01.17.19

EPIC Whole30 Baked Meatballs

Okay, hold up. These EPIC Whole30 Baked Meatballs are LIT, y’all.

EPIC Whole30 Baked Meatballs

Growing up, my Italian mother used to make some Meatballs al Forno (aka baked meatballs) that were insanely delicious. They had ricotta inside for a nice, creamy touch and they were just insanely good. I wanted to give her meatballs a little Whole30/Paleo/Dairy-free/Grain-free makeover and I blew my own mind with this recipe! 

EPIC Whole30 Baked Meatballs

I am seriously obsessed with how these turned out and they couldn’t be easier to make. I tried a new hack to give the texture of the meatballs the ricotta effect that my mom’s had. I pulsed up cashews, basil and garlic in the food processor to make a pesto-like situation to put in the filling of the meatballs. The cashews gave the perfect texture to my meatballs and the basil obviously added a vibrant, explosive flavor taking my meatballs to the status of, well, EPIC. 

Other than quickly processing up the cashews, the rest of this recipe is rather simple. Make the meatballs, throw them in a baking dish and bake them at a higher temperature until browned, then smother them in sauce, reduce the heat in the oven and let them cook lower and slower until tender and delicious!

You can serve these however you like. Over pasta, zucchini noodles, spaghetti squash, or I even love them solo with a big Whole30 Caesar salad on the side. 

EPIC Whole30 Baked Meatballs

These EPIC Whole30 Baked Meatballs make me proud and I hope you love them as much as I do. And if you do, these will be in my new book, “The Comfortable Kitchen,” which will be released on December 28th! Learn more about the book and preorder your copy here.

SHOP THE POST.

EPIC BAKED MEATBALLS

epic whole30 baked meatballs
Serves: 5
Print
4.97 from 26 votes
Delicious, Grain-free, Gluten-Free, and Whole30 approved meatballs baked to perfection!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup fresh basil packed (plus more for serving)
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup cashews unroasted and unsalted
  • Zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 strips of no sugar added bacon finely diced (I like Applegate)
  • 1 pound ground beef 85 percent lean
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1.5 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes optional
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 large eggs whisked
  • 2 tablespoons arrowroot flour
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 32oz jar marinara (I like Rao's)
  • 2 tablespoons freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley for serving

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
  • In a food processor or blender, add the basil and garlic. Turn on and process until finely chopped, 15 to 20 seconds. Add the cashews and lemon zest and process until cashews are finely chopped. It should have a crumbly, dough-like consistency.
  • Transfer the cashew-basil mixture to a large mixing bowl, add the bacon, ground beef, ground pork, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, dried oregano, eggs, and arrowroot flour. Using clean hands, mix the meat until well combined.
  • In a 9x12 baking dish, use a paper towel to evenly coat the bottom of the dish with olive oil.
  • Using an ice cream scoop, scoop out meat mixture and form into 2-inch round balls. Place meatballs in baking dish and repeat until all meatballs are formed and in a single layer in the baking dish. (It makes approximately 17 meatballs).
  • Transfer dish to oven and cook, uncovered, until the meatballs are browned, about 20 minutes.
  • Remove from oven and decrease the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.
  • Pour marinara evenly over meatballs.
  • Return meatballs to the oven and continue to bake, uncovered, until the meatballs are tender and the sauce is very hot and bubbly, about 45 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with freshly chopped parsley and basil.
  • Serve as desired and enjoy!

Notes

FREEZING NOTES: For freezing, I like to go all the way to step 8. After you've browned the meatballs + poured the marinara over the meatballs. Let cool completely and freeze. When ready to bake. Thaw, then pop into the oven at 325 and bake, uncovered, until the meatballs are tender, and the sauce is hot and bubbly, about 45 minutes. 

90 Comments

  • Reply
    Rae
    January 25, 2022 at 1:07 am

    Yes, please – nutrition info (even macros for protein, carbs, fat..sugar and fiber a bonus)

  • Reply
    Jennifer
    January 23, 2022 at 12:01 am

    5 stars
    Just made these on a cold day here in Texas and they are amazing. With the extra meatballs I did not cover them in sauce, just cooked them up and froze them plain. My teenager will devour these after school and dip them in marinara sauce.

