These amazing keto Italian meatballs with almond flour are pillowy soft and juicy! Mix up a special almond flour and gelatin panade (instead of bread and milk), makes meatballs tender and moist, low-carb and gluten-free!
They are perfect to make in a make a big batch, and easy to portion out and meal prep: These almond flour meatballs freeze wonderfully and you can have an easy quick keto appetizer or dinner ready anytime of the week!
Why not all meat meatballs
I have made a lot of meat only keto meatballs. After all, if burgers don’t need bread in them meatballs shouldn’t either. Right? Well, no. These breadless meatballs were bad… bounce of the wall bad.
I used to think that mixing bread or flour into meat was just a great way for greedy businesses to increase profit. Really, I have seen more than one meatball nutritional label listing rusk BEFORE meat, the gall!
Nevertheless, adding breadcrumbs or the traditional bread and milk mix (called panade), while not ideal for a low-carb diet, will actually do wonders for the texture of meatballs and meatloaves.
You see, a burger is cooked really fast, to medium or medium well max (hopefully). Meatballs (and meatloaf) are cooked all the way through, so there’s no pink left inside. And there it lies the problem.
The longer ground meat is cooked, the firmer it gets. The proteins in the meat tighten and create a dry, and even rubbery, texture. Which is no good. Meatballs aren’t supposed to be tough, they should be easy to bite into, tender and juicy.
Solution: add something in between the meat fibers that will prevent them from fusing together. Keto solution: Other than bread.
Keto no bread meatballs!
Only meat meatballs, although perfect in it’s macros and simplicity, don’t cut the mustard. So, what is a keto or low-carb cook to do for pillowy soft, mouth watering no bread meatballs?
Enter this keto, low-carb panade, that is also gluten-free! My crazy, but simple recipe for bread-free panade uses just simple ingredients that you already have in your kitchen if you cook keto: almond flour, clear gelatin and beef stock, or stock cubes.
The collagen-rich gelatin surrounds the grains of almond flour, and expands the juiciness of the meatballs tenfold! I prefer grass-fed beef gelatin but you can also use regular unflavored gelatin powder. Dissolve the gelatin in beef stock (or try bone broth) to add a punch of flavor!
Fun fact, meatballs are naturally high in collagen, even before adding the gelatin. Ground meat is a natural source of collagen, because more often than not it contains a lot of connective tissue. This chewy stuff that doesn’t look great on a steak is mainly made of collagen.
How to make almond flour meatballs
Almond flour panade
First, prepare the almond flour and gelatin panade mix that will substitute the breadcrumbs and keep your keto Italian meatballs mega moist.
In a wide bowl or deep dish, evenly sprinkle the powdered unflavored gelatin into warm beef broth (for flavor, you could use plain water), and let it hydrate. Then, mix with a fork until smooth,and make sure there are no gelatin clumps.
If the gelatin doesn’t fully dissolve or if it’s lumpy, you can warm it on a microwave slightly to melt the gelatin lumps away. Be careful and only gently heat, as boiled gelatin will lose its gelling properties.
Add the almond flour to the stock and gelatin and put the mix in the fridge to harden. It will take about 2 hours. You can do this a day before.
You can now process it into a gelatinous almond flour: slice up the gelatin all over with a knife, then crush it with a fork into small even pieces, to make a sort of crumb. Now, for the meatballs!
First, choose your ground meat. I made my Italian meatballs with ground beef only, and used a really lean mince for more protein and less fat, as I like in my macros. You may prefer the classic, delicious combo of half ground pork and half ground beef.
Chop an onion, as small as you can (optionally, grate it), and crush some garlic cloves. Cook them up with a little extra virgin olive oil starting up on medium heat until translucent, then turn down the heat and cook them until they reach a deep golden brown color. Toss them around occasionally to avoid burning.
Turn off the heat and let the onions and garlic cool down completely. Then, add them to the ground meat, together with the salt, spices, the egg, and the almond flour and gelatin keto panade.
