Sweet and Sour Meatballs (Baked)


Sweet and sour meatballs have a delicious balance of sweet and tangy flavors. Made with lean ground turkey and a homemade sweet and sour sauce with red bell pepper and pineapple chunks, these meatballs are a healthier twist on a classic favorite.

A silver fork dipping into a plate full of sweet and sour meatballs and rice.

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This is a bit of a nostalgic, retro recipe. Growing up, these tasty meatballs were often called “Hawaiian meatballs”. However, I’ve been to Hawaii several times and have never seen this on a menu there. So it all had to do with the pineapple, I’m thinking. But whatever you call them, sweet and sour meatballs is a meal the whole family will love.

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Why you’ll love this recipe

  • Delicious: These sweet and sour turkey meatballs are a little sweet, but not too sweet, and a little sour, but not too sour. The sweet and tangy sauce is perfectly balanced.
  • Easy: The meatballs take just twenty minutes in the oven. (Or ten minutes for air fryer turkey meatballs). The sauce comes together in minutes on the stove top while the meatballs are cooking. Making for a perfect weeknight dinner.
  • Healthier: This meatball recipe is made with lean ground turkey and baked instead of fried. The sweet and sour recipe does not include ketchup or food coloring and has no refined sugar.
A close shot of sweet and sour meatballs with pineapple and red pepper chunks.

Ingredient Notes

Meatball Ingredients

  • Lean ground turkey: Ground turkey is my favorite protein for making meatballs. It’s delicious with many different flavors, like my Cajun turkey meatballs, or Greek meatballs. However, this sweet and sour meatballs recipe works with any ground meat, so feel free to use ground beef, ground chicken, or ground pork. (A combination of lean ground beef and ground pork is delicious). 
  • Panko bread crumbs: I’m using gluten-free panko and it works as well as regular for meatballs. The panko absorbs the juices from the meat, trapping it inside, making for a juicy meatball. Rolled oats also work and you can replace the breadcrumbs with them if you prefer.
  • Egg: Egg acts as a binder, so that the turkey meatballs hold their shape without falling apart. Use a large egg.
  • Seasonings: There is a lot of flavor in the sweet and sour sauce, so I am keeping the meatball seasonings simple with just garlic and onion, sesame oil, and salt and pepper.
The ingredients for making turkey meatballs.

Sweet and Sour Sauce Ingredients

  • Chicken broth: Or chicken stock. Look for low sodium or low sodium broth. You can also use vegetable stock for this recipe.
  • Pineapple juice: This will be reserved from the can of pineapple that will be added later. You’ll need a half cup of pineapple juice. Be sure to use unsweetened pineapple.
  • Soy sauce: I use reduced sodium soy sauce. Use tamari, or gluten-free soy sauce if needed.
  • Rice vinegar: Rice vinegar has a subtle sweetness and is a little less acidic than white vinegar. Good substitutes would be white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar.
  • Honey: Along with the pineapple, honey adds the “sweet” to our sweet and sour sauce. You can substitute an equal amount of brown sugar.
  • Fresh ginger: I definitely prefer fresh ginger in this sauce, but if you need to substitute dried ginger, use a quarter of a teaspoon of dried ginger.
  • Seasonings: Besides the ginger I add another dash of sesame oil and a pinch of Chinese 5 spice powder. If you don’t have Chinese 5 spice, which is made up of star anise, cloves, cinnamon, fennel seed and black pepper, you can omit it or add a pinch of cinnamon.
  • Red bell pepper: You can use any color pepper; orange, yellow, or green pepper all work.
  • Pineapple: Use pineapple chunks, not pineapple tidbits, which will tend to get lost in the sauce. You can use fresh pineapple, just be sure to gather enough juice.
  • Corn starch: Cornstarch is mixed with water to make a slurry used to thicken the sauce.

How to make sweet and sour meatballs

Full instructions and ingredient quantities are in the printable recipe card at the bottom of this post.

  1. Whisk all meatball ingredients except turkey in a large bowl. Add turkey and mix with a large fork, or your clean hands until mixed.
The meatball ingredients being mixed together in a glass bowl.
  1. Use a rounded tablespoon to measure turkey mixture. Roll into balls and place on parchment lined baking sheet.
Raw meatballs on a baking sheet.
  1. Bake for about 20 minutes, turning half way through. Meatballs should be nicely browned. Remove from oven and set aside.
  2. While meatballs are cooking: In a large skillet, whisk together broth, pineapple juice, soy sauce, vinegar, honey, ginger, sesame oil, and 5 spice.
Sweet and sour sauce ingredients being whisked together in a sauce pan.
  1. Add peppers and and bring to a boil. Turn heat to medium low. Mix cornstarch with 2 tablespoon cold water and stir into sauce, heating and stirring until sauce is thickened and glossy.
The thickened sauce with pepper slices added.
  1. Stir in pineapple and meatballs, cooking until heated through.
  2. Serve hot with white rice, brown rice, or cauliflower rice. 
Meatballs with pineapple and red pepper on a black plate with rice and a silver fork.

