The Best Way to Eat Meatballs Cold? (and How Long They Last)

There’s just something about meatballs, isn’t there? No matter how hard we try, we always end up making
too many. Those delicious balls of goodness are amazing, but filling too, so there are almost always leftovers. That then leaves the question, what should you do with them? Well, the obvious thing to do is pop them in the fridge and reheat them in the oven the next day – usually at around 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 12- 15 minutes until hot. But what if you don’t have time for that? Can you eat cooked meatballs cold? And if so, how long do they last?

If you’ve ever thought about any of those questions, then you’ve come to the right place, because today’s post is all about cold meatballs, how long they last, and what to do with them. Ready to grab a fork and dig into our post today? Then let’s go!

The Short Answer


The short answer is yes, you can eat cooked meatballs cold. There’s a trick to it, though. You must allow them to cool slightly before putting them in the fridge, but you should still act quickly. The USDA says that cooked meat should not be left out at room temperature for longer than 2 hours (and that drops to one hour if it’s a hot day and the room temperature is 90 degrees Fahrenheit or above).

This advice is given because room temperature is actually perfect for bacteria growth in cooked meats, and it can rapidly develop harmful bacteria that can make you sick. A cool fridge temperature prevents this from happening. Because the meat is already thoroughly cooked too, it’s perfectly safe to eat the meatballs straight out of the fridge, without any need to reheat them.

Of course, if you wanted hot meatballs again, you could always pop them in the oven to warm them up and that’s safe too. But if cold meatballs don’t bother you – and they shouldn’t because they’re delicious – then go ahead and enjoy them! But how long will they last in the fridge before it becomes dangerous to eat?

How Long Do Cooked Meatballs Last In The Fridge?

The length of time a cooked meatball lasts in the fridge safely before being eaten varies slightly because every meatball is different. Your mama makes it different to your friend’s mama (but, of course, your mama’s meatballs are the best). By that we mean, some people prefer to make their meatballs out of ground pork, or beef, and others prefer turkey or chicken meatballs.

Heck, some visionaries out there prefer a combination of them all! So, knowing the ingredients of your meatballs is important before you make your mind up about how long they can be safely stored in your fridge before eating them. But here’s a quick overview of the different meats and how long they can be stored in the fridge after being cooked:

  • Pork: 3-5 days
  • Beef: 3-5 days
  • Chicken: 3-4 days
  • Turkey 3-4 days

As you can see, poultry products have a slightly lower safe zone than pork and beef because harmful bacteria grows quicker in these white meats. Still, no matter your meatball contents, if you just remember to consume cold meatballs from the fridge in 3 days, then you’ll know it’s perfectly safe to do.

Will Cold Cooked Meatballs Lose Their Quality In The Fridge?

No, cold cooked meatballs won’t lose their quality within the 3 days it’s safe to consume them in. In fact, some people prefer next-day meatballs because it gives the meat the chance to take on the additional flavors that are added to the meatballs to make them extra tasty. The fridge is actually a great way to store your cooked meatballs safely, and for maximum flavor too!

What If You Can’t Use Them Quickly Enough?

If you know you’re going to be unable to consume your cooked meatballs within 3-5 days for beef and pork meatballs, or 3-4 days for chicken and turkey ones, then you can still reuse the leftovers at a later date. But you’ll want to store your meatballs in the freezer instead of the fridge. You’ll need to allow the meatballs to cool again, but remember to not let your meatballs stay out at room temperature for longer than 1 hour if your room temperature is 90 degrees Fahrenheit or above, or for 2 hours if your room is cooler than 90 degrees.

After that, you can pop the meatballs into a freezable storage container and place them in the freezer. Remember not to open the freezer door again for a few hours to give the meatballs chance to freeze properly. Once in the freezer, you can keep your cooked meatballs for up to 6 months, but for maximum quality and flavor, 3 to 4 months is best. This will guarantee that the meatballs are safe to eat, and absolutely delicious too!

To reuse your frozen meatballs, it’s recommended that you allow them to thaw overnight in your fridge before reheating them in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 12-15 minutes. Make sure the meatballs are


piping hot in the middle before serving. Unfortunately, eating thawed meatballs from the fridge probably isn’t the best idea because of how many temperature changes the meatballs will have gone through, which opens up the door to the potential of harmful bacteria growing at many different stages.

If you haven’t planned ahead though and are now on day 4/5 of your meatballs being in the fridge, then you’ll have no other choice but to throw them out. Freezing the meatballs at this stage won’t kill the harmful bacteria that’s probably already started to form and grow, instead, it’ll just freeze their development. But the moment you defrost them, the bacteria will become active again, and still make you sick.

So, if you don’t think you’ll consume your cooked meatballs quickly, then always plan to freeze them rather than refrigerate them. And if you’ve left it too late, NEVER try to consume them after the safe time period has passed, as this can make you very sick, very quickly.

Should I Be Worried About Bacteria Growth In The Fridge?

