Flavor-packed meatballs with loads of aromatics, fresh parsley, and a special blend of spices, including ground cumin and a touch of cinnamon baked in a rich tomato sauce! I’m talking about Soutzoukakia, football-shaped Greek meatballs.

Greek Baked Meatballs with Red Sauce. Garnished with Parsley

What is soutzoukakia?

Soutzoukakia! Say it with me, “soot-zoo-KAH-kee-ah”! Or you can call them izmir köfte. Izmir, a city in Turkey, is actually where these delicious meatballs originated, making their way to Greece sometime in the 20th century.

Soutzoukakia are delicious football-shaped meatballs made with ground beef, onions, garlic, fresh herbs, and a unique spice combination, the star of which is cumin! The cumin’s warm and distinctive flavor with bitter, lemony undertones provides a great earthy base here. Adding to the flavor is the epic tomato sauce scented with bay, garlic and a touch of cinnamon.

The meatballs are baked in the sauce to create a dish that is comfort food at it’s finest! Serve soutzoukakia with other Greek dishes like green bean salad or briam for a healthy well-rounded dinner. You guys, you’re gonna love this!

Table of Contents
  1. What is soutzoukakia?
  2. The secret to making good meatballs
  3. Ingredients for Greek baked meatballs
    1. Meatballs
    2. Tomato sauce
  4. How to shape soutzoukakia
  5. How to make soutzoukakia
  6. Make ahead tips for Greek baked meatballs
  7. Serving suggestions
  8. How to store and reheat leftovers
  9. Can you freeze soutzoukakia?
  10. More meatball recipes
  11. Soutzoukakia (Greek Baked Meatballs) Recipe
Greek Baked Meatballs in Red Sauce

The secret to making good meatballs

These baked meatballs are extra tender and juicy thanks to adding pieces of milk-soaked bread and using a light hand when mixing and forming the meatballs.

First, let’s talk about this soaked bread business. This is a trick I learned from Yiayia Helen, and it’s one I always use when I make keftedes or Lebanese-style meatballs. If you need to, use gluten free bread but do NOT skip this step!

Here’s how to do it:

  • Toast 2 slices of whole wheat bread. You can use a toaster or the stovetop, whichever you prefer.
  • Place the toast in a shallow bowl with about 1/3 cup milk.
  • Allow it to soak for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Wring the excess liquid from the toast. You’ll be left with what is basically toast mush, which is what you’ll use in the meatballs.

Second, let’s talk about mixing meat. If you’ve ever had a tough meatball chances are it was just overmixed and got a little too warm in the process. When combining ground beef with other ingredients you want to do it as gently as possible so the fat and the protein in the meat can bind together.

If you overwork the dough you can break that bind (kind of like when a sauce splits) resulting in dry, tough meatballs.

So the secret to flavorful, moist and tender meatballs is to:

  • Use bread soaked in milk
  • Keep the meat cold
  • Combine the ingredients just until they are mixed
  • Shape them gently

Do this and you’ll have tender, juicy meatballs everytime.

Baked Meatballs with red sauce arranged on top of white rice

Ingredients for Greek baked meatballs

Soutzoukakia consists of 2 main parts: The signature oblong-shaped meatballs, and rich red sauce. Here’s what you’ll need for both:


  • Whole wheat bread: You’ll need 2 slices. Use your favorite gluten-free option if you cannot tolerate gluten.
  • Milk: You’ll need about 1/3 cup milk. You can also use water.
  • Ground beef: I use either 85 or 90 percent lean ground beef. Since the meatballs cook in a sauce, I wasn’t worried about them turning out dry. For a fattier option, use equal amounts of lean ground beef and ground pork.
  • Aromatics: Chopped yellow onion and minced garlic.
  • Eggs: Eggs help to bind the meatballs so they don’t fall apart.
  • Herbs and spices: Cumin, cinnamon, dried oregano, and flat-leaf parsley.

Tomato sauce

  • Extra virgin olive oil: I like using a Greek EVOO here, like our Private Reserve or Early Harvest oils.
  • Aromatics: Chopped yellow onion and minced garlic.
  • Red wine: Use a dry wine like a Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir.
  • Canned tomato sauce: You’ll need two 15-ounce cans.
  • Herbs and spices: Bay leaf, cumin, cinnamon, and sugar.

