My sister Laura makes the most AMAZING Meatball Sub Sandwiches, my whole family is obsessed. I finally got her recipe, and it’s our new favorite weeknight meal! You can make these in the slow cooker for a busy day, or on the stove top if you have some time. They are great for feeding a crowd, I’m thinking game day! Who could say no to this level of cheesy-beefy goodness? Grab yourself some hoagies and I’ll show you just how to make them.

full toasted sub stuffed with meatballs in sauce and topped with cheese.
Table of Contents
  1. The best meatball subs
  2. The most important tip
  3. Easy meatball sub ingredients
  4. How to make meatball subs
  5. Cheater meatball subs
  6. What goes well on a meatball sub?
  7. What goes with meatball subs?
  8. How to store leftover meatball subs
  9. Can you freeze meatball subs?
  10. Meatball sub frequently asked questions
  11. Meatball recipes you’ll love
  12. More slow cooker recipes for easy dinners!
  13. Laura’s Meatball Sub Recipe Recipe
  14. Cheater version of meatballs and sauce

We have some great family friends who have a son with special needs. Last week he was over to play, and my 7-year-old daughter Valentine made him a little card with a heart that read, I love you Calvin. She handed it to him and he immediately tore it into pieces.

He went home, but his mom brought him back an hour later. He had taped all the pieces together and written, XOXO I love Valentine. He delivered it with a big hug and said, “I want to marry you Valentine!” and then ran away. It was a very sweet moment.

Calvin’s mom Mardee apologized again for Calvin tearing her card. Valentine coyly approaches her, making Mardee think Valentine wants a hug, so they do. While in her arms, Valentine looks deeply into her eyes for a prolonged moment and admits, “I want one piece of your hair from your head.” Mardee has beautiful long red hair.

Guys, what even?? What kind of children am I raising?? Not only did Val know that this was the exact vulnerable moment when she could ask for something she wanted, but perhaps more disturbingly, what secret potion is she planning on making with the hair?? And what is the proper mothering technique to convince her that she shouldn’t be Gimli-ing every Galadriel she sees??

I told Mardee she should add this to her resume. “Highly sought after strands of hair for use in ancient rituals and/or pretend play.”

These kids, man. Speaking of resumes though, my sister Laura should be adding these Meatball Subs to HER resume. I am obsessed with these!!

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ready to serve meatball sandwiches with melty cheese on parchment paper.

The best meatball subs

I think just about everyone can get down with a meatball sub, right? One time when all 25+ members of my extended family were having a reunion in Colorado, my sister Laura made a giant vat of meatballs and sauce for a make-your-own-sub dinner. Huge hit. The next day, after coming in from a morning hike, everyone rushed into the kitchen to see who could get to them fastest. I’m pretty sure my brother-in-law ate only meatball subs, breakfastlunch&dinner, until every last meatball was gone.

I’ve dreamed about those subs ever since!! It’s been on my list to recreate this recipe for at least 4 years. My food memory is long, folks 😂

Laura is a way more intuitive cook than me. She’s always tossing in a little of this, a little of that, and it comes out like magic. I nailed her down and begged her to measure out every single spice so that we could all enjoy making her amazing subs, and here we are! Thank you so much for sharing your recipe, Laura!

One thing that automatically makes me love these subs is that the prep time is minimal. The secret is in the slow cooker. It does all the work to transform the sauce into a marvelous flavor powerhouse.

And I tell you, a great sauce is absolutely KEY to making the greatest sub! It of course must have TONS of perfectly-spiced tomato flavor. The sauce also needs to be pretty substantial. No watery, runny marinara sauce making your subs soggy sad, that just won’t do. The sauce in this recipe is like a very thick homemade marinara sauce. THICC, guys.

You also want meatballs that can hold their own in the sauce without falling apart, and of course add their own beefy flavor. Homemade meatballs are amazing for sure, but who has the time? This is meant to be an easy weeknight (or lazy weekend) meal, so I love to toss in high quality frozen meatballs. My favorite store bought meatballs ever are the Kirkland Signature brand from Costco, they are so good.

But if you are looking to impress, and want the BEST fresh flavor, make my super easy (no chop) recipe for Easy Baked Meatballs. It’s a simple recipe with ground beef, ground pork, oats or breadcrumbs, garlic, and all the other Italian spices you love.

