazing!!!!! A huge hit with my family, we are adding these to our regular rotation. Thanks so much for sharing!

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  13. Bekka

    I’m not usually a big commenter (which is silly, since I have a blog myself. I will chalk it up to no time), but I haaad to make an exception for these meatballs. You were not kidding, this recipe is perfection. Thank your step-dad for sharing it (and you, of course), it is officially my new go to!

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  16. Saba SIddiqui

    My husband and I are not huge fans of meatballs – mostly because all the ones we’ve had are hard, tough, or too spicy because our ethnic families make them too “desi-fied” (indo/pak style).

    But I’ve got to hand it to you Andy, or to your PJ – theses meatballs are amazing. I didn’t have the ingredients for the sauce so i have to do with Prego and add my own spices. I can’t wait to try them with the real sauce!

    My husband commented ” wow these are how real meatballs taste!” Thank you again!

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  18. Lee

    In the description you said something about basil in the meatballs but I didn’t see it in the actual recipe. How much are you putting in them?? I am cooking some up right now, very yummy smelling :))

  19. Lee

    Update: I made these the other night w/ground turkey (used for your petite lasagna recipe too, yumm). These were delish and my husband and I especially enjoyed the leftovers on whole wheat english muffins with a little cheese.. :)

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  21. Sam

    I made them tonight for dinner with my mom. Both the sauce and the meatballs turned out fantastic! Instead of having them with pasta, I put three on a hoagie roll, topped with provolone cheese and then put the sandwiches under the broiler for a few minutes. Great dinner!

  22. Lisa

    Made the sauce last night just to see if I could (I suck at cooking)…OH MY LANTA. So good! Tonight I’ll be making the meatballs!

  23. Beth

    This recipe looks amazing (found you on Pinterest) and I can’t wait to try it. I keep Kosher and this is one of the first meatball recipes I’ve seen that doesn’t use cheese or pork in the ingredients. Thanks for sharing! I bet my 13 month old will love these.

  24. Shay

    Just had this for dinner tonight, The sauce was amazing as well as the meatballs.. I used ground turkey and whole wheat pasta to make an amazing dinner!! My husband doesnt like any kinda of red sauce, but he loved this and had seconds! Told me it was the best spaghetti hes ever had! THANKS!!!

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  26. Colleen

    I read your blog regularly, but this is the first recipe I’ve made. It was absolutely delicious and easy. The mint adds something special. I’ll definitely be making it again!

  27. Kathryn

    I made this tonight and loved it! The mint in the meatballs was great. I also will use the marinara as my new go to. Thanks so much.

  28. Meghan

    I just made these and was told by my fiance that they are the best meatballs I have ever made! Question for you, I used spearmint as my mint since Penzey’s only sells that or peppermint. Do you use a specific mint?

    Thanks for the recipe, I love the sauce too. I doubled the recipe and will be freezing some and eating the rest right now!

  29. Mike

    Sorry to report, but I tried your recipe, and thought the meatballs were terrible. The flavor was strange, not even close to a traditional Italian meatball. Darn.

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  31. Nova

    What is the nutritional information for these bad boys? I’ve just had gastric bypass and would like to know to see if they are suitable for me! :)

  32. Meghan

    These were SO good. When my hubby came home from work and saw I was making meatballs, he cringed. And then he ate one. And another. And another. And he decided they were delicious! Yesterday, he was a bit disappointed when he thought I was making them again but it just turned out to be sausage. I guess I have my go-to meatball recipe! Oh, and I am not really a meatball person and I loved them. Like I said, SO good!

  33. Sarah

    I feel like I must have done something wrong – – mine tasted kind of “off”. And really minty. Next time I think I’ll reduce the amount of mint by a lot. But otherwise these were amazingly moist, which is hard to do. :]

  34. Liane

    So very yummy! I doubled the batch to make huge meatballs and decided to bake them first to help hold the shape. This is a great marinara sauce that will also be my go-to recipe for spaghetti and meatballs. Everyone enjoyed them and there weren’t any leftovers. Thanks!

  35. Anna

    You mentioned basil but I don’t see it in the recipe. I can’t wait to try this because my husband loves mint.