How to shape soutzoukakia

Now, when you think of meatballs, you probably picture something small and spherical, with a serving size of 4 to 5 meatballs per person. Not the case here. This recipe yields 16 meatballs, and can serve up to 8 people, which is about 4 ounces of meat per person. Here’s how to form Greek football-shaped meatballs.

  • If you want each meatball to be exactly the same size, start by weighing the total meatball mixture and dividing that by 16. That will give you the weight of each meatball. (Optional.)
  • If you are not too worried about being super precise, scoop 2 1/2 tablespoons at a time to make the meatballs.
  • Wet your hands slightly so the meat doesn’t stick.
  • Grab one meatball’s worth of meat and shape it into a football shape using your palms. (Roll the meat mixture gently between your palms until it turns into an oblong.)
  • Don’t sweat the shape too much. The meatballs will taste wonderful regardless!

How to make soutzoukakia

If you’ve ever wanted to get more people involved in making dinner this recipe is a good one for that. One person can build the tomato sauce, while someone else shapes the soutzoukakia. Here’s how to make it.

  • Soak toasted whole wheat bread. Toast 2 slices whole wheat bread and place them in a shallow bowl with 1/3 cup milk. Allow to soak for about 10 minutes, then squeeze out excess liquid.
  • Gather Greek baked meatball ingredients. To a large bowl, add 1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef, soaked toast, 1 small chopped yellow onion, 3 minced garlic cloves, 2 eggs, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/2 teaspoon each ground cinnamon and dried oregano, and 1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley.

    Meatball ingredients in a bowl. Ground beef, onions, garlic, spices, and fresh parsley
  • Make the meatball mixture. Use your hands to bring the ingredients together until they are just combined. Then cover and refrigerate while you work on the sauce.

    Meatball ingredients combined into a kneaded meat mixture
  • Make the sauce. Heat 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil over medium heat, then add 1 finely chopped yellow onion and cook for 3 minutes. Next, add 2 minced garlic cloves and cook for a minute, stirring regularly. Pour in 1/2 cup dry red wine and let it cook down by about half, then add 30 ounces canned tomato sauce, 1 bay leaf, 3/4 teaspoon cumin, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon sugar. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

    Red sauce for Greek baked meatballs
  • Shape the meatballs. Form the meat mixture into football-shaped meatballs (oblong shape) and arrange them in a large lightly oiled baking dish.

    Meat mixture formed into elongated meatballs the shape of a football. Arranged in a baking dish
  • Bake the meatballs. Pour the red sauce on top, then bake in a 400°F oven for 40 to 45 minutes. About halfway through, check and see if there is enough liquid in the dish. If not, add a little water (maybe about 1/4 cup). Serve.

    Sauce added on top of meatballs in baking dish

Make ahead tips for Greek baked meatballs

Soutzoukakia is a convenient make-ahead meal! You can make both the sauce and meatball mixture a night in advance. Here’s how:

  • Make the sauce a night ahead and store it in a glass container (to prevent staining) in the refrigerator.
  • Mix the meatball mixture and keep it in the fridge for up to one day in advance.
  • When you’re ready, form the meat into oblong shapes, place them in an oiled baking dish, and pour the sauce over. Bake and serve.

Serving suggestions

The wonderful thing about meatballs in sauce is that they go well with so many things. Here are some ideas:

Close look at baked Greek meatballs and rice.

How to store and reheat leftovers

Leftover soutzoukakia will keep well in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Reheat the meatballs and sauce in a skillet with some extra virgin olive oil over medium heat until warmed through. 

Can you freeze soutzoukakia?

I often make a double-batch of Greek baked meatballs and freeze half before baking them, so that when I’m in the mood for soutzoukakia, all I need to do is whip up the rich red sauce. Here’s how to freeze uncooked Greek meatballs:

  • Arrange the meatballs in a single layer (with a little space between them so they don’t freeze together) on a parchment-lined baking sheet and place in the freezer for a few hours.
  • Once they’re frozen solid, transfer to a deep container layered between sheets of parchment paper or a ziptop bag.
  • They will keep for up to 2 months.
  • Thaw them in the fridge overnight and bake the next day. 

