An easy recipe for delicious, sticky, sweet-and-sour meatballs, smothered in a tasty sauce.
Quickly bake them in the oven, then coat them in the rich sauce. They're perfect as an appetizer but also work as a filling entree.
Meatballs are wonderful. The kids love them, so naturally, I make them often. But grownups enjoy them too - they are simply fun to eat!
I have quite a few meatball recipes on this blog. My favorites include pork meatballs, keto meatballs, turkey meatballs, and chicken meatballs. But these sweet and sour meatballs are especially good. The sauce they're cooked in is wonderfully flavorful.
Here's an overview of the ingredients you'll need to make this recipe. The exact measurements are included in the recipe card below.
For the Meatballs:
Lean ground beef: I like to use an 85/15 blend. I find that 93/7 is too lean.
Kosher salt and black pepper: If using fine salt, you should reduce the amount you use.
Spices: I use onion powder and garlic powder.
For the sauce:
Unsweetened ketchup: I buy it at Whole Foods and you can also find it on Amazon.
Rice vinegar: Or use white wine vinegar if that's all you have on hand.
Honey: Just 2 tablespoons for the entire recipe. You could also use a sugar-free substitute.
Light soy sauce: Or use a gluten-free alternative if you wish.
The original recipe for sweet and sour meatballs is my mother-in-law's. It calls for browning the meatballs in a skillet, then cooking them in broth, and finally glazing them with the sauce.
My mother-in-law's meatballs are amazing, but I am far too lazy for a three-step recipe! So I decided to streamline, skip the browning and cooking and simply bake the meatballs, then coat them in the sauce.
The result is wonderful! Scroll down to the recipe card for detailed instructions. Here are the basic steps for making this recipe:
Mix the beef and spices. Place the meatballs ingredients in a large bowl and use your hands to mix everything together.
Form the meatballs. Now divide the mixture into 20 portions and form it into meatballs.
Bake them. Arrange the meatballs in a single layer on a greased baking dish and bake them for 10 minutes at 400°F.
Prepare the sauce. Simply mix the sauce ingredients in a medium saucepan and heat them over medium-low heat.
Finish the dish. Add the meatballs to the sauce and turn to coat. Keep cooking until heated through and thickened, about 5 more minutes. You can mix in a cornstarch slurry at this point (cornstarch mixed with cold water) to help thicken the sauce.
When mixing the seasonings into the ground beef and then when shaping the meatballs, try to use a light touch and work the meat lightly. This will help prevent the meatballs from being too dense.
Frequently asked questions
There's no need for a filler (breadcrumbs) or a binder (eggs). The meatballs keep their shape well and if you work them lightly, they'll be nice and light and won't come out too dense.
Yes. You can use grape jelly (regular or sugar-free) instead of honey. But honey tastes better, in my opinion.
Yes. You can heat some oil in a very large (14-inch) lidded skillet over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs in a single layer and cook, turning frequently, until golden brown, 5 minutes.
Add ¼ cup of water to the bottom of the skillet. Cover with the lid and cook until cooked through (internal temperature should be 165° F), about 3 more minutes. Drain and add the sauce.
This recipe is wonderful as is and I almost always make it as written. Still, here are a few ideas for you for varying the basic recipe:
- Use ground pork instead of ground beef. You can also use a mix - half pork and half beef.
- Use fresh minced garlic instead of garlic powder.
- Add chopped cilantro to the beef mixture.
- You can add sriracha to the sauce for an added kick.
You can serve these meatballs with toothpicks as an appetizer. But I usually serve them as a main dish for dinner. They're great on a bed of cauliflower rice.
You can keep the leftovers in the fridge, in an airtight container, for 3-4 days. Reheat them in the microwave, covered, on 50% power. You can also freeze these metaballs for up to three months.
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Sweet and Sour Meatballs
- 1 teaspoon olive oil for pan
- 1 lb. lean ground beef (85/15)
- ½ teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ cup unsweetened ketchup
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons honey (or a sugar-free substitute)
- 2 tablespoons light soy sauce (or use a gluten-free alternative and add salt as needed)
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch Optional, to thicken the sauce
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Brush a rimmed baking dish with oil.
- Mix the meatballs ingredients in a large bowl. Form 20 meatballs, and place them in the prepared baking dish. Bake for 10 minutes.
- While the meatballs are baking, whisk together the sauce ingredients in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat.
- Add the meatballs to the saucepan and turn to coat them in the sauce. Keep cooking, turning frequently, until the sauce has thickened, about 5 minutes. You can promote thickening by mixing 2 teaspoons of cornstarch with a tablespoon of cold water and stirring the slurry into the sauce.