Rao's Classic Meatballs Recipe: The Famous NYC Italian Meatballs Can Be Made At Home by Donna John

I finally tried Rao's marinara sauce, and it is now my favorite jarred pasta sauce. So when I saw that the famous New York City restaurant now has frozen meals – despite not buying frozen meals – I had to try one. The meatballs and marinara sauce seemed like the one to try, and we loved it. It got me thinking about how if the meatballs are that good frozen, how incredible they would be to prepare from scratch at home. When googling for a copycat recipe, you can imagine how excited I was to find that Rao's published the classic meatball recipe on its website!

"We’re sharing our secret recipe for the best Italian meatballs in the world," it states on the Rao's website. "Easy to make in big batches to freeze for later, or enjoy them tonight in a pot of marinara sauce over pasta or roasted vegetables. They’re light, tender and unbelievably delicious."

Ground veal is an ingredient in their meatball recipe. After reading the ingredient label on the frozen entrée and seeing that these meatballs were made with only ground beef and ground pork, I opted to not buy the pricey ground veal and use ground beef and pork. If you want to use ground veal, use half a pound of ground pork and half a pound of ground veal. I also added more garlic to the meatballs, and cooked them in less olive oil than the original meatball recipe called for.

The meatballs are tender, juicy and flavorful. Don't skip the step of seasoning the frying oil with smashed garlic because it really does make a difference (great tip!). Serve these homemade authentic Italian meatballs over your favorite pasta for dinner, in a meatball sandwich or on their own with a vegetable and salad. Don't forget a basket of garlic bread! (Now if I could only get reservations to the restaurant! #bucketlist

Cuisine: Italian
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Servings: 6 to 8


  • 1 cup olive oil (I didn't use this much oil)
  • 1 clove garlic, lightly smashed
  • 2 jars (24 ounces each) marinara sauce (I used, of course, Raos' Marinara Sauce)


  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork (or 1/2 pound ground pork and 1/2 pound ground veal)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 small clove garlic, minced (I used about 3 cloves of garlic)
  • 2 cups breadcrumbs
  • 2 cups water (or as needed)

Here's how to make it: 

  1. Using your hands, mix together the ground beef, ground pork, eggs, Parmesan, parsley, garlic, and salt and pepper, to taste, in a large mixing bowl. Add the breadcrumbs and mix to combine. Slowly add the water until the mixture is very moist. Shape into 2 1/2- to 3-inch meatballs. 
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the smashed garlic and cook, stirring, until lightly browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and discard. Fry the meatballs in batches until very brown and slightly crispy on both sides. Remove to paper towels.
  3. Pour the marinara sauce into a skillet. Add the meatballs and gently simmer for about 15 minutes. 

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Donna John
You could also bake these meatballs in the marinara sauce instead of frying them.
This is a great idea, I’m going to look for Rao’s.
Elisa Schmitz
Now I need to go to Rao's, LOL. But until I can get there, I'm enjoying this delicious recipe! #yum
Love the idea of frying the smashed garlic in the oil 1st! BUT - I'm truly surprised about mixing the ingredients 3x, by the time you add in the water. It's soooo easy to over mix/compact the mixture, causing a very dense, tough meatball/loaf, etc. (Speaking from experience, here 😕).
Having some mobility & dexterity issues, I think I'm going to try making mini patties dunking in the flavored oil, & baking them off in the oven. Much less chance of me having a kitchen nightmare issue!
Rao's not available here in the great white north (Alberta, Canada 🍁 🇨🇦), & the chances of me ever getting there are zero, so...
P.S. Did you know Rao's sauce is Ina Garten's favorite too? Have a blessed weekend, all!
I made these tonight w linguine and a very good marinara. I followed the directions to a T with these slight adjustments: 1 t dried oregano and I added the extra 1/3 ground pork I had on hand. Because of the extra meat, I added an extra egg to "stick" them together better.

I've never had Rao's meatballs so not sure of these turned out correctly. The crusted meatballs had a nice taste (the oregano was essential otherwise would have been very bland) and were good with the linguini & sauce but they were awfully soft. I could have "chewed" them with my tongue. For me, 2 cups of breadcrumbs seemed like a lot and I wonder if this is why they were mushy inside? While frying these, some cracked and they had to be handled w care so they wouldn't fall apart. Is this how Rao's meatballs usually are? I'd make these again but might cut the breadcrumbs down by half.
Thanks for sharing though!

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