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Easy Ground Chicken Meatballs (Sweet and Sour)

Kids love these ground chicken meatballs in sweet and sour sauce. Adults do too πŸ™‚. Soft, tender meatballs in sweet tangy sauce that only take 10-15 minutes to prep with a few simple ingredients.

This is a one-pot stove top recipe. I suggest making a big batch to save for an extra meal.

bowl of sweet and sour meatballs on table

In our family, we serve these meatballs along side another main dish for holiday dinners. If there are any leftovers, my nieces and nephews bag them up to take home for a quick lunch for their kids. 

This sweet and sour meatball recipe was created by Norene Gilletz over 50 years ago for her popular cookbook, Second Helpings.

The only big tweak I make to the original recipe is using ground chicken instead of ground beef (less calories and fat). And maybe a bit of extra optional seasoning (see below).

The delicious sauce has just 2 ingredients – ketchup and ginger ale. Sounds odd but it’s pretty darn tasty.

Why choose this meatball recipe?

  • easy recipe and quick meal prep (it cooks for a couple of hours though)
  • few ingredients
  • the meatballs are soft and yummy – perfect comfort food
  • the sweet and sour sauce is a nice balance of sweet and tangy.
  • it can be made well ahead and freezes beautifully.

Ingredient notes – tailored to your taste

ground chicken, eggs, bread crumbs, salt, pepper, garlic, ginger ale, ketchup.

Ingredients: ground chicken, 1 egg (not 2), breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, garlic, ketchup, ginger ale.

Here are a few variations and substitutions you can try.

Meatballs: I use ground chicken (preferably dark meat which is more flavorful). White meat chicken, ground beef, ground veal, ground pork, ground turkey or a mixture are all good options.

Seasonings: The original recipe calls for garlic, salt, pepper, bread crumbs (or matzo meal), and eggs. Optional extras for more flavorful meatballs :

  • I like to add a tablespoon of finely grated onion or 1/2 teaspoon onion powder – a great addition for extra flavor.
  • If I am not making the recipe for kids, I also add chopped fresh parsley to the meat mixture (I don’t dare add green bits for picky eaters!).
  • If you find the sauce too sweet, add a squeeze of lemon juice to give it more tang.
  • If you need to make the sweet and sour chicken meatball recipe spicy, add a pinch of red pepper flakes to the sauce.

Lower calorie version: To reduce the calories, use chicken instead of beef. For the sauce ingredients, you can also use diet ginger ale. I’ve tried this and it didn’t seem to make any difference.

Passover version: substitute the bread crumbs with matzo meal.

Tips for Success

  1. Wet your hands to form the meatballs as they tend to be sticky.
  2. The proportion of breadcrumbs and eggs to meat is important to get the right meatball consistency.
  3. Don’t over work the meat and seasoning mixture or the meatballs will be too dense and rubbery. They don’t need to be round!
  4. Freeze meatballs in flat containers or ziplock bags for quicker defrosting.

Step by step instructions

uncooked meatballs on cutting board.

Form small meatballs using wet hand. Handle lightly, don’t pack the meatballs.

finished sweet and sour meatballs in pot.

Bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium-low heat and simmer, covered, for an hour. Partially uncover and cook another 30 minutes. Then uncover completely and cook another 30 minutes. Total 2 hours. This will thicken the sauce.

bowl of sweet and sour meatballs on striped cloth on table.

Transfer to a serving dish, garnish with parsley or chopped green onion if you like.

one cut open meatball showing inside.

What to serve with meatballs

For a simple weeknight dinner, serve the sweet and sour meatballs with:

The meatballs can also be served as an appetizer with toothpicks.

We also serve them for holiday dinners along with chicken, turkey or brisket.

Recipe FAQ

What is the difference in calories between ground chicken and ground beef?

Ground chicken – 95% meat, 5% fat – has 300 calories per half pound/0.23 kg. Ground beef – 90% meat, 10% fat – has 400 calories per half pound/0.23 kg. Dark meat chicken can have a bit more fat and calories which will make the meatballs juicier and more flavorful.

What can I do if my sweet and sour sauce is too thin?

Uncover the pot and continue to simmer. The sauce will thicken up. Alternatively, you can made a cornstarch slurry (cornstarch plus water) and add it to the simmering sauce to thicken it.

What keeps meatballs from falling apart?

The eggs and bread crumbs act as binders to help keep the meatballs together. When you add the raw meatballs the the boiling sauce, don’t stir them initially until they have had time to firm up (in a few minutes).

How many meatballs does the recipe make?

About 30 small meatballs from 1 1/2 pounds/0.68 kg ground chicken.

Shortcut

  • I am not suggesting this because the recipe is so easy, but you can buy your favorite cooked meatballs and simmer them in the sauce uncovered for 45-60 minutes.

