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Baked Italian Meatballs without Breadcrumbs (Made with Oats)

Meatballs no bread crumbs in tomato sauce with basil garnish, grated cheese and fork in baking dish.
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Baked Italian Meatballs (No Bread Crumbs) are tasty, juicy, tender and can be on your table in about forty minutes! Replacing the traditional bread and breadcrumbs with oats, these gluten-free meatballs have all the flavors and aromas that you desire from sharp Pecorino cheese, fresh herbs and just the right blend of aromatics. And the best part–they’re baked, meaning less mess to clean up! Read on for more . . .

Meatballs no bread crumbs in tomato sauce with basil garnish, grated cheese and fork in baking dish.

These meatballs without breadcrumbs are very similar to my Pan-Fried Italian Meatball recipe with a few differences: oats are used in place of bread or breadcrumbs, beef is used instead of the beef/pork/veal blend and the meatballs are roasted in the oven in a more hands-off cooking method. (Check out the baked version of my chicken cutlet recipe here.)

So, yes–this recipe is gluten-free and, I am not kidding when I say–you would never know it!

I developed this recipe many years ago when I was throwing a party with several gluten-intolerant friends, and I wanted to make sure they’d be able to enjoy my meatballs. So, I replaced the bread/breadcrumbs with gluten-free oats and NO ONE EVER KNEW. Seriously. I have since served these meatballs at every large gathering that I’ve hosted over the years (there have been A LOT), and it is a winner every time!

Baking the meatballs streamlines the cooking process and takes less time, energy and mess–all good things in my book! And, this freezer-friendly recipe can be batched up or down as needed. Plop these babies in a big, sweet-smelling pot of tomato sugo and all will be right in the world.

Portioning out the gluten free meatballs with oats using an ice cream scooper.

Is it Possible to Make Meatballs without Bread or Breadcrumbs?

It 100% is, and this recipe is the proof!

While bread/breadcrumbs is a binder in traditional meatball recipes, it is also there to absorb the juices from the meat as it cooks, keeping all that flavorful goodness inside. Plus, it makes the meat less dense, resulting in more tender meatballs.

Using oats in place of breadcrumbs achieves the same result! Plus, the eggs in the recipe are really the primary binder, holding the meat, oats and other ingredients together so that they do not fall apart or become too flimsy during the cooking process.

I suggest using either rolled oats, old-fashioned oats or quick cooking oats in this recipe as the bread/breadcrumb substitute. I do no suggest using steel-cut oats as they generally have a longer cooking time and will not hydrate properly by just being soaked in milk. (The meatballs will likely end up with a strange, grainy texture if you use steel-cut oats.)

A bowl full of meatballs no bread crumbs in tomato sauce, topped with some basil pesto and grated cheese, with basil garnish.

Best Meat to Use For Meatballs

Here, I used 80/20 ground beef sirloin, which is a perfect blend of lean to fat meat for a juicy meatball with great mouthfeel. You can also use this recipe with an 85/15 blend. I especially like to use 100% grass-fed and -finished ground beef, if possible.

Sometimes, I’ll use a traditional ground beef, pork and veal blend (equal amounts of each), as in my Fried Meatball recipe. This common Italian-American blend creates a rich and uniquely-flavored meatball. (This beef/pork/veal blend is often referred to as a “meatloaf mix” in supermarkets.)

You can also use a 50/50 ground beef and pork ratio, which is very popular and very delicious!

If you’re not sure what to use, experiment and see what you like! Each type of meat contributes its own respective flavors to the meatballs.

Regardless of the exact blend of meats used, try not to use a very lean meat for the juiciest meatballs. Fat equals flavor and moisture, and it is really important with this dish!

If you prefer an alternative, leaner ground meat, check out my Easy Baked Turkey Meatballs recipe, which can also be used with a lean ground beef (such as 90/10).

Baked vs. Fried vs. Cooked in the Sauce?

All of these cooking techniques can be used with the recipe below, albeit they will each result in a slightly different meatball.