If you like, you can also freeze the cooked dish. Allow the meatballs and sauce to come to room temperature and transfer to a freezer-safe bag or container. Freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge and reheat on the stove. You’ll likely need to add a little water while the soutzoukakia reheats.

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5 from 17 votes

Soutzoukakia (Greek Baked Meatballs)

Suzy Karadsheh of The Mediterranean Dish. In the kitchenSuzy Karadsheh
Greek Baked Meatballs in Red Sauce
Perfectly tender baked meatballs, prepared Greek-style with onions, garlic, spices like cumin and cinnamon, and fresh herbs in a special red sauce. Soutzoukakia taste delicious with sides like Greek salad, or over a bed of rice. Check out all my tips and tricks for the best Greek baked meatballs! This recipe makes 16 meatballs, which serves up to 8 people.
Prep – 20 minutes
Cook – 1 hour 40 minutes
Serves – 16 meatballs


For Meatballs

  • 2 slices whole wheat bread, toast-size, toasted to a medium-brown (or use gluten free bread if you need)
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 1.5 pounds lean ground beef
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • Extra virgin olive oil, to grease the baking dish

For Red Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 30 ounces canned tomato sauce, that's 2 15-ounce cans of sauce
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • Kosher salt and black pepper


  • In a small bowl, place the toasted bread and cover with milk (or water) to soak. When bread is soft and well-soaked, squeeze the liquid out completely and discard remaining milk if any.
  • Transfer the bread to a large mixing bowl. Add round beef and remaining meatball ingredients. Knead well until well-combined. Cover the meat mixture and rest in the fridge for now.
  • Preheat oven to 400°F.
  • While oven is heating, prepare the sauce. In a sauce pan or large skillet, heat 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil over medium heat until shimmering but not smoking. Add onions and cook for 3 minutes or so. Add garlic and cook for another minute, stirring regularly. Now add red wine and cook to reduce by about 1/2, then add tomato sauce, bay leaf and remaining sauce ingredients. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Prepare a large baking dish and lightly oil the bottom with extra virgin olive oil.
  • Take the meat mixture out of the fridge. Wet your hands and scoop portions of about 2 1/2 tbsp of the meat mixture and form into large elongated meatballs (football-shaped.) You should have 15 to 16 meatballs or so. Arrange meatballs in the papered baking dish and top with the sauce (be sure to have removed the bay leaf from the sauce.)
  • Place the baking dish on the middle rack of your heated oven. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until the meatballs are well cooked through (check part-way through to make sure sauce is not dry, and if needed, add a little bit of water to the bottom of the baking dish.)
  • Remove from oven and add another drizzle of EVOO. Garnish with parsley and serve over rice or orzo.



  • Toast and soak bread: Do not skip this step; it gives you the juiciest meatballs!
  • What meat to use: You can use lean ground beef, or a mixture of lean ground beef and ground pork. 
  • Prepare-ahead tips: If you want to get a head start on this recipe, you can make the sauce one night in advance.  You can also mix the meat mixture one night in advance of cooking; store in the fridge in a glass container with a tight lid. 
  • Tips for leftovers: These Greek meatballs will keep for 4 days in the fridge.  Store in tight-lid glass containers. 
  • What to serve along? These meatballs are great over Lebanese rice or plain orzo. Turn this dinner into a Greek feast by adding a side of Greek Salad along with Greek Green Bean Salad or Briam! 
  • Visit Our Shop for quality Mediterranean ingredients including extra virgin olive oils and spices. 


Calories: 138.5kcalCarbohydrates: 6.9gProtein: 10.8gFat: 7.1gSaturated Fat: 2.3gPolyunsaturated Fat: 0.6gMonounsaturated Fat: 3.4gTrans Fat: 0.3gCholesterol: 48.7mgSodium: 380.4mgPotassium: 357.9mgFiber: 1.4gSugar: 3.1gVitamin A: 431.1IUVitamin C: 7.6mgCalcium: 39.4mgIron: 2mg
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*This post was recently updated with new information to make it even better!