However you do the meatballs, add them with the dreamy sauce to a toasted sub roll with some mozzarella or Provolone, and you’ll be in sandwich heaven. It’s a real place I think, guys. If I ever make it to heaven and find out there’s no sandwich corner, I’m writing to management.

sideways view looking into the first bite of a meatball sub with all the sauce and cheese.

The most important tip

There is ONE rule you need to remember when it comes to meatball subs: you have to remember to broil the bread you are using to make it toasty, so that the sauce doesn’t soak right in. And Laura’s best tip for a sandwich that can hold up to all the sauce? Broil cheese onto the bread BEFORE spooning on the sauce and meatballs. A double layer of cheese, top and bottom! It’s perfection.

Easy meatball sub ingredients

Don’t be fooled by the long list of ingredients! Most of them are spices and you probably already have them in your pantry. Full recipe amounts and instructions are in the recipe card!

top ingredients for marinara sauce, bottom remaining sub ingredients like bread and cheese.
  • onion
  • olive oil
  • fresh garlic
  • Better than Bouillon Beef Base paste
  • Spices: garlic powder, parsley, oregano, onion powder, basil, thyme, black pepper, celery seed, cayenne pepper
  • crushed tomatoes
  • tomato sauce
  • tomato paste
  • diced tomatoes
  • meatballs
  • mozzarella or Provolone cheese
  • hoagie rolls or sub sandwich rolls. Check out the rolls labeled “French Steak Rolls” at Walmart. They are like mini subs! Perfect size.

How to make meatball subs

As with so many recipes, we are starting out with the good stuff: a chopped onion in some oil. Doesn’t this just make you feel like life is full of possibilities??

top onions cooking in pan, bottom spices in a small bowl, chopped garlic in another.

While the onions are softening, finely mince your garlic, and add all the spices to a bowl to be added at once:

top spices mixed in with onions in the pan, bottom tomato paste added to onion & spice mixture.

Cook the onions with the spices and garlic for a hot minute so they get all toasty and fragrant, then add in a scoop of Better than Bouillon Beef Base and a can of tomato paste.

Here’s an easy trick for getting all the tomato paste out of the can. Use the can opener to open the top AND bottom of the can. Carefully push the top lid in enough that you can safely remove the bottom lid from the other side, scraping any paste off. Continue pushing on the lid to move all the tomato paste down and out the bottom of the can into the pot. Voila!

crushed tomatoes added to the pan with the spices, onions, and other ingredients.

Add the crushed tomatoes and use the spoon to scrape any brown bits off the bottom. Add the diced tomatoes and tomato sauce and stir until everything is evenly mixed.

Now listen up, folks. This is the BEGINNING OF LIFE for this here baby-sauce. Every time I make this I’m a little worried at this point because it doesn’t taste quite right. That’s because it needs to be simmered down. Time in the pot allows all the flavors to combine. Don’t fret if it doesn’t taste quite like a finished sauce right now, because it’s not!

At this point, you can add the meatballs and simmer the sauce on the stove if you are short on time. You will need to simmer COVERED for at least an hour, two is probably better, keeping an eye on it and adding more broth if necessary.

But I prefer to transfer the whole thing to my slow cooker. It comes out perfect every time!

adding frozen meatballs to a crockpot that has the already transferred sauce in it.

Add your frozen meatballs to a slow cooker, then carefully add in the baby sauce. Stir everything together really well so all the meatballs get covered.

Cover with the lid, and heat on high for two hours or on low for four hours. If you have the slow cooker set to low, the meatballs and sauce can simmer for quite a long time with no problems. Laura told me she was stuck at an appointment that ran long one time and cooked them on low for almost 7 hours. They were just fine!

When you are ready to eat, turn the heat off and let them rest for about 10 minutes.

Now it’s time to toast some bunzzzz. A note on this: You want a French roll or hoagie roll that is rather sturdy. I tried King Hawaiian’s new sub bread and it was a disaster! Way too soft. Laura told me to try the “Steak Rolls” from Walmart, they look just like regular sub bread, but they are about half the size (that’s what’s in today’s photos.) I like them because they are smaller, I could never eat an entire full size sub myself!

Whatever bun you use, you have to broil them by themselves for a few minutes so the bread itself gets toasty and firm, the better to hold up against all that sauce.

close up of a slice of provolone cheese melted on a broiled sub roll.

