Grandpa's Spaghetti & Meatballs are the ultimate comfort food! These savory Italian meatballs combine ground beef and Italian sausage, baked and then simmered in a rustic tomato sauce. Perfect to top spaghetti, but also great in meatball subs! Homemade with love, Grandpa's meatballs are a crowd pleaser every time!
Grandpa's Famous Meatballs
A great shift in time happens when you and your husband become Mom and Dad, you start calling your own parents Grandma and Grandpa, and your own grandparents are only in your memory. When I say Grandpa's Spaghetti & Meatballs, I mean my dad.
My dad can really cook, and beyond that, he is amazing at cooking exceptional food for a big crowd. Anytime his kids and grandkids get together, we are a big crowd and we are always well fed!
He grills filets of salmon for 20 people, makes beef bourguignon, lobster tails and crab cakes on Christmas Eve. He makes amazing bean soup and racks of ribs, always with the details like homemade salad dressing, all while running a mini bar with made-to-order cocktails. My mom is always in the mix, they make a great cooking team.
I don't remember him always making his now-famous meatballs. I think they really gained their popularity when my 4 nephews started hitting the teenage years. Sometimes my dad would make a full meal for all of us AND make a batch of homemade meatballs, just for an appetizer for the boys.
Now joined by my two, these kids sure can eat! And they love Grandpa's Meatballs. These are considered his fast and simple, not fussy, no frills meatballs in marinara sauce, that can be prepped in just 30 minutes. He is the also the one responsible for carrying on our family's Norwegian Meatballs with Lefse recipe!
Ingredients and Substitutions
For the Meatballs
- Beef and Italian Sausage - These beef and pork sausage meatballs are already heavily flavored before adding a thing! You can use regular ground pork, but Italian sausage really adds tremendous flavor.
- Eggs - Eggs serve as the binder, holding the meatballs together.
- Panko Breadcrumbs - Breadcrumbs give the meatballs the right texture. If you don't have panko, really any slice of bread will do, you can chop it into cubes and crumble it with your fingers. A bun pulled from the freezer can also make quick breadcrumbs in a pinch!
- Parmesan Cheese - I never realized how important Parmesan cheese was in meatballs until I forgot it once. What a difference! The cheese makes for tender, juicy, melt in your mouth meatballs! I always think buying a block of Parmesan and grating it yourself is the best quality.
- Salt, Pepper and Spices - We're making these meatballs super quick and easy with garlic and onion powder, no chopping involved for lots of Italian flavor!
- Milk - Milk in meatballs gives them moisture and makes them super tender.
- Parsley - A bit of chopped herbs gives you fresh flavor and those lovely green specs throughout your meatballs.
For the Sauce
- Crushed Tomatoes - Grandpa will always say, San Marzano's are the best! You can also use 1 can of crushed and 1 can of Whole Peeled tomatoes, either squeezed by hand, chopped, or pulsed in a food processor.
- Tomato Paste - Thickens the sauce.
- Salt, Pepper and Spices - This is a super basic sauce with super basic spices, and NO chopping!
- Olive Oil
These beef and Italian pork sausage meatballs are quick and easy to prep. For the meatballs, simply mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl with your hands. Hands are really the best tool to get everything well incorporated. Form them into golfball-sized meatballs on a sheet pan. A portion scoop (ice cream scoop) works well to get them all the same size. Then bake them in the oven about 15 to 20 minutes while you make the sauce.
The tomato marinara sauce too is very simple and no chopping is involved! It only takes a few minutes to put together, just combine all the ingredients in a large dutch oven or soup pot. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, then reduce heat to low and cover.
Let the sauce simmer at least an hour, adding in the meatballs and their drippings when they are done baking. You can cut one open to check that it's cooked through before adding them to the sauce to simmer.
After it simmers an hour, the sauce can sit on low on the stove until the crowd is ready to eat. Boil spaghetti and serve with lots of Parmesan cheese!
