When you make Italian-style meatballs simmered in tomato sauce, there are a few ways you can go. You can brown the uncooked meatballs in a sauté pan before adding them to the sauce. You can brown them in the oven. Or you can skip browning altogether and put the raw meatballs straight into the sauce to cook. We’re diving into the pros of each approach, plus a few cons.
Adding raw meatballs to the sauce and gently simmering till cooked yields ultra-tender results, and infuses the sauce with meaty flavor—a slow cooker gives great results. But critics of this method complain about bland meatballs and a greasy sauce.
Range-top browning is straightforward, especially when you’re working with a smallish batch of meatballs, plus the browned bits left in the pan give great flavor to a sauce. Brown the meatballs, pour off excess fat, deglaze with a bit of water or wine, and add to your tomato sauce.
Browning in the oven at high heat is neater than frying and, if you’re making meatballs in quantity, both faster and easier than skillet searing. Baking them on a rack set over a baking pan ensures even cooking, and using your oven’s convection setting (if you have one) yields nicely browned surfaces.