Sweet and Sour Meatballs


5 from 12 votes
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These sweet and sour meatballs are bursting with sweet, hot, sour, and garlicky flavors! It’s perfect for a quick and easy dinner that tastes like takeout!

sweet and sour meatballs.

I love quick, hearty, flavorful dinner ideas. And when you crave takeout dishes like honey walnut shrimp or Empress chicken, this sweet and sour meatballs recipe fits right in.

The tanginess from the vinegar, sweetness from the brown sugar, subtle heat from the chili sauce, and fragrance from the garlic make these sweet and sour meatballs incredibly satisfying!

Table of Contents
  1. Why this recipe works
  2. Ingredients Needed
  3. How to make sweet and sour meatballs
  4. Can I use a crockpot?
  5. Tips to make the best recipe
  6. Storage instructions
  7. More delicious ways to enjoy meatballs
  8. Frequently asked questions
  9. Sweet and Sour Meatballs (Recipe Card)

Why this recipe works

I tend to make these meatballs for quick dinners, but they are also great for entertaining too. When I have to feed a crowd, it’s so easy to double or triple this recipe, and there are NEVER any leftovers.

  • Easy to make. If you think making meatballs would be time-consuming and tedious, try this recipe. Trust me, it’ll soon become your kitchen regular.
  • It tastes like takeout. This copycat recipe tastes like the one from your favorite takeout but is homemade, healthier, and cheaper.
  • Quick to make. It takes about 30 minutes to make, so it’s perfect for busy weeknights or when you want something fast.

Ingredients Needed

These sweet and sour meatballs are so easy to make: besides the meat and some seasonings, there isn’t much else that is needed. Here is what you’ll need:

  • Ground beef. I have used ground beef, but feel free to combine ground beef and pork to make your meatballs. Ensure your ground meat has a little fat in it so the meatballs remain juicy.
  • Bread crumbs. Any regular breadcrumbs will do, but I like to use Italian flavored ones because they work so well with the sauce.
  • Onion. For the flavor. Personally, I find grating the onion really adds some depth of flavor compared to mincing or chopping them up.
  • Egg. To bind everything together.
  • Salt and pepper. To taste.
  • Italian seasoning. To flavor the meatballs.
  • Oil. To sauté the meatballs.

Sweet and Sour Sauce

  • Oil. To sauté the aromatics. Any neutral oil will work for this step.
  • Garlic. For a smooth sauce, I prefer using minced garlic.
  • Water. To make the sauce. If I have leftover vegetable or chicken stock, I use it instead of water for added flavor.
  • Vinegar. For the acidity. White vinegar is best, but apple cider vinegar will also work. If you don’t have either on hand, use some lemon juice.
  • Sweet chili sauce. This slightly spicy and sweet sauce is my absolute favorite. Buy Thai or Asian sweet chili sauce from any grocery store.
  • Light brown sugar. It adds a lovely color and the necessary sweetness to the recipe.
  • Salt. To taste.
  • Cornstarch. To thicken the sauce.

How to make sweet and sour meatballs

You don’t have to wait hours to enjoy this mouthwatering recipe. Making my favorite version takes a little over half an hour and six simple steps. Here’s an overview!

  1. Make the meatball mix: Combine the sweet and sour meatball ingredients in a large mixing bowl. 
  2. Shape the meatballs: Make roughly 1-1/2 inch wide meatballs using your hands.
  3. Cook the meatballs: Cook the meatballs with oil over medium heat until evenly browned on all sides. Then, remove them from the pan.
  4. Make the sweet and sour sauce: Clean your skillet, heat oil, and sauté garlic until fragrant over medium heat. Add the water, vinegar, sweet chili sauce, sugar, and salt, and simmer for 5 minutes.
  5. Thicken the sauce: Add cornstarch slurry (1 tbsp cornstarch + 2 tbsp water) to the skillet, stir well, and simmer until it thickens.
  6. Coat the meatballs: Add the cooked beef meatballs back into the skillet and stir until all are coated with the sweet and sour sauce. 
sweet and sour meatballs on rice.

Can I use a crockpot?

