How to Fix Meatballs: 7 Ways

Does everyone else brave a trip to Ikea with their nearest and dearest only for the sake of those Swedish meatballs, or is it just me?

Now, storytime. When I was a kid, a way older cousin told me that meatballs are that shape because they grow on trees. And the tree they come from is the one from the Garden of Eden.

Even as an adult, I wonder if it was in a way true. After all, my grandma was an ultimate kitchen goddess that made food worthy of eternal damnation.

Let me put it like this, if you ever need me to betray state secrets (which for some reason I have access to in this scenario), all you have to do is bribe me a plate of my grandma’s meatballs in tomato sauce over homemade pasta.

So, what does this all have to do with your current predicament? Well, do you think I managed to replicate my grandma’s recipe after the first try?

Of course not. Actually, I failed so many times that I now think of myself as an expert at fixing meatball-based failures.

Today, we’ll see what happened and how you can fix the situation if something goes wrong with your meatballs.

We’ll also see what can you do when things can’t be fixed and how to prevent it from happening again.

How to Fix Dry Cooked Meatballs

This happens most often when you decide to make your favorite recipe leaner and healthier. When you take out the fat and try to cook the meat the way you always do, it will dry out.

Even when you use the meat from the same animal (ie leaner beef mince in a regular beef mince meatball recipe), you will have this problem. It’s even worse when you start swapping animals (ie turkey mince instead of beef).

The Fix

Steam should help. You can place the meatballs in a steamer for a few minutes. But this method is just masking the issue and your leftover meatballs will become both soggy and dry at the same time.

Another thing you can do is add more fat to the sauce and let the meatballs sit/cook in it for a bit longer.

But this will work better on smaller meatballs, while the larger ones will stay dry in the center.

What to do if you can’t fix it?

Put them into a moist dish like quiche or risotto. Or if you happen to have some filo pastry on hand, make a quick filo meat pie.

To make the pie, mix vegetable oil and water in equal parts. Do it in a bottle that you can shake regularly as you work to re-mix these two liquids.

Place 2-3 sheets of filo on the working surface and brush with the oil mixture.

Then, crumble the meatballs and arrange the meat in a single row on one of the long sides of the pastry. Roll into a log, then into a spiral, and bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until it turns golden brown.

How to prevent it from happening again?

Use the correct meat. Or, if you must go for something leaner (hey, no judgment here, sometimes you have to do what you have to do), change the cooking method.

Leaner meats prefer to be cooked low and slow, so break out your Crock-Pot or sous vide machine next time.

A pressure cooker is a great alternative when you’re in a rush.


How to Fix Salty Meatballs

Why Are My Meatballs so Salty?

Your recipe probably called for kosher salt, but you used table salt instead. Or you added some bacon into the mix just because bacon makes everything better, but forgot that bacon is very salty.

Or you are a Roman general that decided to brag about their salary (Roman soldiers used to be paid in salt).

The Fix

This one is very tough. The only thing you can try is to combine it with a very acidic sauce since acid neutralizes salt. Tomato sauce will do the trick, just don’t add any or add a very little salt into it.

What to do if you can’t fix it?

Turn it into a ragu sauce. And this will not take that much more work, especially if you were planning on having those meatballs in the tomato sauce anyway.

If you already tried to balance the saltiness with the tomato sauce as advised above, all it now takes is you put the pan back on medium-low or medium heat, and break down the meatballs with a fork or another tool.

Stir constantly and continue breaking down the meat, and taste the sauce from time to time. When that salt seeps out into the tomato sauce, your job is done.

How to prevent it from happening again?

Read and re-read recipes again. Most recipes written in English assume you’re using kosher salt unless they specifically say to use table salt.

But even when you use the proper salt, kosher salt flakes differ from brand to brand. If possible, check what brand the recipe writer is using.

And in the end, maybe you should ditch what the recipe says and go for the half-percent rule.

Some nerdy chefs did some math and figured out that the perfect amount of salt for any food or dish is half of a percent of their weight.

So if you are working with a pound of mince, that means that you need 0.08 ounces (or 2.25 grams) of salt for that amount of meat.

Now it doesn’t matter if you’re using a table or kosher salt. And if you think it’s too bland for you, you can adjust the seasoning in the sauce (could this be foreshadowing?).

How to fix tough meatballs

What went wrong?

You probably overcooked them. And if it’s just a few meatballs that turned out tough when others are fine, it’s because they were not the same size.

And if they were not the same size, that means that smaller ones got overcooked by the time big ones got just right.

How to fix it?

Not much you can do but put a plaster on it and hope nobody notices.

To do this, take a toothpick or another sharp skinny tool, and poke a few holes in each meatball. Then, leave them in sauce covered, off the heat, for a couple of minutes.

Then serve immediately, or after everyone had a few glasses of wine. Hopefully, everyone will be too drunk to notice.

What to do if you can’t fix it?

This is one of those that can’t really be fixed. Overcooked meatballs are first too tough, then turn into mush.

If you neither have the time nor patience to poke at them and try to mask your mistake, I hope you have a dog. Or if you don’t have one, go and make friends with your neighbor’s puppy.

How to prevent it from happening again?

When you cut or portion food evenly, it cooks evenly. Either use a scoop or a kitchen scale to make sure that all your meatballs are the same size.

Your grandma didn’t use any of those and here meatballs were perfect. However, it’s obvious that you need all the help you can get.

You can still overcook meatballs even when they are portioned evenly. This is where a thermometer comes

in handy. Usually, meatballs are done when they reach a core temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, but this number changes if you’re working with turkey, chicken, pork, etc.

