13 Ways To Upgrade A Meatball Sub

meatball sub with fries
meatball sub with fries - Lauripatterson/Getty Images

When it comes to a comforting handheld meal, a meatball sub sandwich will always be up there with the best. Soft, rich meatballs with a tangy marinara sauce and cheese threatening to ooze out of the sides — this is a savory treat that rarely disappoints. But just because it's good doesn't mean that it can't be better, and there are plenty of ways to take your meatball sub to delicious new heights.

Whether you regularly make your own meatball subs or are a newbie to them, level up this hot sandwich to become your signature snack. From making your own sauce to adding caramelized onions, these upgrades will make your meatball sub unforgettable.

Join us as we explore the various ways to upgrade your meatball sub, from the controversial — think adding pineapple — to classic variations such as mixing various cheeses. Each of these tips will add something special to your sandwich, and guarantee that you will never tire of this saucy specialty.

Read more: 13 Unexpected Ingredients To Elevate Lasagna

Upgrade Your Meatball Sub's Bread

stack of sub rolls
stack of sub rolls - Bhofack2/Getty Images

When making a meatball sub, you're likely focused on what to put inside the sandwich, and indeed that is important. But the bread itself is often overlooked, and paying attention to it is an important factor in upgrading your sub.

The obvious option is the classic sub roll — these are popular for a reason, especially when you have a substantial filling like meatballs. You need a robust roll that can handle the heavy topping without leaking. The long sub rolls used at delis are perfect for this job, but they're not the only option, and there are delicious alternatives out there that can give your meatball sub a fresh twist.

Ciabatta is a rustic choice that works well — the chewy crusts allow it to cope with the filling, and the sauce can sink into the nooks and flavor the bread with the tomato sauce. A French baguette can also do the job, giving a crusty exterior with a soft middle that will complement the meatballs and sauce nicely. If you have enough time, you can make French bread at home, meaning your sandwich will taste even better.

If you have to use softer bread, consider toasting it to create a firmer crust that will be satisfyingly crunchy and contain the sandwich fillings. This can transform bread that may be unsuitable for a meatball sub into something that can stand up to the delicious filling.

Make Your Own Sauce

homemade tomato sauce in pot
homemade tomato sauce in pot - New Africa/Shutterstock

When it comes to the sauce on a meatball sub, there is one clear favorite — a classic marinara sauce. The tomatoes create a rich, thick paste that pairs brilliantly with both the meatballs and the cheese. To upgrade your sub, consider making your own marinara sauce, which will knock your socks off if you are accustomed to the shop-bought stuff.

The great thing about making your own sauce is that you can customize it however you like. Traditional Italian marinara sauce is usually made with few ingredients, essentially tomatoes, garlic, and basil; even onions don't belong. However, this shouldn't stop you from enhancing your sauce with whatever ingredients you fancy, especially any flavorings that may complement the meatballs. If you like a bit of heat, adding some chilies to the sauce is a great idea. Fry them with the garlic to give the peppers more of a smoky flavor that will match the meat well.

Alternatively, you could add some anchovies for a salty hit of umami, or throw in some chopped olives or capers for a similar effect. Adding extra ingredients to your sauce will create more layers of flavor that will then improve the overall sandwich.

Experiment With Different Cheeses

variety of cheeses on slate
variety of cheeses on slate - Lucigerma/Shutterstock

Everyone knows that cheese is a crucial component of a meatball sub, creating a pizza vibe within our favorite sandwich. Mozzarella is a classic option for good reason, since its ability to melt and turn gooey makes it the perfect companion to the meatballs and sauce. But there are many other cheese options out there that can be added in, creating intricately savory layers and taking your sub to dangerously tasty new levels.

Cheddar cheese is an excellent option to either replace the mozzarella or mix in with it. Cheddar melts well, but has a sharpness that will give the sandwich a completely different flavor profile. Grate the cheddar and sprinkle it on the meatballs, or slice it thinly and drape it over the top. If you are mixing it with other cheeses, grate them all and mix before adding to the sandwich, to create a uniform cheese layer that will melt evenly.

If you're looking to spice things up a bit, add some pepper jack. This fiery version of Monterey Jack cheese will lift the sandwich and create a pleasing tingle that is mellowed by the cheese, so you don't need to worry about it being too hot.

Finally, Parmesan is a great option for a strong cheese to really bring umami flavors to your meatball sub. Grate some Parmesan into the mozzarella, or use it on its own for a thinner cheese layer that will still pack a big flavor punch.

Opt For Homemade Meatballs

homemade meatballs in black pan
homemade meatballs in black pan - Oksana Mizina/Shutterstock

If you are only going to upgrade one ingredient of your sandwich, let it be the meatballs. They are, after all, the star of the sub, and making your own meatballs will elevate the flavors immensely. While there is nothing wrong with store-bought meatballs, homemade classic Italian meatballs are difficult to beat, and you can adjust the ingredients and seasoning to suit your own palate.

