Porcupine Meatballs

4.7 from 10 votes
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Tender Porcupine Meatballs are filled with ground beef and brown rice, bathed in tangy tomato sauce, and perfect for tonight’s dinner. And, they’re naturally gluten free.

Porcupine meatballs served over rice with green beans are shown on a white plate with a fork and blue napkin to the right.

Why You’ll Love These Porcupine Meatballs

  • Cuisine Inspiration: American
  • Primary Cooking Method: Stovetop
  • Dietary Info: Gluten-free, Dairy-free
  • Skill Level: Easy

Hearty and flavorful, this porcupine meatballs recipe is sure to become a family favorite. They are one of mine – in fact, I called them Grandma’s Polish Meatballs because she used to make them for me based on the filling in her stuffed cabbage recipe.

Here’s why you’ll love this dish:

  • Comfort food. Nutty brown rice and ground beef combine to make a super comforting and filling main meal. You can serve it with more rice, gluten-free noodles, or even make a meatball sandwich.
  • Naturally gluten free. I love that we use rice in this meatball recipe rather than bread crumbs, keeping it gluten free. The rest of the ingredients needed are naturally gluten free, too.
  • Great to make ahead. I love to double the batch of meatballs and save some for another time so I have a quick dish all ready to go. These porcupine meatballs freeze well and I’ve included all the details lower down for how to do so.
 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

These were awesome. I served them with my homemade perogies and I could have eaten until I died. I even made a few with ground chicken that were awesome as well….great recipe!!! -Tammy

What Are Porcupine Meatballs?

Porcupine meatballs are meatballs that consist of ground beef and rice cooked in tomato sauce. They are typically baked in the oven to make a casserole. Porcupine meatballs were popular during the time of the Great Depression because the recipe needed just a few simple ingredients including beef, uncooked long-grain rice, onion, and, instead of tomato sauce, canned tomato soup.

These “rice meatballs” may have been given the name porcupine meatballs because the rice sticks out of the meatballs while they cook. In my version of porcupine meatballs, the rice is added to the meat already cooked, and the meatballs are finished in a skillet on the stove, to which tomato sauce is added. No oven is required!

A cut porcupine meatball shows its meaty interior. It has a fork next to it and is served in red sauce over rice and green beans.

Porcupine Meatballs Recipe Ingredients

Here’s an overview of what you’ll need to make this porcupine meatballs recipe. The full ingredient amounts will be in the recipe card at the end of this post.

  • Butter: I use unsalted butter. Feel free to use vegan butter to make it dairy free.
  • Onion: You can use a yellow or red onion in this recipe.
  • Ground Beef: I use lean ground beef.
  • Brown Rice: Learn how to make brown rice or you can use white rice.
  • Egg: An egg helps to hold the meatballs together.
  • Tomato Sauce: I used Hunt’s brand but you can use your preferred brand of sauce or use homemade sauce.
  • Brown Sugar: Light or dark brown sugar is fine.
The ingredients needed to make porcupine meatballs are shown portioned out on a white background: ground beef, chopped onions, brown rice, salt and pepper, tomato sauce, egg, and butter.

How to Make Porcupine Meatballs

Follow along below with my easy method for making this recipe for porcupine meatballs. Check the recipe card for the detailed instructions.

  • Cook onions. Melt a pat of butter in a skillet and cook the onions.
  • Form. Mix together the beef, cooked onions, rice, salt, pepper, and egg and shape it into balls.
  • Brown. Melt some more butter and cook the meatballs in the skillet until browned on both sides.
  • Add sauce. Pour the sauce over the meatballs and sprinkle with brown sugar and salt and pepper.
  • Cook. Bring the meatballs and sauce to a simmer, covered, until cooked through.
A skillet holds porcupine meatballs in red sauce, with a white plate to its left with forks on top, and a blue napkin to the right.

Variations & Tips for the Best Porcupine Meatballs

Here are a few tips that will help you make this recipe for porcupine meatballs:
  • Try a different sauce. While the traditional preparation of porcupine meatballs calls for red sauce, these would be wonderful with a mushroom soup sauce as well. You can use my Cream of Mushroom Soup recipe as a jumping-off point. Or just slather them in Gluten Free Brown Gravy.
  • Use white or brown rice. I love brown rice in this recipe, but you can use white rice too. See my tips for how to cook white rice to help you make it perfectly.
  • Add different meat. You can make this porcupine meatballs recipe with different meat in place of the ground beef. Try ground turkey or lamb.
  • Make them vegetarian. You can also make this recipe in a vegetarian version. Add your favorite plant-based meat instead of beef.
  • Tuck in some vegetables. To round out the meatballs a bit more, you can add chopped mushrooms or chopped baby spinach to the pan when you cook the onion. Then stir them into the rice and beef mixture along with the onion.
A skillet of porcupine meatballs sits next to a white plate of rice topped with meatballs, a side of green beans, and a glass of water. A blue napkin with a fork is to the right.