Here, I have roasted the meatballs which takes less time, does not need frying oil, and is definitely less messy, requiring minimal kitchen clean-up (which is always a plus in my book!). It is also ideal if you are making a lot of meatballs for an upcoming event or party as it’s a bit more streamlined. However, you won’t get the same caramelized and crispy exterior that you get with frying.

Pan-frying meatballs in a skillet on the stovetop is actually my preferred way of cooking meatballs because of their crispness (texture is a really big part of flavor for me). It creates a crispy, caramelized exterior while maintaining a juicy interior. You can either cook the meatballs 100% in the pan or just brown them in the pan and finish cooking them in a large pot of tomato sauce.

And, lots of folks swear by cooking raw meatballs directly in a pot of simmering sauce, claiming the meatballs are much more tender, soft and juicy than frying or baking. Although I haven’t yet tried this, I imagine that it would create a beautifully rich, meaty-tasting sugo as it becomes fortified with all the braised meat juices and fat.

Meatballs No Bread Crumbs with pesto, spicy pepper oil, grated pecorino cheese and roasted tomatoes on a slice of toasted Italian bread on a cutting board with grated cheese and basil garnish.

Tips for Making Meatballs in Advance

Meatballs are the ultimate make in advance food! Cook them, then freeze them in either an airtight container or freezer bag for at least three months, with or without sauce, for an easy weeknight or last-minute meal.

I generally freeze meatballs without sauce. When I’m ready to serve them, I will add the frozen meatballs to a pot of lightly simmering sauce and let them defrost easily right in the pot. It works every time! It’s also great to have meatballs on hand for whenever a meatball parm hero hankering comes along.

You can also refrigerate cooked meatballs for at least five days, making them a nice option for dinner parties or other get togethers.

Raw, formed meatballs can also be frozen. This requires the additional step of flash freezing the balls on a sheet pan until firm. Then, they can be grouped together in a container or freezer bag and returned to the freezer for up to three months. When ready to cook the meatballs, either bake them right from frozen state or defrost them fully and fry them in a skillet as per the recipe below.

And, finally, the raw meatball mixture can be held in the refrigerator (either in bulk or in formed balls) for up to one day before cooking.

There are so many reasons to love this easy meatball recipe! It makes moist, tender and flavorful meatballs every time, has the best texture, can be baked or fried and tailored to your preferred blend of meats and was designed for meal prep. Plus, it’s a proven crowd-pleaser! I hope you give it a try. Mangia bene!

A slow cooker filled with meatballs no bread crumbs and tomato sauce-ready for a big crowd!
Party ready! Hold a big batch of these meatballs warm in tomato sauce in a slow-cooker at your next get-together!

Ingredients for Meatballs No Bread Crumbs

⁠With relatively few ingredients in these gluten free Italian meatballs with oats, the quality of each item is very important. We’ll need:

  • Ground Beef: Here, I used ground sirloin (beef), but you can use this recipe with a traditional ground beef, pork and veal blend if you would like. I use either a 80/20 or 85/15 (lean/fat) ratio, based on what is available. This ratio used in the recipe below will create the most flavorful, juicy and tender meatballs!
  • Oats: Use either rolled oats, old-fashioned oats or quick cooking oats in this recipe as the bread/breadcrumb substitute. I do no suggest using steel-cut oats as they generally have a longer cooking time and will not hydrate properly by just being soaked in milk. (The meatballs will likely end up with a strange and grainy texture if you use steel-cut oats.)
  • Whole Milk: I use whole milk to moisten the oats and add overall moisture to the meatballs. (Many people think it’s the eggs that add moisture, but their role is different. See below.)
  • Eggs: The role of eggs in meatballs is very important! They are there to bind the meat, oats and other ingredients together so that they do not fall apart or become too flimsy during the cooking process.
  • Onions and Garlic: Add flavor and texture! Be sure to use fresh garlic and finely chop both the onions and garlic. And, please, do not use pre-minced garlic! It has a strange flavor that is unpleasant.
  • Pecorino Romano Cheese: The sharpness and saltiness of this sheep’s milk cheese is an important flavor in this recipe. Grated and not shredded cheese should be used and freshly grated yourself is always preferred, if possible. You can substitute half of the pecorino with grated parmesan cheese if you would like. (I often do this.)
  • Fresh Basil and Parsley: While some may think fresh herbs are overkill in a meatball recipe, it’s these special touches that make a great meatball. They do make a difference! Having said this, if you need to use dried, you can. See the Recipe Notes for amounts.
Ingredients for Meatballs no breadcrumbs.

