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In my house, meatballs are a regular dinner staple. My husband and kids can never resist those tasty bites of saucy, meaty deliciousness! But after one too many nights of the same old meatballs and marinara, it was time to change things up.
I decided to try my hand at Porcupine Meatballs, which put a fun spin on the classic by coating little meatball “porcupines” in rice, giving them those iconic quills. Not only are they more interesting to look at, but baking them up this way creates a complete meal all in one – no side dish required!
These Porcupine Meatballs are hearty and comforting, yet so simple to throw together. Kids love the fun, bite-sized pieces dotted with grains of rice. My ketchup-obsessed family enjoyed dunking them in tomato sauce for added flavor. And I love that the dish feels a bit retro and nostalgic.
Why You’ll Love Porcupine Meatballs
A Fun Retro Vibe
Who doesn’t love a blast from the past? Porcupine Meatballs take me back to vintage Americana cooking of the 50s and 60s. The rice quills give them such a retro look.
A Complete Meal in One
With protein, grains, and veggies all in one baking dish, these meatballs serve as a whole meal. Easy clean up too – just one pan to wash!
Kid-Friendly and Customizable
Little ones will get a kick out of the “porcupine” appearance. Use any ground meat and seasonings they love.
Saucy, Meaty Bites of Comfort
Tender meatballs smothered in tomato sauce – what’s not to love? Dunk them right in the sauce for added flavor.
Easy Set It and Forget It Cooking
Just mix, shape, bake, and you’ve got dinner! Minimal hands-on time with maximum flavor payoff.
With pleasing textures, fun shapes, customizable flavors, and easy one-pan preparation, Porcupine Meatballs offer a nice change of pace from ordinary meatballs.
Tips for Perfect Porcupine Meatballs
Use Short or Medium Grain Rice
The plumper grains hold their shape better once cooked. Long grain rice can get too soft.
Make Small Balls
Bite-sized 1-inch meatballs cook quicker and hold rice better than larger sizes.
Brown First for Crisp Crust
Browning the uncooked meatballs adds crispy, caramelized flavor that baking alone won’t achieve.
Don’t Overpack the Pan
Leave space between meatballs to ensure even cooking. Overcrowding can cause uneven baking.
Check Internal Temp
Since they contain rice, use a thermometer to confirm the interior reaches 160°F.
85% lean ground beef provides the best balance of fat for moist, flavorful meatballs. Other ground meats can be used too.
White rice, brown rice, a rice blend – whatever you have on hand works! Short or medium grain is best.
Onion and Garlic
Sautéed onion and garlic add aromatic flavor and moisture without overpowering.
An egg helps bind the meatballs so they hold their shape once cooked through.
Plain marinara, crushed tomatoes, or condensed tomato soup makes the perfect simmering sauce.
Herbs and Spices
Italian seasoning, chili powder, Worcestershire – customize spice blends to your taste!
A sprinkle of shredded parmesan over the meatballs adds a delicious salty, cheesy punch.
How to Make Porcupine Meatballs
This fun spin on meatballs comes together in 3 simple stages:
Step 1 – Make the Meatballs
- Combine ground beef, cooked rice, onion, garlic, egg and spices in a bowl.
- Form into 1-inch balls, making sure rice covers the surface.
- Brown meatballs in batches if desired.
Step 2 – Assemble and Bake
- Spread tomato sauce over the bottom of the baking dish.
- Nestle meatballs into sauce.
- Cover and bake at 375°F for 30 minutes.
Step 3 – Finish and Serve
- Uncover and bake for 10 more minutes.
- Sprinkle with parmesan if desired.
- Serve meatballs with sauce for dipping.
What to Serve with Porcupine Meatballs
Since these meatballs contain protein, grains, and veggies, they can easily stand alone as a meal. But a few sides never hurt! Consider:
- Garlic bread, dinner rolls, or biscuits for dipping in sauce
- Side salad or steamed broccoli florets
- Pasta tossed with extra tomato sauce
- Cheesy polenta or creamy mashed potatoes
- Rice pilaf or risotto
- Roasted root vegetables like carrots, parsnips or sweet potatoes
Any easy starch or veggie complement will round out your porcupine meatball dinner perfectly.
- Meat: turkey, pork, chicken, sausage, veggie crumbles
- Rice: brown, wild, cauliflower, quinoa, barley, breadcrumbs
- Sauce: marinara, pizza sauce, gravy, salsa, mushroom soup
- Herbs: basil, cilantro, rosemary, thyme, sage, fennel
- Cheese: mozzarella, provolone, fontina, feta, cheddar
How long will they keep in the fridge?
In an airtight container, Porcupine Meatballs will keep 3-4 days. Reheat gently in the sauce.
Can I prep and freeze them?
Yes! Allow to cool fully then freeze raw meatballs on a tray before transferring to a bag.
What’s the best way to reheat leftovers?
Place in a baking dish, cover with sauce, and reheat at 350°F for 15-20 minutes until warmed through.
Can I use breadcrumbs instead of rice?
Certainly! Panko or Italian breadcrumbs make a great alternative coating.
Do the meatballs have to be uniform in size?
Keeping them about 1-inch helps ensure even cooking, but slight variations are fine!
Can I use already cooked rice?
Yes, leftover cooked rice works great. Just skip any extra cooking time.
What sauce works best with porcupine meatballs?
Tomato-based sauces like marinara, pizza sauce, or tomato soup are classic.
Baked Porcupine Meatballs
- Large mixing bowl for combining ingredients
- Sheet pan or baking dish
- Aluminum foil or parchment paper
- Mixing spoon for combining meatball mixture
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Meatball scoop or spoon for shaping
- Spatula for turning meatballs if browning
- 1 pound ground beef 85% lean
- 1/2 cup cooked white rice
- 1/2 onion minced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 egg lightly beaten
- 1 tsp dried basil
- 1 tsp Italian seasoning
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 2 cups tomato sauce or marinara divided
- 1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
- Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease a 9×13 baking dish.
- In a large bowl, combine ground beef, rice, onion, garlic, egg and seasonings until well mixed. Form into 1-inch meatballs, making sure the rice coats are exterior.
- Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add meatballs in batches if desired and brown on all sides, about 2-3 minutes per batch.
- Spread 1 cup of tomato sauce in the prepared baking dish. Nestle browned meatballs into sauce.
- Cover the dish tightly with foil. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking for 10 more minutes.
- Sprinkle parmesan over meatballs. Serve immediately with remaining tomato sauce for dipping. Enjoy!