Chicken meatballs can be a terrific alternative to traditional beef meatballs, and my recipe features a crispy coating of panko and parmesan cheese for irresistible flavor! Baked in the oven until golden, then dolloped with some rich marinara sauce and a sprinkle of mozzarella, these crispy chicken meatballs make for a complete meal when served with pasta!
The Meatball Version of Chicken Parmesan
One of the things I really enjoy about recipe developing is taking a well-known recipe and turning it slightly on its head, so to speak.
Take these scrumptious and juicy chicken meatballs, for instance. If you look closely, you'll see that they're definitely inspired by one of my all-time favorite Italian-American meals, chicken parmesan, making these delectable meatballs extra flavorful, succulent, juicy, and even crispy!
When seasoned with lots of herbs and spices, a generous little kick of garlic, plus an extra savory coating of a combination of panko breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese, chicken meatballs baked in the oven turn out tender and golden-brown, perfectly ready for a little spoonful of homemade marinara sauce and a sprinkle of mozzarella cheese.
And when served over top of your favorite pasta, these crispy chicken meatballs become a complete meal, the meatball version of chicken parmesan!
How to Make Chicken Meatballs Crispy and Delicious
I appreciate the convenience of preparing chicken meatballs in the oven, as there's no need for the extra time it takes to work in batches frying them up in a pan.
Chicken meatballs are also slightly leaner than beef meatballs, and this makes them a great alternative when you're craving something with some Italian flair, yet want to “lighten” things up just a bit.
The wonderful thing about this recipe is that you can simply prepare the meatballs with the coating and then bake them, enjoying them just as they are—no sauce, and no cheese. They're super flavorful and delicious all by themselves!
But because I'm going in the direction of chicken parmesan with the flavors here, and looking to create more of a complete meal, I've prepared a rich-yet-easy marinara sauce to top these with (you can even substitute store bought if you prefer), and round things out by serving them with penne pasta and some extra sauce.
This is such a comforting and cozy recipe!
Here's a glance at my crispy chicken meatball recipe: (or just jump to the full recipe...)
- I love homemade marinara—in my book, nothing beats it! So I begin things by preparing my quick sauce, and setting that aside to have on hand. (You can skip this step and use store-bought, if you'd like.)
- To prepare my chicken meatballs, I combine their ingredients, roll them to a size a little less than a golf ball, then roll them in the panko and parmesan mixture.
- I bake the meatballs at 425° for about 15 minutes, then change the oven setting to a “low broil”, and cook them for another 10 minutes until crispy and golden.
- While the meatballs bake, I cook my pasta according to package instructions and keep it warm.
- To finish the meatballs, I top each with some marinara sauce and a sprinkle of cheese, then place under the low broiler for a couple more minutes to melt the cheese, then serve the chicken meatballs over top of the penne pasta with additional sauce.
Crispy Chicken Meatballs
by Ingrid Beer
Yield: Serves 6
Nutrition Info: 398 calories (meatballs with sauce and cheese only, without penne)
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes
Total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Chicken Meatballs Ingredients:
- 1 to 1 ¼ cup fresh breadcrumbs (a roughly 2-3 ounce french roll, finely processed)
- ¼ cup milk
- 1 to 1 ¼ pound ground chicken
- 1 egg
- ½ cup grated parmesan, divided use
- 2 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press
- 1 ¼ teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 4 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley, divided use
- ½ cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
- ½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- 10 to 12 ounces uncooked penne pasta (optional—for serving the meatballs with)
Rich Marinara Sauce Ingredients:
- Olive or canola oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 4 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 (28 ounce) cans organic crushed tomatoes
- ¾ cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
- If preparing the marinara (optional), begin with that: place a large non-stick pot over medium-high heat, and drizzle in about 3 tablespoons of oil; once hot, add in the onion, the salt, Italian seasoning, black pepper and red pepper flakes, and stir to combine; allow to saute for about 2-3 minutes.
- Next, add in the garlic and stir, and once that becomes aromatic, add in the tomato paste and stir to combine; cook for about 2 minutes.
- Add in the crushed tomatoes, stir, and allow to gently simmer on low with a lid partly askew, for about 15 minutes.
- Finish the marinara by stirring in the parmesan, the chopped parsley and the basil, and keep warm (or if making ahead, allow to completely cool and keep in fridge until ready to reheat and use).
- To prepare the chicken meatballs, preheat the oven to 425°, and line a baking sheet with foil.
- In a large bowl, combine the breadcrumbs with the milk, and using your fingers, mix until moistened.
- Add in the ground chicken, the egg, ¼ cup of the parmesan, the garlic, salt, Italian seasoning, black pepper and 2 tablespoons of the chopped flat-leaf parsley, and using your finger tips, very gently mix the ingredients together just until combined.
- Form meatballs a little smaller than the size of a golf ball (the mixture will be sticky, so just form them as best as possible), and place the meatballs on the foil-lined baking sheet.
- Next, combine the panko breadcrumbs with the remaining ¼ cup of grated parmesan cheese, plus the olive oil, and mix until moistened.
- Carefully and gently roll each meatball in the panko mixture, place them back onto the baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes; after 15 minutes, adjust the oven to “low broil”, and allow the meatballs to brown and crisp a bit more for about 10 minutes.
- While the meatballs bake, cook your penne pasta (if serving) according to package instructions and keep warm.
- Remove the meatballs from the oven, top each meatball with some of the marinara sauce and a sprinkle of mozzarella, and place them back into “low broil” oven just for a moment to melt the cheese.
- To serve, add some of the pasta to a serving bowl, and top with sauce; then, top with several meatballs and garnish with the remaining 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley.
Tips & Tidbits for my Crispy Chicken Meatball Recipe:
- Lean ground chicken, or even turkey: I like to use lean ground chicken for these meatballs, and flavor the meat with lots of herbs, spices and garlic. Another great option here is ground turkey, and you can use either the light meat or even the dark meat for a bit of extra fat and flavor.
- Fresh breadcrumbs, or store-bought: The recipe calls for fresh breadcrumbs, and these are super easy to make! I just add a 2-3 ounce French roll to my food processor and process until fine. Or, you can use traditional store-bought breadcrumbs for convenience.
- Nothing like homemade marinara sauce: While you can absolutely use your favorite store-bought marinara sauce as a time saver, my recipe for rich marinara is filled with lots of garlicky flavor and fresh herbs. It just needs a quick 15 minute simmer—that's it!
- Penne pasta, or other tasty picks: If serving these chicken meatballs as a complete meal, feel free to use your favorite kind of pasta with them. Penne is delicious and is my personal choice here, but spaghetti, fusilli (corkscrews), or even bowties are great!
- Make ahead for easy chicken meatballs: If you'd like to get a head start on the recipe, you can season the chicken meatballs, then roll them in panko and parmesan, and keep them on a baking sheet wrapped with plastic wrap in the fridge until ready to bake. If you do this, just allow the meatballs to come to room temp for an hour or so, then bake. You can also prep the sauce (if homemade), as well as the penne, and then reheat before serving.
- Reheating leftover chicken meatballs: You can reheat any leftover meatballs in the toaster oven set to 400°, and bake them for about 10-15 minutes, until heated through.
Cook's Note: This recipe was originally published in 2014, and has been updated with even more love!