You can totally make this dish in the crockpot. Crockpot sweet and sour meatballs are more hands-off, but the meatballs still turn out extra juicy and tender. Also, it requires even less clean up!

To slow cook, combine meatballs with a sauce in the crockpot. Cook on low for 4-6 hours until the meatballs are cooked through and the sauce has thickened.

Tips to make the best recipe

  • Use a stand mixer: To mix the ingredients efficiently, combine the meatball mixture in a stand mixer on a paddle attachment. 
  • Chill the mixture: While it is not essential, chilling the mixture helps it bind better and easier to handle. 
  • Make the sauce ahead of time: Make the sauce up to a week in advance to save time. When ready to eat, prep your meatballs and toss them with the premade sauce. Or use store-bought sweet and sour sauce to save time.
  • Adjust the sweetness: Reduce the sugar quantity if you like your sauce a little less sweet. Substitute brown sugar with honey, agave, or maple syrup instead for a deeper flavor. 

Storage instructions

Leftover meatballs soak up all the sauces and taste better the next day. Here’s how you can store them:

To store. Refrigerate the leftovers in an airtight container for up to three days.  

To freeze. Freeze the leftover meatballs in freezer-safe containers for 4-5 months.

To reheat. Allow the frozen sweet and sour balls to thaw in the refrigerator. Reheat in the microwave before serving, and serve hot.

recipe for sweet and sour meatballs.

More delicious ways to enjoy meatballs

Frequently asked questions

Can I bake my meatballs in the oven?

Bake the shaped meatballs in a preheated oven at 375°F for 20-30 minutes until set. You can also use an air-fryer to bake the meatballs.

How many meatballs does this recipe make?

Depending on the size of the rolled meatballs, you can expect to make 12-15 meatballs using this recipe.

What side goes with sweet and sour meatballs?

Anything that soaks up the glorious sauce makes the perfect side dish. I love white rice, mashed potatoes, or even mashed sweet potatoes.

sweet and sour meatballs recipe.

Sweet and Sour Meatballs

5 from 12 votes
These sweet and sour meatballs are bursting with sweet, hot, sour, and garlicky flavors! It's perfect for a quick and easy dinner that tastes like takeout!
Servings: 4 servings
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
Total: 25 minutes


  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 small onion grated
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon oil

Sweet and sour sauce

  • 1 teaspoon oil
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • 2/3 cup + 2 tablespoons water divided
  • 1/3 cup vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sweet chili sauce optional
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch


  • In a large mixing bowl, combine the beef, bread crumbs, grated onion, egg, salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning and mix well. 
  • Using your hands, shape them into small meatballs, around 1 1/2 inches wide.
  • Add oil to a large skillet and place over medium heat. Cook the meatballs until evenly browned on all sides. Remove the meatballs from the pan.
  • Wipe the skillet, add oil, and place back over medium heat. Once hot, add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Add 2/3 cups of the water, vinegar, sweet chili sauce, sugar, and salt and allow everything to simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Mix the cornstarch with the remaining two tablespoons of water to create a slurry. Add it to the skillet and stir well. Continue simmering everything until it thickens.
  • Add the meatballs back into the skillet and gently mix until completely coated in the sweet and sour sauce. 


Serving: 1servingCalories: 328kcalCarbohydrates: 26gProtein: 30gFat: 10gSodium: 773mgPotassium: 501mgFiber: 2gSugar: 5gVitamin A: 78IUVitamin C: 2mgCalcium: 84mgIron: 5mgNET CARBS: 24g
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Author: Arman Liew
Tried this recipe?Give us a shout at @thebigmansworld or tag #thebigmansworld!

Arman Liew

I’m a two time cookbook author, photographer, and writer, and passionate about creating easy and healthier recipes. I believe you don’t need to be experienced in the kitchen to make good food using simple ingredients that most importantly, taste delicious.

