Lean Meatballs with Caramelized Onions

Getting the right texture for meatballs is harder than you would imagine. This was my first attempt at making meatballs and they didn’t come out like I wanted, but they actually tasted pretty good.  The “problem” was that these meatballs were basically all meat and weren’t as tender as most meatballs I’ve had. If you like firm, flavorful, and meaty though, then these are just what you’re looking for.  I tried to switch things up by caramelizing the onions too, which gave the meatballs another layer of depth to their flavor and texture. If you’re looking for classic tender meatballs then click here for my other recipe!

Makes 30 meatballs at 1075 calories total or 36 calories per meatball.


  • About 1 pound of 90/10 lean ground beef (200 cal. per 4 oz. or 800 cal. total)
  • 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil (about 40 cal.)
  • 1 large egg (about 70 cal.)
  • 1/3 cup seasoned breadcrumbs (about 110 cal.)
  • 2 teaspoons parsley
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large onion finely chopped (about 30 cal.)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (about 15 cal.)
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar (about 10 cal.)
  • Optional: 1/4 teaspoon oregano (I would probably skip this because it’s a strong flavor in my opinion, but it’s up to your own taste)
  • About 32 oz. of tomato sauce seasoned to taste (about 20 cal. per 1/4 cup or 320 cal. total — but we won’t count all of these calories because only a little bit of sauce actually covers the meatballs when you eat them)
    Suggestion: Try seasoning the sauce with garlic, salt, pepper, and even green peppers.


  • Large mixing bowl
  • Large non-stick frying pan
  • Wooden spoon/spatula
  • Cutting board
  • Measuring cup
  • Teaspoon measurement
  • Knife
  • Large sauce pot or medium soup pot with a lid
  • Optional: Latex gloves


  1. Take the ground beef out of its package and place into a large mixing bowl. Let it sit out of the fridge for a bit to get closer to room temp.
  2. On the cutting board, peel and finely chop the onion (discard the ends and the core).
  3. Put the frying pan on the stove with a teaspoon of olive oil and set the temp for medium-low.
  4. After the pan warms up a bit add the onions and stir together with the oil to caramelize them. Let the onions sit in the pan as they are for about 10 min. after stirring.
  5. Cook the onions on low heat stirring occasionally every 5 to 10 minutes until they start to brown, get soft, and become a little clear.
  6. Once the onions get some color on them (this might be after 30 min.) add a teaspoon of sugar and two teaspoons of balsamic vinegar before stirring again.
  7. Cook the onions for another five minutes until the balsamic cooks off and gets absorbed by the onions.
  8. Set the onions aside and let them cool off a bit.
  9. Put your tomato sauce in a tall sauce pot or a medium soup pot and bring the sauce up to a simmer on medium heat.  Once you get some bubbles, lower the heat to low.
  10. Add the breadcrumbs, an egg (beat the egg first if you’re not lazy like me), the salt, parsley, caramelized onions and optional oregano to the ground beef.
  11. Using clean hands (This is where those optional latex gloves come in “handy” – Get it? Handy? Sorry.) start to break up the meat and mix the ingredients. You do not want to mash the meat as much as churn it with your fingers. Just keep folding the meat with the rest of the ingredients until really well mixed, but loosely packed.
  12. After mixing, grab small pieces of meat and roll them gently between your hands to make balls.  You can easily make anywhere from 25-30 balls.  Just try to make them all about the same size.  A tip would be to use something like an 1/8 cup measurement tool or 2 teaspoons of meat per meatball.
  13. Raise the temperature of the sauce to medium heat and carefully place each raw meatball into the simmering sauce.
  14. Once the meatballs are in, bring the sauce back up to a good simmer, cover the pot, and set the heat to low.
  15. Simmer the meatballs for around 25 to 30 minutes.
  16. After the meatballs are done remove from heat and serve them over pasta, or in a toasted sub with provolone cheese, or eat them as they are with a little grated Parmesan cheese.


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