The Magnificent Meatball Sandwich

While its origins are unknown, the ubiquitous meatball itself is not. At one time, simply a cost-effective way to stretch certain cuts of meat, the humble meatball is now a menu focal point and top-trending ingredient.

Meatball sandwiches began showing up on submarine-shaped buns in the Northeastern U.S., while regionally popular ethnic varieties crossed cultural boundaries to reach new palates. Meatball-centered restaurants and food trucks are popping up all over the country offering countless varieties. Meatball sandwiches and snack-sized meatball sliders are popular versions frequently appearing on menus. With a broad appeal, the meatball sandwich is an excellent platform to incorporate global flavors and the evolving “build-your-own” concept onto your menu.

Rolling it Up

As the star ingredient, the meatball must be thoughtfully executed to guarantee a great sandwich. Meatballs can have a dozen or more ingredients in addition to their base. Meats can include beef, pork, lamb, chicken, turkey, fish, duck, venison, sausage, or a combination.

The meat-to-fat ratio is an important equation to keep in mind to prevent your meatballs from drying out or falling apart. Some leaner cuts can be mixed with high-fat meats such as a beef/pork combination. They can also be infused with a minced pancetta or bacon for an added burst of flavor. If using chicken or poultry, it is essential to use a mix of light and dark or all dark meat, as the breast tends to produce a very dry meatball. Meatless varieties are often made from grains, nuts, beans, and mushrooms bound with egg and cheese. Additional ingredients – herbs, spices, cheese, condiments, bread crumbs, and vegetables – will define the meatball’s flavor and texture even further.

Item# 171314 – Roll Hoagie 6 In Split Top Sl, 10 / 6 ct.
• Controls cost
• Coded for traceability
Item# 171315 – Roll Hoagie 8 In Split Top Sl, 8 / 6 ct.
• Frozen fresh
• “First day” freshness when thawed
• Timely and effortless delivery

Item# 006579 – Meatball Ckd Ital 1 oz. Romano, 1 / 10 lb.
• Consistent portion control and food cost
• No thawing necessary
Item# 101469 – Meatball Ckd Ital Br & Pk .5 oz., 1 / 10 lb.
• Enhances meals across the menu with its tender and tasty qualities
Item# 101470 – Meatball Ckd Ital Beef/Pk 1 oz., 1 / 10 lb.
• High-quality beef that’s easy to prepare
• Simple heat and serve preparation
Item# 101472 – Meatball Ckd Ital Bf & Pk 2 oz., 1 / 10 lb.
• Larger size resembles homemade meatballs, increasing appeal
• Fully cooked
• Consistent case count
Item# 101475 – Meatball Ckd Ital Gourmet .5 oz., 1 / 10 lb.
• Perfect size for appetizers
• Freshly made taste
• Reduced labor cost
Item# 101476 – Meatball Ckd Ital Gourmet 1 oz., 1 / 10 lb.
• Made with Romano cheese and Italian herbs and spices

Getting Saucy & Cheesy

Coupling meatballs with exceptional sauces and cheeses will bring your concept together. Choose a sauce that will enhance and reflect the flavor profile of your meatball without being overwhelming. For example, a chorizo-pork meatball slider does well with a tomato-chipotle sauce. Asian-inspired chicken or turkey meatballs pair well with sauces such as Vietnamese nuoc cham (a ginger-soy blend) or sriracha mayo. Vegetarian meatballs are enhanced with creamier sauces that compensate for the lack of richness meat provides. Some options are tzatziki, aioli, curry, tahini, or roasted pepper cream sauce.

When it comes to the cheese, the gooiness adds a contrasting texture to the sandwich. Provolone or mozzarella are common selections, or consider more upscale versions such as aged provolone, pecorino, or Fontina. If you can’t choose just one, add a three-cheese variety to your menu to further entice customers.

International Meatball Sandwiches

Although widely believed to be an invention of the Italians, virtually every cuisine has their own version of the meatball sandwich. Today, baseball-sized Sicilian blends of beef and pork simmered in red sauce and served on crusty focaccia appear on menus alongside many global varieties such as Greek keftedes, Danish frikadeller, Chinese Lion’s head, and Arabic kofta. The classic Mexican sandwich, Torta de Albondigas, pairs meatballs with traditional ethnic flavors such as chiles, avocado, cilantro, and cotija. Stemming from Vietnam, banh mi meatball sandwiches start with a baguette and lemongrass-infused pork or poultry meatballs are topped with shredded vegetables and a spicy sauce. Vegetarian meatballs or falafel can be rolled into pita bread with pickled radishes, onions, lettuce, and tahini for a Mediterranean version.

Going the Customization Route

A customizable meatball sandwich menu is a popular concept that many operators have found success with. The consumer chooses the type of meatball, then selects a bread, sauce, and add-ons. Restaurants like House of Meatballs in Los Angeles, California, make it simple for diners to select their choice of meatball with fun, descriptive menu names. At this casual Italian eatery, customers choose from meatballs like “Just Like Mama” for a traditional beef meatball, “Big Bad Wolf” made with pork, rosemary, and cayenne pepper, and “Popeye” containing tofu, spinach, and almonds for a vegetarian version. Sauces, dressings, or dips such as marinara, tzatziki, pesto, teriyaki, and chili should vary and suit more than one kind of meatball to allow diners to experiment with combinations. Additional sandwich toppings such as broccoli rabe, prosciutto, spinach, caramelized onions, roasted peppers, and sun-dried tomatoes will increase price points and develop unique variations of this favored sandwich.

View Our Recipe for Lamb, Veal & Pancetta Meatballs with Triple P Sauce and Smoked Pepper-Tomato Jam