The Secret to Tender Meatballs: Panade

We kinda have a little competition here in my family on who makes the best meatballs. My brother. But Ma says me, I think to hack off my brother- all in good fun, right?  Rob’s meatballs are more adventurous than mine where he likes to add a bit of bacon fat for a hint of smokiness. They are spicy, smokey and delectable. I hope he hates the word delectable. Probably no more than nosh and nom. My meatballs are traditional with a nice sharp Pecorino and plenty of garlic kick.  It did take me years to figure out how to get them tender and not so dense though.

The answer was Panade. I had discovered it while reading an Issue of Cook’s Illustrated one day and it suggested the buttermilk-bread combination, when for the longest time I had been using dried breadcrumbs. No wonder. Dried breadcrumbs are so… dry. Or when I did use fresh breadcrumbs, I did not soak them in the buttermilk first, but added the buttermilk separately. You have to have a buttermilk-bread wedding before the blending, not during.  Capisci?  The chefs in Cook’s Illustrated also suggested an egg yolk in place of a whole egg which makes the meatballs too bound up.

And now my meatballs are the most tender I have ever made. The pasty goo works wonders.


The Secret to Tender Meatballs: Panade
Recipe type: Meat
Cuisine: Italian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 15 meatballs
Panade is a starchy thickener used to make the most tender meatballs, meatloaf, and skillet meat patties.
  • For the Panade:
  • ½ cup Buttermilk
  • 2 slices bread about 84 gm or 3 ounces
  • For the Meatballs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 pound 85% ground beef
  • ¼ cup Pecorino Romano
  • ¾ tsp. Kosher Salt
  • 1 tsp, Italian Seasoning
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Tear the bread into tiny bits and blend in buttermilk. Blend well mashing with a fork until smooth and pasty. Let sit about 10 minutes.
  3. In a large bowl, using your hands blend the panade mixture with all the rest of the ingredients until smooth and evenly blended.
  4. Roll 1¼ inch-sized balls between your two hands until perfectly round and firm.
  5. Place all 15 meatballs on a parchment paper lined sheet pan and bake for 20 minutes.
  6. Serve with your favorite Marinara Sauce and a big mound of pasta.


NOTE: The neat thing about Panade is that it also works in meatloaf and skillet burgers.  Skillet burgers are the kind that you would sear off in a pan, remove the patties and make a nice onion pan gravy using the drippings from the burgers. Then add the patties back to the gravy to simmer until cooked through, then serve with mashed potatoes. Comfort food.  One recipe Panade to one pound of ground meat is the usual ratio. Play with it and see how it fits into your own meatball/loaf/patties recipes.


Happy Valentine’s Day!


  1. Posted February 14, 2017 at 2:18 PM | Permalink

    Earth to Robin, is that you Robin, good to here form you, especially when you are providing great meatball advice. I didn’t realize the early marriage was so important. It’s always good when mom likes yours best.

    • Robin
      Posted February 15, 2017 at 7:04 AM | Permalink

      Hi Larry! Good to pop in here and share what I have learned. It’s all in the paste:)

  2. mjs
    Posted February 15, 2017 at 1:07 PM | Permalink

    I always make a panade, let it soak for a good long while, I never use breadcrumbs anymore toooo dadblasted dry..I handle the meatballs not so much either and bake them on parchment paper…If I a making a meatloaf I try not to handle it much either and pour some tomato sauce type on the top half way thru the baking it makes it even more tasty..Love your blog, always get tons of great advice for yummy recipes that come out great!

    • Robin
      Posted February 16, 2017 at 4:30 PM | Permalink

      Thanks! Good idea not to over handle!

  3. Posted February 16, 2017 at 8:17 AM | Permalink

    I love balls! I usually sear mine in a cast iron skillet and let them cook in the marinara sauce – I am going to give this a try next week, I’ve had a taste for meatballs lately.

    Have a great day my friend!

    • Robin
      Posted February 16, 2017 at 4:28 PM | Permalink

      I do like them fried in olive oil, but hate the mess! You and your balls;) Hahaha!

  4. Posted February 16, 2017 at 1:34 PM | Permalink

    Oh. My. Goodness! I’ve got to try this. And, I want to do the skillet burgers. Sounds like we grew up calling Salisbury Steak. Yummy!

    So glad to get cooking advice again from my favorite practical chef!!

    • Robin
      Posted February 16, 2017 at 4:28 PM | Permalink

      Thanks Sheila!

  5. Angie
    Posted March 26, 2017 at 3:21 PM | Permalink

    I love the idea of Panade idea but I’m lactose-intolerant. Is there a reasonable substitute for the Buttermilk? Is it possible to use Almond Milk with the bread? Or would it mess up the flavors? Thanks for your help!

    • Robin
      Posted March 26, 2017 at 6:41 PM | Permalink

      Hi Angie! You can use broth, like chicken or beef and water would even work fine too. Enjoy!

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