MMM: Making “Meat Dough”


Have you caught the frenzy of March Meatball Madness? (And are you enjoying the equally delicious celebration of Fug Madness? I love Fug Madness!)

In this post, I’m going to share the three methods I use to blend what I affectionately call “meat dough,” a.k.a., meat mixed with seasonings that’s then turned into luscious balls of goodness. You can make meat dough with a food processor, a standing mixer, or by hand mixing — and each method offers different advantages and characteristics.

Let’s mix it up!


Food Processor

Thanks to the whirling blade of the food processor, you can make a batch of meat dough in a few seconds flat — big advantage! The potential downside is that this method churns out a sort of paté version of meat dough — very smooth and homogenized with all of the ingredients puréed  and completely incorporated. This method works best when you want to recreate the texture of sausage. I like to use the food processor when I’m making Merguez Meatballs and Pesto Chicken Meatballs, mixing meat for Meatza, combining ground pork with Italian Sausage Seasoning to make sausage meatballs, or flavoring the meat for Scotch Eggs — and The Domestic Man recommends the food processor for his Indonesian Beef Ball (Bakso) recipe.

Note: When using the food processor, you want to pulse the ingredients until they’re just combined. Over-mixing will make the meat dough tough instead of springy and light.

Standing Mixer

I think the standing mixer might be my favorite method for mixing meat dough, especially when I’m making double or triple batches — or when I’m making multiple kinds of meatballs in one massive cookup. It’s awesome for setting up a meatball assembly line and allows you to quickly mix up multiple batches with just a rinse of the bowl in between. The standing mixer quickly and evenly distributes the ingredients throughout the meat, but doesn’t purée everything the way the food processor does. It’s ideal for meatballs that you want to include flavorful bits of goodies that are still identifiable, like dried fruit, seeds, and nuts — recipes like Turkey and Cranberry, Czech, and Bacon-Jalapeño Burger Balls.

Note: When using the standing mixer, use the paddle attachment or dough hook and mix on medium speed until they ingredients are just combined. Again, over-mixing will make the meat dough tough instead of springy and light.

Mixing By Hand

Any meatball can be mixed by hand with good results, and when I’m only making one pound of meat, this is usually the method I use because I’m too damn lazy to get the standing mixer down from the top of the refrigerator. There’s a texture difference when the meat is mixed by hand, so if you want a more traditional, nubbly texture, hand mixing is the way to get it. You can see I’m wearing disposable gloves in the photo above — it’s not because I was investigated by the food safety inspectors! The gloves prevent the meat from sticking to my hands and make the whole process much faster and less annoying; they’re also very helpful during the meatball shaping process for the same reasons.

Note: It’s pretty hard to overmix by hand, but for the tenderest meatballs, gently fold the ingredients into the meat until they’re evenly distributed.


Burgers, Balls, and Bangers

Once your meat dough is prepared, you can shape it into burger patties, meatballs, or sausage shapes, which I like to call bangers because it’s fun. BANGERS!

Bangers: That crazy-looking white gadget at the top is a Ham Dogger. It turns meat dough into sausages faster than you can say alley-oop.

Burgers: For patties, I use a silicone pancake ring (also handy for egg foo yung) and pack between 4 and 5 ounces of meat into it.

Balls: For meatballs, I like to use a 1-tablespoon scoop because the meatballs look like party food that way!


Print this recipe
MMM: Cuban Meatballs

These meatballs were inspired by the pastel palette and tropical rhythms of Cuba. Tender and lush with sweet raisins, briny black olives, and savory blanched...

Read More
Paleo Czech Meatballs

I really wanted a cute name for these meatballs. I tried for, like, 10 minutes to come up with a workable play on caraway seeds....

Read More


  • Ashley says:

    Hi Mel!
    I’ve been combing through your blog for the last hour. I’m brand (and bitterly lol) new to Paleo. It’s absolutely necessary due to an MTHFR gene mutation I apparently have (just found out 3 weeks ago). Anyway, this new diet has me pretty down (I’m a very recent transplant from State College to Austin.. and haven’t gotten to experience all the amazing food down here yet!), but I’m finding many recipes on your blog that are getting me excited! Can’t wait to try this sunshine sauce I’ve been reading about 🙂

    • Mel says:

      Try not to feel too down — there are so many wonderful things to eat that fit within the paleo template. Hope you have fun with the recipes. Enjoy the Sunshine Sauce!

