Joanie’s Meat Balls with Marinara

“This recipe makes two large soup pots of meatballs and sauce. It freezes well and is really handy to have on hand for unexpected company. My cousin Joan and I always get together to make a batch. Otherwise, it would take forever to roll out those meatballs by oneself.”—Grandma Sue

Meat balls:

6 lbs. lean ground beef
2 lbs. Italian sausage, hot or mild
1 lb. bratwurst sausage
3 Tbsp. fresh garlic, minced or equivalent amount of garlic powder (not garlic salt)
2 Tbsp. dry Italian seasoning mix
3 cups of the warm sauce (recipe below)
2 eggs
2 cups Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
1 Tbsp. ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups fresh grated Parmiginao-Reggiano cheese


1 (#10) can crushed tomatoes (approx. 102 ounces)
3 of the larger cans tomato sauce (approx. 28 ounces each)
6 packages McCormick/Shilling spaghetti sauce mix or equivalent
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. black pepper, or to taste
3 Tbsp. Italian seasoning (oregano, basil, thyme, etc. mix)
3 lbs. crimini or white mushrooms, if desired, cleaned & sliced
3 cups fresh grated Parmiginao-Reggiano cheese

If desired: 2 additional lbs. Italian sausages, cut into 1” chunks and dropped into warm sauce with the meatballs & mushrooms.


In 2 large stock/soup pots divide all the sauce ingredients, except cheese, evenly (rinse out cans with small amount of water). Do not add mushrooms and cheese until just before dropping in the meatballs. Heat sauce ingredients, which have been thoroughly mixed at medium-low heat while preparing meatballs.

In a very large bowl, put the ground beef and sausage, which you have removed from their casings, if needed. Add remaining meatball ingredients along with the 3 cups of the warmed sauce and mix until just blended. If you are garlic lovers like us, you will want to be able to smell a strong garlic aroma. If you don’t smell this, add more garlic.

Add the prepared mushrooms to the warm sauce, then standing over the pots, make the meatballs using about 1/8 cup for each meatball. Drop into sauce as you make them. Reserve about 4 cups of the meatball mixture and just sprinkle, unformed, into the pan after you have added all the meatballs. This helps to “thicken” the sauce. Then stir in cheese.

Place pots in 325-degree, pre-heated oven. Cover loosely with foil (this is to keep sauce from splashing out and making a mess in your oven). You can also bake this in a roaster oven if you have one. You will want to bake the sauce for at least 3–4 hours, stirring gently about every 45 minutes. Baking this sauce instead of cooking on top of the stove keeps the sauce from burning on the bottom of the pan and saves you a lot of work stirring.

After about 3 hours, take out a meatball and cut in half. It should be done and the sauce reduced by about one fourth.

*I usually set out my meats ahead of time so they can come to room temperature. Your hands can get very cold mixing and rolling those meatballs if you don’t. Do not over mix the meatball mixture. This will make the meatballs tough. Same goes for mixing meatloaf.

MEATBALL SUBS: Cut Hoagie rolls in half lengthwise, lightly butter and toast on a griddle until browned slightly. Place cooked meatballs down length of roll to cover. Drizzle with the Marinara sauce and sprinkle with canned or freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.