  • Reply
    Theresa Owens
    January 11, 2022 at 2:53 am

    Can’t wait to try this recipe! I would like to make it a few days ahead up through pouring the sauce over it, store it in the fridge, and bake it off a few days later. I only need to hold it for a few days so I’d rather not freeze it. Is it OK to hold the par-cooked meatballs in the fridge for a few days?

    • Reply
      Alex
      January 11, 2022 at 3:04 am

      yes absolutely!! This works well.

  • Reply
    Kate
    January 7, 2022 at 10:24 pm

    I don’t eat pork or beef. Has anyone tried ground turkey or chicken with similar results?

    • Reply
      katie
      January 18, 2022 at 2:29 pm

      Pork has been impossible to find near me so I did one pound of beef and one pound of turkey. Because turkey is so much leaner, I did add a little bit of avocado oil to make sure they stayed moist but think it would be great with 2 pounds of just turkey

    • Reply
      Karin
      January 19, 2022 at 4:51 am

      I made it with all ground turkey and turkey bacon. I added 1 Tbsp EVOO for fat & they turned out AMAZING!

  • Reply
    April
    December 6, 2021 at 2:36 am

    5 stars
    I come back to this recipe time and time again. It never lets me down.

  • Reply
    lori
    October 27, 2021 at 4:33 pm

    can you please add freezing instructions? I saw on insta stories but I can’t find again. I have a broken hand and trying to get some stuff that my hubby can help with and freeze. thank you so much!

    • Reply
      Alex
      October 28, 2021 at 12:36 pm

      Just added in the Notes! 🙂
      get well soon!

      • Reply
        Marie
        December 23, 2021 at 2:21 am

        Can you please add nutrition info. Thanks!

        • Reply
          Sherry Rice
          January 6, 2022 at 10:24 pm

          Hi Alex! Can these go straight in the oven from the freezer if you forget to thaw? I did the first bake but not the second when I first prepared. Wondering if they will work just as well if I keep them on for longer.

          Thanks!

          • Alex
            January 10, 2022 at 1:18 am

            yes they definitely can!! I would just be careful if your dish is glass- When using Pyrex or any glass bakeware or cookware, Sudden changes in temperature may cause the dishes to shatter or break.

      • Reply
        Karin
        January 18, 2022 at 3:50 am

        5 stars
        Wow! These were amazing! Hubby said he never wants any other meatballs. I did all turkey & turkey bacon. I was a little worried they might be dry so I added a tablespoon of EVOO & they were perfect! Thank you!

  • Reply
    Drew
    October 17, 2021 at 7:19 pm

    I love these meatballs so much, I’ve made them probably close to 50 times!! Question; can this recipe also be made into a meatloaf??

    • Reply
      Alex
      October 18, 2021 at 11:57 am

      It could be delish as a meatloaf! would be very italian style, but I don’t see why not. Now– note that it has a higher fat content– so your meatloaf is going to look scary after you bake it.. but that’s pretty typical with meatloaf.

  • Reply
    Erin
    October 12, 2021 at 1:02 am

    These are so tasty! I do have a question. When I make these (I’ve done so twice), there’s a decent amount of liquid and pink stuff (fat from the meat?) that I feel like I should drain before adding the tomato sauce. Do you have a recommendation on what to do with that? Once I drained it, and once I left it. I think I prefer the drained. Thank you for letting me know your thoughts!

    • Reply
      Alex
      October 12, 2021 at 11:33 am

      yes, depending on the meat you use– this can happen! Draining is a great idea.

  • Reply
    Allison
    September 23, 2021 at 1:52 am

    5 stars
    Alex- I have to review these saying that they are the best of the best! I have made them so many times I have lost count- Thank you for a delicious, tried and true recipe for meatballs! If I don’t have pork, I sub Turkey, I have skipped the bacon and they turn out well- it is just such an easy recipe! I have taken to making them in triple batches and freezing them individually to pull out for busy nights. Thank you!

  • Reply
    Pilar
    September 21, 2021 at 12:56 am

    Hi! How would you suggest we freeze these? Cooked or raw?

    • Reply
      Alex
      September 21, 2021 at 1:18 am

      I prefer to freeze them raw!

  • Reply
    Lisa
    August 21, 2021 at 4:18 am

    5 stars
    Made these tonight. SO GOOD! I wanted to get two meals out of these so after baking, I put 9 meatballs in a skillet with the Raos marinara sauce and let it simmer while boiling up the jovial pasta, and placed the remainder of the baked meatballs in a freezer bag for another night!

