Meatball marinara dinner in a cast iron skillet.

Skillet Meatball Marinara

Meatball Marinara is an easy Italian dinner recipe for super juicy pork and beef pan fried meatballs. With a blanket of pesto, red sauce, and melty mozzarella, this is a comforting, kid-friendly, and scrumptious weeknight meal!

marinara meatballs on a skillet.

Italian comfort food doesn’t get much better than this, and the great news is, this fried meatball recipe only takes about 45 minutes to make!

Some of my favorite meals are made in one pot or skillet. From hearty chili con carne to a quick cast iron skillet chicken dinner. I mean, who doesn’t love having fewer dishes to deal with at the end of the day?

Reasons to Love Meatball Marinara

  1. Quick to make and easy to clean up.
    Skillet meals are a favorite because there is so little cleanup afterwards.
  2. A make ahead meal for a busy night!
    This meal is easy to prep ahead, and meatballs are freezer-friendly.
  3. You can double (or even triple!) the recipe.
  4. Kid-friendly.
    Almost every kid loves ground hamburger, and this comfort food meal is slathered with lots of sauce and cheese. Your kids will clean their plate!

Packages of ground hamburger, pork, pesto sauce, Mozzarella, Romano, Parmesan, and other ingredients for Italian skillet dinner.

Ingredient Notes and Substitutions

  • Ground meat
    For this recipe, we’re making pork and beef meatballs. Feel free to use all ground hamburger or pork. Or, to cut some calories and fat, substitute with a lean protein like ground turkey or chicken.

**Keep in mind that when using lean proteins, there’s a risk of the meatballs becoming dry. Fat is your friend when it comes to making perfectly juicy meatballs!

For restaurant-style meatballs using ground chicken, check out this chicken marsala meatballs recipe.

  • Bread crumbs
    These help hold the mixture together and give it some bulk. Either finely ground plain or Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs are the best choice. Panko crumbs add too much crunch, but they’ll work for this meatball marinara skillet meal if it’s all you have.

Watching your carbs?
For a low carb and keto-friendly meatball meal idea, substitute crushed pork rinds for the bread crumbs, and be sure to use marinara sauce that has no sugar added.

  • Mozzarella cheese. I prefer to use fresh mozzarella slices, because fresh cheese tastes better and melts better. Look for the soft cheese, which comes packaged in brine.

    At the grocery store, fresh mozzarella is usually kept near specialty cheeses like feta, goat’s milk, etc.

    Aged mozzarella (the kind you use on pizza) is okay to use instead of fresh. If it’s grated or shredded, sprinkle it over the top of the meatballs. If it’s a solid block, then just cut it into thin slices and treat it as fresh.
  • Romano cheese. This cheese has a nutty taste that gives meatballs with marinara a nice boost of flavor. You can substitute it with grated Parmesan or Pecorino if you’d like.
  • Pesto sauce – My pesto recipe is easy to make, but feel free to buy ready-to-use pesto if that’s more convenient.
  • Marinara sauce – Again, store bought is fine, but I think the fresh flavor of homemade marinara with meatballs can’t be beat!!

Tools You Will Need

  • Cookie scoop or large spoon – Use a 2-tablespoon sized scoop, if possible.
  • Frying pan or skillet – You will want a pan with a heavy bottom, like a cast iron skillet.
  • Measuring cups and measuring spoons

Making Pan Fried Meatballs with Marinara

  1. Assemble the meatball mixture.

Add the ground meats, breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, parsley, garlic, egg, salt, and pepper to a large bowl.

Slowly add the milk over the breadcrumbs. Mix well with a potato masher or your hands.

**To avoid dry, tough meatballs be sure not to overwork the mixture.

Uncooked meatballs on a baking sheet and remaining meatball mixture in a bowl.
  1. Shape them.

Using a melon baller or large spoon, measure out the mixture and roll it into balls the size of a golf ball.

prepping beef and pork meat balls on a baking sheet

  1. Brown the meatballs.

Depending on the size of your skillet, you may need to brown the meatballs in batches. Avoid overcrowding the pan, because if they are too close together, the meat will steam rather than brown.

  1. Simmer meatballs with marinara and pesto sauce, then add cheese.

Finish cooking the meatballs in marinara and pesto sauce for about 15 minutes, then place the mozzarella cheese to the pan.

Ground pork and beef meatballs are fully cooked when the internal temperature of the meat reaches 155°F. Use an instant read thermometer to check for doneness rather than judging by sight alone.

pork and beef meatballs in a skillet with red sauce and melted cheese.
  1. OptionalFinish under the broiler.