Check out one of my best “Insider Tips” for making the best meatballs here, as featured in Appetito’s online Italian Food and Drink Magazine.

How to Make Meatballs No Bread Crumbs, with Pro-Tips!

Here are the main steps for how to make these baked, gluten-free, Italian meatballs:

  • Gather and prep all ingredients.

  • Then, whisk the eggs and milk together in a large bowl.
Prepped ingredients for Meatballs no breadcrumbs.
Whisking eggs and milk together.
  • Immerse the oats in the egg/milk mixture and let them sit for about 5 minutes to allow the oats to hydrate.

  • Mix in the cheese, onions, fresh herbs, garlic, salt and black pepper, and stir well.

Oats about to be added to the milk and egg mixture.
Bowl of ground meat (beef) and bowl of oat/egg mixture with other ingredients placed on top that are about to be mixed in.
  • Gently combine the oats mixture with the ground meat and mix lightly until all ingredients are well-combined. Be careful not to over-mix as doing so may result in tough meatballs. Let this mixture sit for about 15 minutes.
    • PRO-TIP: Always mix all non-ground meat ingredients together in a separate bowl until well-incorporated and then fold this mixture gently into the ground meat. This requires less mixing of the meat and will help to prevent tough meatballs.
    • PRO-TIP: This meatball mixture be made one day in advance and sit overnight in the refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap.
    • PRO-TIP: Don’t forget to pan-fry a small amount of the mixture and taste test to check seasonings and texture before portioning the whole batch. Adjust seasonings if necessary.
Bowl of ground meat (beef) and bowl of the rest of the meatball ingredients.
Oat/milk mixture added to bowl of ground beef.
  • Preheat oven to 375˚F and arrange a rack in the center. Then, Using a portion scoop or measuring cup (if desired), portion mixture into approximately 2 to 3-ounce portions, about a ¼ cup each (or whatever size you like) and roll them into round balls.
    • PRO-TIP: Wet your hands a little to make rolling easier.

  • Place meatballs on a parchment-lined baking sheet pan at least ½” apart from each other.
    • PRO-TIP: If you’d like a browner meatball, lightly spray the tops of the raw meatballs with olive oil before placing the sheet pan in the oven or consider increasing the heat to 400 degrees ˚F (and decreasing the time).

Using a portioning scoop to portion and form meatballs.
Portioned and rolled gluten free meatballs no breadcrumbs on a parchment lined sheet pan.
  • Put the sheet pan in the oven and roast the meatballs for about 15 to 20 minutes, depending on size and your oven. The meatballs are ready when they are at an internal temperature of 165˚F. That’s it!
  • PRO-TIP: Rotate the sheet pan once about halfway through the cooking process.
  • PRO-TIP: Use a stem thermometer to test the internal temperature.
  • PRO-TIP: Double the recipe and freeze half for another time. The meatballs freeze beautifully for up to 3 months.
Checking the internal temperature of the cooked baked meatballs no bread crumbs using a stem thermometer.
Baked Italian Gluten Free Meatballs without breadcrumbs just out of the oven.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is this recipe gluten-free?

If you use gluten free oats in this recipe, it will be gluten free.
 
While oats are naturally gluten-free, they are often contaminated with gluten during harvesting or processing. If you want to be certain that the oats you use are gluten free, be sure to purchase “gluten free oats”.

Can I fry these meatballs instead of baking them?