Then, once your bread is toasty, we make the magic happen: we are melting cheese directly on the roll so that there is even more of a barrier between the bread and the meatballs. This means you are getting a sandwich with cheese on bottom and cheese on top and this is NOT an apology!! More cheese please.

Broil for just a couple minutes, DON’T walk away!! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve lit my bread on fire in this exact situation 😳 don’t be like me. You can even leave the door of the oven open to watch it as it broils.

hands sprinkling cheese over meatballs and sauce in a toasted bun with melted cheese.

My family prefers to serve these buffet style. They like to choose their bun (with cheese already on it), then add the meatballs and sauce they want, and add more cheese on top.

5 meatball subs in 9x13 pan ready to be broiled again for melty cheese over the top.

The other option is to fill each of the buns on the pan yourself with meatballs and sauce, add more cheese on top, and put all of it back into the oven to bake until the cheese melts on top. Again, it should only take a minute or two under the broiler so keep a close eye on them.

That’s it! Easy peasy guys.

Cheater meatball subs

You know those nights? When you planned to spend some time on dinner, but your daughter forgot to tell you she has a science project due tomorrow, and your other kid is sick? Mama life, right. Now you need to eat in 30 minutes and your meatball plan is out the window!

You can totally make this recipe cheater-style, using the best jarred sauce on the market. Rao’s homemade marinara comin in CLUTCH, folks. The result is not quite as thick or rich as the original recipe, but still incredibly tasty, and on the table in about 30 minutes. Can’t argue with that. Check the recipe notes for all the details!

ready to eat meatball sub and potato chips served together on parchment paper in an oval plastic bowl.

What goes well on a meatball sub?

Now, I’m definitely a purist, and like my subs with just the meatballs, sauce, and cheese thankyouverymuch. But, I know there are plenty of you who like toppings galore. If you’re looking for something extra, try some of these:

  • a different kind of cheese to spice things up. Provolone, Pepper Jack, Monterey Jack, these are all good options that melt well! Parmesan would be good too, though it doesn’t melt as well.
  • sliced onions or bell peppers, raw
  • grilled onions, bell peppers, or mushrooms
  • pepperoncini or olives for a briny kick (this actually sounds so good and I want to try, love pepperoncinis)
  • jalapenos or red pepper flakes for spice
  • fresh, chopped herbs like parsley or basil
  • a nice drizzle of good Alfredo sauce in the red sauce to make it a “pink sauce” meatball sub. My kids would love this!

What goes with meatball subs?

Meatball subs are super filling slap-yo-mama comfort food, so I like to pair them with something light. My usual go-to is a green salad, but roasted veggies are good too. Here are some of my favorites.

toasted hoagies stuffed with meatballs and sauce and covered in cheese in a baking dish.

How to store leftover meatball subs

The best way to store leftovers is to keep the meatball, cheese, and sub bread separate. The buns should last in a sealed bag or tupperware on the counter for 2-3 days. Extra cheese goes back into the refrigerator and will last 2-3 weeks at least. Add the meatballs and sauce to an airtight container and stick them in the refrigerator, where they’ll be good for 4-5 days. To use leftovers from the fridge, toast the sub bread in a toaster oven, or under the broiler until the insides are toasted. Sprinkle a bit of cheese on top. Warm up the meatballs and sauce in a saucepan on the stove over medium heat til warm, about 5-10 minutes. Or, add some to a bowl, cover to save your microwave from splatter, and cook on 50% heat for 2-4 minutes.

If you have already prepared sandwiches left over, my suggestion is to stuff them down your gullet. Ha! Or find someone to give them to. But truly, the shelf life of prepared meatball sandwiches is pretty short since the sauce (even with our melted cheese barrier) is eventually going to make the bread too soggy to be enjoyable. If you’re not sure how much everyone will eat, serve the sandwiches buffet-style so you can store leftovers separately.

Can you freeze meatball subs?

The meatballs and sauce are PERFECT candidates for making ahead and freezing. This recipe makes a lot, but I often double it and package up the leftovers to tuck in the freezer for future easy meals. (For the next last minute science project moment!)