    • Pepper Goforth says:


      Welcome to paleo! Getting started is the faraway part. Once you’re “in” (and used to the extra time in the kitchen) you’ll find that you don’t miss your “old diet” at all. Exploring all of the bloggers is a great way to get excited about the recipes. If you haven’t purchased Mel’s book, Well Fed, yet. DO IT! It was what really made paleo feel doable for me. I recommend it to everyone I know that’s dabbling in paleo. The recipes are delicious & her writing is fun to read (unusual for a cookbook). Lol, I realize this sounds like a plug… for the record, I don’t know Mel. Don’t work for her & haven’t even posted on her blog before.

  • Wow, I REALLY love the pictures in this post. Beautiful, simple, and very striking. Love all the white!

    • Mel says:

      Thanks, Russ! I like them, too. All credit goes to Dave. He works magic with the camera and Lightroom. I give him challenges, like “make this raw meat look appetizing” and somehow he does it 🙂

  • Kay says:

    I was scanning your blog – as I do often – and saw the reference to Fug Madness. I LOVE Fug Madness, too!

    And your cook books – they have been so helpful for me doing the W30. I’m on day 5 and I really think I can do this.

  • Carly says:

    Hi there,

    I’m starting the AIP Paleo diet, and I was wondering if it’s possible to make meatballs without adding eggs as a binder? Do you have any tips/tricks for making it work?


    • Sky says:

      Meatballs bind together just as well without the egg.

    • Mel says:

      You never need to put eggs in meatballs. The egg can help leaven them and helps with binding if you add breadcrumbs, but since we’re not eating breadcrumbs, you don’t need the eggs.

      All of my new meatball recipes are made without eggs and if you come across an old recipe that includes eggs, you can just leave the egg out. I now use baking soda+cream of tartar for leavening so they meatballs are tender instead of like hockey pucks.

  • Jessica says:

    Ha! All these years, and I’ve never thought of making meat dough by using anything other than my hands. This is great! Quick question-if you use the food processor for meatza, do you find that the dough is easier to work with? I tried making a meatza once and the meat crust shrank quite a bit. :/

    • Mel says:

      The crust shrinks because the fat in the meat cooks out and there’s less volume of meat left after that. If you want a larger crust in area, you just need to use more meat.

  • Helpful info! I always mix by hand but have had trouble with toughness when making beef meatballs … I am conscious of trying not to over-mix, but can’t get it right! Perhaps it’s just grass-fed beef?

    • Mel says:

      Yes, maybe. Grassfed beef is pretty lean and “meaty,” so that could explain it. If you want to experiment and don’t mind almond flour, you could try adding 1/4 to 1/2 cup almond flour — that might make them more tender, but it also ups the Omega-6 fatty acids.

  • Jane Courtenay says:

    I’m hooked! About a month ago I came across paleo while trying to find healthy recipe books online, and downloaded a copy of Well Fed to my Kindle. Never thought I’d be cooking from it! I’m now on day 15 of the Whole30, have received a copy of Well Fed 2, and am waiting for a printed copy of Well Fed to arrive here at my home in Australia. My refrigerator is now stocked with loads of yummy, healthy food, and I’ve been sitting here planning my shopping and cooking for tomorrow. Thank you Mel, I’m loving it!

    • All of that is 100% awesome! Congratulations on Whole30-ing, and thank you for buying our books. I hope you continue to enjoy the food and have fun in the kitchen. High five from across the pond!

  • Sarah says:

    Hi, I just wanted to say that I use a potato masher to mix my meat “dough.” Better than using my hands, and I don’t have to clean another bowl or mixer!

  • Martha Barton says:

    This was a big help for me. I’ve recently started regularly making meatball subs for 16 people on weekends and it’s six pounds of meat! My hands were getting arthritis just thinking about it so I was debating the value of a big stand mixer and this was the convincer for me that a mixer is worth the investment, Thank you!