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I tried cooking meatballs as a change to what I usually cook but I found that they didn't stay together when being fried.

I made the meatballs with about 500g of mince, a chopped onion, some herbs and a beaten egg. I then mixed everything up in a mixing bowl and then fried.

After I realised that they weren't saying together when being fried I tried adding another egg, but it still didn't help.

Does anyone have any suggestions as to what I did wrong, or what I could try next time?

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did you mean 500kg or 500g? :) –  lomaxx Jul 13 '10 at 12:34
    
@lomaxx I meant g ;) –  Jacob Jul 13 '10 at 12:51
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12 Answers 12

You might consider a different approach - don't fry them. Drop them (carefully) into a pot of boiling sauce instead. They come out perfectly even, very tender, and more flavourful than frying. Usually the sauce we're talking about is a sweet tomato-based sauce, but it could be anything that's reasonably thick (so that the meatballs don't just fall straight to the bottom).

This sounds counterintuitive to a lot of people - you might think it would be more likely to fall apart this way, but in practice it sets almost immediately because it's suspended and has a much more even heat distribution. When frying, all of the heat comes from the bottom; it's the combination of pressure and weight (gravity) that makes it fall apart.

Perhaps you want the rougher, browned texture of pan-fried meatballs, and that's fine; but I thought I would mention this anyway because I can distinctly remember dozens of guests having come to the family home (this is a family recipe, after all) asking "how are you able to make the meatballs like that?" So if you have a chance, just give it a try; you might be pleasantly surprised.

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+1 this is also a good idea, and can make the sauce more tasty. And means less washing up and makes the whole thing quicker. –  Sam Holder Jul 13 '10 at 15:01
    
I've never heard of this; it sounds really interesting though, and I'd like to try it next time I make meatballs. About how long does it take to cook them this way? –  kecoman Sep 9 '10 at 18:58
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@kecoman: Hard to say as it depends on the meatballs (ingredients, size, etc.), the sauce and how hot it is, etc, but usually 20-30 minutes should take care of it. You don't need to worry about overcooking as much with this method though. –  Aaronut Sep 9 '10 at 23:10
    
This is a good approach, but it doesn't brown the meatballs for the maillard reactant flavors. –  SAJ14SAJ Mar 3 '13 at 12:29
    
@SAJ14SAJ: Correct, it doesn't; it's not supposed to, it's for cooks who want them to come out soft and tender rather than crusty and, well, browned. Maybe it's my upbringing but I don't actually like the toughness of Italian-style meatballs. –  Aaronut Mar 3 '13 at 14:09
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How small was your onion dice? if its too big it can stop the meat sticking together, so try and make it as small as possible. did they hold together when you formed them? You might try to press the balls together as firmly as possible, as if they are not formed tightly enough this can cause them to fall apart.

Be wary of adding too much egg as well as if the mixture becomes too sloppy it won't hold together either. I think 1 egg is plenty for 500g of meat, and perhaps too much especially if there is not any absorbent material to bind to the egg.

You can try adding some breadcrumbs (couple of tablespoons) which when combined with the egg can help to 'glue' the meatballs together. Fine tapioca can be an alternative to breadcrumbs as well. I assume that adding flour might also help (not tried) but this might result in a raw flour taste in the meatballs, so might want to try that first before you serve it up to your guests.

I also try to put the meatballs in the hot oil then immediately give them a gentle toss to coat the outside of all the meatballs with oil as I find this helps to stop them sticking to the pan, which can result in them being torn apart when I try and turn them.

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Flour works when frying your meatballs. However, you have to make sure to not overcoat the meatball. I coat my meatballs in flour and then use a sifter to make sure they're not overcoated. –  Jacob R Jul 13 '10 at 12:33
    
+1 for breadcrumbs –  Julio Sep 9 '10 at 20:24
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I find the main reasons my meatballs fall apart are:

  1. They stick to the pan and pull apart
  2. They're not quite well combined enough.

To help with the sticking to the pan, try to keep them moving in the pan until they firm up a little bit.

To get them to combine better I try to keep the ratio of mince to non-mince ingredients at around 5:1 so for 500g of mince I'd only add 100g of other stuff like onions and breadcrumbs as well as an egg.

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Another tip, although you'll need to adjust cooking times, is to refrigerate them before cooking. This will firm them up a chunk, although they will be colder and take longer to heat up all the way through.

Works well for fishcakes too.

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First, make sure any veggies added to the beef mixture are diced finely. Then instead of frying them bake them at 350 degrees for about 20 to 25 minutes. They are much firmer that way and you won't have to worry about them breaking apart while frying them.

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Sometimes people soak a few slices of bread in water, squeeze out the water and add the mushy bread into the mixture to help keep meatballs from falling apart.

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Use a binder, like a couple of slices of white bread (with the crusts removed) torn into small pieces and then soaked in some buttermilk until it turns into a paste.

In your case, you're also going to want to make sure that the onion pieces aren't too large as they'll cause trouble when trying to get the meat to stick together. Maybe consider substituting onion powder for the chopped onion.

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Another approach is to brown meatballs by roasting them for 15-20 minutes at 450 F or so. This avoids the turning and sticking that are problems in frying. You can then lower the temperature and bake them through, or put them into sauce to complete cooking in a braise.

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Heston Blumenthal recommends generously salting the meat to be used for burgers as it helps it bind the meat together, the same principle would also apply to meatballs.

http://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/entertainment/articles/2011-07/07/gq-food-barbecue-recipe-guide-barbeque-bbq-grill/the-burger-heston-blumenthal-fat-duck

Take the minced meat, add a generous amount of table salt and knead it. By doing this, the salt draws myoglobin from the proteins, then, when you start to cook the burger, it binds with the proteins so, in effect, it acts like glue.

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The only way to prevent your meatballs from falling apart is to add some flour in the precooked seasoned ground beef. once you season the ground beef to your taste, you then add some flour, not too much but at least half of a handful. You then mix all of the ground beef and flour together very well, then start pan fying them and they will stay intact.

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I'm not sure that saying "the only way is..." would be correct. There are a lot of factors that need to be considered. I have used alternatives to flour and had balls that hold together plenty well (breadcrumbs, etc.) and many of the other answers support that theory. –  colejkeene Mar 3 '13 at 1:22
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No cheating necessary, and this always works in our kitchen:

Mix the raw ground meat in your stand mixer with the paddle attachment for a couple of minutes (makes an emulsion). Then proceed as usual. If adding onions, grate them and set the juice aside, then make the meat balls.

This should work even if your meat is extra-lean. Of course, it helps if you use lean ground beef instead of extra-lean. Much of the fat melts into the pan anyway. Also helping the non-sticking issue. But if you're avoiding fat, extra-lean is still doable.

Finally, watch your heat: don't crowd the pan by dumping all the balls in at once (the pan cools down). Add a few at a time and move the pan to roll the meat balls, if once side fries and the other side is raw, they'll fall apart.

Trouble shooting: do not try to pry stuck meat from the pan, it will unstick onces it's fried properly.

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Well I would suggest you mince the whole mixture again. Works everytime for me, just as when making burgers.

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Warning to whoever will try this: the texture changes dramatically. It becomes slightly rubbery, similar to a hot dog sausage. I wouldn't use such a solution. –  rumtscho Mar 22 '13 at 11:27
    
oh! I didn't notice any difference... Will experiment it next time. Thanks. –  Shaima Apr 1 '13 at 5:42
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