Definitely! To fry instead of baking these meatballs, add enough oil to a large, non-stick skillet to cover the bottom of the pan by about ¼-½”. Heat the oil over medium heat until bubbles form around a wooden spoon inserted in the oil. Then, gently transfer the raw meatballs to the hot oil. Do not overcrowd the pan! Brown multiple sides of the meatballs until cooked through (until reaching an internal temperature of 165˚F). This will take about 8 to 10 minutes per meatball, depending on the size. Transfer the fried meatballs to either a rack over a sheet pan or a paper towel-lined plate (to drain excess oil) or directly to a pot of sauce.. That’s it!

You can also check out my Pan-Fried Italian Meatballs for more on this.

How can you tell when meatballs are finished cooking?

Fully cooked meatballs will have no pink inside and the juices should run clear. Use a stem thermometer for a foolproof way to determine if the meatballs are ready. The meatballs are finished cooking when they have reached an internal temperature of 165˚F.

Meatball parm hero sandwich made with meatballs no bread crumbs, tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and a roll–all toasted under the broiler.
Easily turn these meatballs no bread crumbs into the best meatball parm hero with some sauce, mozzarella and a roll under the broiler!
How can I prevent meatballs from being tough?

Tough or heavy meatballs can be a result of using too many oats (or breadcrumbs in a more traditional meatball recipe), overworking the meatball mixture or overcooking the meatballs. To avoid this, follow the recipe specs below, mix all non-ground meat ingredients together in a separate bowl until well-incorporated and then fold this mixture gently into the ground meat, and pay close attention during the cooking phase. Take the temperature of the meatballs about 2/3 of the way through cooking to closely monitor their progress.

How do I keep the meatballs from falling apart?

Using the proper ratio of eggs to oats and other ingredients should ensure your meatballs do not fall apart. The recipe below is fully tested, so just follow it and you should have firm, but not tough, meatballs.

Can I prepare the (raw) meatball mixture in advance?

Yes, you can hold the raw meatball mixture in the refrigerator (either in bulk or in formed balls) for up to one day before cooking. Just cover it/them tightly with plastic wrap.
 
You can also refrigerate cooked meatballs for at least five days, making them a nice option for parties and get togethers.

Can I freeze these meatballs?

Absolutely! In fact, I almost always double (at least) any meatball recipe when I make it. This way, I have some meatballs immediately and then lots of meatballs for the future. Just place the meatballs in a freezer bag or container once cooked and cooled, and they will hold for up to three months in the freezer. It’s a great way to have homemade meatballs ready in a pinch!
 
I generally freeze meatballs without sauce. When I’m ready to serve them, I will add the frozen meatballs to a lightly simmering sauce and let them defrost easily right in the pot. It works every time!
 
You can also freeze raw, formed meatballs. This requires the additional step of flash freezing the balls on a sheet pan until firm. Then, they can be grouped together in a container or freezer bag and returned to the freezer for up to three months. When ready to cook the meatballs, just bake them right from frozen state according to the recipe below.

Bowl of Fettuccine with tomato sauce and meatballs no bread crumbs, topped with some grated cheese.
These Baked Meatballs No Bread Crumbs pair perfectly with a nice bowl of pasta with tomato sauce and grated cheese.

Pasta Recipes That Love Meatballs!

Serve these Meatballs No Bread Crumbs with a simple pasta pomodoro or as an accompaniment to any number of simple pastas. Some of my favorites are:

Serving Suggestions for Meatballs No Bread Crumbs

Meatballs are very versatile and there are so many great ways to enjoy them! The most obvious (and popular) is to add them to a pot of tomato sauce (a.k.a., Italian polpette in sauce or polpette al sugo) and serve them with your favorite pasta or over polenta.

They also make an amazing sub paired with some sautéed broccoli rabe and fried peppers on a long seeded roll. Or, heat them with some tomato sauce, place them on a long roll, top them with some provolone and/or mozzarella cheeses and place them under the broiler for a killer meatball parm hero!

Smaller meatballs can be a fun party appetizer. Just arrange them on a platter with some toothpicks and pair them with a couple of dipping sauces, such as basil pesto or garlic aioli.

