The Meatball Mixing Hack You Should Be Using, According To Alex Guarnaschelli - Exclusive

When making meatballs, many people focus on the spices or the kind of meat, but Alex Guarnaschelli says you should focus on how you are mixing. In her new book "Cook It Up: Bold Moves for Family Foods," written with her daughter Ava Clark, Guarnaschelli details a mixing strategy that can be used to keep your meatballs moist and tender. We spoke to Guarnaschelli in an exclusive interview to find out more about this technique and why it works.

When mixing, Guarnashcelli says to spread your meat across the bottom and sides of the pan and then sprinkle your seasoning over the meat. Then, gently mix until just combined. She explains that ground meat has already been through a lot. "The meat's been cut and then ground," she says, "and now you're going to mix it and work it, and that toughens it even more." Overworking the meat is what will result in tough meatballs. Using the spreading method distributes the seasoning with far less chance of overmixing. Plus, as she points out, it is easier: "Less work, better results."

Why it works

If this idea of over-mixing and creating toughness sounds familiar, it is because it is. Similar techniques are used to prevent flour-based cooking from becoming tough, too. Comparing the two, Guarnaschelli explains, "It's like when you add liquid to flour. You start working the gluten, and it toughens the cake or the bread or whatever else. It's the same for meat, especially ground meat" 

Using this method works because you are allowing the already processed meat a break from more harsh mixing and grinding. Just like a cake, the more it is mixed, the tougher it will get. Using Guarnaschelli's method prevents this, resulting in a more tender and moist meatball.

This technique can be seen throughout the book. For example, Guarnaschelli uses it when seasoning ricotta to ensure an even distribution of spices and, again, prevent toughness. This method is simple and does not require any additional equipment, making it the ideal trick for all home chefs to keep in their back pockets. 

"Cook It Up," by Alex Guarnaschelli and Ava Clark, is available now.