Porcupine Meatballs

April 9, 2021

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Porcupine Meatballs – they are meatballs made with ground beef, rice, onion, and bell pepper that’s cooked in a simple tomato sauce mixture. They taste like a stuffed pepper but in meatball form.

A classic favorite from my childhood and one of the tastiest comfort foods!

Porcupine Meatballs shown on a large white plate with sides of rice and butter and steamed asparagus.

The BEST Porcupine Meatballs!

Why are they called porcupine meatballs (or as we always just called them “porcupines”)?

Obviously they’re no actual porcupine meat included in the ingredients, rather it’s how the rice in the meatballs pokes out while cooking giving them a porcupine-like appearance.

This dish became very popular during the great depression because it only required a few basic ingredients. Traditionally they were made with ground beef, rice, onion and canned tomato soup.

My mom made these quite frequently for us growing up so now they are one of the dinners from home I crave.

I think of them as more of a “stuffed pepper meatball” because this version includes bell pepper which isn’t so traditional. But I would say it’s a must!

Here I adapted my Mom’s recipe but have also included egg for binding, a few extra seasonings, and have browned them for a little more flavor. But if you want to keep it perfectly simple you can skip the browning and they’re still exceptionally delicious.

Overhead photo of Porcupine Meatballs in tomato sauce in a large white pot set over a marble surface with a green cloth to the side.

Porcupine Meatball Recipe Ingredients

  • Ground beef: Use 85 to 90% lean.
  • Jasmine rice: Regular long grain white rice works great too it just takes a little longer to simmer until tender (about 10 minutes). Rice is added dry and cooks right in the meatballs.
  • Yellow onion: Be sure to mince small so they cook through. They aren’t sautéed beforehand.
  • Green and red bell pepper: You can actually use any color you have on hand, these are just my preference here.
  • Garlic: A not-so-typical ingredient here, but how do we leave out garlic? I’m all about layering up the flavor.
  • Parsley: This is added to both the meatballs and sauce for some fresh, lightly herby flavor.
  • Italian seasoning: If you don’t have this on hand just use 1/2 tsp dried basil and 1/2 tsp dried oregano.
  • Egg: This is used to help hold the meatballs together. It’s not very traditional in porcupine meatballs but I think it helps bind better.
  • Salt and pepper: I listed the amounts I like but if they seem off from what you are used to, use what you prefer.
  • Olive oil: A little of this is used to help brown the meatballs.
  • Tomato sauce: You can use 2 (15 oz) cans or 4 (8 oz) cans.
  • Chicken broth: Most every recipe will use water, but why not upgrade the flavor with broth?
  • Worcestershire sauce: Just a hint of this adds a great depth of background flavor.

Scroll down for full recipe with print option.

Porcupine Meatballs Ingredients. Includes ground beef, onion, rice, mozzarella, chicken broth, Italian seasoning, olive oil, tomato sauce, Worcestershire, parsley, bell peppers, egg and garlic.

How to Make Porcupine Meatballs – Stovetop Method

  1. Make meatball mixture: To a large mixing bowl add ground beef, rice, onion, green bell pepper, garlic, 3 tbsp parsley, the Italian seasoning, egg, salt and pepper. Mix together fairly well with your hands until even combined.
  2. Shape into balls: Scoop out mixture about 2 slightly heaping tablespoons at a time (43g) each and compress and roll into balls (about 1 1/2-inches each). Set on a baking sheet or plates as you shape them.
  3. Brown half of meatballs in pot: Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add half the meatballs spacing evenly apart. Brown on top and bottom about 1 – 2 minutes.
  4. Brown remaining meatballs: Transfer browned meatballs back to baking sheet, then add remaining half of the meatballs and brown on each side.
  5. Add sauce to meatballs: Return meatballs on baking sheet to pot, then right away pour in tomato sauce, chicken broth, Worcestershire, and red bell pepper. Bring mixture just to a simmer.
  6. Simmer until cooked through and tender: Cover and reduce heat to low, let simmer until meatballs are cooked through and tender, about 25 to 30 minutes, gently tossing meatballs once halfway through.
  7. Thin sauce as needed: If desired thin with more chicken broth. Serve warm garnished with remaining 1 Tbsp parsley.

Photo of steps showing how to make porcupine meatballs. Shows meatball mixture before and after shaping. Shown in rounds on a baking sheet. Then browning and covered with sauce.

How to tell when they are done?

The cooked meatballs may have a slightly reddish color to them because of the red sauce they’re cooked in, so to be perfectly safe, test temperature to 160 degrees in center of meatballs on an instant read thermometer.

Can they be cooked in the oven?

Yes. If you’d prefer to bake instead of using the stovetop method:

  • Skip the browning.
  • Pour the sauce over the formed meatballs in a large baking dish (such as a lasagna pan).
  • Cover with foil and bake 350 degrees until meatballs are cooked through and tender, about 1 hour.

Can they be frozen?

Yes. Porcupine meatballs can be frozen for up to 3 months in an airtight container.

Variations

  • Add some grated parmesan cheese to the meatballs.
  • Use other herbs such as fresh basil or oregano.
  • Try with crushed San Marzano tomatoes in place of tomato sauce.
  • Finish with mozzarella or cheddar cheese over the top upon serving for the classic stuffed pepper flavor.
  • If you want them extra saucy add more tomato sauce.