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I’m Suzy; born and bred right on the shores of the Mediterranean. I’m all about easy, healthy recipes with big Mediterranean flavors. Three values guide my cooking: eat with the seasons; use whole foods; and above all, share! So happy you’re here…
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5 from 17 votes (17 ratings without comment)

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  1. Junie says:

    5 stars
    I made a vegetarian version using mashed canned black beans and canned brown lentils to make 1.5 pounds for the meat. I then prebaked the “footballs” for approximately 15 minutes, then poured the sauce over them. After baking for them for 15 minutes more I turned the oven off and let them sit until I had my tzatziki and potatoes ready. Worked perfectly, the flavoring was just right. Thank you for a recipe we will definitely be making again.

    1. TMD Team says:

      Wow, Junie! Thanks for sharing your vegetarian version of this! Sounds delish!

  2. Andy G says:

    5 stars
    OMG! made this today, and it is amazing. the smell alone brought me back to my childhood, and memories of going downtown Chicago to Greek Town, this was the perfect addition to my recipe collection. Thank you.

  3. margot egan says:

    Could you please let me know if you mean canned tomatoes or ready made tomato sauce. I would love to try this recipe but don’t want to make a mistake. Every one of your recipes that I’ve made have been a hit with my family. Thanks!!#

    1. TMD Team says:

      Hi, Margot. You want to use tomato sauce here. Enjoy!

  4. Robin says:

    5 stars
    I’ve made this before and its a family hit! Comfort food on a weekday! Love your recipes!

  5. Karen says:

    5 stars
    Soooo delicious! Easy to make. Our daughter was over with our grandson so I sent some home with her. Her husband was making rice to go with it. I had leftover roasted Brussel sprouts I mixed with lemon couscous and it went well together.

    1. TMD Team says:

      Thanks, Karen!

  6. Marilyn McCourt says:

    Really Really Good!

  7. Tammy says:

    5 stars
    Just made the Soutzoukakia, briam and basmati rice it was amazing!! My family loved everything and I look forward to making more of your recipes. My daughter got me your cookbook for my bday and so far everything I have made taste soo good.

    1. TMD Team says:

      Sounds like the perfect dinner! Glad to hear you’re enjoying the cookbook!

  8. Tammy says:

    5 stars
    Just made the Soutzoukakia, briam roasted vegetables and biryani rice! Everything was delicious and easy to make.

  9. Starr says:

    5 stars
    I made this dish and it was amazing. My family loved it. The only problem i had was that the meatballs came apart slightly at the bottom, which made the sauce lumpy. I did turn the meatballs as soon as they came out of the oven. Was that my mistake?

  10. Michelle Triplett says:

    5 stars
    Looks so good but I have to try it first!

  11. Jac says:

    4 stars
    Been searching for years for the “meatballs in tomato gravy” my mom used to make, as she learned from my grandmother (who probably learned from my Greek grandfather!). This is better than that version – so delicious, my family devoured it! No leftovers, so I’ll definitely have to double the recipe next time. I will probably reduce the amount of cinnamon however, to suit my taste.

  12. Linda B says:

    5 stars
    İ have made this multiple times and it is delicious!! Question: Could İ make smaller meatballs and cook them in a slow cooker with the sauce? İ need to feed a large crowd with no kitchen on site.

    1. TMD Team says:

      Hi, Linda. You can definitely make these smaller. I’m not sure about cooking them in a slow cooker. It may work, it’s not something we’ve tried before.

  13. Kim says:

    This was absolutely amazing! It was so easy and the flavor combinations just go so well together. This will go down as a favorite!

  14. Gunther says:

    5 stars
    Awesome , really quick and easy , most ingredients already in pantry , the warm greek spices makes this a fantastic comfort food , i left out the bread because of banting , you do need a good quality tomato sauce to finish it off.

  15. Pam says:

    How might you make these vegetarian?

    1. TMD Team says:

      Hi, Pam. This isn’t something we’ve tested before, but we do have a great Vegan “Meatball” recipe you could use as a guide to replace the actual meatballs in this recipe, while still using the sauce. If you give this a try, please stop back and share your thoughts!

  16. Alyson says:

    5 stars
    This was delicious. My son in law says 10 out of 10

    1. Suzy says:

      Yay! Thanks, Alyson!