Meatballs in Marinara Sauce is a classic dish that everyone loves. It is easy to make, delicious, and versatile.

You can serve it with pasta, bread, salad, or any side dish you prefer. The secret to this recipe is the homemade marinara sauce, made with sweet San Marzano tomatoes, onion, garlic, oregano, basil, balsamic vinegar, and butter.

The sauce is thick, rich, and chunky, perfect for holding tender meatballs that are made with ground beef, ground veal, onion, garlic, parmesan, oregano, parsley, and bread crumbs. The meatballs are baked in the oven and then simmered in the sauce for a flavorful and satisfying meal.

What Ingredients Are Needed?

To make meatballs in marinara sauce, you will need the following ingredients:

For the Meatballs

  • 1 pound of ground beef chuck
  • 1/2 pound of ground veal (or pork)
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1/4 cup of finely chopped onion
  • 2 cloves of minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon of chili flakes
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs (optional for gluten-free version)
  • Salt and black pepper to taste

For the Marinara Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1/4 cup of finely chopped onion
  • 2 cloves of minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon of chili flakes
  • 1 28-ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
  • 1/4 cup of chopped basil
  • 2 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • Salt and black pepper to taste

Alternative Version

For a dairy-free and gluten-free version, you can use lean ground beef (or turkey) instead of the beef chuck and veal (or pork), and fresh herbs as a binder instead of breadcrumbs. You can also omit the parmesan cheese and butter, and add some crushed red pepper flakes for a spicy version.

Preparation of Meatballs

How to Make Perfect Meatballs

To prepare the meatballs, follow these steps.

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, ground veal, olive oil, onion, garlic, chili flakes, eggs, parmesan cheese, oregano, parsley, breadcrumbs, salt, and pepper. Mix well with your hands until well combined.
  3. Shape the mixture into 24 equal-sized balls and place them on the prepared baking sheet. You can use a cookie scoop or a tablespoon to measure the size.
  4. Bake the meatballs for 20 minutes, turning them halfway through, until they are browned and cooked through.
  5. Transfer the meatballs to a large skillet or pot with the marinara sauce and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thickened and the meatballs are coated.

Here are some suggestions for achieving soft and tender meatballs.

  • Use a combination of ground beef and ground veal (or pork) for more flavor and moisture.
  • Add some olive oil to the meat mixture to prevent it from drying out.
  • Do not overmix the meat mixture or the meatballs will become tough and dense.
  • Use a gentle touch when shaping the meatballs and do not pack them too tightly.
  • Bake the meatballs in the oven instead of frying them to avoid excess oil and grease.

Marinara Sauce

How to make best marinara sauce

To make the homemade marinara sauce, follow these instructions:

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, and chili flakes and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and golden.
  2. Add the tomatoes, oregano, basil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thick and chunky.
  3. Stir in the butter and taste for seasoning. Adjust as needed.

Here are a few helpful suggestions on preparing the sauce ahead of time and freezing alternatives.

  • You can make the sauce up to 3 days ahead and store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
  • You can also freeze the sauce for up to 3 months in freezer-safe containers or ziplock bags. Thaw the sauce in the refrigerator overnight before reheating it on the stove or in the microwave.
  • To reheat the sauce, bring it to a gentle simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until heated through.

Here are some alternatives catering to various dietary needs like dairy-free and gluten-free.

  • For a dairy-free version, omit the butter and use vegan butter or olive oil instead.
  • For a gluten-free version, use gluten-free balsamic vinegar or apple cider vinegar instead.

Cooking and Serving

How to make pasta in marinara sauce with meatballs

To prepare and enjoy the meatballs in marinara sauce, follow these instructions.

Cooking the Meatballs in Sauce

  1. In a large skillet or pot, mix the meatballs with the marinara sauce.
  2. Heat the mixture over medium-low heat until it simmers.
  3. Let it cook for about 10 minutes, stirring now and then. The sauce should thicken, and the meatballs should be well-coated.

Adding Flavor

Enhance the taste by sprinkling freshly grated parmesan cheese and chili powder or flakes over the meatballs and sauce.

Serving Suggestions

How to serve meatballs in marinara sauce

Roasted Garlic Cheese bread

  • Cut a French bread loaf into slices.
  • Spread butter and minced garlic on each slice, then top with shredded mozzarella cheese.
  • Bake until the cheese is golden and bubbly.


  • Prepare your preferred pasta as per the package instructions.
  • Toss it with olive oil and a pinch of salt.
  • Serve the pasta with the meatballs and sauce either on top or on the side.


  • Spiralize some zucchini and lightly sauté in olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper, until tender.
  • Place the zoodles in a dish and top with the meatballs and sauce.

Side Salad

  • Combine mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, olives, and feta cheese.
  • Dress the salad with balsamic vinaigrette or a mix of lemon juice and olive oil.
  • Serve alongside the meatballs and sauce.


Can I make the meatballs without eggs for a vegan version?

Yes, for a vegan version, you can substitute eggs with a vegan binder like a flaxseed meal or a commercial egg replacer.

Is there a substitute for San Marzano tomatoes in the marinara sauce?

If San Marzano tomatoes are unavailable, you can use any high-quality canned plum tomatoes as a substitute.

How can I ensure the meatballs don’t fall apart while cooking?

To prevent the meatballs from falling apart, make sure they are well-combined and compacted. Also, let them bake fully in the oven before simmering in the sauce.

Can I make the meatballs and sauce ahead of time for a party?

Absolutely! Both the meatballs and sauce can be prepared ahead of time. Store them in the refrigerator and reheat before serving.

What are some low-carb alternatives to serving the meatballs with pasta?

For a low-carb option, serve the meatballs with zoodles (zucchini noodles), spaghetti squash, or a side of steamed vegetables.

How can I adjust the recipe to make it spicier?

To add more heat to the dish, increase the amount of chili flakes in the sauce or add a pinch of cayenne pepper to the meatball mixture.

Final Words

Meatballs in Marinara Sauce is a timeless, beloved dish that’s both easy to make and delightfully versatile. This classic recipe, perfect for any meal, becomes extraordinary with homemade marinara sauce.

The sauce’s rich flavor comes from sweet San Marzano tomatoes, onions, garlic, oregano, basil, balsamic vinegar, and butter, creating a thick and chunky base ideal for the tender meatballs. These meatballs, a blend of ground beef, veal, onions, garlic, parmesan, herbs, and breadcrumbs, are oven-baked to perfection before being simmered in the sauce.

The result is a flavorful, satisfying meal that can be served with pasta, bread, salad, or as a standalone dish, adaptable to various dietary needs including dairy-free and gluten-free options.