Helpful Tips

  • Shortcut: Instead of homemade meatballs, use your favorite pre-made frozen meatballs and cook them according to package directions before adding to the sweet and sour sauce. Look for neutral flavored meatballs. You won’t, for example, want to use Italian meatballs in this recipe.
  • Add spice: If you want to add a spicy element to the sour and sweet, add a pinch of red pepper flakes, chili sauce, or some sriracha sauce to the sauce before thickening it.
  • Thickening: Add the cornstarch slurry gradually, while whisking into the sauce. You may not need it all if the sauce is thickened to your liking.
  • Appetizers: This easy sweet and sour recipe is a delicious main course, but you can also use it to make sweet and sour cocktail meatballs. Use a toothpick to secure a chunk of pineapple and a chunk of red pepper to each meatball and serve the sauce as a dipping sauce.
  • Smaller meatballs: If you’re making cocktail meatballs, or serving sweet and sour meatballs to kids, make them smaller. They will need a shorter cooking time.
  • Make ahead: Make and cook the meatballs ahead of time and store them in an airtight container in the fridge until you’re ready to make the sauce.
  • Freeze: Cooked meatballs are perfect for the freezer. This meatball recipe can be doubled so you have meatballs to freeze for other recipes or meal prep. To freeze, put cooked meatball on a parchment paper lined baking tray. Freeze for 30 minutes or until firm. Pack into a freezer safe container or zip lock bag and freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw frozen meatballs in the fridge overnight.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I make sweet and sour meatballs in a crockpot?

Yes, for slow cooker meatballs, make the sauce in a saucepan. Roll the meat mixture into balls and place them, in a single layer, if possible, into the slow cooker and pour the sauce over them. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours, or on high for 4-5 hours. (Exact cook times will vary with slow cooker models).

Can I use an air fryer for this recipe?

Yes, you can cook the meatballs in an air fryer. Lightly spray the air fryer basket with cooking spray. Place the formed meatballs in a single layer in the air fryer basket. Cook at 400° for 10 minutes, shaking halfway through.

How can I tell if my meatballs are cooked through?

The only sure way to tell if meatballs are cooked is to use an instant-read thermometer. The temperature should be 165° with the thermometer inserted in the center of a meatball. 

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Did you make this recipe? Please leave a rating in the comments below and let us know how it turned out. Did you make any changes? We would love for you to share and your feedback is important! Thank you for visiting The Food Blog!

Recipe

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A serving of sweet and sour meatballs alongside white rice on a black plate.

Sweet & Sour Meatballs

Sweet and sour meatballs have a delicious balance of sweet and tangy flavors Made with lean ground turkey and a homemade sweet and sour sauce with red bell pepper and pineapple chunks, these meatballs are a healthier twist on a classic favorite.

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Course: Main Course

Cuisine: American

Diet: Gluten Free

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Servings: 4 servings

Calories: 296kcal

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

  • Whisk all meatball ingredients except turkey in a large bowl. Add turkey and mix with a large fork, or your clean hands until mixed.

    1 pound lean ground turkey, 1 egg, 2 clove garlic, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, 1 teaspoon onion powder, ½ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon black pepper, ¼ cup panko bread crumbs

  • Use a rounded tablespoon to measure turkey mixture. Roll into balls and place on parchment lined baking sheet.

  • Bake for about 20 minutes, turning half way through. Meatballs should be nicely browned. Remove from oven and set aside.

  • While meatballs are cooking: In a saucepan over medium-high heat, whisk together broth, pineapple juice, soy sauce, vinegar, honey, ginger, sesame oil, and 5 spice.

    ½ cup chicken broth, ½ cup pineapple juice, ¼ cup tamari or low sodium soy sauce, ¼ cup rice vinegar, 2 tablespoon honey, 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, ¼ teaspoon Chinese 5 spice

  • Add peppers and and bring to a boil. Reduce to medium heat. Mix cornstarch with 2 tablespoon cold water and stir into sauce, heating and stirring until sauce is thickened and glossy.

    1 red bell pepper, 1.5 tablespoon cornstarch

  • Stir in pineapple and meatballs, cooking until heated through.

    8 oz can pineapple chunks

  • Garnish with parsley or green onions If desired. Serve hot with rice.

Notes

  • Shortcut: Instead of homemade meatballs, use your favorite pre-made frozen meatballs and cook them according to package directions before adding to the sweet and sour sauce. Look for neutral flavored meatballs. You won’t, for example, want to use Italian meatballs in this recipe.
  • Add spice: If you want to add a spicy element to the sour and sweet, add a pinch of red pepper flakes, chili sauce, or some sriracha sauce to the sauce before thickening it.
  • Thickening: Add the cornstarch slurry gradually, while whisking into the sauce. You may not need it all if the sauce is thickened to your liking.
  • Appetizers: This easy sweet and sour recipe is a delicious main course, but you can also use it to make sweet and sour cocktail meatballs. Use a toothpick to secure a chunk of pineapple and a chunk of red pepper to each meatball and serve the sauce as a dipping sauce.
  • Smaller meatballs: If you’re making cocktail meatballs, or serving sweet and sour meatballs to kids, make them smaller. They will need a shorter cooking time.
  • Make ahead: Make and cook the meatballs ahead of time and store them in an airtight container in the fridge until you’re ready to make the sauce.
  • Freeze: Cooked meatballs are perfect for the freezer. This meatball recipe can be doubled so you have meatballs to freeze for other recipes or meal prep. To freeze, put cooked meatball on a parchment paper lined baking tray. Freeze for 30 minutes or until firm. Pack into a freezer safe container or zip lock bag and freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw frozen meatballs in the fridge overnight.

Nutrition

Serving: 1g | Calories: 296kcal | Carbohydrates: 31g | Protein: 31g | Fat: 6g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 2g | Trans Fat: 0.03g | Cholesterol: 104mg | Sodium: 1079mg | Potassium: 619mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 21g | Vitamin A: 1051IU | Vitamin C: 47mg | Calcium: 46mg | Iron: 2mg


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