Italian sausage meatballs are the perfect way to change up your meatball game! These simple meatballs get their rich flavor from Italian sausage, garlic, Pecorino Romano cheese, and breadcrumbs. Baked in the oven, these meatballs are perfect when paired with a simple marinara sauce, a side of pasta, and plenty of grated Pecorino Romano cheese.
Meatballs are one of the quintessential Italian-American Sunday sauce staples, as are braciole, pork ribs, and sausage.
And just every now and then you combine two of these to make one really spectacular creation.
And that is how these Sunday sauce-inspired sausage meatballs came to be.
The best part might be the reactions you'll notice when you serve these.
I love seeing the delight on my kids' faces when they thought they were biting into a regular meatball but instead were surprised with that wonderful sausage flavor.
These Italian sausage meatballs are the perfect changeup because who doesn't enjoy a little surprise every now and then?
How to make sausage meatballs
Each number corresponds to the numbered written steps below.
- Preheat your oven to 375f and set the rack to the middle level. In a large mixing bowl combine 2 pounds of bulk Italian sausage, 3 cloves of grated garlic, 1 cup of grated Pecorino Romano, 1 ½ cups of breadcrumbs, ¼ cup milk, ¼ cup minced parsley, 3 eggs, ½ teaspoon kosher salt, and a ½ teaspoon of black pepper. Mix well to rehydrate the breadcrumbs with the egg and milk. Note: Feel free to use fresh breadcrumbs. If doing so wet them with milk or water and squeeze out the excess prior to using. For store-bought breadcrumbs, the milk and egg should coat and saturate the breadcrumbs to help rehydrate and take some of the dryness out of them.
- If the mix seems too wet and will not form a sausage meatball that will hold its shape, add a bit more dry breadcrumbs (~¼ cup or so) and mix again.
- Once satisfied, set up a bowl of water next to the bowl of the sausage meatball mix. Dip hands into the water and roll a golf ball size meatball. Place all of the sausage meatballs onto a wire rack lined baking sheet. Note: The water helps keep the mix off your hands and facilitates an easier rolling process.
- Bake the sausage meatballs until they reach an internal temperature of 160-165f. Depending on the exact size rolled, they should take anywhere from 20-30 minutes. For accuracy, use an Instant-read thermometer, or just cut one open to see if they are done.
- Place the meatballs into a simmering pot of marinara sauce. The cooking time will help soften the sausage meatballs, but it's not required. In fact, they are great straight out of the oven. If you have the time, I still do recommend about 30 to even 60 minutes in the sauce. The sauce will take on the flavor of the sausage improving the flavor of the overall dish.
- Finish the meatballs with a ¼ cup of hand-torn basil. Serve with grated Pecorino Romano and crusty bread to mop up the sauce. Rigatoni or any pasta you like can be used to create a larger meal.
Note: Leftovers can be saved for up to 3 days in the refrigerator or can be frozen for three months. I'll often triple this recipe and save ⅔'s in the freezer for use at a later date. When ready to use, simply reheat in the sauce of your choice over moderate heat on the stovetop.
Variations and ideas
- The sausage - For this particular recipe, I used sweet Italian fennel sausage. If you prefer to use hot Italian sausage, that would work just as well. If you're lucky enough to live near an Italian pork store, like A&S in Massapequa, New York, you can use any of their special sausages, like their broccoli rabe sausage, that would be great as well. You'd just need to remove those from the casing or ask them if you can buy the sausage in bulk.
- The sauce - For purposes of this recipe, I served the meatballs with a simple marinara sauce. You can also achieve very similar results with a Sunday-style sauce.
- For other dishes - You can cut up the sausage meatballs or make them much smaller and use them for lasagna or baked ziti. Delicious!
- Variations - If you're in the mood for something other than tomato sauce, skip the marinara and serve these as a side for fettuccine alfredo or with garlicky broccoli rabe and melted mozzarella on a hero!
More great meatball recipes (and sausage too!)
If you're looking for more ways to change up your meatball game, check out these options. Also included are some of our favorite sausage recipes. Enjoy!
- Sicilian-style meatballs - Tender meatballs with raisins, pine nuts, and Pecorino Romano.
- Turkey meatballs - Tender, juicy, and bursting with flavor!
- Eggplant meatballs - Polpette di melanzane is the perfect meatless option!
- Mushroom meatballs - Meaty portobello mushrooms are used for this meatless version.
- Italian wedding soup - Tiny turkey meatballs and acini di pepe are the stars of this classic soup.
- Italian sausage pasta - Sausage, cream, and pappardelle - perfection!
- Sausage and peppers - The classic NY-style festival food.
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- 2 pounds bulk Italian sausage or sausage removed from casings
- 3 cloves garlic grated
- 1 cup Pecorino Romano cheese grated
- 1 ½ cups breadcrumbs plus possibly extra, see notes
- ¼ cup milk
- 3 large eggs
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ cup parsley minced
- 6 cups marinara sauce see notes below
- ¼ cup basil hand torn
- Preheat oven to 375f and set the rack to the middle level.
- In a large mixing bowl combine sausage, garlic, Pecorino Romano, breadcrumbs, milk, parsley, eggs, salt, and pepper. Mix well to hydrate the breadcrumbs with the egg and milk.
- Roll approximately golf ball size meatballs. To prevent sticking, dip hands into a small bowl of water between rolling each meatball.
- Place the meatballs on a sheet pan with a wire rack and bake for approximately 25 minutes or until the internal temperature of the center of the meatball reaches 165f.
- The meatballs can be served right away with marinara sauce or braised in the sauce on medium heat for about 30 minutes to soften and flavor the sauce.
- Before serving hand tear the basil and serve with more Pecorino Romano cheese. Enjoy!
- This recipe only calls for a ½ teaspoon of salt due to the inherent saltiness of bulk sausage and the addition of Pecorino Romano cheese. Different sausage brands will have more or less sodium, so keep that in mind and make a note for the next time you make the recipe.
- If the meatball mix is too wet add a bit more dry breadcrumbs to thicken the mix. The meatballs should hold their shape when rolled and placed on the wire rack.
- Use this Sunday sauce or marinara sauce recipe. Or make your own!
- Leftovers can be saved for up to 3 days or frozen for 3 months. Reheat in sauce over moderate heat on the stovetop or in the microwave.
I'm going to try these Friday night for a get together - they sound sooo good.
Hi, Chris - thanks so much! Let us know how it turns out!
Hi Jim. Love your recipes. I’m wondering if I make the meat balls slightly bigger and very gently simmer them in my basic tomato sauce if they’ll be as good?
Hi William, so happy you're enjoying the recipes. Yes, you can definitely make yours slightly larger and simmer in any marinara sauce and they'll be great!
Jim, any suggestions on using an egg substitute? I’m allergic to eggs. Love watching and learning from your videos. Your recipes all sound delicious.
Hi Dottie. I haven't tested either yogurt or ricotta but they both sound like they would work. I think about 3-4 tablespoons of either per egg would be appropriate. Thanks for liking the videos!
Just made these tonight. They were terrific!
One tip: for the salt level, one thing I do it take a bit of the meat mixture and fry it then try it. You can then add more salt if it’s not seasoned enough vs waiting for the entire meatball batch to be done
Glad you enjoyed it and thanks for the comment!