Close up photo of Porcupine Meatballs.Overhead photo of Porcupine Meatballs meatballs on a plate with rice and asparagus.

What to Serve with Porcupine Meatballs?

More Delicious Meatball Recipes to Try

Porcupine Meatballs
5 from 8 votes

Porcupine Meatballs

They are meatballs made with ground beef, rice, onion, and bell pepper that's cooked in a simple tomato sauce mixture. A classic favorite from my childhood and one of the tastiest comfort foods!
Servings: 7
Prep25 minutes
Cook30 minutes
Ready in: 55 minutes

Ingredients

Meatballs

  • 1 1/2 lbs. 85% lean ground beef
  • 3/4 cup dry jasmine rice
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced (1.5 tsp)
  • 3 Tbsp finely chopped parsley
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil

Sauce

  • 2 (15 oz) cans tomato sauce
  • 1 1/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth, then more to thin as desired
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
  • 1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
  • Shredded mozzarella cheese, for serving (optional)

Instructions

  • To a large mixing bowl add ground beef, rice, onion, green bell pepper, garlic, 3 tbsp parsley, the Italian seasoning, egg, salt and pepper. Mix together fairly well with your hands until even combined.
  • Scoop out mixture about 2 slightly heaping tablespoons at a time (43g) each and compress and roll into balls (about 1 1/2-inches each). Set on a baking sheet or plates as you shape them.
  • Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add half the meatballs spacing evenly apart. Let sear on bottom until golden brown, about 1 - 2 minutes. Carefully turn to opposite side (meatballs can be fairly delicate) and let brown on opposite side about 1 - 2 minutes longer.
  • Transfer browned meatballs back to baking sheet, then add remaining half of the meatballs and brown on each side.
  • Return meatballs on baking sheet to pot then right away pour in tomato sauce, chicken broth, Worcestershire, and red bell pepper. Bring mixture just to a simmer.
  • Cover and reduce heat to low. Let simmer until meatballs are cooked through and tender, about 25 to 30 minutes, gently tossing meatballs once halfway through.
  • If desired thin with more chicken broth. Serve warm garnished with remaining 1 Tbsp parsley and optional shredded mozzarella (not included in nutrition estimate).

Notes

To Make Oven Baked Porcupine Meatballs:
  • Skip the browning.
  • Pour the sauce over the formed meatballs in a large baking dish (such as a lasagna pan).
  • Cover with foil and bake 350 degrees until meatballs are cooked through and tender, about 1 hour.
Nutrition Facts
Porcupine Meatballs
Amount Per Serving
Calories 382 Calories from Fat 171
% Daily Value*
Fat 19g29%
Saturated Fat 6g38%
Trans Fat 1g
Cholesterol 93mg31%
Sodium 1155mg50%
Potassium 968mg28%
Carbohydrates 29g10%
Fiber 4g17%
Sugar 9g10%
Protein 23g46%
Vitamin A 2870IU57%
Vitamin C 87mg105%
Calcium 70mg7%
Iron 5mg28%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
Nutrition values are estimates only. See full disclaimer here.

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32 Comments

  • ANN F JOHNSON

    I made this for years from an ancient Betty Crocker cookbook, no egg in recipe, bread crumbs for thickening, but essentially the same. My sons, now in their 50s, ate it, and tonight my grandson enjoyed it. This recipe is great!

  • Patricia

    I was doubtful that the rice was going to cook, but since I have faith in your abilities, I gave it a try! Everything worked as it was supposed to and this was delicious! It really hit the spot. 🙂

    • Jaclyn

      Jaclyn Bell

      I’m so glad it worked out well Patricia and that you trust my recipes! :)

  • Carol A Wood

    So i used bacon cheddar cheese and diced jalapeno in the meat also topped with mozzarella amazing

  • Linda Crews

    Why chicken broth, why not beef broth? I haven’t made it yet, I’m checking first

    • Jaclyn

      Jaclyn Bell

      You can use either I just think chicken broth has a better flavor so most the time in recipes I go with that.

  • Jennifer

    The only meat I have is 73% lean. How can I use this recipe but not have it turn out too greasy? Is it possible to cook meatballs halfway in oven to drain grease then throw in sauce? Any ideas welcome.

    • Jaclyn

      Jaclyn Bell

      That’s a tricky one I haven’t ever cooked with ground beef that fatty. I know you’d need to use more to make up for the loss of volume from the fat that will melt off. I would brown then drain off fat then spoon excess fat from top of the sauce.

  • Mary

    Made this for dinner and turned out great! My dad gave it a thumbs up haha. Your recipes are always so straightforward and delicious : ) thanks jaclyn!

    • Jaclyn

      Jaclyn Bell

      I love to hear you find my recipes to be easy to follow and delicious Mary! Thanks for your feedback!

  • Shauna L.

    These are so delicious! Thank you for this recipe. I am making them again this weekend because I enjoyed them so much last weekend. I used brown basmati and added another 1 to 1/5 cups of chicken broth and cooked them about 45 minutes longer. I live at a mile high so between that and brown rice, the extra cooking time was needed. I’ve already shared this with 3 friends as EXCELLENT!!

    • Shauna L

      That should say another 1 to 1.5 cups of additional chicken both :)

    • Jaclyn

      Jaclyn Bell

      Thanks so much for your feedback Shauna and the tip on brown rice! I’m so glad you liked them :)!