Once the cheese partially melts, if you’d like to brown the top, place the skillet under your oven broiler for about 5 minutes, or until the marinara and cheeses covering the fried meatballs are slightly brown and bubbling.

Tips for Juicy Pork and Beef Meatballs

  • Don’t overwork the mixture.
    When you combine the ingredients, use your hands to work everything together. Mix just until combined though; overworking ground pork and beef can lead to dry and tough meatballs.
  • Moisten your hands with water before shaping.
    Keeping your hands moist helps to prevent the mixture from sticking to your skin.
  • Don’t overcrowd the pan.
    To ensure that the meatballs brown properly, don’t overcrowd the pan. Leave some space between each one. Depending on the size of your skillet, you may need to pan fry them in two batches.
Pan fried meatballs Italian dinner in a cast iron skillet.

Serving Suggestions

Before serving, you can dress up the dish with a sprinkle of ribbon-cut basil over the top.

To make ribbon cuts (also known as chiffonade), stack 3-4 leaves of basil, roll them up, then use a sharp knife to slice crosswise through the roll of basil.

To make this Italian meal even better, serve it with a green salad and homemade French bread or sourdough rolls.

Another option is to serve the meatballs and marinara with spaghetti or rigatoni pasta.

Meatball Recipe FAQ

How do I prevent meatballs from falling apart?

There are two easy ways to prevent a pan fried meatball from falling apart as it cooks. One way is to simply toss each ball into a little bit of flour before frying.

An even easier way is, after forming them, place the tray into the fridge while you preheat the frying oil.

Can I freeze meatballs?

You can freeze them cooked or raw. First, flash freeze them on a tray or paper plate, then after they are frozen, transfer them to a freezer bag. Frozen meatballs will keep for up to 3 months. Be sure to let them thaw before pan frying or reheating.

Do I have to fry meat balls?

Our meatball marinara recipe is best with pan fried meatballs. But, if you want, you can place them on a sheet pan and bake them in a 350°F oven instead.

pan fried meatball dinner cooking in a skillet
pan fried meatball dinner cooking in a skillet

Skillet Meatball Marinara

Meatball Marinara is an easy Italian dinner recipe for juicy pork and beef pan fried meatballs with pesto, red sauce, and melty mozzarella!
5 from 1 vote
Print Recipe Pin Recipe
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 35 mins
Total Time 40 mins
Course Main Course, Dinner
Cuisine Italian
Servings 4 servings
Calories 908 kcal


  • ½ pound ground pork
  • ½ pound ground beef
  • 1 cup bread crumbs Italian seasoned or plain
  • cup grated Romano cheese or grated Parmesan
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley or 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 2 cloves garlic peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 large egg beaten
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup milk any type of milk, or water
  • ½ cup frying oil more or less, to reach a depth of 1-2 inches in your skillet.
  • ¼ cup prepared pesto sauce
  • 28 ounces marinara sauce
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella slices


  • To a large bowl, add ground pork and beef, dried bread crumbs, Romano cheese, parsley, garlic, egg, salt and pepper.
    Gradually add milk (or water). Using your clean hands, mix the ingredients just until everything is combined. 
    **To avoid dry, tough meatballs, do not over mix the ingredients.
  • Using a small cookie scoop or large spoon, portion out the meatball mixture onto a parchment lined platter or sheet pan.
    Use your hands to roll each portion into golf-sized meatballs. Again, avoid overhandling the meat or your meatballs will become tough and dry.
    If the meatballs aren't holding their shape well, place them in the fridge to chill while you proceed to heat the oil for pan frying (see next step).
  • Add olive oil or other frying oil to a depth of 1-2 inches in a 10-inch skillet (approximately 1/2 cup oil) over medium high heat.
    Add the meatballs to the skillet, making sure not to overcrowd the pan. Depending on the size of your skillet, you may need to pan fry meatballs in two batches. If so, transfer the cooked meatballs to a plate while you fry the rest of them.
    Cook the meatballs for 2-3 minutes on each side, for a total of about 6 minutes.
  • Drain the excess olive oil from the skillet, then return it to the heat.
    Add the marinara sauce and pesto sauce to the skillet, then add the meatballs to the sauce.
    Cook for about 15 minutes until they are completely cooked, no pink in the center, and the sauce is warmed. 
    **Pork and beef meatballs are properly cooked when the internal temperature of the meat reaches 155 degrees F.
  • Turn down heat to simmer/low. Arrange the mozzarella slices between the meatballs and allow to melt partially, 3-5 minutes.
  • Optional: Place pan under a preheated broiler for 5 minutes, or until sauce and cheese are lightly bubbling on top. 