Serve these baked meatballs without breadcrumbs over a bed of creamy ricotta cheese with some fresh basil or basil pesto for an impressive antipasto. Or, toss them lightly in some tomato sauce, sprinkle them with some grated Pecorino cheese, and served them with a green salad, Tuscan Panzanella Salad, or your favorite veggie. They go especially well with Green Beans in Tomato Sauce, Italian Green Beans with Potatoes, Sautéed Broccoli Rabe and Mashed Potatoes.

I also love eating these meatballs plain, simply sprinkled with a little bit of my favorite salt flakes and some homemade spicy pepper oil right when they come out of the frying pan, placed on a fork, and then directly into my mouth!

Piece of meatball without bread crumbs on a fork held over a plateful of them.

Recipe Variations and Substitutions for Meatballs No Bread Crumbs

Here are a few great suggestions for twists and additions to this easy homemade Italian meatballs no bread crumbs recipe:

  • Use a Different Meat: I used ground sirloin (beef) in the recipe below, but you can use this recipe with a traditional ground beef, pork and veal blend if you would like. For a tasty turkey meatball recipe, check out my Easy Baked Turkey Meatballs.
  • Fry the Meatballs: For a crispier, more caramelized exterior, pan-fry the meatballs. Full details in the recipe below or you can follow the procedure here.
  • Stuff the Meatballs with Cheese! For something a bit richer and more decadent, try stuffing the meatballs with a bit of fresh mozzarella. Just poke a hole in each rounded ball, fill it with a small piece of cheese, close up the whole and continue with the recipe. Stuffed meatballs will take longer to cook than un-stuffed meatballs, fyi.
  • Add Heat: Add ½ teaspoon (or more) red pepper flakes into the meatball mix for some picante!

More Great Recipes to Try

I hope that you are enjoying my Italian food blog Mangia With Michele and all of my Italian recipes and Italian-American recipes!

If you’ve tried these Baked Italian Meatballs No Bread Crumbs or any other recipe on the blog, please let me know how it went in the comments below — I love hearing from you!

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Meatballs no bread crumbs in tomato sauce with basil garnish, grated cheese and fork in baking dish.

Baked Italian Meatballs without Breadcrumbs (Made with Oats)

Michele
Baked Italian Meatballs (No Bread Crumbs) are tasty, juicy, tender and can be on your table in about forty minutes! Replacing the traditional bread and breadcrumbs with oats, these gluten-free meatballs have all the flavors and aromas that you desire from sharp Pecorino cheese, fresh herbs and just the right blend of aromatics. And the best part–they’re baked, meaning less mess to clean up!
5 from 3 votes
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Course Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine Italian
Servings 8 servings

Ingredients
  

  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • 1 cup rolled, old-fashioned or quick cooking oats (See Notes.)
  • 1 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • ½ cup finely chopped yellow onion (about 1 large onion)
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • ¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 2 pounds ground beef (80/20 or 85/15)

Instructions
 

  • Prep all ingredients according to specifications above.
    (Please see the section above in the blog post for Step-By-Step instructions with photos.)
  • Whisk the eggs and milk together in a large bowl.
    4 large eggs,, ½ cup whole milk
  • Then, immerse the oats in the egg/milk mixture (make sure they are fully immersed) and let it sit for about 5 minutes to allow the oats to hydrate.
    1 cup rolled, old-fashioned or quick cooking oats
  • Mix in the cheese, onions, fresh herbs, garlic, salt and black pepper, and stir well.
    1 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese, ½ cup finely chopped yellow onion, ¼ cup chopped fresh basil leaves, ¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, 1 Tbsp minced garlic, 2 tsp salt, 1 tsp black pepper
  • Gently combine the oat mixture with the ground meat and mix lightly until all ingredients are well-combined. Be careful not to over-mix as doing so may result in tough meatballs. Let this mixture sit for about 15 minutes. It can also be made one day in advance and sit overnight in the refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap.
    2 pounds ground beef
  • Always pan-fry a small amount of the meatball mixture and taste test to check seasonings and texture before portioning the whole batch. Adjust seasonings if necessary.
  • Preheat oven to 375˚F and arrange a rack in the center.
  • Using a portion scoop or measuring cup, portion mixture into approximately 2-3-ounce portions, about a ¼ cup each (or whatever size you like), and roll them into round balls. (Tip: Wet your hands a little to make rolling easier.)
  • Place meatballs on a parchment-lined sheet pan at least ½” apart from each other. (Tip: If you’d like a browner meatball, lightly spray the tops of the raw meatballs with oil before placing the sheet pan in the oven.)
  • Put the sheet pan in the oven and roast the meatballs for about 15 to 20 minutes, depending on size and your oven. Rotate the sheet pan once about halfway through the cooking process. The meatballs are finished cooking when they have reached an internal temperature of 165˚F. Use a stem thermometer to test the internal temperature.
  • Alternatively, you can par-cook the meatballs and let them finish cooking in tomato sauce. Depending on how many I am making and if I am serving them on the same day, I will do this. But, more often than not, I make a double batch of these meatballs, bake them, cool them, then store them in a freezer bag in the freezer so that I have meatballs whenever I want! They freeze beautifully.
  • The serving possibilities are numerous! See Serving Suggestions above for more about this. Buon Appetito!