  • Reply
    Ashley
    May 23, 2021 at 9:27 pm

    5 stars
    This is the only way I make meatballs now! The texture is the perfect combination of a traditional pan-fried and braised meatball.

  • Reply
    Carley
    May 21, 2021 at 9:17 pm

    5 stars
    10/5 stars!!! This recipe is BOMB. I made these for Christmas Eve last year for my family and everyone was blown away. Perfect (healthy!) Italian night dinner!

    • Reply
      Alex
      May 22, 2021 at 12:21 pm

      Thank you, Carley!

  • Reply
    Elizabeth
    April 28, 2021 at 6:12 pm

    5 stars
    Made these last night (turkey instead of pork/beef) and my boyfriend and I (but especially him) loved them!! Not doing a Whole 30 but I’m just trying to find some healthier swaps for us. Served with some tasty bread and a salad with your Whole30 Caesar dressing!!

    • Reply
      Alex
      April 28, 2021 at 6:17 pm

      amazing!! so glad to hear it!

  • Reply
    Jen
    April 19, 2021 at 2:29 pm

    Any suggestions on making these without pork?

    • Reply
      Alex
      April 19, 2021 at 2:31 pm

      just sub in more beef.

      • Reply
        Steph
        April 20, 2021 at 9:40 pm

        Hi! These are my favorite! Quick question— I’ve been using cooked bacon, should I be using raw bacon that just cooks with the meatballs? About to whip up a batch and this just came to me that I might’ve been doing it wrong every other time. *Still tasty with the cooked bacon!*

        • Reply
          Alex
          April 21, 2021 at 6:08 pm

          yes!!! raw bacon is best!

      • Reply
        Theresa
        May 16, 2021 at 11:29 pm

        5 stars
        These meatballs are the absolute best! I make them all the time and they have quickly became a family favorite! Thank you so much for an excellent recipe! 💕

        • Reply
          Alex
          May 17, 2021 at 12:27 am

          Thank you for the loving comment and review, Theresa!

    • Reply
      Julie Frakes
      December 2, 2021 at 2:44 am

      Can you sub the cashews for something else similar?

  • Reply
    Rebecca
    March 22, 2021 at 3:16 am

    5 stars
    Delicious!! Love these meatballs! If I were to cook them ahead of time as a meal to drop off for a friend, how would I suggest they reheat them in the oven ?

    • Reply
      Alex
      March 22, 2021 at 9:21 pm

      I would just tell them to pop into the oven, covered at 350 for about 20-30 mins.

  • Reply
    Nikki
    March 9, 2021 at 12:04 am

    5 stars
    These were amazing. I made a couple changes. Added my homemade pesto (df) 1/3c, to the meat mixture. Also added chopped Prosciutto instead of bacon. And for the sauce I used Newman’s Own roast garlic. These were so tasty and moist. Big hit!! Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply
    saneeah okhai
    March 8, 2021 at 2:31 pm

    Delicious, dairy free, meatball recipe I have made it several times, a great family get together go to.

  • Reply
    Rachael
    February 13, 2021 at 12:40 pm

    This looks amazing! If I was going to add in a pre-made basil pesto, vs creating my own, about how much would you add in?

    • Reply
      Alex
      February 19, 2021 at 6:14 pm

      I’d use about 1/3 cup

  • Reply
    Julie
    February 11, 2021 at 11:47 pm

    5 stars
    Best meatballs I’ve ever eaten in my life. You must make these!
    I leave out the garlic (sensitivity) and sub sausage for pork. Rao’s Sensitive Marinara and you have an insanely good meal.

  • Reply
    Sydney
    February 3, 2021 at 1:09 am

    5 stars
    These are so good! Nothing like them! (even my grandma’s meatballs but shhh)

  • Reply
    Jennifer
    January 31, 2021 at 3:46 pm

    5 stars
    This is the best dish I’ve ever made! My husband is a tough critic of Whole 30 recipes and he can’t wait for me to make them again : ) Thank you!

  • Reply
    Grace
    January 25, 2021 at 2:32 am

    5 stars
    Made these tonight with spaghetti squash on the side, and they were so good! I was skeptical on adding lemon zest, but it added such a nice zing of flavor at the end of a bite to balance the savoriness of the meat. We have a nut allergy in the family, so I left out the cashews and mixed everything at once. Also, my grocery store was out of ground pork so I subbed ground Italian turkey sausage. Texture and flavor was still great.

