Meatball Subs


First of all, we need to announce the winner of the Plum Organics iPad Mini giveaway! The winner is #333, Brittany, who said, “I love tight hugs from my toddler. Her chubby, soft little arms are the best part of my day!” Congrats, Brittany–we’ve sent you an email, so please get back to us ASAP! 🙂

So we have this recipe for Italian meatballs, and it’s awesome and I love it and it will always hold a special place in my heart. But we’re a non-committed relationship. Sometimes I eat other meatballs. I’m not ashamed. It’s okay.

I’ve never been the biggest fan of meatball subs. I think it has something to do with a few bad experiences combined with eating them at places where they’re kind of an afterthought, but I always felt a little underwhelmed. But then last summer when I was at the very end of my pregnancy (it may have actually been the last Sunday before Baby Willbo was born), I was kind of having a hunger/blood sugar crisis. It was Father’s Day and someone was making meatball subs in the church kitchen and they took mercy on me and let me have a little meatball slider. And it was so good. Game-changing for me in the world of meatball subs.

I could never successfully re-create the recipe she gave me, but then last month, I stumbled across this recipe in Food Network Magazine. There were things that were intriguing (um, the sheer amount of garlic involved was enough to sell me, but throw in ricotta cheese and I knew I had to make them), but there were other things, at first glance, I knew I’d need to change, and there were other things I discovered I wanted to change as I made them (3 times in a 10-day period. Turns out these are a perfect thing to take to families that need meals). I don’t normally go through and explain every change I make when I alter or adapt a recipe, but I felt like a few changes were noteworthy, so, if you’re interested, this is what I changed.

*Whoever said that active prep time is 10 minutes and the cook time is 30 minutes is a liar. Even if they made the sauce as it was originally written. No. Freaking. Way. Maybe if you have all the ingredients prepped, but since most of us don’t have commercial kitchens or prep chefs, that number is way off.

*I changed the sauce altogether. I didn’t feel like there was enough going on in the sauce recipe as it was written.

*I swapped out the fresh onion for dehydrated onion; after making many, many meatballs in my days, I’ve found this keeps the meatballs easy to work with without adding unnecessary filler to bind them together.

*I added fresh oregano to the meatballs.

*I swapped out the plain panko bread crumbs for Italian-seasoned panko. I have, like, 6 boxes of Italian panko in my cupboards because when I’m down to the wire and worried about something we might NEED in a zombie apocalypse, apparently that happens to be Italian panko. I also cut down the amount from 1 cup to 2/3; 1 cup would have made them super dry.

*I cut WAY down on the salt; the original recipe called for 2 tablespoons of kosher salt and even when I was making it the first time, I could NOT imagine how 2 tablespoons would be okay. I cut it down to 1 and it was still too salty. Come to find out it was a typo in the magazine and it should have been 2 teaspoons all along. I think the problem was that this recipe was adapted from a restaurant and this measurement may not have been reduced correctly, but 2 tablespoons would have been inedible.

These ended up being a HUGE hit and joined the ranks of maybe 1 other recipe that everyone in my family will willingly eat and not complain about. Not too shabby, right?

For the sauce, you’re going to need extra-virgin olive oil, a chopped onion, minced garlic, 2 28-ounce cans of crushed tomatoes, fresh basil, fresh parsley, fresh thyme, Italian seasoning, sugar, baking soda, and red pepper flakes. If you want to kick it up a notch, find a chunk of Parmesan cheese that’s all hard and dry and icky and that you wouldn’t use otherwise and cut off a 1-2″ chunk.



To make the sauce, heat the olive oil a large saucepan or skillet over medium heat. When it’s hot, add the chopped garlic and onions and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent and the garlic is fragrant. Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, fresh basil, parsley, thyme, Italian seasoning, sugar, baking soda, red pepper flakes, and the Parmesan cheese rind (if using). Bring to a simmer and then reduce heat to low and cover, stirring occasionally (you’ll just let it simmer until the meatballs are ready; if, for whatever reason, the meatballs are ready when you put the sauce together, you’ll want it to simmer for about 20-30 minutes before adding the meatballs).

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray lightly with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside. Heat your oven to 425.

To make the meatballs, you’ll need lean ground beef, spicy pork sausage, dehydrated onion, minced garlic (1/4 cup! Hello, lover!), fresh thyme, fresh parsley, fresh oregano, an egg, grated fresh Parmesan, Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs, ricotta cheese, and kosher salt.

meatball ingredients

Combine all the ingredients except for the provolone/mozzarella and the rolls.

making meatballs

Using a tablespoon measuring spoon or cookie scoop, scoop the meat mixture out by heaping tablespoons-full and form them into meatballs. Place the uncooked meatballs on the baking sheet.

meatballs on the pan

Bake for 10-15 minutes or until browned (they will not be cooked through). Remove from the oven and transfer the meatballs to the sauce. Simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the meatballs are cooked through.

To serve, place the meatballs on your bread of choice. Top with sauce, Parmesan (the powdery stuff in the green can is actually kind of amazing right here, right now), mozzarella or provolone, and chopped fresh Italian parsley. Makes…a lot. Probably in the neighborhood of 40 meatballs.