Serving: 3meatballs | Calories: 908kcal | Carbohydrates: 36g | Protein: 56g | Fat: 60g | Saturated Fat: 27g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 19g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 228mg | Sodium: 2771mg | Potassium: 1121mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 11g | Vitamin A: 2390IU | Vitamin C: 20mg | Calcium: 816mg | Iron: 6mg
Tried this recipe?Let us know what you think!

This post, first published in September 2021, was updated with new content in February 2023.

Pan fried pork and beef meatballs in a bowl.
overhead: Ladle in a pot of keto cheeseburger soup

Beefy Velveeta Cheese Soup

This keto friendly, beefy Velveeta cheese soup makes a creamy, hearty meal. It’s a snap to make for weeknight dinners. By making our crock pot cheeseburger soup option, this cheese soup recipe is perfect for game day tailgating or football food for a Super Bowl party!

overhead: Ladle in a pot of keto cheeseburger soup

The winter weather is getting colder, so now is the perfect time to try this easy dinner recipe.

This cheesy soup is a delicious combination of two of our favorite game day foods – Rotel dip and chili con carne.

Ground beef, diced Rotel tomatoes, and Velveeta cheese combine to create a fantastic soup that tastes like you’re eating soup and a burger! You can make it in less than 30 minutes on the stovetop, or 5-7 hours in a slow cooker.

Reasons We Love Velveeta Cheese Soup

  1. Budget Friendly – There are just 5 simple, low cost ingredients in this recipe, and you may even have all of them on hand already!
  1. Feeds a Crowd. This creamy, beefy, cheesy soup is ideal for feeding a hungry crowd.
  1. Two Cooking Options – Stovetop and Crockpot!
    It’s easy and quick to make Velveeta cheese soup on your stove. But when you have a busy night coming up, assemble your crockpot cheeseburger soup in the morning before heading out. You’ll have a readymade dinner when you get home.
  1. Kid Friendly – It features familiar ingredients and flavors that even picky eaters will enjoy. (I mean, who doesn’t love creamy soup and burgers?) And you can easily adjust the spiciness to make it as spicy or mild as your family likes it.
  2. Keto Friendly – If you are on a keto diet, this keto cheeseburger soup will become one of your favorites!

Ingredient Notes and Substitutions

With only 5 ingredients, it’s a simple and budget friendly soup recipe. So, the next time you want to warm up on major comfort food, make this cheese soup recipe. We recommend serving it in homemade bread bowls!

  • Rotel diced tomatoes – This is simply petite diced tomatoes with green chiles. Feel free to use regular diced tomatoes if you prefer a milder flavor.
  • Ground beef – We use 85% lean ground beef. To reduce the calories and fat, you can use ground turkey or chicken.
  • Velveeta – This is processed cheese, so it is higher in carbs than unprocessed cheeses.

For Keto Cheeseburger Soup

To reduce the carbs and make a keto cheeseburger soup, simply substitute 8 ounces of cream cheese and 2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese for the Velveeta.

Packages of ground hamburger, Velveeta cheese, Rotel, an onion and minced garlic for keto cheeseburger soup recipe.

Equipment Used for Making Velveeta Soup

Adjusting the Creaminess and Spiciness

As written, this recipe makes a thick and hearty cheeseburger soup.

For a thinner soup, add 1 cup of beef broth to your ingredients list.

For a spicier flavor, use Original Rotel. We use mild Rotel for just a hint of spiciness.

Making Crock Pot Cheeseburger Soup

  1. For making keto cheeseburger soup in a crock pot, you will also need a large pot or skillet.

Start off by browning the ground beef in a skillet or pot over medium heat. When it’s about cooked through, add the onions, then the garlic.

If you skip the step of browning the meat before slow cooking, your cheeseburger soup will be very greasy.

browned ground beef and onions in a pot

Turn the heat down to medium-simmer, and cook until the meat is completely browned and the onions are translucent.

Drain any excess grease through a fine mesh strainer, then add the mixture to your crock pot, along with the remaining ingredients.

cubes of Velveeta cheese in pot with hamburger soup
  1. Crock pot cheeseburger soup should be cooked on LOW setting.
    Set it to cook for 5-7 hours at low heat. Using the HIGH setting is not recommended, as the cheeses can scorch.

You are better off using the stovetop to prepare the soup, then keep it warm in the slow cooker.

Ladle in a pot of beefy Velveeta cheese soup.

When it’s ready, serve it alone or with your favorite garnishes. I like to top it with diced mild chiles and fresh cilantro.