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5 from 12 votes (10 ratings without comment)

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Recipe Rating


  1. 5 stars
    I made this tonight after saving the recipe 21 weeks ago. I made the meatball mix in my food processor as I didn’t want to grate the onion. Onions first, then fresh breadcrumbs (let the onion juices do its thing), then added in the rest of the ingredients.
    This is a do again recipe

  2. Hey Arman,
    I was wondering about how many would this make, and about how many would you suggest as a healthy serving size?

  3. For some reason I have been obsessed with meatballs for the past year (after not really caring for them) and now I can’t get enough. So naturally these are happening!

  4. Oh, these are great! I love meatballs but am a big traditionalist and don’t often stray from eating them over pasta with sauce. But sweet and sour is absolutely something I can try!

  5. Oh man! These looks absolutely mouth watering! I love the sweet and sour sauce. I would demand it, too!

  6. Ooooh I love how coconuty these are. I love meatballs, no shame here. I’m just bad at making them because I’m impatient and they fall apart and turn into bolognese!

  7. This might surprise you, but I make a mean meatball. I always whip up a few batches every fall for the Hubby and I usually freeze them mixed with pasta sauce (the standard red) and he uses them to make meatball subs.

    1. Guess who ate leftover meatballs in a white 100% processed baguette for lunch with 2 babybel cheeses melted on top?

      you have a smart hubby.

  8. These look amazing! And I love that they can be frozen; I need to start stocking my freezer for when school starts in a couple of weeks.

  9. Ugh yessss, Nikki. Sweet and sour makes the meatball world go ’round. Now I’m in the mood to go to a cocktail party (minus the cocktails) and eat these on cute little toothpicks. Can you make that happen for me?

  10. I’m totally going to steal your sauce recipe for my TVP meatballs! I have been experimenting with different ways to eat this plant based ground meat alternative and that sweet and sour sauce looks delicious!

  11. I have a million and one things to say. I shall channel Meg and list. 1) Picky Niki is her new name 2) Who goes to McDs on their birthday? 3) McDs sells meatballs in Australia?! 4) I’m becoming paleo 5) Does that mean the chickpeas I just ate were illegal? 6) Expect a visit to McDs at 4:00 AM post Toronto rave. 7) I haven’t raved in at least 3 years so I should start building my stamina now 8) Can I bring a hard-boiled egg to a rave? 9) Is it Thursday yet? I want Picky Niki 10) I had to end on an even number.

    1. 1. Picky Niki is too complimentary. You ain’t seen Picky yet. 2. I do! 3. No! These are better than mcNuggets. 4. Good girl. Start with bread. 5. Chickpeas are considered a laxative and medication is paleo. 6. YES. But softserve cones please. 7. Me neither. Are we sucky if we leave at midnight? 8. no. But you may bring a larabar and shredded chicken. 9. Nearly. In Sydney. 10. Hi.

  12. Hello delicious! Niki sure is lucky to have you as a brother. Tell her I said that! 😛

    There was a myth going around here about rat parts being found in the McDonald’s patties. Not sure how true it was, but it was still gross! I only go to McDonalds for McFlurries every once in a while these days. If I want a burger, I can think of about a million other places that can make a burger that is a million times better.

    1. Chelseakale…complimenting me? What is the world coming too!

      RATS PARTS? Khushboo has chicken fat, we have pig fat…you guys have rats? But seriously. McFlurries are so worth it.

  13. oh my goshhh i lovvvve meatballs. seriously this is something well known about me- ever since i was a kid. i have another friend who doesn’t like them and will feed them to her dog- unless I’m around, then i get first dibs. (ha-HA!) these look amazing, i want to make them right now.

    1. You would appreciate this fact. I ate them for breakfast yesterday in a sub….cold. Oh man it was amazing. I’d fight a dog for it.

  14. I’m a sucker for some good meatballs on top of my pasta! I think the sweet and sour will intensify the flavor up to the right notch. 🙂

  15. My friend once brought sweet and sour meatballs to a Super Bowl party, and I watched her make them and won’t tell you what was in them (certainly not frozen meatballs and grape jelly….) but they were delicious. I can only imagine what a healthier version would taste like!

  16. Well, if your friend googles up “pink slime” that’s going to cure her mc nugget cravings pretty quick….

  17. I have made sweet and sour meatballs (vegan) before and they were SO good!! I made them into a sub sandwich… you should definitely try that out!

