I think we all know by now that no matter how kooky or odd Alton Brown’s cooking tricks might sound, they tend to pay off with delicious flavor. That’s why I was eager to try his tip for baking meatballs in a cardboard egg carton.
Yep, you read that right — Brown recommends plopping meatballs in an egg carton and letting them cook up in the oven rather than sautéing or simmering them on the stove. I discovered the clever idea while researching another one of his quirky techniques for baking “hard boiled” eggs (which works great, of course).
Brown shared the meatball hack back in 2017 in a since-deleted selfie on his Instagram page, but Delish still had all the details that convinced me to give it a go. The theory is that the carton will wick up all the excess grease that ekes out of meat while it heats up. It can also help maintain the actual ball-shape of your meat orbs instead of flattening them out in a pan. And it probably goes without saying, but you shouldn’t try this out with plastic or foam cartons — just the cardboard kind.
I decided to riff on Brown’s baked meatballs recipe to stay on-theme. I just swapped a few things out based on what I always have in my kitchen (like oregano and coriander instead of the basil and parsley he lists). After mixing everything up, I had enough to roll up 24 balls, as you can see below:
It definitely looks a little strange, but I had faith in Brown’s guidance.
I pre-heated my oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit per the baked meatballs recipe instructions and placed the meatball carton in to bake for 20 minutes.
Here’s where I noticed a small snag: Only the tops of my meatballs seemed to be fully cooked after 20 minutes, the bottom half that was covered by the carton still looked pretty raw. The Delish write-up of the hack didn’t mention anything about this potential hiccup (and it’s perhaps why Brown shelved his original Instagram post), but I decided to just carefully flip them all over with a fork and let them bake for another 10 minutes.
After the timer went off, I was happy to see they looked cooked through. I could also clearly see a ton of grease had indeed been soaked up by the cardboard, saving it from splashing it out onto my plate. If you assume that means the meatballs were dried out, think again. The inside was still plenty juicy while the outside had a delightful crisp texture.
See for yourself:
I threw mine on top of pasta and tomato sauce, but I bet this would also be perfect for passing them around as hors d’oeuvres or adding to a soup.
I totally recommend giving this trick a try the next time you’re in the mood for meatballs. I am sure it works just as well with different meats like turkey or chicken, plus whatever spices and other ingredients you prefer to add in. Just remember to hang onto your empty egg cartons before tossing them out!