The Unique, Salty Meatball Binder That's Already Sitting In Your Pantry

Meatballs have a simple enough formula. Think of them as compact, round, mini meatloaves: Ground beef or other meats are bound together with spices, herbs, veggies, eggs, and of course, breadcrumbs. This breadcrumb element of the meatball recipe is particularly important because it is often used to make the panade, a milk-soaked bread paste that keeps the meat mix moist. But if you're simply reaching for a standard box of panko each time you make your meatballs, you're missing an incredibly flavorful opportunity to mix things up.

Instead of breadcrumbs, why not turn to a favorite salty snack — the epically twisted and salted pretzel? Due to its lye bath and malt-barley notes, the common pretzel brings way more flavor to the table than your average panko or breadcrumbs. Plus, pretzels pack plenty of salt to help kick-start your seasoning. At the very least, if you're out of bread crumbs but desperate to make some meatballs, pretzels offer an easy and tasty substitution — and prepping your pretzels so they're ready for your meatballs is a relatively simple process.

Ground pretzels are breadcrumbs 2.0

To turn your pretzels into breadcrumbs, place them in a food processor or blender and pulse until they become a fine powder or meal. Alternatively, you could grind up your pretzels a little bit at a time in a coffee grinder or even place them in a zip-top bag and crush them with a rolling pin. Try to get them to a texture that resembles the typical breadcrumbs you'd use for your meatballs. The resulting pretzel meal will work for any meatball recipe you want to use, but you'll need to adjust your seasonings to compensate for the amount of salt the pretzels bring to the table.

Consider cutting any additional salt in the recipe — or at least greatly reducing the amount called for — to keep your meatballs from being too salty. You may want to hold back on other salty ingredients too, such as anchovies or feta. Worried about the seasoning balance but don't know how to test it? Roll a tester meatball and fry it off in a frying pan — preferably before adding any other salty ingredients — so you can safely check whether your mix actually needs more salt or not. Depending on your taste preferences, substituting the pretzel meal into your recipe may even be an easier way to get a perfectly flavorful meatball dinner!