  • Reply
    Molly Clardy
    January 22, 2021 at 9:21 pm

    5 stars
    These are soooooo full of flavor and perfect….

  • Reply
    Kathy A
    January 22, 2021 at 12:37 am

    4 stars
    Outstanding! Served w cauliflower rice. I’d like to try the meatball recipe in your book to. It has become my favorite cookbook. The ckn parm was amazing. I want to make everything in that book!

  • Reply
    Carolyn
    January 19, 2021 at 6:30 am

    5 stars
    Most Whole30 meatballs I’ve tried to make are dry and not so good. These meatballs are moist and delicious. Even if I wasn’t following Whole30 these will be my go to recipe for meatballs.

  • Reply
    Ellie
    January 18, 2021 at 11:52 pm

    5 stars
    Made these as part of whole30 and they are by far one of the favorite things I’ve made! I ate it with spiralized butter nut squash noodles and Muir Glenn tomato sauce and it was AMAZING. 100% will become part of my regular rotation when W30 is done.

  • Reply
    Cass
    January 18, 2021 at 8:55 pm

    Hi, I cant wait to try! Do you have suggestions for egg substitute? My son cant have any dairy or eggs. Thanks!

    • Reply
      Alex
      January 24, 2021 at 9:15 pm

      a “flax egg” should work here!

  • Reply
    Elizabeth
    January 14, 2021 at 8:47 pm

    I do not have basil on hand, but do have Italian parsley. Do you think that would work in its place? Looking forward to trying these!

    • Reply
      Alex
      January 15, 2021 at 12:39 pm

      You can use parsley– it’ll change the flavor quite a bit, though.

  • Reply
    Jessica
    January 12, 2021 at 2:04 pm

    5 stars
    These were amazing!

  • Reply
    Shelby Borghardt
    January 12, 2021 at 1:24 am

    These meatballs were a big hit! I used a mixture of lean ground Turkey and Italian pork sausage. Unfortunately didn’t have any bacon on hand, but we’re still delicious! Love the flavor from the basil cashew mixture. Don’t leave out the lemon zest- provides such a yummy brightness!

  • Reply
    Andrea
    January 11, 2021 at 10:35 pm

    5 stars
    This is one of those recipes that shocks you that it’s whole30 since it’s so delicious! I put them over butternut squash noodles, would highly recommend!

  • Reply
    Dom
    January 11, 2021 at 6:20 pm

    Excited to make these! Can you cook faster than 45 min at a higher temp?

  • Reply
    Kristy
    January 11, 2021 at 5:27 pm

    Thanks for making Whole30 so delicious. I couldn’t find unroasted and unsalted cashews. Will roasted and salted work well? Or should I omit altogether?

    • Reply
      Alex
      January 12, 2021 at 11:44 pm

      that should be fine!! i would just cut back a tad on the salt added.

  • Reply
    LB
    January 8, 2021 at 3:00 pm

    Hi Alex! Can’t wait to make these! Any idea about how much pesto this makes? (Looking to make that part in advance for easily adding when it’s time to construct!) Thank you!

  • Reply
    Alexandra
    January 6, 2021 at 12:31 am

    5 stars
    YUM! Doubled this recipe and I’m so excited to have these in our freezer and ready to eat again soon. Awesome taste and good texture.

  • Reply
    Courtney
    January 5, 2021 at 10:57 pm

    Do these freeze well?

    • Reply
      Alex
      January 6, 2021 at 2:33 pm

      yes, for sure! I prefer to roll the meatballs and freeze prior to cooking. but both ways work.

  • Reply
    Jane
    January 3, 2021 at 11:24 pm

    5 stars
    I just made these meatballs (Whole30, day 3) and this recipe is simply amazing! I was a bit skeptical about the cashews and lemon zest but I made the recipe exactly as written and wouldn’t change a thing! This will go into the rotation for sure, whole30 and beyond. Thank you, thank you for sharing!

    • Reply
      Alex
      January 4, 2021 at 1:35 pm

      Thank you, Jane!

      • Reply
        Reagan
        October 5, 2021 at 1:42 am

        What are the instructions to cook from frozen? Still the same?

