Great Balls of Meat, Inc.

Le Café Grand

GUESTS: Man and Woman Diners

MAN: Can you tell us about the polpetta emorme? [trans: big meatball]
It's a very special dish. It's a very big meatball. Enorme!
MAN: Oooh.
WAITER: But we only make one a night.
WOMAN: Well, maybe we could split one.
MAN: Will that be enough for both of us?
WAITER: Ouí, monsieur. I think you should find it sufficient.
MAN: Excellent. We'll have that, then.
WAITER: Very good, monsieur, mademoiselle. [takes menus and leaves]
Thank you.
MAN: Wow, he seems really French!
WOMAN: He does.
MAN: [sips wine from a large brandy snifter] Mmm. Would you like some more wine?
WOMAN: No thank you.
MAN: How about a salad? I'll bet you want a salad. I'll get you a salad.
WOMAN: I'm fine, thank you.
MAN: Waiter! [snaps his fingers] Waiter! [crashing sound] Oooh, sounds like someone's having a bad night.
WAITER: [runs out to the couple] Run for your lives! Run for your lives! Zee meatball. She is on zee loose. Waaahhh.

[enormous meatball rolls out and chases the man out into a dark alley]

MAN: Waaahhh. Keep away from me! Help! No, no! [the meatball runs over and flattens him] Now that's enorme.

    And so, another senseless meatball mishap ends in tragedy, and a big mess. Like so many culinary marvels, meatballs in America have gotten out of hand. Even when they're not big enough to lay waste to ... [looks at the meatball, off camera, still rolling] ... an entire Laundromat, they're usually dry, flavorless, and bathed in a noxious red sauce.
    Well, it's time to end this madness and bring the meatball back under control. Because they should not be rolling juggernauts of destruction. They ought to be ...

[“Good Eats" theme plays]

The Kitchen

    It has been said that meatballs are nothing but small versions of meatloaf. But, I happen to know for a fact that meatballs way pre-date meatloaf. How do I know? Because I recently purchased off the Internet this stunning archeological artifact which has been carbon dated to the time of the pharaohs. [holds up a plastic encased parchment with a big brown 'O' on it] Need more proof? Fine. Then consider this: meatloaf has to be baked in an oven and most people didn't have ovens until, like, the 18th century. Ahh, best five grand I ever spent.
    Meatballs are superior to meatloaf because they're so gosh darn versatile. They can be skewered and roasted over a fire. They can be simmered in soup. They can be braised in sauce, fried in oil, or simply packed in salt and left for a year before being consumed raw. But no matter how you go about approaching the meatballs, there will be no balls without meat.

Whole Foods: Atlanta, GA - 10:15 am

GUEST: Lucky, The Butcher

    [the big meatball rolls across the floor] Now my favorite meatball application is built upon three different meats: beef, ground pork, and lamb. Why three?

AB: Well, why three?

LUCKY: Well, by mixing the meats, you get the best of flavor and texture.

AB: Go on.

LUCKY: Well, let's take the ground round: you get great beef flavor, but it can be a little chewy. Pork, on the other hand, especially from the butt ...

Bottom Round Roast

    Oh, that's shoulder, in porcine-speak.

LUCKY: Actually, in porcine-speak, it's [makes pig noises] Heh, heh, heh. That's a little butcher humor.

AB: [laughs nervously] Is it?

LUCKY: Sorry. Actually, the pork is there mostly for texture. But of course, pork fat acts differently than beef fat when it's cooked.

Pork Boston Butts

AB: And why is that?

LUCKY: Because of different levels of saturated fats. [condescendingly] Look, it's pretty technical.

AB: Is it? Well thanks for sparing me that. What about the lamb?

LUCKY: Ahhh, lamb adds both flavor and texture. Actually, it adds depth of flavor and texture.

New Zealand Boneless Lamb Shoulder Roast

AB: Okay. Excuse me just a moment.

    Well, he certainly seems friendly enough and I think he knows his stuff. Let's find out if he's earned his service merit badge.

AB: My good man, I will be requiring a half a pound each of the ground round, ground lamb, and ground pork.

LUCKY: Okay, I've got the ground round. But, I'm going to grind the pork and lamb just for you.

AB: Okay.

