These meatball subs are made with soft & juicy Italian meatballs & wrapped in an easy marinara sauce. Meatball sandwiches don’t come more delicious than this!
There’s a few different ways to make a meatball sandwich, and here I’ll show you exactly how I make mine. I’m a firm believer in ‘go hard or go home’ and these subs are no exception. This means we’re making the meatballs and we’re making the sauce (I’ll spare you the bread 😉). It takes a little extra time but I promise you it’s 100% worth it. Follow me…
Soft & Juicy Homemade Meatballs
We’re all in agreement that the best kind of meatballs are meatballs that are ultra soft and mouthwateringly juicy, right? Okay good. Let’s dive into the essentials when preparing meatballs.
The first and arguably most important step to making soft meatballs is starting with a panade. A panade is essentially a mixture of starch and liquid that you add to meat to keep it moist. In this context it means using milk and bread. By allowing the pieces of bread to soak up the milk, it locks in moisture and keeps the meatballs mega soft as they cook.
The second tip to ensure your meatballs come out soft is making sure you don’t overwork the meat. When you mix in all the meatball ingredients make sure you don’t squish the meat into oblivion. This will result in your meatballs coming out tough and dry. To help prevent this you’ll want to mix all of the ingredients bar the meat, and then work in the meat. This will reduce the amount of time you need to mix.
The most important step in ensuring your meatballs come out nice and juicy is choosing the right meat. In this instance you’ll want to choose meat that is high in fat (15%+). The difference between using high fat and low fat meat is crazy. For these meatballs we’ll also be using a 50/50 split of pork and beef (pork adds richness).
Process shots: soak bread in milk, Worcestershire sauce and grated onion & garlic (photo 1), mash with a fork (photo 2), add parmesan, egg, oregano, parsley and s&p (photo 3), mash again with fork (photo 4), add pork and beef (photo 5), combine (photo 6).
Best way to cook Meatballs
I’ve made enough meatballs in my time to last me a lifetime. That also means I’ve tested out different ways of cooking them, you know, for research purposes obviously. Here’s what I’ve found:
Baked Meatballs (method 1)
Baked meatballs are great because they require the least amount of effort. You chuck them in and leave them. Easy. However, it’s difficult to get a really good browning on them. They don’t get the direct heat they need to properly caramelize on the outside. And often by the time that happens they’re slightly overcooked on the inside. Ideally you want the meatballs to be ever-so-slightly undercooked in the centre so they can finish poaching in the sauce.
Pan Fried Meatballs (method 2)
Frying the meatballs means you can get good browning on the outside. You can also then have them finish poaching in the sauce. The only limitations with frying however are 1. it’s difficult the keep the meatballs in uniform shape and 2. you’ll probably have to work in batches because they won’t all fit in the pan. They also tend to stick to the pan unless you’ve got a really good non-stick pan.
Grilled Meatballs (method 3 i.e. recommended method)
Grilling/broiling the meatballs means you can get a good caramelization on the outside, you can allow them to finish cooking in the sauce AND you can cook them all at the same time. Winner! PLUS we’ll be using the grill later on to cook the subs, so it’s nice to get it heated up and ready. PLUS PLUS you can get on with the sauce as they cook. Okay I’m done, if you’re not sold now you never will be 😂
Process shots: scoop of chunks of meat and place on baking tray (photo 1), roll into balls (photo 2), grill/broil until golden (photo 3).
Meatball Marinara Sauce
When it comes to the sauce you want to keep it simple, just to let the meatballs do the talking. But you still want it to hold its own.
The base of the sauce uses tomato passata, which is essentially cooked pureed & strained tomatoes. It’s thick and super smooth, which makes it perfect for meatball subs. No big chunks of tomatoes, meaning it wraps around the meatballs really well.
For this we’re starting with the classic base of onion & garlic, then throwing in some basil & oregano, just to liven things up and compliment the Italian feel of the meatballs. I also love chucking in some chilli flakes for a hit of spice!
Simmering the sauce
Really important to simmer the sauce with the meatballs in. This will allow a flavour exchange between the meat and the sauce. It’ll also soften & finish cooking the meatballs.
Process shots: fry onion in olive oil (photo 1), fry garlic (photo 2), add passata and seasoning (photo 3), stir to combine (photo 4), add meatballs (photo 5), stir and simmer until the sauce thickens (photo 6).
How to make a Meatball Sub
Alrighty, meatballs in the bag, let’s talk meatball subs.
What Bread to use?
I like using mini baguettes/rolls which are about 6″. You’ll get 4 meatballs per sub, which makes 5 subs in total.
What Cheese to use?
I like a combination of mozzarella and parmesan. The mozzarella goes nice & gooey and gives you that epic cheese pull, whilst the parmesan crisps up and adds a punch of flavour. Other cheeses like Cheddar/Monterey Jack also work well.