        • Reply
          Alex
          October 5, 2021 at 9:51 pm

          It would take an extra 10+ minutes before they get browned.

    • Reply
      Kara
      December 12, 2021 at 10:26 pm

      I can’t wait to make these! Do you think after they bake fully I could put them in the crockpot on warm for serving? I only have one oven and have lots of other things that need to go in for a holiday party!

      • Reply
        Alex
        December 13, 2021 at 5:12 pm

        yes absolutely! Would be great this way!

  • Reply
    Kathryn Jones
    December 21, 2020 at 3:09 am

    5 stars
    These are the best meatballs I’ve ever eaten! I used Jimmy Dean sausage (natural style) vs ground pork and omitted the bacon because it’s what we had. SO good! Thank you for this delicious recipe! I will try making them again W30 style (with the ground pork and s/f bacon) in January.

    • Reply
      Katie
      January 6, 2021 at 2:20 am

      5 stars
      Excellent meal! Omitted the bacon and they were still great!

  • Reply
    Abby
    December 20, 2020 at 1:37 pm

    I know you address the cashew allergy above. My husband is allergic to all nuts. Would this recipe work without the nuts? These look so delish and would love to try them!!

    • Reply
      Alex
      December 21, 2020 at 12:07 pm

      yes, it will work without the nuts for sure! It does add a creaminess to the bite; but they’ll still be delightful without. If you are ok with dairy– I suggest adding 1/2 cup ricotta

      • Reply
        Carolina
        January 17, 2021 at 3:19 pm

        If we want to use a pesto we’ve already made, would you also suggest a 1/2 cup?

        • Reply
          Alex
          January 18, 2021 at 3:54 pm

          yes 1/2 cup should be good

  • Reply
    Bridget
    December 8, 2020 at 9:07 pm

    Substitution for ground pork and beef? Will ground turkey or chicken work? And turkey bacon to substitute regular bacon?

    • Reply
      Alex
      December 9, 2020 at 1:23 pm

      If you opt to use turkey or chicken– I’d definitely go for dark meat (ground chicken or turkey thigh) to ensure the meatballs don’t dry out.

    • Reply
      Emily
      January 15, 2021 at 2:18 am

      5 stars
      SO. GOOD. My husband says they’re the best meatballs I’ve made!!! Thanks Alex!

  • Reply
    K.
    November 15, 2020 at 1:35 am

    Can’t wait to try these!! Have you tried freezing them?

    • Reply
      Alex
      November 16, 2020 at 1:59 pm

      yes!! I freeze them raw and just thaw + bake them when ready to cook!

  • Reply
    Melissa Carpenter
    November 9, 2020 at 12:30 am

    The best meatballs I’ve ever had, hands down! Thank you!

    • Reply
      Alex
      November 9, 2020 at 12:53 pm

      yippee!!

  • Reply
    Lauren
    October 22, 2020 at 3:07 pm

    Should the bacon be cooked before it is added?

    • Reply
      Alex
      October 22, 2020 at 5:02 pm

      No, it will cook while in the meatballs

  • Reply
    Nikki
    October 22, 2020 at 3:31 am

    Is there a substitution you recommend for the cashews. My daughter is allergic

    • Reply
      Alex
      October 22, 2020 at 1:23 pm

      The best sub would be pine nuts, if she is allowed to have those. I would just chop them up really finely.

      • Reply
        Jenny
        January 23, 2022 at 9:45 pm

        Would almonds be ok to substitute for cashews or should I just omit? My husband doesn’t eat cashews or pine nuts.

        • Reply
          Alex
          January 26, 2022 at 1:33 pm

          I wouldn’t use almond here– they won’t give it the creamy texture. You can omit! they’ll still be good.

    • Reply
      Amy
      January 6, 2021 at 6:57 am

      Is there a substitution for the arrowroot? Would almond flour work?

      • Reply
        Alex
        January 6, 2021 at 2:31 pm

        Almond flour will be okay to use here. I prefer tapioca or arrowroot as it’s not as grainy.

  • Reply
    Julie Dalton
    October 19, 2020 at 11:17 pm

    O.M.G.!!! I made these tonight, and I think I’m going to be dreaming about them! They were the BEST! I’ve made several meatball recipes at home… and this is definitely my GO TO recipe. Thanks for an awesome meatball recipe! It’ll be in my bi-weekly rotation! 🙂

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