    Wow, I'm impressed. We've got a meat cutter that knows what needs to be done, knows how to do it, and doesn't mind doing it. You know, you find somebody like that, you really should consider nurturing a relationship with him ... limited in nature, of course. Of course, I like to, you know, grind my own meatball meat, actually, and you can, too. If you've got a stand mixer that has one of those accessory sockets on the front, odds are very good there's a meat grinder made to fit into that. Or you can follow my lead and go old school [holds up an hand crank meat grinder]. That's right. It's not just for Monty Python anymore. I use this thing all the time. Makes great meat.

AB: [back to Lucky] What?

LUCKY: I heard what you said.

AB: Oh, about the grinders, well ... I mean, come on. It's just an example. I never said ...

LUCKY: No, it's all right. We never said we were exclusive.

AB: Really, it's just ...

LUCKY: I'm going to go French some ribs for Mrs. Johnson. She appreciates me.

AB: Aw, come back ... I didn't ... Oh, bother.

The Kitchen

    Now that we have our half-pounds of beef and lamb in hand, it's time to meet the supporting teams. 1/2 Pound Each
Beef, Pork & Lamb
    First up, the flavor enhancements: 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flake, one and a half teaspoons each parsley and basil—dried is preferable on this case—one teaspoon each of garlic powder and kosher salt, and half a cup of parmesan cheese. 1/2 tsp. Red Pepper Flake
1 1/2 tsp. Each Dried Parsley
    & Basil
1 tsp. Each Garlic Powder
    & Kosher Salt
1/2 Cup Finely Grated
    Parmesan Cheese
    Next up, the texture enhancers. We've got one whole egg for moisture, fat, emulsifiers, and binding proteins, 5 ounces of frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed. This fibrous veggie will provide reinforcement to hold the meatball together, kind of like the silicon fibers in Fiberglas or the rebar in concrete. Of course, spinach does add some flavor, albeit subtle. 1 Whole Egg
5 Ounces Frozen Chopped
    Spinach, Thawed &

    Next, we will require the services of half a cup of dried bread crumbs, half of which will be added now, and half will be saved for later. You know, I always seem to have stale bread around, so I prefer mixing up my own in the blender or food processor. Bread crumbs have a long, illustrious history in meatballs. Not only do they serve as meat stretchers or fillers, they serve as moisture catchers.

1/2 Cup Bread Crumbs

    Now, let's say for just a moment that this is your average meatball. [a red sponge ball, soaked in water, held in a vice] Now, it is full of moisture at this point. But the problem is, is you're going to cook it. [the vice begins to close, water comes out] And heat is a lot like pressure. When that pressure gets applied, it's just going to wring out your meatball. Yech. Now this is all moisture that should be in your dinner plate, but it isn't anymore. However, if we add bread crumbs to this party, then they will soak up all of that moisture, and keep it inside the meatball, where it belongs.
    A large, stainless steel bowl is the best vessel for bringing your mixture together. Now as you might suspect, there's a very scientific order for doing this. [hands come in from everywhere and dump in all of the ingredients without regard to order except for the bread crumbs which AB holds] And you want to make sure that you hold back at least half of the bread crumbs for rolling the meatballs a little later. You can just eyeball it. That's all right.
    Now when it comes to actually mixing this, there's only one tool for the job and it's at the end of your arm. The only key is that you don't want to squeeze. You don't want to, like, grab a handful and go like that. I mean, it looks fun, but it's really not very good for the meatballs. Try to use your fingertips, and just work everything together.
    Optimally, this mixture would go into the chill chest for, say, a day for the flavors to meld. And if you can't manage that, try to swing at least an hour or two. At that point, the moisture coming out of the meat and the eggs, will start to move its way into the bread crumbs and the dried herbs forming a kind of paste that will help hold the mixture together during cooking.

AB: [to the meatball mixture] I'll be back.

Ready-to-eat meatballs were sold as convenience
food in medieval European markets.

The Kitchen

GUEST: Italian Chef
            Two security officers

    When your mixture is nice and homogenous, it is time to portion it. And for that, there is no finer tool than the spring-loaded scoop. I have here a one-ounce model. That's one ounce in fluid volume, but we're actually going to be working by weight. I want about a one and a half ounce ball. So, I'm going to just kind of mound that up nice and big and then I will put this on a scale. Once you scale a few of these—and that one is way too big—odds are good you'll get a feel for what one and a half feels like: about that size. Now we are going to work in stages, so I'm going to portion all of these first and then roll.