Wait for the meatballs and sauce to come to room temperature, then add them to a ziplock freezer bag. Be sure to leave a bit of air at the top, as the sauce will expand as it freezes. The meatballs and sauce will last about 4-6 months in the freezer. To use, simply thaw in the refrigerator overnight and warm all of it in a sauce pan for 20-30 minutes.

You can also freeze sub sandwich rolls. In a sealed bag they should be good for 1-2 months. Don’t even try to freeze already-assembled sandwiches, have some self respect. They will be a soggy mess and you’re better than that.

close up shot of a meatball sub with toasty buns, meatballs and sauce, and melty cheese.

Meatball sub frequently asked questions

what does a meatball sub contain?

Most meatball subs are pretty simple. The basic ingredients include some kind of sturdy sub/hoagie bread or roll, topped with meatballs in rich, red tomato sauce, and cheese sprinkled over the top. Typically the bread is toasted before topping with meatballs and sauce, and sometimes once the cheese is on top it will go back in the oven to get melty before serving.

What cheese is best for meatball subs?

We want the focus to be on the meatballs and sauce, so choose a mild cheese that stretches well when melted. Mozzarella is my favorite, but Provolone gives it a good run for it’s money.

how to make meatball sandwiches?

A meatball sandwich is just another term for a meatball sub. The basics are some good bread, usually in a roll form and toasted, meatballs in a red tomato sauce, and yummy, melty cheese. See the tip above or read through the recipe card for full instructions.

Meatball recipes you’ll love

What’s not to love about a good meatball? I love how versatile they are. Here are some more meatball recipe that are favorites around here.

More slow cooker recipes for easy dinners!

The slow cooker really is a thing of beauty. It’s so nice to throw some stuff in, and then voila, dinner is ready after several hours of you living your life. Genius! Check out some of my best slow cooker recipes:

fully assembled meatball subs on parchment paper on a metal serving tray.

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Laura’s Meatball Sub Recipe

5 from 4 votes
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 4 hours
Total: 4 hours 20 minutes
Servings: 12
My sister Laura makes the most AMAZING Meatball Sub Sandwiches, my whole family is obsessed. I finally got her recipe, and it's our new favorite weeknight meal! You can make these in the slow cooker for a busy day, or on the stove top if you have some time. They are great for feeding a crowd, I'm thinking game day! Who could say no to this level of cheesy-beefy goodness? Grab yourself some hoagies and I'll show you just how to make them.


  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed and finely minced
  • 2 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder, I love the granulated garlic from Costco
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons dried parsley, or 1.5 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons dried basil, or 1.5 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground thyme, or 1.5 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar, add another 1/2 teaspoon if it tastes bitter
  • 1 tablespoon Better than Bouillon Beef Base
  • 1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
  • 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes, I like petite diced
  • 1 (15 oz) can tomato sauce, or 2 (8 oz) cans
  • 32 ounces frozen meatballs , or make Homemade Meatballs
  • 16 ounces mozzarella or Provolone cheese
  • 12 French Rolls sandwich buns, or smaller French "steak rolls" if you can find them


