The Flavorful Shortcut For Outstanding Instant Pot Meatballs

While an Instant Pot can be the last thing to come to mind when making meatballs, it shouldn't be overlooked. Since entering the kitchen in 2010, the Instant Pot has wowed home cooks with its convenience and ability to churn out lengthy dishes relatively quickly. But quality homemade meatballs, while relatively simple to cook, can be a nightmare to prepare considering how long it can take to chop or grate vegetables and herbs — easily defeating the purpose of an Instant Pot quick meal. Thankfully, a savory replacement for these essentials exists, and it happens to be seasoned Italian sausage.

Mincing a seasoned Italian sausage provides just the right amount of spices needed for a delicious homemade meatball while cutting down prep time considerably. On top of that, using it as a substitute for both ground pork and aromatics does far more than cut time in the kitchen: Its rich fat content makes homemade meatballs more moist. Fat helps ensure the meat stays flavorful during cooking, and most meatball recipes forgo using lean ground meat for this reason. Combined with an Instant Pot's guaranteed ability to churn out tender meat, the end result is a homemade meatball that takes minimal effort to prep and cook — making it perfect for a weeknight meal.

Browning the meatballs isn't necessary

Many cooks prefer to brown meatballs to enhance their texture and flavor, and for good reason. Browning meat via searing triggers what scientists (and chefs) refer to as the Maillard reaction. This is where a protein's reducing sugars and amino acids react to create a darkened color, enhanced texture, and flavor profile. Just think of it as a fancy way of saying caramelization, which, yes, does wonders on meat.

In most cases, this usually means taking out a separate pan to sear the meatballs, lengthening the cooking process on top of adding more dishes to wash. Luckily, most Instant Pots already boast a sear option that can brown your Italian sausage meatballs and help keep cleanup relatively low.

However, an Instant Pot's pressure cooking function has the ability to tenderize meat and pack in flavor in just a short amount of time, so browning homemade meatballs for additional flavor is really up to personal preference. Still, opting out of browning homemade meatballs shortens that cooking time considerably.

Using sausage frees up more meat options in an Instant Pot

Using a seasoned Italian sausage lends infinite variety, as you can use leaner cuts of beef, pork, poultry, or even seafood to put your own spin on a meatball recipe. In fact, it's a good idea to use lean beef when you're making Instant Pot meatballs as the sausage provides just the right amount of fat for the electronic pressure cooker to do its magic. This also hinges on the exact contents of your seasoned Italian sausage, as using a sausage with low-fat content means fattier ground meat could be more beneficial. Otherwise, a beef, chicken, or turkey Italian sausage might pair better with a leaner cut of ground red meat or poultry to approximate that ideal 20% fat ratio.

Ditching ground meat for an all-sausage homemade meatball is also a viable option — even if it's from a homemade sausage recipe. Just tweak the spices accordingly to give the meat an Italian twist. One of the main caveats is the meatball's texture since the salt content in most sausage meat acts as both a binding as well as a tenderizing agent. This results in the particular bouncy mouthfeel that is the signature of sausages, which might not be ideal for a meatball. To avoid an awkward chew, make sure you use a binder — think breadcrumbs and egg — to restore your meatball's texture.