Portion Into 1 1/2 Ounce Meatballs

    When the last ball is portioned, we will be like good factory workers and move back to number one for the shaping part. Just kind of lightly roll it. And even if you're not going to wear gloves for sanitation reasons or because you think that meat feels icky, you might want to wear them here to keep the heat from your hands from making the meat hard to work with.
    There. Now like all good factory workers, we go back one more time to ball number one, this time for the crust application. Here we have the remaining bread crumbs. I've moved them to kind of this big cappuccino cup for easy application. Observe. Drop thusly, and simply spin the cup a few times. We're not looking for total coverage. That is, enough to create a nice brown crust on the ball. Repeat all the way around. We'll have just enough. Ahh, perfect.
    Now it's time to think about cooking. Now you know, most of the people in this country think that all meatballs are Italian, and they think that all Italian cooks sear their meatballs, no matter how large, in a pan to brown them, and then they move them all to a big old pot of red sauce.

CHEF: That's a right.

AB: Yeah, that's a right. I don't really have a hard time with the browning. I can understand that. But this simmering, gosh, you know, I think this is a'messy, and think it's a'time consumin', and I think that it doesn't really make very good meatballs, which is why I've never seen an Italian do it.

CHEF: I'm a real Italian!

AB: Are a'you really [pulls off Chef's fake moustache] Impostor!

OFFICERS: [arrive and remove the Chef]

AB: Take him away! Take him away! I'll bag this up as evidence.

    You know, when you think about what a meatball really is, what it's really all about, then it becomes pretty clear: they ought to be cooked in the oven. A 400 degree oven, in fact. But now that we've figured out where we are going to cook them, we must ponder, "On what will we cook them?"
    Now I have tried cooking meatballs in and on just about every cooking vessel ever devised by man. And I have found that, definitely, one is superior. Ah, the mini-muffin tin. Not a regular-size muffin tin, but a mini-muffin tin. What's the ... [reaches far into the cabinet and trips a mousetrap] Oww! Arrgh.

AB: Nice one, Thing. Uggnh.

    The even distribution [of the meatballs in the mini-muffin tin] means that we will have even and rapid heating. But the real secret to this method is in making sure that the meatballs are just a little bit bigger than the cups. That way, they'll actually be suspended above the bottoms, okay? That means that they will keep their nice round shape, and any moisture will run off into the bottom of the cups, away from the orbs. These go into the oven for 20 minutes.
    As fats and protein-laden moisture work their way out to the surface of the orbs, they will be absorbed by the bread crumb dredge. The high heat will then essentially fry it. The result: juicy meatballs, with brown, crispy crusts.
    Mmm. My favorite way to have meatballs is to just park them on top of a nice little bed of pasta tossed with a little olive oil, maybe some grated parmesan cheese, maybe some fresh herbs, but I'll take them any way I can get them. I've been known to toss them in salads, float them in soup. I've been known to just stand by the refrigerator in my pajamas and eat them with my fingers. Of course, you could eat them with toothpicks. But you know what, that reminds me of a kind of meatball I haven't had since the 60's.

Psychedelic 60's Party

GUESTS: Party Guests

    Back then, my parents used to throw these far out parties, and my Mom would make these little Swedish meatballs. And I loved them. [eats one] What I'd do is I'd stay in my room, I'd sneak out, I'd hide behind the sofa when nobody was looking ...

AB: Hi.

GUEST #1: Hi.

... I'd nab one.

THING: [nabs one, Guest #2 notices]

    It worked every time. Let me tell you something ...

GUEST #2: [tries to get AB's attention]

AB: Just a second

... the smooth texture, the luscious sauce. I got to tell you, those descendents of Midwestern smorgasbord fare sock it to me every time.

AB: What, man?

GUEST #2: Man, did you see that, man. A hand ... It, like, came out of nowhere, man.

AB: It's cool. He's a friend of mine

GUEST #2: Well he took the last meatball, man.

AB: Don't freak out, man. I'll go make more. Hold that. [hands Guest #2 his toothpick]

The Kitchen

    Start by tearing two pieces of white loaf bread into chunks, and then soak in one quarter cup milk. Just kind of toss that around, and then set it aside to soak.

2 Slices Of White Bread,
1/4 Cup Milk

    In the meantime, sweat one-half cup of chopped onion and one tablespoon of clarified butter with just a pinch of kosher salt over low heat.

