How to pre-cook and freeze meatballs

I love the convenience of reaching into the freezer and grabbing a few handfuls of meatballs for something like a quick spaghetti dinner.  When my child was a toddler, meatballs were a great alternative to whatever meat the adults were having (like steak!), so I’d pull out a few frozen meatballs, and quickly have a great kid-friendly main dish.

But those bags of meatballs from the grocery store freezer (or even from Ikea!) can get expensive, and more importantly, you don’t really know what all is in them.  So if you’re also making an effort to get one more ‘pre-packaged’ items out of your life, here’s a method for simply making and pre-cooking your own version of those little pre-packaged meatballs!

These can be made with turkey, beef, pork or any combination of ground meats.  For this I just used a pound of ground beef.  And I would expect most meatball recipes would work for this, but below is a simple meatball method that I’ve used.

Oven-Baked Mini Meatballs – Frozen!

Preheat your oven to 400 F.

Pour 1/3 to 1/2 cup breadcrumbs* into a large bowl, and add milk until you have a moist, pasty consistency.  Stir in 1 lb ground meat.  Season as desired (I like to add at least a few healthy shakes of salt and pepper, but you can also add dried herbs like thyme or oregano, garlic or onion powder, or whatever floats your boat) and stir well.

Here’s my set-up for efficient meatball cooking: Line a cookie sheet with foil, and place a cooling rack on top. The foil protects the pan and makes cleanup easy.  The rack keeps your balls round, and also lets any grease drip down away from the balls.

Make 1/2 ounce balls (weigh with your kitchen scale until you get a good feel for how big that is–consistent size is important) rolling them between your hands to get a decent ball shape.

Place evenly spaced on your cooling rack, balls should not be touching.  Cook in a 400 degree oven for ~15 min, or until meatballs are fully cooked.

Remove from oven and allow to cool on the countertop.  When cool, move the pan and rack to the freezer.  Leave for at least 30 minutes – 1 hr.  (Freezing the balls separated like this keeps them from sticking together later.)

Remove frozen meatballs, and place in a dated and labeled ziptop freezer bag. (Hint: Remove as much as as possible by using a straw to suck out the excess air!)

Now you have healthy, tasty meatballs, ready in a jiffy for family dinner nights and picky kids!  It’s a little time consuming up front, but I’ll do something like this in the evening after the kid’s in bed, letting them cook and cool and pre-freeze while we’re watching TV or hanging out on the computer.

What do you like to freeze ahead of time for easy cooking later?

*(I make my own breadcrumbs when I have a few pieces of good stale bread, and just keep adding them to one of those convenient storebought bread crumb containers!)

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