  • Make the sauce: Chop an onion small. In a large, high sided 12-inch skillet, add 1 tablespoon oil over medium low heat.
  • Once the oil is hot, add the onions and saute for about 5-8 minutes until they're nearly translucent and very soft.
  • Meanwhile, finely mince the garlic cloves and set aside. To a small bowl, add 2 tablespoons oregano, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, 1 and 1/2 teaspoons onion powder, 1 and 1/2 teaspoons dried parsley, 1 and 1/2 teaspoons dried basil, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon ground thyme, 1/2 teaspoon celery seed, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder, and 1/2 teaspoon sugar. Don't forget to stir your onions occasionally while measuring out the spices.
  • Once the onions are soft, add the minced garlic and all the spices, and stir for 1-2 minutes over medium heat. After a minute or two, you should be able to smell the garlic and spices. Turn the burner to low so it doesn't scorch the garlic.
  • Add in 1 tablespoon of Better than Bouillon Beef Base and 1 (6 oz) can tomato paste. Stir into the onions and break up the tomato paste as best you can for about one minute.
  • Add in 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes and use your spoon to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Make sure you get it all, there's a lot of flavor in those bits! Pour in 1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes and 1 (15 oz) can tomato sauce. Stir everything together until the sauce is really well combined.
  • Stove top instructions: Add the meatballs and stir to combine. Cook over low or medium low heat for about 1 hour to allow the flavors to meld.
  • Slow Cooker instructions: Carefully pour the sauce into your slow cooker. Try not to splash! Enlist help if you need it. It's hot, so be careful.
    Add in 32 ounces of frozen meatballs and stir until the meatballs are totally covered in sauce.
  • Set your slow cooker to low. The meatballs and sauce will be ready in about 4 hours, but can stay on low for as long as 6-8 hours, it will be just fine. You can also set the slow cooker to high and cook for 2 hours if you are in a hurry. Once it is finished, set the cooker to warm if eating later, or turn it off completely if you'll be eating immediately.
  • Prep Sandwiches: First, set your oven to broil. Move the oven rack up a few inches below the heat source. Grate or thinly slice your cheese and set aside.
  • Split your buns if they aren't already, and line them open-sides-up on a baking sheet. Put them in the oven until toasted, about 1-3 minutes. Do not walk away! The timing will depend on your oven, so be VERY careful and keep on eye on them so they do not burn. They are toasty when you just start to see brown spots appearing.
  • Remove the sheet pan from the oven, and immediately add some grated or sliced cheese to the buns. A thin layer is fine. It's going to melt and add a barrier that helps prevent the buns from getting soggy. Return the pan to the broiler for just about 1 minute to finish melting the cheese, if you like.
  • Buffet Style Serving: At this point you can serve the subs buffet style. Serve the buns (with melted cheese), meatballs in sauce, and more cheese to sprinkle on top. Each person can choose their own roll (with cheese), then add the amount of meatballs, sauce, and cheese they like.
  • Family Style Serving: Add the toasted buns with cheese to a glass baking dish. The size of the dish will depend on the size of your rolls and how many sandwiches you are preparing to eat immediately. You want them fairly close together to keep all the meatballs in sauce from falling out. Add meatballs and sauce to each sub roll, then top each with more sliced or grated cheese. Add back into the oven and warm under the broiler until the cheese is melted and browned.
  • Serve these subs alongside a simple green salad like this Raspberry Avocado Salad with Poppyseed Dressing or some Easy Roasted Broccoli. If you're really wanting to keep things simple, you could even serve them with some potato chips and a bag of baby carrots!
  • Store meatballs and sauce in the refrigerator for 4-5 days. Buns can stay at room temperature for 2-3 days.
  • How to freeze: Meatballs and sauce freeze beautifully! Freeze in ziplocks. Thaw in the fridge overnight, then add to a pan. Heat over medium low, whisking the sauce in between meatballs as it heats.


Cheater version of meatballs and sauce

To make easy meatballs and sauce in 30 minutes for these subs, follow this simple recipe:
    • 1 (28 oz) jar Rao’s Homemade Marinara Sauce
    • 1 medium onion
    • 1/2 tablespoon oil
    • 2 cloves garlic
    • 1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes, I like petite
    • 1 tablespoon Better than Bouillon Roasted Beef flavor
    • 32 ounces of your favorite frozen meatballs
First, get your meatballs out of the freezer and set them aside on the counter to start to thaw. Chop the onion, then saute in oil in a large sauce pan set over medium heat for about 5 minutes til soft. Add the garlic and stir for one more minute, then add the jar of Rao’s, the 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes, and 1 tablespoon Better than Bouillon Beef paste. Stir well until everything is combined. Carefully pour in the 32 oz of meatballs and stir until all the meatballs are covered in sauce. Cook over medium heat, covered, for about 20-25 minutes until the meatballs are hot. During the last 10 minutes of cook time, follow the instructions for assembly included in the recipe card, as they will be the same.


Calories: 520kcal | Carbohydrates: 39g | Protein: 28g | Fat: 28g | Saturated Fat: 11g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 11g | Cholesterol: 84mg | Sodium: 884mg | Potassium: 436mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 7g | Vitamin A: 531IU | Vitamin C: 5mg | Calcium: 238mg | Iron: 13mg
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Calories: 520
Keyword: meatball, Sandwiches, subs
Did you make this? I’d love to see it!Mention @thefoodcharlatan or tag #thefoodcharlatan!

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  1. I think I’m going to make these next month for book club! They look amazing! Thanks, Karen AND Laura! Yummo! 😋

      1. Absolutely! We do a little discussing and a lot of laughing and tons of eating. You’d fit right in!

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