Put your hands in there (or use a big spoon, but it will take longer) and mix everything together into a glorious keto meatball batter.
Shape your meatballs with love and care, no need to squeeze them much. I rolled them up to about the size of a ping pong ball, and got 24 out of this recipe. They are ready to cook, ideally in the air fryer or pan fried.
How to cook keto meatballs
Meatballs in the air fryer
Making these keto meatballs in the air fryer is the best, easiest and fastest way to get them crispy and super juicy!
Air frying is a very efficient way to cook, so the meatballs barely lose any moisture. They get to keep their perfect round shape, and will barely change in size. The meatball you roll is the meatball you get!
The only downside to air frying meatballs is that you have to do it in batches, as most air fryers are fairly small and you absolutely cannot pile on the meatballs. My air fryer is on its last legs, and I can’t wait to get myself the hugest air fryer possible and make all meatballs at once!
Pan fried meatballs
Pan fried meatballs are also great, as they cook fast, but they are a bit more labor intensive than air fried meatballs. But, if you don’t have an air fryer, pan fried meatballs are your best bet for delicious, juicy meatballs!
Pan frying meatballs can get messy with all the oil splattering, so I suggest using a splatter shield to let the steam out while keeping hot fat droplets in. Another downside is that the meat can stick to the pan and the almond flour meatballs might cook unevenly, but you just need to toss and turn them every now and then to avoid this disaster.
If there is one great advantage of pan frying meatballs, it’s how much more flavorful they get. To make these meatballs really pop, use an extra flavorful fat, like a nice extra virgin olive oil, lard or tallow. Duck or goose fat are also a terrific option, they’re not only for (keto) potatoes!
Oven baked meatballs
If there is one great thing about cooking meatballs in the oven, is that it’s totally hands free and, if you line your baking pan, mess free cooking method. If you use aluminum foil, after removing the meatballs, just roll it over and throw it away! No washing up to do! It can be said that oven baked meatballs are really the best, depending on the cook’s priorities 😅
Unfortunately, meatballs made in the oven have a tendency to shrink some and might get a little dry, as they lose a lot of water with the longer cooking time. But, if you don’t have an air fryer and can’t stand the pan frying mess (which I’m also rarely in the mood for), it’s totally okay to use the oven. The meatballs will still be delicious!
How to serve meatballs
The Italian way: In Italy spaghetti and meatballs are not really “a thing”. If you manage to find a restaurant that serves it, you’ve probably fallen into a tourist trap.
Italians generally serve their meatballs (called polpetta) in a keto friendlier way: sauce-less and on their own as a meal course or as a snack. Sure, they put bread in their meatballs mix, but at least no extra pasta carbs are served along.
Perhaps then, instead of going through the trouble of getting keto spaghetti and meatballs, you can enjoy the meatballs just by themselves:
To eat them as snacks or appetizers, you can plate the plain meatballs just garnished with chopped parsley or basil. You can add a marinara dipping sauce on the side. For your special guests that prefer clean fingers over fun, offer some toothpicks!
A possible even better way of eating your meatballs is à la Joey: his favorite, the classic meatball sub! Made with a keto bread, this is my favorite too!
To serve meatballs in sauce, you still need too cook them (a bit) first. Throwing the raw meatballs into the sauce will make them loose their shape, and they might even crumble apart.
You don’t need to fully cook them before adding to the sauce, but make sure to sear the outside in a hot pan with some oil until they are lightly browned first. Then, you can add the seared meatballs into your beautiful sauce and simmer all together until they finish cooking.
How to freeze meatballs
These keto almond flour meatballs are perfect to make ahead and freeze them up whenever you need meatballs without having to drive to Ikea! (Not that I’d ever!)
To freeze the meatballs, line up a sheet pan with parchment paper and place the meatballs on it without let them touch one another. This way, you can freeze the meatballs without them getting stuck together.
Take the meatballs to the freezer until fully frozen. Then, remove the meatballs from the sheet pan and put them inside a sealable plastic bag, or into any freezer friendly container with an airtight lid, and back into the freezer where they can stay for as long as you need!
