Boiled meatballs may not have the browned, crusty exterior of fried or baked meatballs, but they have the benefit of being easy to cook and fast to prepare. Boiling meatballs also keeps them juicy and flavorful, as well as being a healthy way of cooking them. To increase flavor, season the water prior to boiling.
Benefits of Boiling
Water reaches a rolling boil — visible bubbling and steaming — at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Raw meatballs cook in boiling water in roughly five to 10 minutes, depending on size, while frozen meatballs cook in 15 to 20 minutes depending on size. For all meatballs, boil until the internal temperature reads 160 F.
Changes to Flavor and Consistency
Boiling in plain water does not greatly affect the taste of meatballs but preserves moisture. Because many meatballs are baked, fried or broiled — the natural juices of the meat evaporate or drip away — boiling may produce meatballs juicier than you are used to. Because there is so much extra moisture, to keep the meatballs from falling apart, add a little extra of a binding agent such as flour, breadcrumbs or egg to help meatballs keep their shapes during cooking.
Bring a pot of water large enough to comfortably hold all meatballs to a rolling boil. Add any dried spices, herbs, seasonings or additional liquids to the water before bringing it to a boil. Carefully place the meatballs into the water and cover the pot, letting them boil until they are fully cooked with an internal temperature of 160 F. While a quick-read thermometer is the surest way of testing for doneness, cooked meatballs turn a gray-brown color and are firm and bouncy when touched. Remove the meatballs with a slotted spoon.
Serving Boiled Meatballs
Boiled meatballs may be dressed with sauce after cooking as part of a larger dish such as spaghetti and meatballs. Smaller meatballs may be served with dipping sauce on the side, such as a mix of soy sauce and sesame seed oil, or gravy as a snack or appetizer. Because of their moistness, boiled meatballs are useful for adding to soups such as sopa del albondigas, where the small, delicate meatballs add texture, substance and flavor to the simple broth-based dish.
References and ResourcesJoy of Cooking; Irma S. Rombauer
serious eats: The Secrets of the Juiciest, Most Tender and Flavorful Italian-American Meatballs
serious eats: Super Simple Friday Night Meatballs
serious eats: The Best Slow Cooker Meatballs
serious eats: Sauced, Souped and Sandwiched -- 17 Meatball Recipes We Love
U.S. Department of Agriculture: Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Chart