Storage and Make Ahead Instructions
Storage - Leftover Spaghetti and Meatballs can be stored in a single serving portion in the fridge and microwaved for lunch within 3 or 4 days. The sauce can also be refrigerated separately and will keep up to 5 days.
Freezer - Freezing Spaghetti and Meatballs is easy and can be done in different stages of the meatball making process! First, meatballs can be frozen raw. That means you can make a double batch and freeze extras to cook later. Second, you can also freeze just the meatballs cooked. At this point you can use them in any recipe or with different sauces. Finally, you can freeze the finished sauce with the meatballs in it in any size containers. It is always best to cool completely in the fridge first before freezing. Any of these methods will keep in the freezer for 6 months, and can be thawed overnight in the fridge. Leftover cooked spaghetti does not freeze well.
Make Ahead - A pot of the cooked meatballs in their sauce can be made ahead of time, refrigerated, and reheated on the stove. You can do this is 2 ways. You can complete the whole recipe, simmering the sauce for an hour and then cool it. Or, you can cook the meatballs, add all the ingredients for the sauce, including the cooked meatballs and refrigerate without simmering. Then you would need to simmer the whole thing for an hour before serving.
Grandpa often pre-makes this recipe ahead of time over the holidays when there are lots of busy meals in a row and a house full of people!
What to Serve with Spaghetti & Meatballs
These meatballs are perfect with the classic spaghetti, but also are great served as meatball subs on hoagie buns with melted provolone cheese! I always serve spaghetti with a big green salad like this Pear and Blue Cheese Salad, especially around the holidays, and some crusty garlic bread.
If you love all things pasta with red sauce, check out these other recipes!
- Mom's Homemade Spaghetti
- Baked Tortellini with Italian Sausage
- Italian Sausage Bolognese
- Meatball Subs
- Italian Sausage Gnocchi with Tomatoes and Spinach
The Hidden Veggie Option
This is not part of the recipe, but often with kid friendly dinners, I take the opportunity to add hidden veggies. This is a perfect recipe for that! In a food processor, puree any veggies you like such as onion, celery, bell pepper, zucchini, or carrot until ground to a pulp. Add them to the hot pot with some olive oil to saute. Then add all the other sauce ingredients and simmer the full hour, adding the meatballs when they're ready. No one will know they are in there! Now my Dad would NEVER do this, grandparents have the luxury of not worrying about how many veggies our kids are eating like parents do!
No. You can either substitute a gluten free breadcrumb or make your own breadcrumbs by chopping and crumbling gluten free bread. To make meatballs without breadcrumbs, you can substitute crumbled gluten free crackers or use regular rolled oats.
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Grandpa's Spaghetti and Meatballs
For the Meatballs
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 pound ground Italian sausage
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
- 1 cup Parmesan cheese shredded
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 8 grinds fresh black pepper
- ½ cup milk
- ¼ cup parsley chopped
For the Sauce
- 2 28oz cans crushed tomatoes whole peeled (broken up, either squeezed by hand or chopped) San Marzano are best!
- 1 28oz can water
- 1 12oz can tomato paste
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 8 grinds fresh black pepper
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 pound spaghetti or more, depending on number of people
- Parmesan cheese for serving
- Preheat oven to 400° convection bake.
- Mix all ingredients for the meatballs in a large bowl. Mix thoroughly, use your hands! Roll into balls and place on a sheet pan. Makes 16 to 20 golf ball sized meatballs, a portion scoop works great to get a consistent size.
- Bake at 400° convection bake for 15 to 20 minutes. You can cut one open to see if it's done.
- Meanwhile, while the meatballs are baking, combine all ingredients for the sauce in a large pot or dutch oven. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, then lower heat to low, cover, and simmer 1 hour. Add the cooked meatballs when they are done, along with the drippings from the sheet pan to simmer along with the sauce.
- Serve over spaghetti with Parmesan cheese.
- Meatballs can also be frozen raw, cooked, or together in the sauce.
- Meatballs are also perfect for meatball subs on hoagie buns baked with provolone cheese!