A good meatball sub is comfort food at its best. Crunchy bread topped with savory, juicy meatballs, a slightly sweet and tangy marinara sauce, and creamy, melted provolone cheese—it’s a special sandwich that doesn’t get enough credit!
While it may seem like a lot of work for a sandwich, this is no ordinary sandwich. Plus, you can break up the work to make it easier. I prefer to prepare the meatballs a day in advance and store them in the fridge. Then you can serve up a meatball sub in 10 minutes flat.
If you are in the mood for a great sandwich (or are feeding a crew for a game day), these meatball subs should be on the menu.
What Makes a Great Meatball Sub?
There are a few elements to a great meatball sub sandwich. First, you need good meatballs. Since they are the star of the show, I like to make my own meatballs for these subs, starting with our Italian Meatballs. I halve the recipe to make enough meatballs for 4 subs, but you can use the original recipe and have leftovers. (I also just use ground beef for simplicity, but a mix of beef and pork is great if you have both on hand).
Second, the bread is important. It needs to be a sturdy roll to hold up to the heavy meatballs and the sauce; you don’t want it to get too soggy. Third, toppings are key. I like melty provolone cheese, fresh basil, and banana peppers for a little kick.
The Best Bread for Meatball Subs
Any good hoagie roll works well for these subs. I like to use a high-quality sesame seed hoagie. I wouldn’t recommend a hot dog bun as they can be too flimsy and will likely fall apart under the weight of the meatballs and sauce. Most grocery stores will have some sort of hoagie rolls in their bakery section. If you are lucky enough to live near an Italian-style bakery, they will almost certainly have a roll that works well for meatball subs.
No matter what bread you use, I recommend toasting the bun lightly in a skillet or on a griddle which will help the bread hold up to the meatballs and filling.
An Easy Shortcut
While I’m a big fan of making my own Italian meatballs for these sub sandwiches, I think it’s fine to take a shortcut and use a good store-bought marinara sauce. While it is a bit more expensive, I like Rao’s, a Simply Recipes favorite. Using a high-quality (or homemade) sauce makes a big difference.
Simmering the meatballs in the sauce for a while makes both the meatballs and the sauce itself more flavorful, so it’s not completely necessary to make your own sauce unless you just love making sauce.
Make It Ahead
I like making most of the components for meatballs subs in advance. You can sear the meatballs, simmer them in the sauce, and then store it all in the fridge until you are ready to make meatball subs. The meatballs are actually more flavorful if they sit in the sauce overnight.
When you’re ready to serve, I recommend taking the chill off the meatballs by microwaving them for about 2 minutes at high power. The meatball subs bake really quickly and it’s possible that your meatballs won’t be warmed through if you don’t heat them slightly before adding them to the sandwiches.
What to Serve With Meatball Subs
These are big sandwiches, so you’ll want something light to go with them. Try serving meatballs subs with any of these refreshing side dishes:
- Pickle Slaw
- Shaved Vegetable Salad
- Classic Potato Salad
- Homemade Giardiniera
- Caesar Salad
Prepare the meatball mixture:
Add the warm milk to a large bowl with the crumbled bread and let soak for a minute or two. Then add the ground beef, Parmesan cheese, egg, parsley, salt, and oregano. Mix with your hands until combined; it’s okay if there are a few bread chunks still.
Shape the meatballs:
Using wet hands, shape the mixture into about 16 even meatballs—each should be around 1 ounce, or 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Coat each meatball in breadcrumbs and set it on a baking sheet while you shape the rest of the meatballs.
Sear the meatballs:
Add the olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat. Once it’s glistening hot, add the meatballs, searing for a few minutes on every side. Once seared, transfer the meatballs to a medium saucepan and add the marinara sauce.
Simmer the meatballs:
Place the saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Add up to 1 cup of water to the pot if the marinara sauce seems too thick. Once the sauce is simmering, turn the heat down to low and cover with the lid, leaving it ajar so some steam can escape. Simmer until the meatballs are cooked through and the sauce has thickened, about 30 minutes.
Assemble and bake the meatball subs:
Preheat the oven to 450˚F.
Heat a skillet or griddle over medium-high heat. Using a bread knife, slice the hoagie rolls down the center, leaving the two sides attached, and open them up like a book. Add a little butter or drizzle of oil to the skillet and add the rolls cut side down. Cook until the hoagies are toasted, about 2 minutes. You will likely need to toast them 1 or 2 at a time, depending on the size of your skillet.
Scoop 4 meatballs out of the marinara sauce and chop them in half. Add them to a toasted hoagie and spoon about 1/2 cup of sauce over the top of the meatballs. Top with 2 slices of provolone. Repeat with the remaining rolls and meatballs.
Bake the hoagies until the cheese is well melted, about 5 minutes. Top with basil and banana peppers, if desired. Serve immediately.
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