How to Store Leftovers

Porcupine meatballs keep well in the fridge and freezer. Here’s how to store them:

  • Fridge – Place the cooled meatballs in an airtight container and store them in the fridge for up to 3 days.
  • Freezer – You can freeze these porcupine meatballs cooked or uncooked. For cooked meatballs, place them in a freezer-safe bag or container and place them in the freezer for up to 3 months. Thaw them in the fridge before reheating. For raw meatballs, place them on a cookie sheet in the freezer for 1 hour, then transfer them to a freezer-safe bag or container and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw the meatballs in the fridge before proceeding with the recipe.
  • To Reheat – Place the meatballs in a skillet with some tomato sauce and gently reheat them over medium heat.
A white plate holds porcupine meatballs in red sauce alongside green beans, with rice.

Make it a Meal

Porcupine meatballs can be served as a hot appetizer with toothpicks at a cocktail party, or even eaten cold as a quick afternoon snack. Of course, they’re also great for dinner. Here’s how to serve these meatballs:

A cut meatballs shows the meaty interior, with a fork next to it.
4.7 from 10 votes

Porcupine Meatballs

Tender Porcupine Meatballs are filled with ground beef and brown rice, bathed in tangy tomato sauce, and perfect for tonight's dinner.
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 32 minutes
Total: 47 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • ¾ cup cooked brown rice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 egg
  • 28 ounces tomato sauce (I used Hunt's)
  • 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions

  • Melt one tablespoon butter in a skillet, add the onion and sauté till tender and translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from the heat.
  • In a large bowl, combine the beef, cooked onions (do not rinse the skillet, as you can use the same one for cooking the meatballs), cooked rice, salt, pepper, and egg, and gently mix together without overworking the meat. Using a scant ¼ cup for each, shape the meat mixture into balls.
  • Melt another tablespoon of butter in the same skillet over medium heat. Add the meatballs and brown on each side, turning gently after nicely browned. This will take about ten minutes total.
  • Pour the sauce over the meatballs, sprinkle with the brown sugar, salt and pepper, and gently mix around slightly.
  • Cover, bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low and cook for about 10-15 minutes, or until the meatballs are cooked through.
Nutrition Facts
Porcupine Meatballs
Amount Per Serving (3 meatballs)
Calories 332 Calories from Fat 117
% Daily Value*
Fat 13g20%
Saturated Fat 6g30%
Cholesterol 126mg42%
Sodium 1714mg71%
Potassium 1133mg32%
Carbohydrates 24g8%
Fiber 4g16%
Sugar 12g13%
Protein 29g58%
Vitamin A 1095IU22%
Vitamin C 15.9mg19%
Calcium 52mg5%
Iron 5.2mg29%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
Disclaimers: Please discuss your individual dietary needs (i.e. gluten free) with a physician. Even when not specified, be sure to verify all ingredients are gluten free, if needed, by reading labels on all packaging and/or confirming with the manufacturer this varies by brand and can change at any time. Nutrition information shown is an estimate and not guaranteed to be accurate.

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29 Comments
  1. Tammy

    5 stars
    These were awesome. I served them with my homemade perogies and I could have eaten until I died. I even made a few with ground chicken that were awesome as well….great recipe!!!

    1. Brianne Cupcakes & Kale Chips

      I’m so glad that you enjoyed the meatballs, Tammy. Of course, now I’m hungry for perogies. 😉

  2. Theresa

    5 stars
    I’m 100% Polish, 2nd-generation American. My Babcia on my dad’s side made a lot of traditional food, but it was my mom who taught me all the old recipes. She learned how to make all my dad’s favorite meals from Babcia, and I was always her helper. I didn’t like the cabbage either so my mom would always make some “klupsi” for me. I’m so glad to see your recipe and read about your babcia too! I was lucky enough to get my mom’s hand-written recipes, and now that I’m a grandmother I enjoy making traditional Polish foods for my granddaughter!

    1. Brianne Cupcakes & Kale Chips

      I’m so happy to hear that this Polish meatballs recipe is one you will enjoy making often, Theresa!

  3. Randi

    My wife is from a large polish family ( grew up in Milwaukee). Her gram was not a great cook, but she has fond memories of a few signature recipes. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Brianne Cupcakes & Kale Chips

      I’m glad that this recipe could bring back some good memories for you. I hope you enjoy the meatballs!

  4. Kelly

    My grandmother always used Hunt’s too!! Everything she did was so so simple and basic and delicious! I miss her and her Polock ways. She definitely had the biggest heart! Thank you for sharing this!

    1. Brianne Cupcakes & Kale Chips

      I’m sorry to hear that you’ve lost your grandmother, but I’m happy that you have warm memories of her, Kelly. I hope you enjoy this recipe.

  5. 5 stars
    Love this website and this posting in particular. But the grammar police wish you would not say “taking my cousins and I to the park.” “Me” is the correct pronoun.

  6. Beautiful tribute and wonderful memories. My mom’s side is Polish, too. I’m with you though, stuffed cabbage is not my thing! I think it’s the warm cabbage that throws me off. I should really try to make my Busia’s recipe now that I’m older, and hey, now I know I can always just do the filling as meatballs.

  7. My mom used to make these all the time for my dad—and I loved them, too. Good idea making them without the cabbage—sounds like a good way for me to get Bill to ea them 🙂

  8. Your grandmother sounds like a spitfire! Sweet of you to share such great memories about her, and this wonderful recipe for her meatballs. I’ll be certain to purchase Hunt’s when I make them

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