Freezer Friendly/ Main Dish/ Recipe/ Wild Game

Italian Meatballs

November 29, 2017 (Last Updated: February 17, 2020)

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Italian Meatballs made with wild game meat. These meatballs are made using ground elk meat. They are light and full of flavor. 

Meatballs topped with fresh green herbs.

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 also use e;l meat in this Mongolian Beef 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.

Meatballs piled into a white bowl and topped with fresh basil.

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

Don’t forget to PIN for later!

Meatballs sitting on top of tomato sauce and topped with shredded cheese.

If you make this recipe, Iโ€™d love to hear about it! Leave a comment below and snap a picture and tag me on Instagram @beyondthechickencoop

Check out all my wild game recipes.

Italian Meatballs

Italian Meatballs

Italian Style Meatballs
5 from 4 votes
Prep Time 25 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Total Time 40 mins
Course Dinner
Cuisine Italian
Servings 90 small meatballs
Calories 66 kcal


  • 4 cups fresh bread (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


  • 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.
  • Add garlic through white pepper. Mix
  • Add in ground meat, mix lightly.
  • Add Parmesan cheese and mix lightly
  • Use small scoop to form meatballs. Place on a lightly sprayed tray.
  • Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Check to make certain they are cooked through.


May substitute ground elk for ground venison or ground beef.
Meatballs may be frozen after baked and cooled. ย 


Calories: 66kcalCarbohydrates: 4gProtein: 5gFat: 2gSaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 15mgSodium: 192mgPotassium: 90mgVitamin A: 35IUVitamin C: 0.2mgCalcium: 40mgIron: 0.9mg
Keyword meatballs made with elk meat, meatballs with Italian seasoning, wild game meatballs
Tried this recipe?Leave a comment and let me know what you think.




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  • Reply
    David @ Spiced
    December 4, 2017 at 6:57 am

    Oh man, I missed this post a couple of days ago, Kathy…but I’m glad I caught it today! I love a good Italian meatball (heck, Laura’s family is Italian, so I better love meatballs)! I must admit that I’ve never cooked with ground elk, but I’m sure lean beef would be perfect fine here. Meatballs are one of my all-time favorite comfort food meals…you can do so much with them! In fact, I’m pretty sure I spied a post on meatball sandwiches up next…and I’m about to hop over and check those out! ๐Ÿ™‚ Looks delicious, my friend!

    • Reply
      December 5, 2017 at 5:52 am

      Yep! You can totally use ground beef. Meatballs are total comfort food!

  • Reply
    November 30, 2017 at 8:38 pm

    Meatballs are the way to my heart, I’m tellin’ ya. These look SO good- I think I could eat them every day!

    • Reply
      December 3, 2017 at 4:06 pm

      Thanks, Karly! I’ve got a bunch in my freezer just waiting to be eaten!

  • Reply
    Mary Ann | The Beach House Kitchen
    November 30, 2017 at 6:14 pm

    My husband’s favorite comfort food is spaghetti and meatballs Kathy! Wow, ground elk? I’ve never tried that!

    • Reply
      December 3, 2017 at 4:05 pm

      Total comfort food. You can use ground beef instead of the elk! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply
    stacey @ The Sugar Coated Cottage
    November 30, 2017 at 8:32 am

    Is there anything better than meatballs? These looks so tasty! To be honest I have not tried Elk meat but it sounds just as good a beef! Great pics! Take care.

  • Reply
    November 30, 2017 at 7:07 am

    5 stars
    I’ve never eaten elk before, but my girlfriend just moved to Colorado and she says its really good. Next time I visit her…

  • Reply
    [email protected]
    November 29, 2017 at 6:53 am

    Elk meat!? I can’t say I’ve ever tried it but am so intrigued! I love a good meatball and these are making me hungry!!

  • Reply
    November 29, 2017 at 6:38 am

    Wow! The idea of having regular elk meat in the freezer sounds so exotic for me! ๐Ÿ™‚ I have never eaten elk and have only seen some once in an animal park, I was impressed with their size, never knew they were so tall. The meatballs look so tempting, I planned to make some next week (my daughter’s wish), so I could try to spice them your way, I especially like the use of fennel.

    • Reply
      December 3, 2017 at 4:17 pm

      Meatballs are delicious! Don’t be afraid to substitute ground beef for the ground elk.It works well with just about any kind of meat.

  • Reply
    April 17, 2015 at 7:52 am

    Your meatballs look very good. I wish I had meat from wild game but I don’t. I also like to simmer some of my meatballs. I add them to soups or make them with a white sauce and veggies, like Kohlrabi.

    • Reply
      April 18, 2015 at 5:32 am

      I definitely need to try simmering meatballs. Thanks!

  • Reply
    Kimberly @ KimRidge Farm
    April 16, 2015 at 5:04 am

    These meatballs look wonderful. Thank you for sharing your recipe. I used to bake my meatballs and they came out very rubbery. I stopped baking them. Now I slowly simmer my meatballs in a consomme. My mom used to make it that way. And “A Taste of History” does it this way as well.

    I am going to give it another go with baking. And I’ll be careful not to over bake. Thank you again. This recipe is definitely a keeper. My stomach is growling at me.


    • Reply
      April 16, 2015 at 7:46 pm

      I hope you give them a try. I need to try simmering the meatballs! Something new to try every day!

  • Reply
    April 16, 2015 at 4:07 am

    I can’t wait to try your meatball recipe, I have totally bombed meatballs in the past! Not sure if husband will give me another chance!! He’s a big hunter so I think I’d like to use venison for these, he has gotten an elk in the past but I had no clue what to do with it! My 5 year old daughter is just thrilled with your little chix pix.

    • Reply
      April 16, 2015 at 7:47 pm

      I was banned from meatballs for a while….just finally thought it was time to get past my hockey pucks and I am so glad I ventured out again! Give them a try!!!

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