My Grandma’s West Virginia Meatballs

My Grandma's West Virginia Meatballs

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My Grandma’s West Virginia meatballs are tender, flavorful, and require just a few ingredients. Soft white bread, lots of Romano cheese, and a little instant rice make for tasty, easy-to-prepare meatballs that everyone will love. While they aren’t exactly porcupine meatballs, they still incorporate a handful of instant rice.

Almost 25 years ago, we visited my Dad’s relatives in West Virginia. While we were there, he was gifted a family cookbook. One of the recipes included in the book was a meatball recipe that he attributes to my Grandma. Although my Grandma passed well before I was born, these meatballs and the stories that come with them still give me a chance to feel like I know her, even just a little.

My parents lent me the book, and I jokingly asked my dad to give me some juicy backstory on the meatballs. I wasn’t really expecting one, but I guess there was a tiny bit of tea to be served alongside these West Virginia meatballs!

grandma's meatball recipe

My Grandma’s Meatball Recipe History

My Dad was born in 1954, and his Mom passed when he was about 15. During those years, there was a period when she was really upset that she couldn’t make homemade spaghetti sauce, and it was even more upsetting because she loved spaghetti. It would always be too watery and pool under the spaghetti instead of sticking to it. He told me he remembered finding her under the table crying after she made another watery batch of sauce. I can relate to this, and it also makes my personality make so much sense!

My Dad’s side of the family is Irish and Scottish, so his grandparents never made spaghetti. For my Grandma, spaghetti sauce came with a huge learning curve. But she persisted and perfected her sauce. Eventually, she not only had a perfect sauce recipe but also perfect meatballs. According to my Dad, everyone in the family loved them, and they became a hotly requested item.

A relative included her West Virginia meatball recipe in the cookbook but omitted the instant rice. My Dad told me she always included a bit of instant rice–not as much to turn them into porcupine meatballs–but enough to act as a binder.

I really appreciate this story because it’s easy for me to take for granted the wealth of expert cooking advice you have at your fingertips on the internet. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must have been to keep messing up your sauce and not be able to Google the answer or head over to some famous Italian chef’s website and get immediate help. You would have found me crying under the table, too!

How to make My Grandma’s Meatballs

This is an easy family recipe; you only need a few ingredients. Ironically, I chose not to make my own tomato sauce. I used store-bought, so I could focus just on the meatballs. Feel free to whip up a batch of homemade tomato sauce, or use your favorite brand of store-bought. I used Michael’s of Brooklyn Marinara Sauce.

What you need

  • White bread: I used Arnold’s Country White Bread; it’s so soft and fluffy!
  • Eggs and instant rice: The main binder for your meatballs! Rice was often used during the Great Depression when meat was expensive, so rice was added to stretch everything further. This style of meatball was dubbed the porcupine meatball. My Grandma used instant rice, but you can use long-grain white rice, too.
  • Romano cheese: You can use your favorite Italian cheese or a blend such as Parmesan or Pecorino Romano.
  • Garlic: Is it a meatball recipe if there’s no garlic?
  • Freshly minced parsley: You can use dry parsley instead, just use two teaspoons instead of two tablespoons.
  • Beef and sausage: This recipe uses a mixture of beef and hot (or sweet!) Italian sausage. You can use pork and beef if you don’t have sausage, or you can use all beef.

How to make it

  • Step 1: Moisten the bread. For a richer meatball, you can use milk or cream to moisten the bread. My Grandma’s recipe calls for water. Simply wet the bread with a few splashes of water and then squeeze out the excess water. I break the bread up into a few large pieces.
  • Step 2: Prepare the mixture. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and then use your hands to combine the mixture.
  • Step 3: Roll the meatballs. I roll them into heaping tablespoon-sized balls. You’ll end up with about 18–20 meatballs depending on how big or small you make them.
  • Step 4: Fry them up. Heat a little oil in a wide pot and then fry the meatballs for 2–3 minutes per side until browned all over.
  • Step 5: Simmer the meatballs in sauce. Remove the meatballs from the pot. Drain off excess fat, leaving any fond in the pot. Turn the heat to medium and then pour in the tomato sauce. Bring to a boil and then add the meatballs. Reduce the heat and cover. Simmer for at least 1 hour. I simmered for about 3 hours because I was busy running around, and they were fantastic! Just make sure you stir them occasionally to make sure the sauce isn’t sticking.
meatball recipe

How to serve these West Virginia meatballs:

You can serve these with pasta or on meatball subs. I finish the meatballs with more grated Romano cheese and a few basil leaves.

I hope you loved this meatball recipe! If you make this recipe, please rate it and drop a comment below; I’d love to know what you think of it!

Want to try more West Virginia recipes? Here are my favorites.

West Virginia Style Pepperoni Rolls
Could anything be better than fluffy little rolls stuffed with pepperoni? We think not.
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West Virginia Pepperoni Roll Recipe
My Dad’s West Virginia Hot Dog Sauce
A simple, West Virginia-style hot dog sauce recipe that's perfect for all your summer cookouts. Whether you call it a hot dog sauce or a hot dog chili recipe, you'll love this thick, savory beef topping on all your dogs this year.
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West Virginia hot dog

meatball recipe

My Grandma’s West Virginia Meatballs

Soft white bread, lots of Romano cheese, and a little instant rice make for tasty, easy-to-prepare meatballs that everyone will love.
5 from 4 votes
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Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Inactive time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 35 minutes
Servings: 20 meatballs
Calories: 97kcal




Make the meatball mixture:

  • Begin by moistening the bread with a few splashes of water. Feel the texture change as you squeeze out as much excess water as possible. Break it apart with your hands and transfer it to a bowl.
  • Add the eggs, cheese, garlic, and parsley to the bowl. Add the beef, sausage, instant rice, black pepper, and salt. Mir with your hands until well combined. Fry or microwave a small piece of the mixture to taste it. Adjust the seasonings if needed.
  • Roll the mixture into tablespoon-sized balls.

Fry the meatballs:

  • Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a wide pot over medium heat. Add the meatballs and cook for 3–4 minutes per side until browned all over. Transfer to a platter. Drain off excess fat, leaving any fond in the bottom of the pot.

Simmer the meatballs:

  • Return the pot to medium heat. Pour in the tomato sauce and bring to a boil. Return the meatballs to the sauce. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 1 hour. Taste and adjust the seasonings to your preference.

To serve:

  • Serve the meatballs with pasta or on meatball subs. Garnish with more grated Romano cheese and a few basil leaves if you like. Enjoy!


Calories: 97kcal | Carbohydrates: 3g | Protein: 8g | Fat: 5g | Sodium: 252mg | Fiber: 0.1g | Sugar: 0.2g | Vitamin C: 0.2mg
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