You can use either ground pork or ground beef, or why not try a blend to get the flavor benefits of both? For maximum taste, add garlic, onion, and Parmesan cheese into the mixture, before rolling it into balls. Make sure to add fresh or dried herbs as well — such as parsley, oregano, or basil — to keep the Italian vibe flowing. To create a delicious crust on your meatballs, brown them in a little oil in the skillet for a few minutes before cooking them in the sauce, or simply bake them in the oven if you don't want them to mix with the sauce until you are constructing the sandwich.

Homemade meatballs obviously take more effort than their shop-bought counterparts, but your meatball sub will thank you, and the flavor difference will be noticeable. If you want to get ahead with meal prep, you can make a large batch of meatballs and freeze them either raw or cooked, ensuring that you'll have them handy the next time you have a hankering for a gourmet sandwich.

Spice Up Meatball Subs With Some Chilies

chili flakes in wooden bowl
chili flakes in wooden bowl - YusufAslan/Shutterstock

Once you have mastered the bread, meatballs, and sauce, it's time to start planning what extra elements are going to make your sandwich sing. One ingredient that will catapult it to new flavor heights is the addition of sliced chilies. Whether you just want a subtle touch of heat or plan to give your taste buds a fiery party, chilies will make a great addition.

For a milder spice level, jalapeños are the perfect option, providing a tangy and flavorful punch without traumatizing your palate. Remove the seeds and membrane if you don't want much heat at all, or leave them in if you are feeling a little adventurous.

If you really want a chili challenge, upgrade your sub with a fiery habanero pepper, with a Scoville rating that soars up to 350,000 units, far above the 8,000 units found in a particularly powerful jalapeño. Make sure to add plenty of cheese to your sandwich to neutralize the heat from the chili — and since when have we needed an excuse to add more cheese?

Switch Mayo For Aioli

homemade aioli in white bowl
homemade aioli in white bowl - Civil/Shutterstock

If you usually add mayonnaise to your meatball sub, it's time to upgrade to aioli instead. Thought by many to be simply a garlic mayo, aioli is so much more than that. It is more like garlic mayo's very sophisticated distant cousin, and it will add a luxurious touch to your sandwich.

You will be able to get aioli in most supermarkets, but nothing beats the flavor you'll achieve with a homemade garlic aioli recipe. Making your own aioli is not as scary as you may think, and you can use a food processor to make the emulsification a bit easier. The key is to add the olive oil to the egg yolks as slowly as possible to create a decadent texture, rather than causing the mixture to separate.

Once you have whipped up your aioli (or bought some pre-made from the store), slather it onto both sides of your bread before adding the rest of your meatball sub ingredients. You can then add an extra dollop of aioli at the very end to increase the garlic flavor. Once you've had a meatball sub with aioli, you will never go back to boring old mayonnaise again.

Go Tropical With Some Pineapple

freshly sliced pineapple
freshly sliced pineapple - Anusorn Sutapan/Getty Images

There's no doubt that a good meatball sub can have some serious pizza vibes, so if you're a fan of the controversial Hawaiian pizza, why not give your sandwich the same tropical treatment? The pineapple will cut through the richness of the meatballs perfectly, and provide a delicious juicy texture with sharp flavor.

Although canned pineapple will work perfectly well, fresh pineapple will give your sandwich the best burst of flavor. You could even try grilling some pineapple rings to create a smoky element that will complement the meat beautifully. The fresh pineapple will be bursting with juice, meaning you will get a zingy surprise with every mouthful. The intense sweetness will contrast with the sauce and the meat to create a party on your palate.

If you are unsure about the sweetness that pineapple will bring on its own, you could try preparing a savory pineapple salsa recipe, which will balance the sugar with red onion, jalapeño, and cilantro. Mix the salsa ingredients in a bowl, squeeze a generous amount of lime over the top, and scatter your pineapple salsa onto your meatball sandwich. With savory, sweet, and sour flavors coming through, it will transform your usual sub into something extraordinary.

Sweeten Up Meatball Subs With Caramelized Onions

caramelized onions in white bowl
caramelized onions in white bowl - Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

If you've ever added caramelized onions to a burger or steak, you will understand the difference they can make to the flavor of meat, creating a sweet, smoky element to contrast with the richness of your dish. There's no reason not to give a meatball sub the same treatment, and the onions will pair brilliantly with the marinara sauce, too.

If you are put off by the thought of onions on your sub, it's important to understand that caramelized onions bear virtually no resemblance to raw onions. The pungent, acidic flavor of raw onions will disappear when you cook them slowly and release their natural sugars.

Making a caramelized onions recipe is pretty easy, though it takes a bit of time and a lot of patience. You want to cook them low and slow, stirring every five minutes until they reach a jammy consistency, which will take around 45 minutes. Once they are ready, spoon them on top of your meatballs and enjoy the sweet touch they bring to your sandwich.