All this talk about harmful bacteria might make you a little worried about how safe your cold cooked meatballs are in the fridge, but don’t be. Keeping cooked meatballs in the fridge is perfectly safe, because it keeps them cool enough to prevent them from developing bacteria. The USDA says the danger zone for bacteria growth is between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Since most refrigerators range between 33 and 39 degrees Fahrenheit, you know the meatballs are being kept safely.

The reason consuming meatballs after the 3-5 days (beef and pork) or 3-4 days (chicken and turkey) is harmful is more to do with the fact that most cooked meats will spoil in this time, even in the fridge. That’s why the proper storage of your food is important.

Taking a cold cooked meatball from your fridge and consuming it without reheating it is perfectly safe so long as they were cooled quickly, not left out at room temperature for too long, and have not exceeded the safe period of time set out throughout this post. That way, you know there will be no risk of harmful bacteria, and you can enjoy them as a delicious cold treat. And whilst we’re on the subject of delicious cold treats…

Some Crazy Ideas To Eat With Your Cold Meatballs

We’ve been talking about cold meatballs throughout this post as if you’re just going to take them out the fridge and pop them straight in your mouth as a delicious snack. And yes, you could do that, but you have the opportunity to take your delicious cold meatballs and make them extra special, so why wouldn’t you?

The ideas on this list are a little out of the box, but we like it that way. Sure, you can take your cold meatballs and make yourself a delicious sub (and you should try it, because it will be great too), but when you want to try something a little different, head back here because these ideas are anything but ordinary.

Cocktail Party Meatballs

Serving cold meatballs at a cocktail party might sound a little crazy, but it works. Sure, meatballs are a little rustic, but stick a cocktail stick in them and top it with a piece of cheese (or any other topping you desire, really) and you’ve got yourself some fancy schmancy meatballs. Delicious! And all you really need are your cold meatballs, a few cocktail sticks, and the topping you desire to stick on top. An easy to make treat that’s easy to eat too!

Sweet And Sour Meatballs

Making a tomato and herb dipping sauce is a great idea, but it feels so done already, you know? And since we claimed we’d be giving you some crazy ideas in this section, we couldn’t go with a classic tomato dip. So instead, why not create a sweet and sour dipping sauce to mix things up a bit? Trust us, it works, and it’s a delicious treat nobody will have expected from some leftover meatballs from dinner the night before. This works great as an appetizer, and if you’re not sure how to make a sweet and sour dipping sauce, here’s a really quick recipe that just needs mixing together:

  • 5 tablespoons of rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
  • 150ml of pineapple juice
  • 2 tablespoons of ketchup
  • 3 tablespoons of dark brown sugar
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of cornstarch to thicken

It’s simple, but it’ll taste amazing and nobody will expect it.

Festive Twist Meatballs

OK, since we’re putting this post together near the holidays, we couldn’t give you a festive twist meatball, could we? But better yet, this idea is delicious year round, so you don’t just need to wait for the festive season to arrive! All you’ll need are your cold meatballs and a few festive accompaniments.

Stuffing can be kept for 3-4 days in the fridge and can be consumed cold too, so if you just happen to have leftover meatballs and leftover stuffing, then you’re already on to a winner! Serve it with a cranberry dipping sauce, and you’ve taken your leftover meatballs and gave them a fun, festive twist that everyone can enjoy!

Spicy Asian Meatballs

Our last suggestion before we leave is spicy Asian meatballs. We love the idea of taking something that would usually be found in an Italian dish or at a deli and making it something else entirely. The meatballs themselves don’t need to be spicy for this idea, all you’ll need are some spicy accompaniments to make your meatballs taste like something entirely different. Serve your cold meatballs with some fresh chopped chillis and scallions and whip up a spicy Asian dipping sauce. We have two suggestions, one spicy, and one not for

those of you who prefer Asian flavors without the heat.

For the spicy Asian sauce you’ll just need:

  • 100ml water
  • 3 tablespoons of fish sauce
  • 3 tablespoons of rice vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons of caster sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of grated, fresh ginger 2 large hot chillis
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 1 teaspoon of light soy sauce

NOTE: Simmering the sugar, fish sauce, vinegar, water, and ginger for 4 minutes will allow the flavors to combine. Allow it to cool before adding the last ingredients.

For a not-so spicy Asian dipping sauce you’ll need:

  • 1 minced spring onion
  • 1/4 teaspoon of minced ginger 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 4 tablespoons of dark soy sauce 1/2 teaspoon of sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon of water
  • 2 tablespoons of hoisin sauce 1/2 teaspoon of caster sugar

Whichever sauce you serve your cold meatballs with, a fusion of Italian and Asian cuisine is ALWAYS going to go down well!

Take-Home Message

The important thing to remember is that meatballs can be enjoyed cold from the fridge, but only if they’ve been handled in the correct way. They should be thoroughly cooked, and only left out at room temperature for between 1 and 2 hours, depending on how warm a day it is. The meatballs should then be stored in the fridge and consumed within 3 days to guarantee food safety and food quality! How you decide to enjoy your cold meatballs? Well, that’s up to you, but we’d definitely recommend doing something a little different. After all, food adventures are what life’s all about!

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