Chicken Meatballs

Chicken Meatballs

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Have you ever made chicken meatballs? They’re a lower fat version than meatballs made with beef and pork. Chicken meatballs are available now in most grocery stores’ meat or frozen food sections. To me, that signals a shift in the way we think about spaghetti and meatballs.  

Subbing in chicken (or turkey) for beef and pork is budget-friendly, plus you get the benefit of lean protein for better health.  

I’ve been testing recipes for poultry meatballs and think I’ve finally nailed it, flavor-wise. My advice when switching out beef and pork with poultry is to up the herbs and spices a bit since poultry is mild flavored. 

Here’s some family favorite recipes to try:  simple, classic, chicken meatballs for a weeknight meal or Florentine meatballs for casual entertaining. 

Simple Chicken Meatballs 

Recipe can be doubled. Use this recipe as a guide. To see if you need more flavoring, put a small meatball in the microwave and cook. Taste and go from there.  

Yield: About 20 or so small meatballs. 


  • 1 pound ground chicken — boneless, skinless breasts, thighs or a combination of both 
  • 1/3 cup dry bread crumbs or more if needed 
  • 1-2 tablespoons Parmesan or Romano cheese (optional but good) 
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste 
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil 
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper or shake of ground cayenne pepper 
  • 1 nice clove garlic, minced 
  • 1-2 tablespoons minced parsley 
  • Several leaves basil, minced 
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten 


  1. Stir together bread crumbs and cheese. Set aside. 
  2. In large bowl, gently mix chicken, salt, pepper, garlic, parsley, basil and egg. 
  3. Mix in bread crumbs and cheese. Don’t overmix.  
    Roll into 1-1/2-inch balls again using a gentle hand to keep meatballs from turning too dense as they cook. 
  4. I use a 1-1/2-inch melon scoop. You can also make them larger if you like. 
  5. Add olive oil to skillet over medium high heat. 
  6. Place meatballs in oil, and cook until golden brown on the outside. Don’t crowd them or they will steam instead of brown. 
  7. Turn heat to simmer, cover and cook until done. 
  8. Remove and let cool on rack, or add to tomato sauce for spaghetti. 
  9. The meatballs can be frozen up to six months. 


Turkey can be substituted in chicken meatball recipes. 

Florentine Chicken Meatballs 

When something is “Florentine” it usually includes spinach. 

These are yummy served over buttered noodles and a drizzle of Alfredo sauce. They’re equally as good, though, in a tomato sauce. 

This makes a lot of meatballs. You can divide recipe in half.  

As mentioned with simple chicken meatballs, use this recipe as a guide.  Cook a small meatball in the microwave to taste, and go from there.  

Yield: 16 large meatballs, or 40 small meatballs. 


  • 10-ounce box frozen chopped spinach, thawed 
  • 3/4 cup dry bread crumbs 
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese 
  • 2 generous pounds ground chicken (boneless skinless breasts, thighs or a combination of both) 
  • 1/2 cup onion, minced 
  • 4 nice garlic cloves, minced 
  • 1 large egg 
  • 1/4 cup milk 
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil 
  • 1-1/2  to 2 teaspoons salt 
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper 


  1. Wring spinach completely dry in towel. 
  2. Stir together bread crumbs and cheese. Set aside. 
  3. Place ground chicken in large bowl. 
  4. Stir in spinach, onion, garlic, egg, milk, salt and pepper.  
  5. Mix in bread crumbs and cheese. Don’t overmix. 
  6. Roll into balls. You can make large, medium or small meatballs. 
  7. Add olive oil to skillet over medium heat. 
  8. Place meatballs in oil, and cook until golden brown on the outside. Don’t crowd them or they will steam instead of brown. 
  9. Turn heat to simmer, cover and cook until done. 
  10. Remove and serve as desired. 
  11. Can be frozen up to 6 months.  

Master Recipe Tomato Pasta Sauce 

There are so many variations to this theme. Check out my good “add-ins” below the recipe. 

Easily doubled or tripled. Can be frozen up to 1 year. 

Use a large skillet to cook the sauce quickly. 


  • 1 can, 28-ounce whole Italian plum tomatoes  
  • 1/2 cup water or more if needed 
  • 1/3 cup olive oil 
  • 2 tablespoons shallots or onions, finely chopped 
  • Minced garlic to taste — start with 2 large cloves and go from there 
  • Salt and pepper to taste  
  • 1/4 teaspoon dry oregano 
  • Handful fresh basil, torn 


  1. Smash tomatoes to break up; I put them in a bowl and use a potato masher. 
  2. Pour 1/2 cup water into the tomato can and stir. Set water aside. 
  3. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  
  4. Stir in shallots and garlic and cook until fragrant, but not brown.  
  5. Add tomatoes, water, salt, pepper and oregano.  
  6. Bring to a gentle boil, then lower to a simmer.  Cook until sauce thickens, about 20 minutes. You may need to add a little more water.  
  7. Stir in basil and cook another few minutes. 
  8. Taste and adjust seasonings. 

Tasty Additions: 

  • A squeeze of anchovy paste (yep, it’s a “secret” ingredient and adds depth of flavor) 
  • Crushed red pepper flakes instead of pepper (if using this, cook with shallots and garlic to allow pepper flake flavor to bloom). 
  • Fresh parsley — a tablespoon added with the basil adds color and nutrients. 

Marcella’s Four Ingredient Tomato Sauce 

Adapted only slightly from a recipe by Marcella Hazan, the famous Italian cook. When I first saw it, I was intrigued but a bit doubtful. 

No garlic? No pepper? No basil? I decided to make it and I’m sure glad I did. This is a wonderful sauce for a beginner. The long cooking time and butter make it a silky, very flavorful, sauce for chicken meatballs or simply as a vegetarian sauce. 


  • 1 can, 28-ounce whole Italian plum tomatoes in juice 
  • 6 tablespoons butter 
  • 1 smallish onion, peeled and cut in half 
  • Salt and pepper to taste 


  1. Combine tomatoes, their juices, butter and onion in a large saucepan. 
  2. Add salt and pepper to taste. 
  3. Cook over medium heat just until it starts to bubble, then turn down to a simmer. 
  4. Cook, uncovered, giving it a stir now and then, for 45 minutes. As it cooks, smoosh the tomatoes down. 
  5. Remove onion after cooking (but I like to eat it alongside). 
  6. Makes enough to sauce 12-ounce or so pasta. 

Gilding the lily: 

After saucing pasta, give it a shower of Parmesan. 

Maybe you have your own poultry meatball recipe to share. Let us know! 

Originally published in the August/September 2022 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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