Add Some Tang With Pickles

dill pickles in glass jar
dill pickles in glass jar - Caterina Trimarchi/Shutterstock

Pickles are known for being a brilliant match for burgers, but we don't tend to include them in our meatball subs — but it's time for that to change. Pickles are a fabulous addition to a meatball sandwich, cutting through the rich meat and adding a zing that will make sure every mouthful has a satisfying pop of flavor.

Dill pickles are an excellent option and a great match for the meat. Either use a shop-bought brand, or make your own with a dill pickles recipe — it's easier than you may think. Within 15 to 20 minutes you can have homemade pickled cucumbers, customized with whatever herbs and spices you fancy.

If dill pickles are a bit tame for your tastes, try some pickled jalapeños for an intriguing sweet-spicy combo. The cheese will relieve some of the heat from the chilies, leaving behind a delicious, subtle spiciness that will create layers of flavor within the sandwich.

Throw In Some Crunchy Bell Peppers

variety of bell peppers
variety of bell peppers - Pjohnson1/Getty Images

Add a bit of crunch, a splash of color, and a pop of flavor to your meatball sub by adding some bell peppers, ideally in a variety of colors. The subtle sweetness of the peppers will complement the meatballs and cheese, and elevate the flavors of your sandwich.

Red, orange, or yellow peppers are all bursting with sweetness, while green peppers have more of a bitter note that could work really well with the meat. Bell peppers are also packed with vitamin C and other nutrients, so this addition will boost both the taste of your sandwich and your immune system.

If you are unsure about putting raw peppers in your sub, you can always throw them in the pan and quickly sauté them in a little oil. This will soften the texture and the flavor, and bring out natural sugars. Cut your peppers into thin slices and lay them across and in between the meatballs on the sandwich before adding the cheese, which will then melt on top of them, bringing all the ingredients together beautifully.

Freshen Up Meatball Subs With Herbs

fresh herbs on wooden board
fresh herbs on wooden board - Fcafotodigital/Getty Images

As delicious as the rich flavors of meatballs, sauce, and cheese can be, your sandwich will definitely benefit from the vibrant twist that fresh herbs can bring. Adding herbs requires virtually no preparation, so this is an easy way to elevate your meatball sub with a splash of flavor and color.

Fresh basil is an excellent option that will pair really well with both the meatballs and the tomato sauce. This herb at its best when it's as fresh as possible, so tear a few leaves onto your sub right before serving. Parsley is another great choice to impart a light flavor to your sandwich, and its peppery notes are the ideal accompaniment to meatballs. Cilantro can have a similar aromatic effect on your sub, but many eaters have an aversion to this flavor — cilantro tastes like soap to some people — so be wary of using it if you are making meatball sandwiches for others.

No matter which herbs you choose, they will have a big impact on your meatball sub in terms of flavor and freshness, so go ahead and use your favorites. The transformation to your sandwich means you will never go herbless again.

Add Some Pepperoni

slices of pepperoni
slices of pepperoni - IDEA ROUTE/Shutterstock

If you like pepperoni on your pizza, then you are going to love incorporating it into your meatball sub. It adds some extra meaty flavor, a hint of spice, and a super savory note that matches brilliantly with the cheese and the meatballs.

If you're making your own sauce, you could chop some pepperoni up and add it in with the tomatoes, to ensure the smoky flavor is consistent throughout the sandwich. Or simply layer the slices on top of the meatballs and cheese before sticking it under the broiler. If you don't have any pepperoni, you could try salami or chorizo for a similar flavor. These cured meats will be reminiscent of pepperoni, but with their own distinctive flavor that will give a unique twist to your sub.

For something a bit more quirky that will add a satisfying crunch to your sub, bake pepperoni in the oven before adding it to the sandwich. Lay the pepperoni slices across some baking paper, and cook them in the oven for a few minutes at 425 degrees Fahrenheit. They will create a crispy texture contrast as you bite into the soft bread, but with the satisfying flavor of pepperoni at the same time.

Enhance The Flavor With Sun-Dried Tomatoes

sun-dried tomatoes in bowl
sun-dried tomatoes in bowl - Ermak Oksana/Shutterstock

If you feel your meatball sub isn't quite bursting with flavor yet, it will be after this next addition. Sun-dried tomatoes will create wonderful pockets of taste explosions in your sandwich, and the Mediterranean flavor will match the rest of the sub perfectly.

If you are making everything from scratch, elevate your meatballs with sun-dried tomatoes by mixing them in with the ground meat, to incorporate the flavor beautifully throughout the sandwich. Otherwise, you can simply chop the sun-dried tomatoes roughly and scatter them onto the sub before adding the cheese topping. If you are using oil-packed tomatoes, be sure to drain them well to prevent the oil from soaking into the bread and making your sub greasy.

Sun-dried tomatoes are a quintessentially Italian flavor, so choose your other ingredients to match. Using mozzarella or Parmesan cheese with fresh basil will result in your meatball sub bursting with Italian notes, making it even more satisfying than usual.

Read the original article on Tasting Table.