  36. Samantha

    Hi I love most of your recipes but no one should ever put mint in a meatball, and the sauce all dried herbs, tomato paste? Really?

  37. Cassandra

    Made these and now we are all hooked on them. The meatballs and the sauce are sooo good! Thank you for such an awesome recipe!

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  39. Rebecca

    Made the sauce for dinner last night! Instead of meatballs, I added a pound of ground beef and a can of diced tomatoes to the sauce and cooked it in the crock pot for 10 hours while we were at the beach. Soo good!

  40. Kim

    People amaze me with their comments. Really? Indeed! I made this sauce for the second time tonight. And you are right, Andy, it has been life changing! I will never buy bottled sauce again. Thank you for sharing-everthing. Mmmmmmm…….I even licked it cold off the spoon one day while waiting for it to heat up-its that good.

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  42. Susan Micek

    Hi Andie, I am new to your delightful blog. I am a former film commercial producer. Commercials were easier than movies – because I usually only had to be away for 2-3 weeks instead of 16 weeks. Decided to make a couple of your recipes on Sunday. So I made the Lighter Coconut Red Curry Shrimp which we devoured and I made the sauce and meatballs for the week. My first taste gave me the impression that this was a very sweet sauce which I love but my husband really loves the sauce I make from Ann Burrell’s recipe with Pancetta and no sugar. He came in and took a meatball snack and to my surprise he loved it. We love this sauce and meatballs too. I bought whole San Marzano tomatoes and put them through the food mill instead of the ground/pureed tomatoes. Both of these dishes are now in my “Favorite” recipe binder and posted on my Pinterest account. Thank you!!! Susan p.s. Years ago I use to make a sweet sauce with a couple of large spoonfuls of Amaretto.

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  45. Ktina

    Holy Moses! These meatballs were so tasty. My fiance said they were the best meatballs he may have ever had :)

    Thank you for sharing your recipe!

  46. DesMarie

    Hmm…so I’m thinkin for us “no-can’t-cook” people, you should think about making videos on certain things you cook! I need a fool-proof-dummy-Demo…I’m sure there are others like me! :)

  47. lisa

    This looks delicious. I have a marinara recipe I have been using for years that I have never been willing to change until now. I want to make this tomorrow but I am confused by the mention of basil yet it is not listed in the ingredients.

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  52. New England Chef

    I have made this twice hoping the second time would be different, it wasn’t. It was way too sweet! It doesn’t make a lot, so 3 tablespoons is just to much sugar. Granted when I buy jar sauce now I choose the no added sugar variety but I grew up on Prego and this is much sweeter! I wonder if it should be 3 tsp instead?

    1. Andie

      Hey there,

      Sorry to hear you didn’t like it! It is a sweet sauce for sure, which I think is what I absolutely love about it; it seems to add to the overall richness. But I can see why it might not be for you. I appreciate you trying the recipe!


  53. Online Sunshine

    I just made your sauce and meatballs. The only changes I made was I used ground turkey instead of hamburger (my package was more than a pound so I used an extra egg, a bit more bread crumbs, and added a little olive oil), I used all olive oil (no canola oil) in the sauce, and I didn’t have mint, so I added a teaspoon of dried basil.
    We haven’t been eating much sugar, so we both agreed after eating it, that it could’ve used less sugar (will only use 1 Tbsp next time). But otherwise, the sauce was divine and the meatballs were so good you could hardly tell it was ground turkey.
    To make the meal even better, I made home made egg noodles from a recipe I found on YouTube (by Giuliano Hazan) and served the sauce and meatballs over them.
    And then I sauteed some sliced zucchini in some olive oil with salt and pepper.
    Best dinner we’ve had in awhile…and looking forward to the leftovers for lunch tomorrow. :)
    As a side note, since I used more than 1 lb of turkey, it was hard to make the meatballs all fit in the pan…and after 45 min, they had soaked up a lot of the sauce. I would recommend to anyone making more than 1 lb of meatballs, to make more sauce because it is soooo yummy!

    1. Andie

      Thanks so much for the detailed review, Online Sunshine! I’m definitely going to try your turkey version next time, and definitely with those egg noodles!

      Yes, the sauce is very sweet and I prefer it that way, but I understand why you’d prefer to cut down the amount of sugar if the sweetness seems overpowering. Thanks again!