Make Ahead

  • Store in the fridge: Make the full recipe, cool the meatballs and store them in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days.
  • Freeze: The meatballs freeze well for up to 3 months. Thaw the frozen meatballs in the fridge them warm them in the microwave or stove top.
bowl of meatballs in sweet and sour sauce.

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bowl of sweet and sour meatballs on table
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5 from 4 votes

Easy Ground Chicken Meatballs (Sweet and Sour)

Kids love these ground chicken meatballs in sweet and sour sauce. Adults do too πŸ™‚. Soft, tender meatballs in sweet tangy sauce that only take 10-15 minutes to prep with a few simple ingredients in one pot.
Prep Time12 mins
Cook Time2 hrs
Total Time2 hrs 12 mins
Course: Appetizer, Main Course
Cuisine: American
Servings: 4 main dish (7-8 appetizers)
Author: Cheryl

Ingredients

Meatball ingredients

  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons bread crumbs (or matzo meal)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (or 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder)
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or a bit more if using kosher salt)
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground chicken, white or dark meat, Note 1
  • Optional extras: Note 2

Sauce ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups ketchup
  • 2 cups Ginger ale

Instructions

  • PREPARE GROUND CHICKEN MIXTURE: In a large bowl, mix together the egg, breadcrumbs, garlic, salt and pepper. Add ground chicken and combine evenly but lightly. Don't over mix or meatballs will be tough. I shape one clean hand like an open claw and mix it that way.
  • BOIL SAUCE: Add ketchup and ginger ale to a medium to large pot. Bring to boil over medium high heat.
  • FORM MEATBALLS AND ADD TO SAUCE: Have a bowl of water nearby to wet your hands. as the mixture is sticky. Grab a little blob of chicken mixture and flop it back and forth between your two hands to lightly form a ball – about 1 1/2 inches/3.8 cm. Doesn't have to be perfectly round. Try not to handle too much. Gently drop the meatball in the boiling sauce. Repeat using the entire mixture. You will get about 25-30 meatballs. Alternatively, form all meatballs and then drop them in one at a time.
    Gently swirl the pot on the stove top to 'stir' the meatballs and sauce. Stirring with a spoon can break them apart. After 5 minutes they will be solid enough to stir.
  • COOK MEATBALLS: Lower heat to medium-low heat and simmer for 1 hour, covered. Partially uncover the pot and cook another 30 minutes. Stir, then uncover pot and cook another 30 minutes. Sauce will thicken (it will coat the back of a spoon) and even thicken more with standing or in the fridge. Total cook time is 2 hours. If you're in a rush, 90 minutes will be fine with the cover off for the last 45 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed e.g. a squeeze of lemon juice if too sweet or a bit more salt.

Notes

  1. Chicken options for meatballs: I use ground chicken (preferably dark meat which is more flavorful). White meat chicken, ground beef, ground veal, ground pork, ground turkey or a mixture are all good options.
  2. Add-ins for more flavorful meatballs:
    • 1 tablespoon of finely grated onion or 1/2 teaspoon onion powder.
    • 1/3 cup/20 gramsΒ chopped fresh parsley.
  3. Variations:
    • Lower calorie version
      • Use chicken instead of beef. Saves about 75 calories per serving.
      • For the sauce, you can also use diet ginger ale. You will save approximately 10 grams of sugar and 40 calories per serving.Β 
    • Passover version: substitute bread crumbs with matzo meal.Β 
    • Too sweet? add a squeeze of lemon juice.
    • Sauce too thin? Add 1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon water to the simmering sauce. Or uncover the pot and cook the meatballs longer.Β 
    • Want it spicy? Add a good pinch of red pepper flakes to the sauce.Β 
  4. Shortcut: I am not suggesting this because the recipe is so easy, but in a pinch, you can buy your favorite cooked meatballs and simmer them in the sauce uncovered for 45-60 minutes.
  5. Make ahead:
    • Store in the fridge: Make the full recipe, cool the meatballs and store them in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days.
    • Freeze: The meatballs freeze well for up to 3 months. Thaw the frozen meatballs in the fridge them warm them in the microwave or stove top. Freeze meatballs in flat containers or ziploc bags for quicker defrosting.
Nutrition information is estimated and will depend on the type of meat and ketchup you use. It’s based on white ground chicken.

Nutrition

Calories: 411kcal | Carbohydrates: 39g | Protein: 33g | Fat: 15g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 7g | Trans Fat: 0.1g | Cholesterol: 187mg | Sodium: 1560mg | Potassium: 1172mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 30g | Vitamin A: 522IU | Vitamin C: 4mg | Calcium: 45mg | Iron: 2mg
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