1/2 Cup Finely Chopped
    Onion +
1 Tbs. Clarified Butter +
A Pinch of Kosher Salt

    Why the electric skillet? Well, I'll tell you about that later. Now, in case you have never clarified butter, then perhaps you should review this scene from our double Nobel-Prize-winning episode "The Fungal Gourmet". Let's watch. [cuts to a clip from said show on the little TV in the kitchen]

    Melt a pound of butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat and slowly cook until the bubbling ceases and the liquid turns clear, 30-40 minutes depending on the water.

Melt a pound of butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat and slowly cook until the bubbling ceases and the liquid turns clear, 30-40 minutes.

    Strain and cool, being sure to leave any solids in the bottom of the pan.

Strain and cool, being sure to leave any solids in the bottom of the pan.

    Or, once the butter is clear, remove the pan from the heat and quickly add two inches of hot tap water. Since it is less dense than water, the now clarified butter will float to the top.

Or, once the butter has cleared, remove from heat and add two inches of hot tap water. Since it's less dense than water, the now clarified butter will float to the top.

    And in a few hours in the refrigerator will solidify it into a big yellow Frisbee that you can lift out and use. Use it immediately or wrap in wax paper and refrigerate or add foil and  freeze it for 2 months.

    See, that was a breeze ... [collapses].

A few hours in the fridge will solidify the butter. Use or wrap in wax paper and foil and refrigerate. Can be frozen for up to two months.

    Shame what some guys will do just to get attention.

A meatball by any other name:
Frikadeller = Danish
Klopse = German
Kötbulle = Swedish

The Kitchen

    Our Swedish meatballs are borne of 3/4 pounds each ground pork and ground chuck, your soaked bread from earlier on, one-half cup of finely chopped onion, two large egg yolks—no whites, just egg yolks—one teaspoon of kosher salt, one-half teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper, a quarter teaspoon of fresh grated nutmeg, and a quarter teaspoon of ground allspice. And now, we mix.

3/4 Pounds Each
    Ground Chuck &
    Ground Pork
Soaked Bread
1/2 Cup Finely Chopped
2 Large Egg Yolks
1 tsp. Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp. Freshly Ground Black
1/4 tsp. Freshly Grated
1/4 tsp. Ground Allspice

    Load up your paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for two minutes. Now besides flavors, we obviously have some pretty big differences between this batch and the batch that went into our first "orb di carni." For one thing, we've got sugars, proteins, and moisture from milk added here. We used two egg yolks instead of just one egg, and of course, instead of working hard, not to work it hard, here, we're just beating the tar out of this stuff.

    Now how will these procedural anomalies manifest themselves in the meatballs to come? Will the meatballs exhibit:
    A) A smooth or fine texture,
    B) A moist interior,
    C) Enhanced browning, or,
    D) Will they yell "bam" when you poke them
         with a toothpick.

A) A Smooth Or Fine Texture
B) A Moist Interior
C) Enhanced Browning
D) Yell BAM When You Poke
    Them With A Toothpick

    Well, if you answered "A", "B", and "C" you are correct. If you answered "D", well, that's a little bit scary.
    We'll be using the exact same scooper that we used in our first meatballs. Only this time instead of letting them be kind of heaped on there for an ounce and a half, we're going to smooth it off for just one ounce. And I like to do this, again, with gloves on because it keeps the heat from my hands from moving into the meat, and I can do a nicer, lighter pack that way. And you don't have to be exact. But if you want to be, you can always break out your scale.

    When all your meaty orbs are rolled and standing by, heat two more tablespoons of clarified butter in your electric skillet, set to 250 degrees.

2 Tbs. Clarified Butter

    Now I like this tool [electric skillet] for the job because all these meatballs will fit in at the same time. Of course, if you don't have one of these, you can use a large, straight-sided sauté pan, set over medium heat. But you'll probably have to work in batches.
    So, once this is melted, you can add the meatballs. Actually, you don't have to really wait for the butter to melt all the way if you don't want to. What's key is that you get the meatballs in as quickly as possible so they will cook evenly, and you also want to turn them often. That is going to lead to even heating as well. And you want to get a nice crust all the way around.
    If you do not possess a pair of spring-loaded tongs, you can always use a couple of spoons. Actually, I find that when working with a really crowded pan, or with a very loose mixture, the spoons are the easier way to go.
    Unlike our muffin tin meatballs, you will notice that these aren't exactly perfectly round, or asteroid-shaped, and that's just the nature of cooking them on a flat surface. If you really want perfectly round balls, then you should do what restaurants do, and deep-fry them.