Process shots: slice sub (photo 1), add meatballs and sauce (photo 2), add mozzarella (photo 3), add parmesan (photo 4), place on baking tray (photo 5), grill/broil until golden (photo 6).
Meatball Subs FAQ (more detail in the recipe card notes)
Can I make the marinara sauce ahead of time?
Yep! This will also allow the flavours to develop as well. Store in fridge or freezer then simmer as needed.
Can I prepare the meatballs ahead of time?
Yes, you can roll them then store in the fridge or freezer then cook as needed.
Can I fully make the meatballs ahead of time?
I find they don’t come out quite as soft/juicy if you fully cook the meatballs ahead of time, but you can if you wanted. Again, store in fridge/freezer then simmer as needed.
Do I have to add pork to the meatballs?
The pork does add really good flavour to the meatballs, so it’s definitely worth trying if you haven’t before. But if you don’t have it beef will work just fine.
Serving Meatball Subs
Once the subs are cooked I like to sprinkle with some small fresh basil leaves, but this is totally optional.
What to serve with meatball subs?
Alrighty, let’s tuck into the full recipe for these meatball sub sandwiches shall we?!
How to make a Meatball Sub Sandwich (Full Recipe & Video)
Simply the BEST Meatball Subs
- Large Pan & Wooden Spoon
- Large Mixing Bowl
- Large Baking Tray
- Sharp Knife & Chopping Board
- Box Grater
- 1 tbsp Measuring Spoon
- 9oz / 250g Ground Beef (15%+ fat)
- 9oz / 250g Ground Pork (15%+ fat)
- 2 thin slices of White Bread, diced into small cubes (around 1 cups worth)
- 1/2 cup / 40g freshly grated Parmesan
- 1/4 cup / 60ml Milk
- 1/4 cup finely diced Fresh Parsley
- 1 small/medium White Onion, peeled & grated on a box grater
- 2 cloves of Garlic, peeled & grated/minced
- 1 Egg
- 1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
- 3/4 tsp Salt
- 1/2 tsp Dried Oregano
- 1/4 tsp Black Pepper
- Oil Spray, as needed
- 3 cups / 750g Tomato Passata (pureed/strained tomatoes in US)
- 1 medium White Onion, finely diced
- 2 cloves of Garlic, finely diced
- 2 tbsp finely diced Fresh Basil
- 1 tsp Dried Oregano
- 1/2 tsp Sugar, or to taste
- 1/4 - 1/2 tsp Chilli Flakes, or to taste
- 1/4 tsp Salt & Black Pepper, or to taste
- Olive Oil, as needed
- 5x 6" Baguettes/Sub Rolls sliced vertically down the centre
- 2x 4.5oz/125g balls of Fresh Mozzarella, sliced into thin rounds
- 1/2 cup / 40g freshly grated Parmesan, or as needed
- small Fresh Basil Leaves, to serve (optional)
- In a large mixing bowl combine cubed bread with grated onion/garlic, Worcestershire sauce & milk. Mash with a fork for a couple of minutes until the bread absorbs the moisture. Add in egg, parmesan, parsley, oregano, salt and pepper. Stir/mash again with a fork until evenly combined.
- Add in pork and beef and use your hand to combine. Mix until the bread mix has evenly incorporated with the meat. Try not to overwork the meat or the meatballs will come out dry. Use a 1 tbsp measuring spoon to scoop out chunks of meat and spread out on a baking tray. Once you've scooped out all the meat, roll each chunks into balls.
- Spray with oil then pop under the grill on high heat and broil until browned all over, shaking/turning a couple of times during.
- Meanwhile, in a large pan over medium heat add a drizzle of oil along with your diced onion. Fry until the onion starts to turn golden, then add in garlic and fry for 1-2mins longer. Pour in tomato passata then add basil, oregano, chilli flakes, salt, sugar and pepper. Give it a good stir then turn down the heat to a simmer.
- Add in the meatballs and some of the char/juices along with them (for extra flavour). Coat the meatballs then gently simmer for around 20mins until the sauce gets nice and thick. This is not only important to reduce the sauce but also to marry the flavours together.
- Spread a couple of spoonfuls of the sauce down the centre of your subs, then add in 4 meatballs per sub. Top with mozzarella then sprinkle with parmesan. Pop on a baking tray and grill/broil on medium heat until the cheese goes gooey and golden.
- Sprinkle over torn basil or some small basil leaves (optional) then serve up and enjoy!
Your Private Notes:
For a twist on the classic sub sandwich check out my Buffalo Chicken Meatball Subs!
For more similar sandwiches check out these beauties:
Italian Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
- Italian Sausage Grilled Cheese
- Spaghetti Grilled Cheese
- Bolognese Grilled Cheese
- Garlic Bread Grilled Cheese
If you loved this Meatball Subs Recipe be sure to Pin it for later! Already made it or got a burning question? Give me a shout in the comments below!