How to fix hard meatballs

What went wrong?

This can happen when you shallow or deep fat fry the meatballs. If that’s not the case, check out the rubbery meatballs section since the cause should be the same.

But going back to frying, you probably burned them. You don’t need to see char to know they’ve gone over, and there is such a thing as too crispy.

How to fix it?

If the damage is not too great, some extra time splashing in the sauce should be enough to soften the meatballs.

But if you have a bit more patience, you can take some to scrape off the offending hard shell. If the meat inside is in good condition, you can brown the outside quickly with a kitchen torch and just serve slightly smaller meatballs.

What to do if you can’t fix it?

Get a slingshot and start a food war with your neighbors. Or, make a deal with your local dentist to cut you a check from all new meatball-related interventions.

How to prevent it from happening again?

In general, I don’t think that deep fat frying is something you should do at home at all. But if you still want that crispiness that comes only from submerging food in lots of hot oil, we’ll have to do it in stages.

First, cook the meatballs using a different technique or appliance. This will ensure that the ball is cooked through and that it doesn’t have to spend too much time in the oil.

My favorite is sous vide, but steaming and slow cooking will work as well.

Then, fry. Work only a few meatballs at a time (at least half of what you think can fit inside the pot or the fryer). Meatballs don’t quite float the same as doughnuts or french fries, so keep an eye for the color change.


How to fix mushy meatballs

What went wrong?

The fault lies in the binder. Too many eggs or not enough eggs. Or it’s the dry breadcrumbs when you should be using fresh, or vice versa.

In any case, something went wrong at the very beginning, at that spells serious trouble.

How to fix it?

Sorry to say, but there is not much that you can do after they are cooked. If you’re noticing something’s wrong before that, you can make some adjustments. But after cooking, we can only try and save all that meat from the trash can.

What to do if you can’t fix it?

If you already have some tomato sauce ready to go, make some ragu. Break apart the meatballs and brown them a bit, then transfer them into the cooked sauce. Live it off heat to sit for a few minutes for the flavors to mingle.

That meat will also work well in a stir fry. wrap, or an omelet. Or whip up some batter and shred some veggies to make fritters.

You’ll need 1/3 cup of flour for every egg, and a mixture with only 1 egg will support about 2 cups of fillings.

How to prevent it from happening again?

Follow the ratios in the recipe to the letter. If you’re trying a new one or you’re changing something in the old favorite, always do a test run by cooking off at least one ball or an experimental batch.

How to fix rubbery meatballs

What went wrong?

You squished them too hard. Your meatball shaping game probably still needs some work.

Now, it’s a good idea for them to be packed tightly, but you should have used less force to shape them. It’s a similar thing to pounding meat to tenderize – it actually goes the opposite way. The muscle fibers tense up (even though the muscle is not alive anymore it’s just what it does), so you end up with a rubbery product.

How to fix it?

Only by introducing moisture. It could be the case that you’ll not be able to serve these meatballs the way you wanted. Your safest bet in saving them is to use them in a meatball soup.

But if you realized your mistake in time, you can fix this by switching the cooking method. Cooking the meatballs low and slow allows for enough time for the muscle fibers to relax again. Take out your trusted

slow cooker and let it do all the work for you.

What to do if you can’t fix it?

If the things above don’t help, not much of anything else will. Drop the meatballs in the dog bowl, ’cause your pup is not going to mind the texture.

How to prevent it from happening again?

If you can’t help but Hulk out when you’re in the kitchen, you may want to invest in a few tools.

There is a meatball scoop you can buy that will bot scoop even portions of mince and shape it into perfect balls, but there’s no need to dish out the cash for this unitasker (unless you make meatballs at least once a week).

You can use a standard-issue cookie/ice cream scoop and then follow up with a gentle roll between palms to round up the edges.

How to fix bland meatballs

What went wrong?

You didn’t use enough salt, duh. You can often cut down on pepper, but getting the salt out will make all food taste bland.

How to fix it?

The easiest way to do it is to adjust the seasoning with the sauce. You can add a few pinches extra to the sauce, drop the meatballs in, stir, and cover the saucepan and let it all seat for a while.

If the meatballs are bite-sized, this should do the trick. But, if they are larger, consider breaking them in half so they can better coverage with the sauce.

What to do if you can’t fix it?

If you like your meatballs extra-chunky, chances are that the cause trick will not work. In that case, you should consider turning the meatballs into ragu (especially if you have the tomato sauce at the ready), or make meatball soup.

How to prevent it from happening again?

Go and revisit the oversalted meatballs sections for the formula for the perfect amount of salt in any food or dish.

You may find that you still need a bit more even after doing your math right, but the meatballs will not be bland and that seasoning adjustment can be done in the sauce.

If you have to watch your sodium, don’t just cut down on the salt, but consider some smarter alternatives.

There is such thing called low-sodium salt which replaces some of it with potassium but still has the same taste.

And there’s always low-sodium soy sauce, which gets two thumbs up from me since it brings extra umami to the party.


Meatballs can be one of the most difficult dishes to fix after everything is said and done. Whenever you’re giving a new recipe a go, maybe you should do a test run first before the grand reveal.

Sometimes when you’re making a recipe that worked before, it can fail because you bought meat from a new place. If you want consistency in your recipe, buy a specific cut (or cuts) of meat that work for your recipe and either mince them at home or ask the butcher to mince it in the shop.

Also, be ready to switch to a plan B. Maybe not scrapping the whole dish, but rethinking the format. At least, we’re talking minced meat here and that stuff can become a gazillion different meals.

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