Before you know it, you’re digging into a bowl of this delicious and creamy cheesy hamburger soup! Your family will love this recipe, especially on cool, rainy days.

two bowls of cheeseburger chowder

Recipe Variations

This Velveeta soup recipe is pretty simple, as written. But there are a few ways you could change it up if you wanted to:

  • Add veggies! Include some diced celery or green bell pepper to the beef while it’s browning. If you want, you can even substitute canned or frozen corn for the Rotel tomatoes.
  • Increase the spiciness. If you want more spice, add a tablespoon or two of diced jalapeño peppers to the soup.
  • Make it heartier. Add a can of black beans, kidney beans, or pinto beans to the soup to increase the fiber and protein. Or, add cooked potatoes for a cheeseburger chowder.

Serving Suggestions

This beefy Velveeta soup is perfect with a side of biscuits! We recommend our Cheddar Jalapeño Biscuits, Easy 3 Ingredient Biscuits, or Easy Drop Biscuits recipes.

We like to serve it with extra toppings, like guacamole, a dollop of sour cream or cream cheese, and fresh chopped parsley.

How to Store Leftovers

Velveeta soup can be stored in the refrigerator for 4-5 days. Just put it in an airtight container and it will last in the fridge for a few days.

When you want to reheat it, I recommend doing so on the stovetop. Heat it over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it’s hot throughout.

You could also reheat it in the microwave, but be aware that the cheese may become stringy. If you don’t mind that, then, by all means, reheat away!

Freezing Velveeta Cheese Soup

To freeze the cheese soup, first let it cool completely. Then, transfer it to a freezer-safe container. We suggest using freezer-safe storage bags or plastic containers with lids.

Be sure to leave some headspace at the top of the bag to allow the soup to expand.

The night before you want to serve it, thaw the frozen soup in the refrigerator overnight. Then, reheat it on the stovetop over medium heat, stirring occasionally until it’s hot throughout.

pumpkin shaped bread bowls with keto cheeseburger soup inside.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I add the ground beef to the slow cooker without browning it first?

I don’t recommend adding the ground beef without browning it first. If you like set it and forget it slow cooker recipes, brown a batch of ground beef and then separate it into smaller freezer bags. Then you can add it to the slow cooker for recipes like this slow cooker cheese soup recipe.

What can I substitute for the Rotel?

You can use diced tomatoes and diced green chiles instead of the Rotel. You can also substitute generic brands of Rotel-style diced tomatoes and green chiles. It doesn’t have to be the Rotel brand.

pot of Velveeta soup with Rotel tomatoes

Beefy Velveeta Cheese Soup (Keto Friendly!)

Beefy Velveeta cheese soup is one of the best comfort food meals, and it's keto friendly! You can substitute cream cheese and cheddar cheese for the Velveeta. Stove top ready in 30 minutes, and takes just 4-6 hours in the slow cooker.
5 from 5 votes
Print Recipe Pin Recipe
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Total Time 30 mins
Course Soup, Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 6 servings
Calories 296 kcal


  • Slow Cooker or Soup pot with lid


  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 20 ounces Rotel Mild diced tomatoes undrained (see post for substitutions)
  • 1 pound Velveeta Cheese cut into cubes (see post for substitutions)
  • salt and black pepper to taste


Stove Top Instructions

  • In a medium dutch oven or soup pot, brown the beef, onions, and garlic; drain fat off.
  • Add Rotel and bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Add a lid to the pot, and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Turn off heat and stir in Velveeta until it melts. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Garnish with crushed corn chips, cheese, or even bacon bits. Leftovers can be frozen for up to 3 months.

Crock Pot Instructions

  • Brown the beef, onions, and garlic in a skillet. Drain fat and add to the crockpot. Add the rest of the ingredients, and cook on low for 5-7 hours. Season with salt and pepper to taste before serving.
  • Garnish with crushed corn chips, cheese, or even bacon bits. Leftovers can be frozen for up to 3 months.


For Keto Cheeseburger Soup
To reduce the carbs for keto cheeseburger soup, substitute the Velveeta with 8 ounces of cream cheese and 2 cups of freshly shredded cheddar cheese.
Recipe adapted from a Taste of Home.


Serving: 1cup | Calories: 296kcal | Carbohydrates: 15g | Protein: 32g | Fat: 12g | Saturated Fat: 7g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 2g | Trans Fat: 0.3g | Cholesterol: 79mg | Sodium: 1259mg | Potassium: 731mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 9g | Vitamin A: 853IU | Vitamin C: 11mg | Calcium: 476mg | Iron: 3mg
Tried this recipe?Let us know what you think!

This post, originally published October 2019, was updated with new content and republished in January 2023.

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