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Meatballs are pretty straightforward: You buy the meat, squish it up with your hands, ball it up, toss it in a pan, and you're good to go, right? Well, actually, wrong.
Meatballs are simple, it's true, but there's a big difference between an OK meatball and an extraordinary one. There's a lot of room for error. Instead of resigning yourself to a lifetime of mediocre meatballs, here to the rescue is Donatella Arpaia, New York City's award-winning meatball expert, with five easy — but essential — tips for the making the juicy, golden meatballs of your dreams.
1. Choose high-quality meat — and mix it well.
"Ground meat in general is inexpensive, so I think that you should go for the better quality one," she tells TODAY Food. "I like to mix veal and beef, but as long as you get hormone-free, antibiotic-free meat, I think it really makes a difference."
It's also important to really get in there with your hands. "People usually don't mix it enough," she says. "You should be combining the ingredients with your hands for about five minutes, until everything is smooth."
2. Use bread soaked in water — not breadcrumbs.
This is her secret trick. Tear a loaf of Italian bread into chunks, soak them in water for about five minutes, squeeze the excess water out of them, and then combine them with the meat.
"Breadcrumbs make meatballs very heavy," she explains.
3. Frying is key.
It might not be as healthy, but Arpaia really encourages frying over baking.
"It gives them that golden crust," she says. "You don’t have to deep-fry them, just pan-fry in vegetable oil and don’t crowd the pan."
4. Resist the urge to touch them.
Once you place the meatballs in the pan, don’t even think about moving them. "People play with their meatballs too much," she says. Just turn them once, until a golden crust forms on both sides, and then lay them on a plate to cool.
5. Wait before you put them in your sauce.
We know you want to pop them all into your mouth at once, but please be patient. It’ll be worth it.
"Put them in the sauce a half hour before you’re ready to serve," Arpaia suggests. If you put them in the sauce too early, they’ll fall apart and lose that crust you worked so hard to achieve.
This article was originally published on Sept. 14, 2016 at 3:58 p.m. ET.