Freezer Friendly/ Main Dish/ Recipe/ Wild Game

Italian Meatballs

November 29, 2017 (Last Updated: April 20, 2019)

Ground Elk Meat transformed into a delicious meatball.

This recipe was originally published in April 2015. The pictures have been updated and a few, minor adjustments to the recipe have been made. 

Bake Italian Meatballs made with ground elk burger.

I have finally made the perfect Italian style meatballs.  I’ve made them in the past, but they have always been way too dense to be called good.  These meatballs were so light and tender…and the seasoning…..I think I nailed this one to perfection!

For these meatballs I used ground elk meat.  It’s what we have in the freezer and I use it in place of ground beef in just about every recipe.

I know not everyone has ground elk….not to worry!  You can use ground beef.  Or you can use an even mixture of ground beef and ground pork.  Traditional Italian meatballs call for a combination of ground beef and pork.

For those of you with hunters in your family, you could also use ground venison.

Three Italian meatballs on a small white plate with a fork.

Wild game is very lean, so trying to keep these meatballs tender and moist is tricky.  But I figured out a couple of techniques!  These techniques work for whatever type of meat you use.

How to make meatballs

  • First I used very small fresh bread crumbs soaked in milk.  Next,  once the meat is added to the mixture, try not to over work the meat.  Just mix it until the seasoning is well incorporated.
  •  Then let it rest for a bit and give it one final mix before forming the meatballs.
  •  For shaping the meatballs, I used a small scoop.  It forms perfect, consistent sized meatballs.
  • Last, I baked at 400 degrees for exactly 15 minutes.  I actually didn’t think they were cooked through until I split one in half to check. Depending on the size of your meatballs, I would start at 15 minutes, check to see if they are done.  If not, bake for 5 more minutes and check again.  Over cooking will dry the meatballs out.
  • For the bread crumbs, you want fresh bread, not dried.  I used some day old hamburger buns  from my homemade buns.  I love using up all the leftover food I have and I also love using food that I know what’s in it.
  • You can use any kind of bread.  Keep in mind that you might want to use something mild tasting.  A heavy wheat or rye will be tasted in these meatballs.  Also if you are using a crusty artisan bread, you might want to remove the crust.  I think it would be difficult to soften the tough crust typical on an artisan bread.

What type of meat can I use when making meatballs?

I used ground elk meat. You can also use a lean ground beef or ground turkey.

Italian Style Meatballs sitting on a white plate with marinara sauce.

Cooked meatballs can be used for spaghetti in tomato sauce.  I placed these in hot marinara sauce about 10 minutes before serving so the meatballs were heated through.

You don’t want over cooked meatballs.  Just enough time in the sauce to reheat them. These would also be awesome in meatball sandwiches!

Can I freeze meatballs?

Yes, these meatballs can be frozen. Once cooked and cooled, the meatballs can be placed in a single layer in a freezer bag and frozen for future use.

I often like to make a double batch and freeze several for later. There’s nothing better than having ready made meatballs whenever you need them.

Baked Italian style meatballs piled in a white bowl.

Another meatball I also make is cocktail meatballs! These are perfect for serving as an appetizer!

Don’t forget to PIN for later!

Italian meatballs topped with shredded parmesan and fresh chopped parsley.

5 from 2 votes
Italian Meatballs
Italian Meatballs
Prep Time
25 mins
Cook Time
15 mins
Total Time
40 mins
Italian Style Meatballs
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: meatballs made with elk meat, meatballs with Italian seasoning, wild game meatballs
Servings: 90 small meatballs
Calories: 66 kcal
Author: Kathy
  • 4 cups fresh bread crumbs cut into small pieces
  • 2 cups milk
  • 4 pounds ground elk meat
  • 4 cloves crushed garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 Tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 1 Tablespoon dried basil
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 Tablespoons salt
  • 1 Tablespoon white pepper
  • 1 1/2 Cups grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Put bread crumbs into a large bowl Pour milk over top and let sit until fully absorbed. If bread is still dry, add a bit more milk.
  2. Add garlic through white pepper. Mix
  3. Add in ground meat, mix lightly.
  4. Add Parmesan cheese and mix lightly
  5. Use small scoop to form meatballs. Place on a lightly sprayed tray.
  6. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Check to make certain they are cooked through.
Recipe Notes

May substitute ground elk for ground venison or ground beef.

Meatballs may be frozen after baked and cooled.  

Nutrition Facts
Italian Meatballs
Amount Per Serving
Calories 66 Calories from Fat 18
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 2g 3%
Saturated Fat 1g 5%
Cholesterol 15mg 5%
Sodium 192mg 8%
Potassium 90mg 3%
Total Carbohydrates 4g 1%
Protein 5g 10%
Vitamin A 0.7%
Vitamin C 0.3%
Calcium 4%
Iron 5.1%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.




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  • Reply
    February 10, 2018 at 5:32 pm

    I tried and tried to make meatballs out of ground turkey, but they failed each time. This recipe was a success!!!! Thank you!

    • Reply
      February 10, 2018 at 6:28 pm

      Hooray! Turkey is a lot like elk meat – both are really lean. I’m so glad you tried this with ground turkey and that it worked out perfectly! I’m doing the happy dance! 🙂

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