  54. Heather

    Hey Andie,
    Just made this tonight and it is delicious! Your favorite meatballs are officially my favorite meatballs :) It is defiantly going in the Heather book of comfort food. I typically don’t add sugar to food and was a bit skeptical but loved it, as always. The only change I made was nixing the mint. I’m sure if I liked it, it too would have been amazing and added its own flavor. Next time I’m going to make it with turkey and cook the meatballs in the sauce. This time I just cooked them separately and drizzled the sauce over it. Still amazing!! And I already posted it on Instagram to share with all of my friends with your websites hash tag #CanYouStayForDinner
    Thanks for sharing!

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  56. samantha

    I’m not were I messed up, but mine turned out terrible! The meatballs wouldnt stay together when I was stirring, so now I have these weird meat sauce. Also, the sauce itself is on the bad tasting side. Very dissatisfied, but it could just be my cooking ability.

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  58. Lois Thomas

    Hi Andie
    These meatballs sounded intriguing, they turned out delish, my new fave meatball and sauce recipe as well! I must admit I reduced the sugar to 1 tsp, still very tasty! Thank you for sharing your favorite foods with us, im definitely a fan of your blog and your awesomeness!

  59. Helen

    Hi Andie,
    Love your blog! You are very inspiring, real, and transparent. Looking forward to your book. These meatballs were fantastic! The only thing I did different than your directions was to add the sugar directly to the onion and garlic. I was hoping to really caramelize ! Not sure if it made any difference, but the recipe is wonderful. Don’t think I will ever try another,

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  61. nonna

    i also add a handful of grated Parmesan cheese and some minced garlic to the meatball mix and saute them a bit in a little olive oil before adding to the sauce…….

  62. Natasha

    I’m new to your blog and just tried this recipe. I’ve already made it a few times, because it’s such a hit with my family. I followed the recipe as written except I cut down the mint to 1/2 teaspoon. I was also nervous about cooking the meatballs in the sauce, but I decided to go with it, and, you’re absolutely right about it adding flavor to the sauce. The texture of the meatballs also came out perfectly! Thank you for this recipe! I can’t wait to try more.

  63. Juan

    Found the recipe and decided to make them. He’s right. They’re very easy to make. I had to improvise a little since I didn’t have the exact ingredients the recipe called for; instead of using dried mint I used fresh mint and I also added some fresh basil, then used diced in place of crushed tomatoes. They turned out really good even though I missed the pepper in the meatballs lol. My only complain is that they rendered too much fat in the sauce. I used 80/20 ground beef.
    They taste great just with some shredded cheese.

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  65. Erin D.

    After reading all of the reviews, which were mostly positive, I was really excited about making the meatball portion of this recipe. I’m sorry, but I was very, very disappointed. I made the meatballs exactly as per instructions and did not alter a thing. All I could taste was mint, mint, and more mint. And again, I measured exactly as per the recipe. I found these to be inedible.

  66. Online Sunshine

    Just a follow-up to my previous review about this recipe. The first time I made it, I made it with Turkey for the meatballs. Honestly, I’m not much of a meatball fan so I have abandoned the meatball portion of the recipe…..HOWEVER, this has become my new go-to recipe for spaghetti sauce. I still cut back on the sugar, and I omit the mint, but otherwise I follow it as written. Recently I used the sauce (I doubled the recipe) to make a big pan of lasagne. I got big compliments on my lasagne and I feel that the biggest part of making it so great is the sauce. I no longer buy spaghetti sauce….it takes a little longer to make this one than dumping a jar into a pan, but it is soooooo worth it. :)

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  75. Fallon

    I am currently simmering the sauce right now! Admittedly, I’m strapped for time and can’t make meatballs. Instead, I sauteed ground turkey with the onions and garlic before adding the remaining ingredients. So far, it tastes amazing. The best sauce I’ve ever made and it isn’t even done simmering!

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  77. Robyn

    Tried this tonight. The sauce and the meatballs were absolutely delicious! So happy I found your recipes, thanks for sharing them:)

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  80. Sam W.

    5 stars
    The sauce in this recipe is to-die-for; I use it for everything and have been for years!! Thank you for that!


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