    In seven to ten minutes, your meatballs will be done. Just use a slotted spoon to evacuate them from the pan to either a baking dish or a casserole or some other oven-proof vessel. It doesn't have to be too large. Then, just slide this into a warm oven to keep them safe while we build the sauce.


    That will mean sifting on [to the remaining meat juices] one quarter of a cup of all-purpose flour. You want to sift this over so you get good, even distribution. Then just stir it in.

1/4 Cup All Purpose Flour

    This, of course, is a roux. And what do rouxs do? That's right, thicken stuff. In this case, it is going to thicken three cups of beef broth, and a quarter cup of heavy cream. Now as soon as the liquid is all in, we're going to boost the heat, bring it to a simmer, and then drop the heat, continuing that simmer, until thick. Now I wouldn't say that you have to constantly stir this, but I wouldn't wander away for more than 15 or 20 seconds. Oh, and remember, the sauce will continue to thicken when it is removed from the heat.

3 Cups Beef Broth +
1/4 Cup Heavy Cream

Swedish meatballs were traditionally served with lingonberry preserves.

The Kitchen

    As you can see, our sauce has come to a simmer and the starch has begun to gelatinize meaning that the individual starch granules have swollen to the point that the molecules inside have [opens a canister of springs, releasing them] out into the liquid. There they have tangled, trapping the liquid and creating a kind of gel, and, therefore, thickening our sauce. Now we add the meatballs back to the pan. We've got ourselves 30 Swedish meatballs ready for the chafer. Of course, I don't actually own a chafing dish, so I have to borrow one from an associate.

Psychedelic 60's Party

GUEST: "W", Equipment Specialist

AB: "W", have a ball? [holds up a meatball on a toothpick]

W: Yeah, a blast.

AB: [to the guest who was talking to "W"] Hey. How 'ya doing. [to "W"] No, I meant, "Have a ball." [offers a meatball]

W: Oh.

AB: You know, I really appreciate you bringing the chafing dish. Although you, having a chafing dish, a little ironic, don't you think?

W: Why? They're attractive, practical. I collect them. This one uses denatured alcohol. But most chafers today uses alcohol gel fuel which is a lot easier to handle.

AB: Got it. But did you know that "chafing dish" and "chauffeur" have the same root?

W: What are you driving at?

AB: Hah, hah. She made a joke. That's good. Well, see, in old-time France, the chauffeur was the guy that shoveled coal into a steam engine. The original root word is chaufen, meaning to heat or to enflame.

W: Is this going somewhere a little less obvious?

AB: Indeed it is. We also get from that "to chafe": you know, as in, rub raw. You know, like when somebody rubs up against your personality.

W: [sarcastically] Good. [to the other guest] Come on. Let's dance.

GUEST: Cool, man.

AB: Cool, man. Heh, heh, you've got no idea.

    You know, chafing dishes are pretty cool. But if you don't have room for one in your life, don't despair. Building your own chafing rig is a snap.

The Kitchen

GUEST: The enormous meatball from the opening scene

   Just get yourself some kind of padding material, like this shelf liner, make a little triangle, put some bricks on top of that—just standard household bricks—drop your fuel can in the middle and then make another triangle of bricks going the other way on top. Fire up your fuel using a long lighter or match, place a cake pan on top of that, and then put the water inside of that. The water will do the heating. The dish with your meatballs goes on top of that.
    A few words to the wise about alcohol gel fuel. Now when this stuff burns, the flame is very, very tough to see, especially in brightly lit rooms. So always assume that, if it is open, it is hot. When it comes time to extinguish, always smother the flame, either with the lid, or, even better, a large metal item with a handle, like a measuring cup.
    Now this can will last about three hours ... [doorbell rings]

AB: Who is it?

MEATBALL: Candygram.

AB: Candygram? For me? [answers the door] Hello. Hel ... Hey, you're not candy.

MEATBALL: [jumps up on AB and smooches him]

AB: Ahh ... [flat on the floor, tastes a piece of the meatball on his finger] Pretty tasty. Well, I think that's about all the time we have this week. I'm Alton Brown. See you next time on Good Eats. Could you get the door?

Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010