Home Chef: The Meatball That Will Save Your Dinner

There’s an old saying about legislature that goes: “Laws are like sausages. It is better to not see them being made.” As I learned when I took a sausage-making class, that statement holds much truth. Making sausage is seriously messy.

So why did I love that class so much? Messy as it may be, homemade sausage is delicious. And, I learned an invaluable lesson from making sausage that relates to all of cooking, if not to legislation.

This has to do with seasoning.

After the students stirred up sausage mixtures, but before we put them in casings, our instructor would make sure we cooked, then tasted a little morsel made from the mixture. He called this a test meatball.

Not only is this test meatball a tasty little cook’s snack, but it’s a critical step that gives you a chance to correct the seasoning of the sausage before it’s too late and you’ve made all your sausage or cooked every single meatball for your subs. Since you don’t want to taste raw pork, the test meatball gives you the chance to ask these questions:

Is the meat seasoned with enough salt? Did you add enough garlic? Can you taste the herbs? This little meatball can provide a clue to all of those things. If anything is amiss, now is the time to correct the rest of the mixture!

This tip applies to meatloaf, flavored hamburgers and any other meat mixture you can think of (like meatballs themselves!). In my opinion, few things are worse than a bland meatloaf. Before you form your meat mixture into a loaf, grab a small skillet and pan-fry up a test meatball (or smush it into a patty for quicker cooking). If you’re lucky, the meatball will taste great and you’ll be all set to continue with shaping and baking your loaf. But if the meatball tastes a little bland? Whew. That little snack just saved your dinner.

Do I do this test every time I’m making a casual meatloaf dinner for my husband and me? Honestly, no. But if I’m making a big batch of meatballs for a special party, I will absolutely do this test to make sure all is well before shaping and cooking dozens of party bites.

If you’ve ever wondered how to season to taste when you don’t want to taste raw meat, make yourself a little test meatball while you’re cooking. Tasty treat for you, delicious results for your dinner.

Lori Yates is a Detroit-area food writer, photographer and recipe developer. She is the author of Foxes Love Lemons, where she posts special yet simple original recipes and restaurant reviews. Her mission is to encourage people to enjoy the act of cooking at home. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.