  18. There has been some gross McDonalds myths…I try not to think about them. I’ll eat fast food once in a blue moon, but not McDonalds…unless it’s their breakfasts because I love me an egg mcmuffin.

    1. McMuffins are epic. I’ve been having egg and cheese sandwiches for breakfast recently..definitely needs the damn muffin.

  19. My favorite party snack are these meatballs right here! Well, the ones I grew up on came from a package and the sauce was made with chili sauce and grape jelly..sooo these might be a slightly healthier substitute 🙂

  20. I try not to think about what’s actually in McNuggets, because I basically grew up on those things. They were probably one of my favourite things growing up, and I have a feeling a lot of it had to do with the sweet n sour sauce. I actually loved that damn sauce so much that I’d constantly be asking them for another handful… at which point they started charging 😆

    1. Hahahaha I asked Niki how much they are these days and she said 50 cents!!! She sweet talks the server.

  21. I saw a Jamie Oliver show several years ago where he revealed how they process the meat in McDonald’s food- they basically take all the meat leftovers that aren’t really edible for humans, “wash” it in AMMONIA, and add fake flavor to make it taste like the real stuff. I haven’t eaten fast food since then.

    1. I WATCHED THAT TOO- and then the kids still ate them and didn’t know what a potato or tomato was. Kids these days….

  22. Ooh yummy!
    We had that myth too, that there was more chicken in the mcflurry ice cream than in the chicken burger. I say myth… :-S

  23. No chicken in Chicken Nuggets maybe? That’s why I always eat my own chicken. 🙂

    Coconut Flour and ground beef. Now that is one #strangebutgood combo. Curious about Niki’s recap!

    1. Haha, it’s ALL you’re fault there’s no chicken in those nuggets. You ate them all!

      Be prepared to pee yourself…she is a disgrace.

  24. Haha OMG don’t even talk to be about chicken nuggets from McDonalds- definitely a childhood favorite despite the amount of crap in it…BBQ sauce was a necessity! Did you ever hear the ‘rumour’ that McDonalds milkshakes contain chicken fat- it definitely put me off those otherwise cups of liquid deliciousness! Can’t wait to try recreating this at home- I’m going to try making it with chicken and oat flour instead of coconut flour…hopefully it turns out just as yum!

    1. You guys had the chicken fat rumour? We had the pig fat one haha…still didn’t put me off it! Definitely try it with oat flour or even rolled oats- I’ve made it with rolled before and it’s delicious

  25. This recipe looks delish (I mean for my son since I don’t eat meat anymore lol). I just made him meatballs actually last night…We don’t have McDonald’s myths that I am aware of, however, there is very little chicken in those nuggets and the chicken they use we really don’t want to eat.But oh how I loved them as a kid. And the sweet and sour sauce, which we have discussed already lol.

    1. Just read your WIAW post and I reckon the little one will like it….

      I wonder if a Red Mango parfait will taste good with sweet and sour sauce. Try it out? 😉

  26. MC Donald myth: a customer once found a fried chicken head between her chicken nuggets. Yum!
    Do the meatballs taste a little spicy? Because you add a good amount of chili flakes. I hope so because I’m not the biggest fan of sweet (and sour) sauces but the spice would balance it out I guess.
    At parties here there is no finger good served. Only chips and pretzel sticks and snacks like this. BUT my dad made meat balls for one of my birthday parties, my 18th I think!! They were a hit!

    1. I’d still eat the chicken nugget…ooops 🙂

      YES…but- for my palates, it wasn’t spicy enough. I have an amazing salad dressing recipe you’d like- sriracha, peanut (or almond) butter, so sauce and red pepper flakes- thin out with milk/water.

      1. I don’t have sriracha but I will give this a go with a mix of tabasco and ketchup 😀 not sure if I’d like a spicy salad though. But I’ll try, hehe.

  27. I think you have nailed it – the recipe looks awesome! I used to love sweet and sour chicken as a kid but have not had the stuff in years! I want to get some coconut aminos!