Sweet and Sour Meatballs

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The best Sweet and Sour Meatballs boast an irresistible sauce complete with sweet peppers, juicy pineapple, and aromatics. Serve these saucy meatballs over rice for a hearty, filling and tasty meal.

 

Overhead image of Sweet and Sour Meatballs with rice, on a plate.

Sweet and Sour Meatballs

Sweet and Sour Meatballs are my family’s latest obsession. The flavors are well balanced and they end up ultra-tender and juicy; the sauce has just the right amount of sweet to sour.

For the sauce, we combine sugar, vinegar and the typical ingredients found in most sweet and sour sauce recipes, but then we add a few other “secret” ingredients. With these few additions, you’ll find this sauce has an incredible depth of flavor. 

The secrets here? Worcestershire sauce for a subtle umami flavor, sesame oil adds a delicious nutty dimension and canned mandarin oranges add a refreshingly sweet flavor. 

Below I’m sharing my top tips for making these sweet and sour meatballs; enjoy!

Process shots-- images of the meatballs being made and cooked.

Meatballs Tips

  • Don’t overwork the meat mixture. Once the ingredients are incorporated into the ground beef, stop mixing. Overworking the meat mixture yields less-tender meatballs.
  • Keep the meat and ingredients cold. The colder the ingredients (and especially the ground beef), the easier these meatballs are to roll and shape. Tip: I like to spritz my hands with cooking spray or a bit of oil for easier rolling.
  • Roll small, even-sized meatballs. In order for these Sweet and Sour Meatballs to cook through in time and evenly, you want to ensure they’re all roughly the same size. This recipe makes about 30-32 meatballs so they’re about 1 and 1/4-inch wide (1 and 1/2 tablespoons per meatball) Use a mini cookie scoop, if you have one, to make the process of rolling balls easier.
  • Use a meat thermometer. The meatballs need to be cooked to 160 degrees F (carryover heat takes them to 165 degrees F). Since cooking time will vary due to several factors, I always recommend using a digital meat thermometer to remove any guesswork on your end.
    • Undercooked beef meatballs aren’t safe to consume and overcooked meatballs will be dry and less flavorful.
  • Grease the pan. We broil these meatballs to cook them through (it’s SO quick and easy) but make sure the pan is lined with foil and well greased so the meatballs don’t stick.

QUICK TIP

What are panko breadcrumbs? Panko is a Japanese-style breadcrumb and is usually found near other breadcrumbs or in the Asian food aisle of your store. I love using panko in these sweet and sour meatballs; it makes them soft and juicy, while acting as a great binder.

Process shots-- images of the sweet and sour sauce being made.

Sauce Tips

  • Grate the ginger and garlic on a microplane. I recommend grating the garlic and ginger on a microplane; this gives both a great texture and allows them to disperse well throughout the sauce.
  • Grate the yellow onion. While this step is (admittedly) tedious, it gives the sauce the best-possible taste and texture. You won’t find large chunks of uncooked onions, and all the great flavor are evenly dispersed throughout.
  • Use canned fruits with 100% juice, not syrup. The sauce calls for canned mandarin oranges and pineapple chunks that are canned in 100% juice. If the canned fruits are in a sugary syrup it will make these sweet and sour meatballs too sweet and slightly change the flavor.
  • Adjust the sweet and sour. We love this sauce exactly how it is written, but you may prefer a slightly sweeter or slightly more sour sauce — neither is hard to change! For a sweeter sauce, add a bit more white sugar. For a more sour sauce, add 1-2 tablespoons of additional vinegar. You can also add 1/4 teaspoon (or more) of red pepper flakes to add some spice.

Up-close overhead image of Sweet and Sour Meatballs, ready to be eaten.

Pair these Sweet and Sour Meatballs with

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Sweet and Sour Meatballs

5 from 1 vote
The best Sweet and Sour Meatballs boast an irresistible sauce, complete with sweet peppers, juicy pineapple, and aromatics. Serve these saucy meatballs over rice for a hearty, filling, and tasty meal.
Print Recipe

Sweet and Sour Meatballs

5 from 1 vote
The best Sweet and Sour Meatballs boast an irresistible sauce, complete with sweet peppers, juicy pineapple, and aromatics. Serve these saucy meatballs over rice for a hearty, filling, and tasty meal.
Course Dinner, Main Course
Cuisine Chinese
Keyword sweet and sour meatballs
Prep Time 40 minutes
Cook Time 8 minutes
Total Time 48 minutes
Servings 4 -6 servings
Calories 909kcal
Cost $6.28

Ingredients

Meatballs (See Note 1)

  • 2 pounds (32 oz.) (85 % lean-15% fat) ground beef
  • 2/3 cup (56g) panko breadcrumbs (See Note 2)
  • 2 tablespoons dried minced onion
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup full-fat or lite coconut milk
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • Salt and pepper

