Make-Ahead Meatballs for Big Batch Cooking

Everyone has them. There are days that we simply don't have the time or inclination to prepare a home-cooked meal. 

The advantages to home-cooked meals are many. Usually they are healthier, less expensive and tastier. On the downside they take time and require clean-up. 

Over the years I've figured out a few ways to have a home-cooked meal without a big investment in time for each meal. (Sorry, I haven't figured out how to eliminate the clean-up.) One of the best ways is to make-ahead meals (or meal starters) by creating big batch recipes and freezing portions for later. In other words, the freezer is your friend.

Take these meatballs for instance. One day when I did have the time and inclination I made a big batch. I served perhaps a third of them that evening with a cream gravy (see above) and placed the rest in the freezer. Now I have some options. On a day when time or inclination runs short, I can fix a repeat of meatballs with the cream gravy. Or I can cover with marianna sauce and serve them with spaghetti or on a sub sandwich with mozzarella cheese. Another option when there is more time would be to make barbecue meatballs and serve them with baked potatoes or use them as an hor d'oeurves. I think they would be fine served plain without a sauce as well. 

Let me show you how to make these lovely meatballs using very basic ingredients.

Make-Ahead Meatballs

3 pounds lean hamburger (sometimes I replace a pound of hamburger with ground pork)
1 cup quick oatmeal
1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
2 eggs
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley (optional)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder

Place ingredients in bowl and mix together. I usually start with a fork and end up using my hands. It would probably be wise to beat up your eggs before adding to the rest of the ingredients but obviously I didn't do that. Be gentle and mix only until all ingredients are incorporated.  

 Using a teaspoon scoop up a portion of the mixture and form into 1 1/2 inch balls. You may have a cookie scoop (I don't) which would work perfect for this. You may want to make your meatballs larger or smaller than this and that should work fine as long as you adjust the cooking times accordingly. If you are freezing some of your meatballs, see directions below. 

My preferred method to cook the meatballs is to steam them. Place the desired number of meatballs into a heavy skillet and add about 1/4 inch of water. Cover and cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes (20-30 minutes if frozen).  
Using a spatula, check the meatballs to see if the are browning underneath. If so, turn the meatballs carefully and allow to continue cooking without the lid until the water has evaporated. The meatballs should be done, but if you are unsure, open up one to check. Remove meatballs from skillet. I use the drippings to make cream gravy, but if you are topping with marianna or barbecue sauce you may wish to drain the drippings. Add desired sauce or gravy. Return meatballs to the pan and heat through. Serve immediately. 

 To freeze meatballs: Place meatballs on a tray lined with plastic wrap. Place in freezer until frozen. Put frozen meatballs into freezer bags and seal. Use within 3 months. 

Some people prefer to cook their meatballs before freezing. That would work fine with these meatballs as well. Also some people prefer to cook their meatballs by baking them in a 350 degree oven for 20-30 minutes. If you are making barbecue meatballs I think this would be the best method.  If you are freezing cooked meatballs, I think it would be simpler to bake them rather than steam them. 

Quick Cream Gravy
(Enough for about 1/3 of the meatball recipe)

2 tablespoons pan drippings or butter
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon paprika (optional)
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 cups beef or chicken stock
1/4 cup heavy cream or sour cream

Drain extra drippings or melt butter in skillet. Add flour and stir until combined. Gradually add beef or chicken stock. Heat until thickened. Add heavy cream or sour cream and stir together. Add meatballs and heat through. Serve immediately. 


  1. This is a good idea to have on hand in the freezer for a meal when all the kids are home for the holidays. Thanks for sharing.


    1. Best part of the holidays is when all the kids are home! And it's true--you want to serve good food, but not spend all of your precious time cooking


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