This method works for either cooked or uncooked meatballs. But if possible, I recommend freezing them uncooked as they won’t be as soft when cooked for the second time.
You can easily cook the meatballs frozen, without thawing. Just add about 5 more minutes to the cooking time!
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For the meatballs
- 1 kilo (2.2 pounds) ground beef (or half pork half beef)
- 1 egg
- 1/2 tablespoon salt
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons oregano
- 1 teaspoon basil
- 1 teaspoon thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
- 1 medium onion (~ 115 grams)
- 6 to 8 crushed garlic cloves
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
For the almond flour panade
- 200 grams beef stock (~ 3/4 cup)
- 1 tablespoon unflavored powdered gelatin
- 75 grams almond flour (~ 3/4 cup)
Almond flour panade
- (start this step early to solidify the gelatin) Fill a medium bowl with warm stock, and sprinkle in one tablespoon of gelatin. Wait for a couple of minutes to bloom. Mix the gelatin with a fork. If not fully dissolved, take it to the microwave in few seconds increments, until it's completely liquid. Do not boil the mixture.
- Add the almond flour to the dissolved gelatin, and mix it really well.
- Refrigerate it until solid (about 2 hours)
- Slice up the hard gelatin, making many cuts with a knife, and crush it really well with a fork until it becomes a crumble.
- Finely chop the onion and crush the garlic cloves, and add them to a saucepan together with one tablespoon of olive oil. Cook in medium heat until they are translucent, then turn down the heat and continue cooking until they are a deep golden brown color. Let them cool.
- Mix together your choice of ground meat, 1 egg, 1/2 tablespoon of salt (or to taste), spices, the almond flour panade and the cooked onion and garlic.
- Form the meatballs, shaping them by hand. You can make about 24 ping-pong sized meatballs from one recipe. Do not press them hard, just enough to keep the shape.
Meatball cooking instructions
- Preheat the air fryer to 200 °C (400 °F). Spread the meatballs in the basket in a single layer, leaving some space in between them for the hot air to circulate.
- Cook each batch of meatballs until they are lightly browned and cooked-through, about 10 to 12 minutes (add 4-5 minutes if cooking from frozen).
- Add a thin layer of olive oil or another fat (like lard) to a nonstick saucepan.
- Cook the meatballs on medium-high heat until they are browned (about 10 minutes) flipping them every couple of minutes so that they will cook evenly and to avoid burning.
Oven baked meatballs
- Preheat the oven to 200 °C (400 °F), static. For fan oven (convection), decrease temperature to 175 °C (350 °F).
- Line baking pan with foil or parchment paper. Place the meatballs on the pan leaving some distance between them for even cooking.
- Bake the meatballs for about 20 - 22 minutes, until browned.
You can substitute the oregano, basil and thyme for 1 1/2 tablespoon of Italian seasoning ready mix.
If you prefer, use stock cubes dissolved in water for the broth. If you don't have any, just dissolve the gelatin in plain warm water, but you'll need to increase the salt in the recipe a little.
You can freeze these meatballs and cook them from frozen, see instructions on the post.
If checking doneness with a meat thermometer, inside temperature of meatballs should read a minimum of 71 °C (160 °F) for food safety reasons.
Nutrition information is based on 4 out of 24 lean beef mince meatballs. 4 meatballs contain 3.5 net carbs, 1.8 of which come from the small onion. You can omit the onion to further reduce the carb content.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 6 Serving Size: 4 meatballs
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 330Total Fat: 17.4gCarbohydrates: 5.1gNet Carbohydrates: 3.5gFiber: 1.7gSugar: 1.6gProtein: 38.4g
Nutrition information is provided as a guideline only. Different brands of ingredients may have different nutrition facts. If tracking macros, remake the calculations using the nutrition facts from the labels of the ingredients you selected. Net carbs calculated exclude carbs from insoluble fiber and sugar alcohols.