Notes

  • While oats are naturally gluten-free, they are often contaminated with gluten during harvesting or processing. If you want to be certain that the oats you use are gluten free, be sure to purchase “gluten free oats”.
  • Here, I used ground sirloin (beef), but you can use this recipe with a traditional ground beef, pork and veal blend if you would like. I use either a 80/20 or 85/15 (lean/fat) ratio, based on what is available. This ratio used in the recipe above will create the most flavorful and balanced, juicy and tender meatballs!
  • If you are transferring the browned meatballs directly to a pot of sauce, you don’t need to fully cook them as they will finish cooking in the simmering sauce.
  • This recipe makes 25 to 30 (¼ cup uncooked portion) meatballs. Make the meatballs any size or shape that you want! The yield will change, however.
  • If you don’t have fresh herbs, you can use 1 Tbsp each dried basil and parsley as a substitute.
  • To fry instead of baking these meatballs, add enough oil to a large, non-stick skillet to cover the bottom of the pan by about ¼-½”. Heat the oil over medium heat until bubbles form around a wooden spoon inserted in the oil. Then, gently transfer the raw meatballs to the hot oil. Do not overcrowd the pan! Brown multiple sides of the meatballs until cooked through (until an internal temperature of 165˚F is reached). This will take about 8 to 10 minutes per meatball, depending on the size. Transfer the fried meatballs to either a rack over a sheet pan or a paper towel-lined plate (to drain excess oil) or directly to a pot of sauce.. That’s it!
  • To store, cool meatballs completely, then refrigerate the meatballs in an airtight container for up to 5 days or freeze them in a freezer container or bag for up to 3 months. The meatballs do not need to be completely thawed before reheating.
 
Recipe by Mangia With Michele. Please visit my site for more great cooking inspiration!
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7 thoughts on “Baked Italian Meatballs without Breadcrumbs (Made with Oats)

  1. Hi , one question , if I’m just cooking outside of meatball , finishing cooking in sauce , how long to bake each side and should I bake at 375 or 400 ?

    1. I would still follow the baking instructions in the recipe. Keep in mind that when you bake meatballs (as opposed to pan frying them), they will not brown on the outside the same way and will cook more evenly during the cooking process. If you would like a brown on the outside meatball and are ok with pan-frying, follow the cooking instructions in my “Pan Fried Meatballs” recipe. Hope this answers your question.

  2. Hi , I just wanted to ask , am I reading recipe correctly to use 4 eggs ? That seems like a lot for 2 lbs. of meat

    1. Hi Jackie, Yes, you’re reading it correctly. Use 2 eggs per pound of meat, so 4 eggs for 2 pounds meat.

      1. Thank you soo much for clarifying that , look forward to making this today

  3. 5 stars
    This recipe looks delicious! I am at the supermarket purchasing the ingredients to make it this evening 😋. Thank you so much!

  4. 5 stars
    Thank you for this! Everyone loved this recipe and had no idea that it was gluten free! Will be my go-to meatball recipe going forward.

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