Veggies

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
  • 1/2 cup (119g) grated yellow onion (grated on large holes of a box grater)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh garlic grated on a microplane
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger grated on a microplane
  • 3 bell peppers (I use 1 red, 1 orange, & 1 green), cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup (120g) mandarin oranges (canned in juice; not syrup)
  • 1 cup (176g) pineapple chunks (canned in juice; not syrup)

Sweet and Sour Sauce

  • 1/3 cup (65g) white granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup (60g) rice vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons EACH: pineapple juice, ketchup
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon regular soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon cornstarch with 1/2 cup (109g) water, whisked together with a fork
  • 1/8 teaspoon sesame oil
  • Serve with: cooked rice (See Note 3)
  • Garnish with: toasted sesame seeds and thinly sliced green onions optional

Instructions

  • PREP: Heat broiler to high broil with the rack 4 inches from the heating element. Line a sheet pan with foil and generously grease with nonstick cooking spray.
  • PREP VEGGIES/FRUIT: Start by prepping the veggies. Peel the outer layer of the onion and grate on a box grater to get 1/2 cup grated onion. Peel garlic and ginger on a microplane to get 1 teaspoon of each. Cut bell peppers into 1-inch pieces. Measure out 1/2 cup mandarin oranges (spoon both the oranges and juices into a 1/2 cup measuring cup). Drain out 1 cup of pineapple chunks, reserving 3 tablespoons of the juice for the sauce.
  • MEATBALLS: Combine the meatball ingredients, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper (I use 2 teaspoons fine sea salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper). Mix with your hands until just combined; rub a little oil on your hands (or spritz with cooking spray) and then roll the meat mixture into meatballs (1 and 1/2 tablespoons in size; about 30-32 total meatballs). Place rolled meatballs on the prepared sheet pan and drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil. Place in the oven and broil, flipping meatballs over, every 2 minutes until cooked through (until a meat thermometer reads 160 degrees F). This takes anywhere from 4-8 minutes. Start checking the temperature at 4 minutes (in my oven this takes about 5-6 mins).
  • VEGGIES: Meanwhile, add the 1 tablespoon oil to a large skillet or wok over medium heat. Once hot, add in the grated onion, ginger, and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, for 2-3 minutes. Add in the chopped bell peppers and stir around for 4-6 minutes or until mostly crisp tender.
  • SAUCE: To the skillet, add the white sugar, rice vinegar, pineapple juice, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, and oyster sauce. Mix to combine. In a separate bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and water until smooth. Pour the cornstarch slurry into the sauce while whisking constantly. Bring to a rapid simmer and simmer for 1-2 minutes, and then reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to simmer for another 1-2 minutes or until sufficiently thickened. Remove from heat and stir in the sesame oil.
  • SERVE: Place meatballs over cooked white rice (See Note 2). Generously spoon sauce and veggies over the meatballs. Garnish with sesame seeds and green onions if desired. Enjoy immediately.
  • STORAGE: If there are leftovers, I recommend storing the sauce, meatballs, and rice all separately. Each will stay good for 4-5 days in an airtight container in the fridge.

Recipe Notes

Note 1: If you're a big sauce lover and want very saucy meatballs, I'd recommend halving the meatball quantities exactly in half (1 pound ground beef, 1/3 cup panko, 1 tablespoon dried minced onion, 1 large egg yolk, 2 tablespoons coconut milk, and 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger. Season to taste (I'd recommend 1 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper).
Note 2: Panko is a Japanese-style breadcrumb and is usually found near other breadcrumbs or in the Asian food aisle of your store.
Note 3: We love basmati rice best with Sweet and Sour Meatballs. Here's how we prepare it for this dish:
  • Measure the rice and rinse it in a fine-mesh sieve until the water runs clear.
  • Place that rice in a bowl and cover it with water to soak for about 5-10 minutes.
  • While the rice is soaking, fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil.
  • Once the water is at a rolling boil, drain the rice and add it to the pot.
  • Cook without reducing the heat, for 5 minutes (taste and test to make sure it is tender; if not add 1-2 more minutes) and then drain and fluff with a fork.

Nutrition Facts

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 909kcal | Carbohydrates: 74g | Protein: 52g | Fat: 44g | Saturated Fat: 20g | Cholesterol: 201mg | Sodium: 865mg | Potassium: 1203mg | Fiber: 6g | Sugar: 41g | Vitamin A: 3150IU | Vitamin C: 130mg | Calcium: 149mg | Iron: 8mg

We do our best to provide accurate nutritional analysis for our recipes. Our nutritional data is calculated using a third-party algorithm and may vary, based on individual cooking styles, measurements, and ingredient sizes. Please use this information for comparison purposes and consult a health professional for nutrition guidance as needed.

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3 Comments

  1. I’ve got these cooking right now! The house smells amazing! I can’t wait for dinner tonight! I’m serving them over whole wheat pasta!

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