Get ready to up your sandwich game with these air fryer meatball subs. We’ll make homemade meatballs with a handful of simple ingredients which are then cooked to perfection in your air fryer. The meatballs will then get a quick dip into marinara sauce before being nestled into a hearty roll, with provolone cheese, creating a mouthwatering sub that’ll easily be the best one you’ve ever had.
This easy recipe will make four delicious meatball subs. They’re perfect for a quick dinner or for enjoying during a game. And if you have guests to feed, these subs are sure to impress. Everyone will absolutely love them!
What Are Meatball Subs?
Meatball subs feature meatballs that are somewhat larger than the average ones you find in pasta dishes. Usually made from a combination of ground beef and ground pork, the cooked meatballs are loaded into large sub rolls with cheese and marinara sauce. This makes for a very hearty, satisfying, delicious sandwich.
Where Did Meatballs Subs Originate?
The exact origin of the meatball sandwich, or sub, is hard to pinpoint. Some food historians suggest that it likely originated in the Italian-American communities in cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago around the early 20th century. It is believed that the meatball sandwich was a practical adaptation of the traditional Italian meatball dish, created as an easy-to-eat, portable meal for blue-collar workers who needed a quick, filling lunch they could eat with their hands while on break from work.
Having been a proud resident of the Chicagoland area for over 50 years, I have quite a bit of experience with meatball subs. I’d even consider myself a connoisseur. I’ve had some amazing meatballs subs and some average ones too. For this recipe, I set out to replicate all the things I like about a good meatball sandwich in order to make an easy recipe one could make at home. I found the air fryer to be the perfect appliance for the job! I was able to make the most savory meatballs with ease and simple ingredients in less than a half hour. The results absolutely exceeded my expectations!
The best meatballs are made from a combination of ground beef and ground pork. Ground pork adds a rich and savory flavor to meatballs. The fattiness of the pork also contributes to the taste and texture of the meatballs. It provides juiciness and a satisfying mouthfeel, making the meatballs tender and moist. When combined with other ingredients, it results in a well-rounded, robust meatball.
Our seasonings are a simple mix of Italian blend seasoning, garlic powder, kosher salt and ground pepper. It will all come together with some Italian breadcrumbs, an egg and a splash of milk.
Once the meatballs are cooked, we’ll add our favorite marinara sauce before they go into some hearty sub rolls with provolone cheese. Provolone cheese is ideal for its mild, creamy flavor and texture.
Start with a large mixing bowl and add the ground meats, followed by the breadcrumbs, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper and garlic powder. Add in the egg and milk and start mixing. Use your hand to mix. You don’t want to overwork it by squeezing and grinding it all together. Rather, just use both hands to keep folding everything together until all the ingredients are well incorporated.
Next, you’ll roll the meat into approximately 12 meatballs of about 1.5″ in diameter. Then they’re ready to get a drizzle of olive oil before going into the air fryer.
Pro Tip: Forming the Perfect Meatballs
- Size Consistency: To ensure even cooking, it’s important that all meatballs are the same size. We’ll be looking for meatballs that are slightly smaller than the size of a golf ball.
- Rolling Technique: After portioning the meatball mixture, place it in the palm of your hand and gently roll it using a circular motion with your hands. Try to apply even pressure while doing this. The goal is to create a sphere that is compact but not overly dense.
- Prevent Sticking: Wet your hands with a bit of cold before you start rolling. This will prevent the meat from sticking to your hands, making the rolling process much easier and cleaner.
Air Fry for 12-14 Minutes
Preheat your air fryer at 380°F for 5 minutes before adding the meatballs. If you have a standard 6qt basket-style air fryer, all 12 should fit comfortably. You want to make sure the meatballs are not stacked on each other and should have a little room between each one as well. If you have a smaller air fryer, you may need to do two batches.
Now use the air fry setting at 380°F for 12-14 minutes. We want the internal temperature of the meatballs to be 165°F. During the cooking time, use tongs and flip the meatballs over. You can then shake the basket a time or two during the remainder of the cooking time to further turn the meatballs to ensure even cooking.
While the meatballs are cooking, add the marinara sauce to a saucepan and simmer over low heat on the stovetop.
When the meatballs are done in the air fryer, carefully remove and place into the skillet with the sauce to coat the meatballs. They will not require any additional cooking time in the skillet. This step is simply to coat the meatballs with the warm sauce. If you want to skip the skillet step, you can heat the sauce in a microwavable container and simply spoon the sauce over the meatballs once they’re in the buns.
Assemble the Sandwiches
One of the things that makes a meatballs sub so good is the roll it’s in. If you have a chance to toast the rolls – even better! One of the easiest ways to toast the buns is to open them up and place on a baking sheet or foil under the broiler of the oven for about 1 minute.
The cheese will actually go into the sub roll first. Lay out one or two slices into each bun. Then spoon the meatballs into the buns. Usually, 3 meatballs fit in a standard sub roll. Spoon any extra sauce onto the sandwich as desired.
For additional goodness, top the sandwiches with some fresh chopped basil. Mmmm!!!
Goes Great With…
Air Fryer Homestyle French Fries:
Again, having been a meatball sub sandwich connoisseur for decades, the best side dish, hands down, is fresh french fries. Our recipe for Air Fryer Homestyle French Fries is perfect for riding shotgun with our meatball sandwich.
Country Creamy Coleslaw:
Another great side is cole slaw. Getting that cool crispness of the slaw in between the savory bites of the meatballs is really an excellent eating experience.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes they can. You’ll want to use a total of 1.5lbs of ground beef, preferably an 80/20 mix.
No. You can heat the meatballs in the microwave and spoon the desired amount over the meatballs in the sandwich.
Absolutely! In fact, these are great to make ahead of time for meal prep for the week or any other time. Simple wait for the meatballs to cool, place in a freezer safe container and freeze for up to 3 months. You can also freeze them in the sauce. Add the meatballs to freezer safe containers and fill with sauce.
My favorite method is to simmer the frozen meatballs in sauce. This yields the best results. If you want to reheat your meatballs without sauce, you can use the oven. Preheat your oven to 350°F, place the frozen meatballs on a baking sheet, and heat for about 15-20 minutes, or until they’re heated through.