5 Things You Didn’t Know About Meatballs

Meatballs are probably one of the most widely eaten and adored foods in the world. Easy to make, affordable and ubiquitous, meatballs are a classic Italian food. Or are they?  We collected a few fun facts about meatballs for you.

And if thinking about meatballs makes you crave them (we could use a bowl right now!)  choose one of our many ground meat options: ground turkey, ground buffalo, ground lamb, and two tasty ground beef choices, Angus and Wagyu, to make meatballs at home.

Explore the facts about meatballs below and get to know this popular pasta and sandwich topper a little better. 

1. Nobody Knows Where the First Meatball Was Made

Recipes go back to the Romans – the classic cookbook by Apicius includes a section on minces, mixtures of meat (peacock, pheasant, and rabbit were their favorites) with other ingredients. Some historians believe the first meatballs were made in Persia and are still around today as kofta.

2. Every Culture Has a Meatball

You may be most familiar with the Italian-American version of the dish, but there are also Swedish köttbullar, Spanish albondigas, Dutch bitterballen, Greek keftedes, South African skilpedjies, and from India through the Middle East, kofta. These are just a few examples of the widespread popularity of meatballs, which are often made with lamb, pork and other meats.

lamb koftas high res
Our spiced lamb kofta recipe takes minutes to make and is delicious.

3. Italians Do It Differently

Italian meatballs aren’t what you think. Polpettes are smaller than their American cousins, made with equal parts bread and meat (sometimes even fish), and very much a simple peasant dish. Almost always made at home, polpettes are the main course and sometimes served in a light broth. No marinara or pasta to be seen! Spaghetti and meatballs with tomato sauce is a purely American invention, the result of a surge of Italian immigration to the U.S. and the adaptations they made to available ingredients.

frankies-meatballs-recipe
Frankie’s Meatballs may be the perfect example of the American recipe.

4. Meatballs Were Born of Necessity

The truth about meatballs is that they are a clever way to dress up tough, cheaper cuts of meat. Meatballs also use up stale bread, which extends the meat portion of the recipe. And so, the meatball was traditionally a great way to stretch ingredients and serve a hungry family. Waste not, want not.

5. The World’s Largest Meatball Was Made in South Carolina

The Italian-American Club of Hilton Head Island, SC, took the record in November of 2017 with a massive 1757 pound meatball that took a year of planning to create. Special equipment had to be custom-made and it took a week to cook the meatball, and Guinness World Records was there to make it official. Most of the staggering meatball went to local programs to feed the hungry. That’s a lotta meatball! Watch a short video about this meatball.

Thanks for reading about meatballs with us! Now it’s time to make your own at home. We love to see what’s cooking, so feel free to share photos with us on social media.

Top photo: Our recipe for Lamb Meatballs with Harissa-Yogurt Sauce


Since 1985, D’Artagnan has been at the forefront of the farm-to-table movement, producing superior tasting products by partnering with small ranches and farms. We are committed to free-range, natural production, sustainable and humane farming practices and no use of antibiotics or hormones. That’s why D’Artagnan products have been revered by America’s most renowned chefs for over 30 years. We offer the same high-quality products to home cooks at dartagnan.com, along with recipes and guides to help you live the tasty life.

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