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Alton Brown shares wacky technique for perfect meatballs

He thinks outside the frying pan to bake up "crispy all over" meatballs.
/ Source: TODAY

Alton Brown doesn’t mess around when it comes to cooking melt-in-your-mouth meatballs. The Food Network star thinks outside the frying pan — and into the, um, egg carton — to bake up the perfect batch of meatballs.

According to a 2017 Instagram post, the Food Network star once baked a dozen meatballs in an empty egg carton.

“Thinking about the time I roasted my meatballs in an egg carton to wick away the grease,” Brown captioned a silly selfie, featuring his carton of not-yet-cooked meatballs. Brown prepared his own baked meatball recipe — complete with spinach, Parmesan cheese, basil, parsley and breadcrumbs — and placed the hand-rolled balls into each empty egg nest.

As a note, meatball queen Donatella Arpaia swears by using torn-up stale bread instead of breadcrumbs, which she says, "make meatballs very heavy."

Mama's Meatballs

Mama's Meatballs

Donatella Arpaia

Brown's nearly two-year-old post still garners intrigue online, with commenters reacting with a range of emotions from concern to curiosity.

Some “Good Eats” fans feared that the wacky idea could cause a kitchen fire, food poisoning, or a crazy, greasy mess.

“It doesn't burn the cardboard, Alton?” one Instagram user asked. “Ew egg cartons are dirty,” another commenter wrote. “All I can think of is a greasy cardboard clean-up,” a follower added.

But despite the skepticism, the "Iron Chef America" alum's wacky technique seems legit. Brown roasts his meatballs at 400°F for 20 minutes. The cardboard cooking container absorbs excess fat and yields 12 "#crispyallover" meatballs. Cardboard won’t catch fire until it’s heated to over 425°F. Even still, it’s best to stay near your oven just to be sure.

"While I have not tested this concept, it seems to make sense," Jeremy Abbey, Director of Culinary Programs at the American Culinary Federation, told TODAY Food. "There is an old method of cooking Thanksgiving turkeys in paper grocery bags rubbed with mayo that allows the moisture to be retained in the bird, and the paper bag doesn't catch fire or burn due to the fat content in the mayo." (Are you taking notes for Thanksgiving? It's only like nine months away.)

"I would imagine the same principles apply to cooking meatballs in a paper egg carton," said Abbey. The fat that is rendered from the meatballs would help protect the cardboard from burning while absorbing the fat."

A Styrofoam egg carton, however, will certainly collapse at 400°F and create quite the mess in your oven. So, best to stick with cardboard for this hack.

Since Brown's initial post, many meatball lovers have tried the "genius" idea with their own leftover cartons. One fan even mimicked Brown’s #crispyallover hashtag to share his results.

"Thank you, @altonbrown for this idea! Looks crazy, but it's so worth it!" wrote Gregory Brazell. The home chef shared a series of three photos, showing how the meatballs get all brown and beautiful.

Other fans contributed feedback in Instagram comments. "These #AltonBrownMeatballs are AMAZING. They’re crunchy on the outside and juicy in the middle," one follower raved about Brown’s egg carton meatballs.

Others posted their results on Twitter:

The “Cutthroat Kitchen" star is no stranger to weird and wise cooking hacks. When Brown doesn’t have an empty egg carton on hand, he bakes his meatballs in a muffin tin. The cookbook author even freezes the meatballs in the pan before transferring them to heavy-duty zip-top bags for storage.