Meatball Subs from Our Best Bites


Sara Wells
Meet The Author

Sara Wells

Sara Wells co-founded Our Best Bites in 2008. She is the author of three Bestselling Cook Books, Best Bites: 150 Family Favorite RecipesSavoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites, and 400 Calories or Less from Our Best Bites. Sara’s work has been featured in many local and national news outlets and publications such as Parenting MagazineBetter Homes & GardensFine CookingThe Rachel Ray Show and the New York Times.

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Questions & Reviews

  1. Holy cow; this knocked our socks off! I left out the baking soda and used 2 14.5 ounce cans of Italian diced tomatoes in place of 1 of the cans of crushed tomatoes. Everything about this meal was amazing (my husband and nephew both agreed these were the best meatball subs ever and can’t wait to eat the leftovers!) Thanks for the recipe, Kate!

  2. So excited to make this! Quick question….do I add the 8oz. can of tomato sauce at the same time as the crushed tomatoes? Thanks!

  3. I have been making meatballs for years and everytime I make them they are different. I have never followed a recipe for my meatballs or meatloaf probably why they are always different. I also have a difficult time with the consistancy and getting them to stick together without making my sauce a meat sauce. Oh my Italian grandparents are rolling over right now.
    Well in my house full 7 people of which 6 are very picky eaters this recipe won 5 thumbs (my 7 year old has decided she doesn’t like red meat any more) she ate them though, I think she doesn’t want me to know she liked them but, after her 5th meatball i think it’s all over for her and her ban on red meat.
    We had them with pasta and salad last week and tonight we are having them in sub form since we have a busy night.
    YEAH, my 11 yo asked when I could get another recipe to “try out” and could he do it this time, he loves to cook so glad I found your site! Thanks for helping freshen up our menu!

    1. I’m so glad to hear it! My picky-eating red meat-hater loves these, too! 🙂

  4. I grew up with my parents owning a pizzeria and their meatball subs were incredible. I’m always hesitant to order anywhere else now. Maybe I should start making my own? 🙂

    These sound and look amazing!! I love the addition of ricotta to the meatballs!

  5. We had these last night for dinner and they were absolutely delicious!!! I didn’t have fresh herbs so I used the T fresh to tsp dried herb ratio and used dried herbs instead. I made everything the night before and put it in the refrigerator overnight so all those yummy flavors could get friendly with each other since I used dried. Reheated everything on the stove and then made the sandwiches under the broiler and they were divine! Thank you for another wonderful recipe!

  6. This looks like a great recipe! My mother-in-law is Italian and she always puts ricotta in her meatballs/Italian meatloaf! In fact, when I first started dating my guy I had to spend several Sundays in his Mother’s kitchen learning the way ‘she did it’ so that I could make them ‘the right way’ for him.

  7. I feel the same way about meatballs and meatball subs. I love eating meatball subs on garlic bread.
    I made this same recipe from food network magazine and my only complaint about the meatballs was there was too much oregano but overall they were very good as is. The addition of the ricotta made them so yummy! The sauce was a little plain for me so I would kick it up next time around.
    I like the way your variations look and I will try your recipe next time around. Love your website 🙂

  8. You and I must be on the same brainwave! I wanted a meatball sub bad a couple of days ago and I had to make up my own. We just finished them off for lunch. I love the idea of ricotta in the meatballs, that is genius! I also used the “homemade” hotdog buns from the bakery at Wal-mart cause I didn’t want too much/too little bread and they were pretty darn good. I broiled the buns for just a minute under the broiler, put on the meatballs and a bit of sauce and mozzarella cheese along with some leaves of basil and parsley from the garden, and broiled it for a few more minutes until the cheese was melty. Awesome! Next time I’m trying this recipe.

  9. I LOVE meatballs and this looks so good! Will definitely be making this sometime. I have a question about the sauce. What is the baking soda for?

    1. It helps take a little bit of the acidic edge off. I learned that trick from my brother-in-law who used to live in Italy. 🙂

  10. I read the whole blog, so I got that the kosher salt in the meatballs should be 1 1/2 teaspoons, but the printable recipe just says “1 1/2 kosher salt” in case you want to change it. You are awesome and I appreciate your sharing your knowledge and experience with others! Have a great day!

  11. Looks delist! One question though, in the picture there is also a can of tomato sauce, is that part of the recipe? I can’t see it anywhere, but don’t want to leave it out of its needed.


  12. The addition of ricotta cheese to the meatballs has thrown this Italian for a loop! For research’s sake, I plan to try it although I will adjust the recipe to include my own Italian bread crumbs ( which I have been making for over 40 years. I always have a big bowl of these bread crumbs in my fridge as it’s my go-to for Italian cutlets, eggplant parmigiana, baked stuffed shrimp, and of course meatballs. It keeps well in the fridge and I make a fresh batch as soon as the old one is used up. It makes making meatballs a snap since all I have to do is add an egg to one pound of beef along with 3/4 to 1 cup of the seasoned bread crumbs which includes fresh garlic, fresh parsley, and freshly grated Romano cheese which is what I grew up with. Oh, I’ve just made myself so hungry!

  13. Wondering what would be the best way to freeze these. Maybe freeze meatballs in the sauce after cooking?

    1. I would put each meatball on a cookie sheet and freeze them individually. It won’t take long in the freezer. Then you could put them in a freezer bag. That way if you don’t want red sauce on the meatballs you have them. Say for example Swedish meatballs or Hawaiian meatballs.