Italian-American Meatball Subs Recipe

The art of the meatball sandwich is all about the construction... well, and the meatballs, of course.

Profile view of an Italian-American meatball sandwich, served on a small wooden cutting board.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Why This Recipe Works

  • Trimming the ends of the loaf removes the tough, difficult-to-eat parts.
  • Halving large meatballs makes it possible to overlap them for good, even coverage.

What do you get when you have a killer meatball recipe and several great tomato sauce recipes? Easy: the fixings for all kinds of amazing meals.

You can eat them as-is, the way I presented them in my Italian-American meatball piece. You could toss the sauce with spaghetti and set the meatballs on top. You could follow Kenji's approach and make smaller meatballs that are a perfect topper for homemade pizza. Or you could construct one hell of a meatball sandwich.

With the meatballs and sauce already figured out, a sandwich is really just a matter of construction.

First, pick your bread. Personally, I like an Italian-style roll, one of those loaves that's a little wider than a traditional French baguette, as white as bleached linens, super soft throughout, with a potato-chip-thin crust that crackles and makes a mess of crumbs and flakes on your shirt when you bite through it. My reasoning is that meatballs are (or should be) tender, and I don't want my bread fighting with them—a loaf that's too sturdy won't play nice with such a squishable filling. The crust should have just enough personality to add some crackle, but nothing substantial enough to make biting difficult.

I warm the loaf in an oven, but don't toast for the same reason I choose soft bread: except for that flaky crisp crust, I want tenderness to surround my meatballs.* Once it's warmed, I trim off the knobby, tough ends of the loaf, because, honestly, does anyone really like gnawing through those parts? I know I don't, and I especially don't like the way crusty ends can crush a tender meatballs. Then I slice the bread in half, drizzle some olive oil on the top and bottom pieces, and give them a quick rub with a raw clove of garlic to punch the flavor up a little bit.

*It took so much self control to not make a crude joke there.

Profile view of the meatball sandwich being constructed. The bottom of the Italian bread has been coated with sauce, layered with halved meatballs, followed by more sauce.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Next, I spoon a layer of sauce onto the bottom half of the loaf. Some folks like to toast their bread before spreading on the sauce and meatballs. Sure, it keeps them tidier, but for me, that defeats the whole point of a sauced sandwich. It's supposed to have some of that soft, wet texture. Don't get me wrong: I don't want a soggy sandwich, but a little bit of sauce-soaking is a good thing.

For the meatballs themselves, I like to make them large and then slice them in half. Small ones will fall out of the sandwich too easily, while whole large ones are difficult to get your mouth around—and they don't cozy up next to each other well. Halved meatballs still have a good height, while their tapered edges are able to overlap slightly for even coverage. This way you get a good amount of meatball in each bite. I realize cutting the balls in half means they're no longer technically meatballs, but for me, the dome shape is enough to still suggest the experience of a meatball, and the benefits are worth it. I can live with whatever semantic discord this might cause.

The meatball sandwich filling is covered in grated parmesan.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Then I spoon more sauce on top of the meatballs. A generous shower of Parmesan adds a salty, savory touch.

A layer of mozzarella slices blankets the meatball filling.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

I lay slices of mozzarella on top. I prefer sliced mozzarella to grated mozzarella for its even, bedsheet-like coverage. You can use fresh mozzarella or low-moisture mozz to get different results. Fresh mozzarella can be a little bit too wet, its moisture pooling up or turning the bread soggy. Low-moisture mozzarella is gooey when really hot, but can turn a little rubbery as it cools. The stuff you see here is the kind that's sold at the supermarket labeled "fresh" though really, it isn't (we're talking the stuff stored in sealed cryo-vac bags, not in tubs water or brine). In effect, it's somewhere between the two, neither as wet as the real fresh stuff, nor as rubbery as the low-moisture kind. I think it hits a good compromise.

The meatball sandwich after a short trip to the oven. The mozzarella has melted.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

I set the whole thing in the oven just long enough to melt the cheese, reheating the top half of the bread for the last minute of cooking. Close the sandwich and you're in business.

Closeup of the finished sandwich, sliced in half to show the juicy, melty interior.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Just look at that: I was able to slice it in to little portions to share without the meatballs squishing out, and each piece is as desirable as the next.

Overhead view of the meatball sandwich, sliced neatly into quarters.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

The only trick is pulling all this off without eating the meatballs by themselves first.

January 2015

Recipe Details

Italian-American Meatball Subs Recipe

Active 15 mins
Total 15 mins
Serves 4 servings

The art of the meatball sandwich is all about the construction... well, and the meatballs, of course.


  • 4 individual-sized Italian-style rolls

  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

  • 1 medium clove garlic, halved

  • 1 recipe cooked juicy and tender Italian-American meatballs in red sauce, warm

  • Pargmigiano-Reggiano, for grating

  • 1 pound fresh or low-moisture mozzarella, sliced about 1/4 inch thick


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C). Warm rolls in oven, 5 to 10 minutes. Slice off and discard ends of each roll. Cut rolls in half lengthwise.

  2. Drizzle cut sides of top and bottom roll halves with olive oil and rub with clove of garlic until fragrant. Arrange bottom roll halves on a baking sheet, cut side up. Spoon a generous layer of tomato sauce onto each of the bottom halves.

  3. Slice meatballs in half and arrange on sandwiches, overlapping as necessary for even coverage. Spoon more tomato sauce on top of meatball halves and grate Parmesan all over.

    Parmesan is grated over the filling of the meatball sandwich.

    Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

  4. Lay sliced mozzarella on top of meatballs. Transfer baking sheet to oven and bake until mozzarella is fully melted, about 4 minutes; warm roll top halves in oven for last minute of cooking.

    Slices of mozzarella are perched atop the parmesan-dusted sandwich filling.

    Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

  5. Close sandwiches and serve immediately.

    Closeup of the finished meatball sandwich, ready to slice and serve.

    Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Special Equipment

Rimmed baking sheet

Read More

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
1012 Calories
74g Fat
31g Carbs
56g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 1012
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 74g 95%
Saturated Fat 31g 157%
Cholesterol 208mg 69%
Sodium 2433mg 106%
Total Carbohydrate 31g 11%
Dietary Fiber 5g 18%
Total Sugars 9g
Protein 56g
Vitamin C 3mg 13%
Calcium 851mg 65%
Iron 5mg 27%
Potassium 754mg 16%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)