The Most Flavorful Meatballs for Your Easy Weeknight Pasta Dinner

I’m going to tell you straight up: I don’t eat or buy store-bought, frozen meatballs. I make my own. I’ve made meatballs professionally (as a Palumbo does) for years in Italian restaurant kitchens. Now, you might think that makes me the worst person to write this ranking, but I would argue it makes me the most qualified. I can tell you, in great detail, what makes a good meatball and what makes a bad one. Don’t worry, I’m not here to punish anybody with annoying food snobbery. I’m actually quite interested in what brands are making meatballs that feel close to the real thing.

So what are we, the Sporked team, looking for in a frozen meatball? Well, we want to taste meat. Too many meatballs out there taste like they’re filled with grain and miscellaneous fodder. Unfortunately, not many of the meatballs we tried tasted like actual beef, pork, or chicken, so the ones that did automatically made our list. Secondly, we’d like a soft, tender meatball. Meatballs shouldn’t be overly dense or tightly packed. Additional flavor notes like herbs and aromatics are fully welcome, too. Good Mythical Morning writer Kalyn French joined us for this taste test as we tried to figure out what meatballs actually deserve to be called meatballs.

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Best of the Best

Kirkland Meatballs

Hallelujah, you can actually taste ground Italian sausage here! There’s delicious pork flavor in every bite of Kirkland meatballs, more so than any other meatball we tested. Quite frankly, Kirkland puts every other meatball to shame with its deliciously fatty, spicy, porky flavor. There’s some noticeable black pepper flavor, and the meatballs are salted well, too. In my opinion, all you really need to make great meatballs are a nice blend of beef and pork, salt, and pepper. Kirkland proves that. These were the closest to homemade meatballs that I’ve experienced from a retail grocery store, so they’re the winner by a wide margin.

Credit: Ryan Martin / Costco

Rating:

9/10

Sporks

Best Trader Joe’s Meatballs

Trader Joe’s Italian Style Meatballs

Trader Joe’s has a bunch of meatball products, but their Italian style is best. There’s this oddly specific, pepper jack cheese flavor here that Kalyn called out, and I can’t stop thinking about it. I’m positive you’ll also taste it. It’s not red pepper flakes, mind you—these meatballs have more of a cheesy, spicy fruitiness that our palates associate with pepper jack cheese. Trader Joe’s Italian Style Meatballs feature beef only (no pork), parmesan cheese, onion, garlic, and spices, and the mellow heat actually works. They’re definitely not the most Italian-tasting things in the world, but they still provide enough flavor to warrant a pickup on your next TJ’s run. Drown them in sauce and you won’t be disappointed.

Credit: Ryan Martin / Sporked Taste Test

Rating:

8/10

Sporks

Best Size

Farm Rich Italian Style Meatballs

These meatballs from Farm Rich are herbaceous and juicy, and they’re a good size to boot. Most of the meatballs on this list fall on the medium-to-small scale, but these actually look like the monster homemade meatballs your grandma makes. This is another beef and pork blend, with some added herbs —either parsley or oregano—to brighten things up. Overall, a pretty good frozen meatball. The added herb flavor ranks these neck and neck with Trader Joe’s.

Ryan Martin / Instacart

Rating:

8/10

Sporks

Best Meatball Sandwich

Rao’s Meatballs & Sauce

These meatballs don’t pack a whole lot of flavor, but, man, the size is great and they’re really soft and tender. They’re made with beef and pork, but in my opinion, there’s too much breadcrumb here and you can’t really taste the meat. That said, these meatballs come in a pool of that delicious, liquid gold that is Rao’s homemade marinara. Pop this tray in the oven or nuke it in the microwave, then nestle the meatballs and sauce  in a hoagie bun or a crusty french baguette to make a delicious meatball sandwich. That’s what these are best for, in my opinion, although there is enough sauce in the package for a serving or two of pasta. Rao’s misses on these a bit, but the convenience of meatballs in sauce is too good to ignore.

Ryan Martin / Target

Rating:

7.5/10

Sporks

Best Swedish Meatball

Ikea Chicken Meatballs

Man, I really like these even though they feel like some sort of Frankenstein monstrosity. They’re so…bouncy, and nothing here really tastes like chicken. But, they’re also incredibly juicy and salty. I could see myself eating 6-78 of these things in a single sitting. They’re just excellent junk food. The texture gets me the most. It’s homogenous and soft, almost like Southern Chinese fish balls. In that way, it makes me think of soup. I would absolutely throw these into a chicken noodle stew or a wedding soup or just any hot broth, really. I have no idea what Ikea Chicken Meatballs are actually made of, but I don’t much care, either. Sure, they’re probably made in a lab or brought to life by some dark magic, but the texture is a triumph.

Ryan Martin / IKEA

Rating:

7.5/10

Sporks

Best Beef

Open Nature Homestyle Angus Beef Meatballs

These have a really nice, beef-forward flavor that I enjoy. Again, the problem with most frozen meatballs is that they don’t taste like meat. That’s not a problem here. These Angus meatballs are beefy and tender. You can just tell the quality here is higher than your average store-bought meatball. While the beef is good, these meatballs are lacking flavor overall. But they’re not beyond saving. Add these to a spicy red sauce for some extra kick.

Ryan Martin / Instacart

Rating:

7/10

Sporks

Best Turkey

Applegate Well Carved Organic Mediterranean Style Meatballs

These aren’t traditional meatballs by any stretch of the imagination. They’re made of turkey and they feature dill. “These wouldn’t be the star of the show,” said Sporked staff writer Jordan Myrick, “but maybe with some pickles, some pita, some tzatziki sauce, it could work.” Jordan’s got the right idea. These are a great alternative to a beef or pork meatball, but don’t go throwing any red sauce them, and definitely don’t serve them with pasta. Honestly, I would love to take some pita bread, wrap these bad boys up with some lettuce and some labneh, and go to town. This would make a great falafel substitute at home.

Ryan Martin / Amazon

Rating:

6.5/10

Sporks

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About the Author

Danny Palumbo

Danny is a comedian, cook, and food writer living in Los Angeles. He loves gas station eggs, canned sardines, and Easter candy. He also passionately believes that all the best chips come from Pennsylvania (Herr's!). If you can't understand Danny when he talks, it's because he's from Pittsburgh.

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  • You have the exact same description for your number 3 and number 4 choices.

    Reply
    • good catch! just fixed

      Reply
  • Wrong pic for TJ’s Italian meat balls.

    Reply
  • Thank you Good Mythical Morning Rhett and Link for steering me in this direction!
    This is just the information I wanted! Thanks for doing the testing for me.

    Reply
  • I love the Gluten free Rosina Italian style meatballs, but I can’t wait to try the Kirkland brand! Any frozen meatball to be is a great snack because it only takes a minute to heat up and I’m happy to see more brands I can try!

    Reply
    • ok dope – we’ll try these when we update!

      Reply