Old Fashioned Porcupine Meatball Recipe! These super easy meatballs are made with beef and rice then simmered in a delicious tomato sauce. Always a family favorite!
Do you have one of those dishes that is like a time machine for you? It takes you back to your younger days. Maybe it reminds you of your mom or dad or aunt or uncle or grandma or whoever made it for you regularly. It reminds you of them and of the times you had together. For me, that recipe is porcupine meatballs. One bite into these savory, tender meatballs and I’m transported back to my childhood. My mother used to make this recipe at least once a week. Everyone loved them—we were excited when she would bring them out. And we would all clean our plates.
Have you ever had porcupine meatballs? If you didn’t grow up eating them, let me help by explaining their odd name. First, let me say that there is no porcupine meat in the meatballs. I mean… gross. But it’s sometimes fun to leave kids guessing!
Actually, the meatballs are a combination of ground beef and rice. As the ground beef cooks, the meat shrinks down a little, and the little pieces of rice begin to stick out. Just like that you have a meatball with something that looks like edible porcupine quills sticking out of it! Kids can’t get enough of these funny, spiky meatballs.
Just like my mom did, I serve these meatballs regularly to my family. They’re very popular in my house! Over the years I’ve tweaked the recipe a bit—adding more spice and flavor to the meatballs and switching out the type of rice used.
The original recipe called for uncooked long grain rice. But I’ve found that with porcupine meatballs, minute rice (instant rice) yields far more consistent results. It you happen to have leftover, cooked rice, you can use it intead of the long grain or minute rice. Honestly, I think there’s a bit of compromise in the texture but, hey sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do to use up leftovers! I just think that when making porcupine meatballs, Rice-a-Roni (or something similar) can be just as delicious as starting with uncooked rice!
The problem with uncooked long grain rice is that it can be finicky. If the meatballs aren’t cooked perfectly or if the meatballs are rolled even a little too large, the rice doesn’t cook completely in the center of the meatball. Let me tell you, there’s something distinctly unpleasant about biting into one of these yummy, tender porcupine meatballs and having undercooked rice in the center!
I just think that when making porcupine meatballs, Rice-a-Roni (or something similar) can be just as delicious as starting with uncooked rice!
For folks who love their crock pots, with these porcupine meatballs, slow cookers can be very effective. Just transfer the meatballs over to your slow cooker after browning.
I’ve found that these meatballs are very popular at parties. Something about their unique flavor, appearance, and name make them a big subject of curiosity at gatherings and potlucks. The recipe makes about 20 meatballs, so if I’m bringing them to a party I’ll usually make a double batch.
These meatballs are hearty and tender—perfect comfort food. Give them a try and let me know what your family thinks!
Meat: Ground turkey can be used in place of ground beef, but I don’t think that turkey meatballs hold together as well. So if you want to use turkey, I recommend adding 1 cup of soft breadcrumbs to your meatball mixture.
Size and Forming: Look, I love giant meatballs. I absolutely love them. Nothing makes me happier than sitting down to a plate of 2 or 3 giant meatballs—you know the size I’m talking about. But with this recipe, it’s imperative that you avoid making the meatballs too large. Reign in that urge for giant meatballs! The rice will not cook if the meatballs are too big, and crunchy rice is not what we’re going for in this recipe. This recipe should yield about 20 meatballs—if you have fewer than that, then you know you aren’t making them the right size.
In order to get a consistent size, I recommend using an ice cream scoop to form the meatballs. This is a great tool that turns out meatballs at the perfect diameter to cook the rice thoroughly.
To avoid meatballs that are too dense, try not to pack the meatballs too tightly. To avoid meatballs that are incredibly dry, make sure you don’t use a super lean ground meat. Fat helps to keep meat from drying out, so I like using 80/20 ground beef.
Betty Crocker’s porcupine meatballs use eggs and cereal to help them stick together—but I think this recipe does a darn good job of staying together on its own. No need for added binders.
Browning: The original recipe calls for you to brown the meatballs before adding them to the sauce. When my mom started making these meatballs, many decades ago, she says that she followed the recipe exactly and browned them, just as instructed. Somewhere along the way she found that she could skip the browning step and make her prep time quicker and easier—plus, skipping the browning meant that there wasn’t any splatter over the cooktop, and left her with less to clean up. I follow my mom’s lead and skip the browning.
If you choose to skip the browning, here’s something you need to be aware of: the fat from the meatballs doesn’t get drained off. Instead, it sticks around in the sauce. Frankly, I consider that a good thing—that little bit of fat adds a whole lot of delicious flavor and makes this recipe even better in my opinion.
If you’re really concerned about the fat content of your sauce, consider using a leaner ground beef.
Rice: If you want to use uncooked long grain white rice in your meatballs, here are a few tips to help ensure the rice gets cooked all the way through the center of the meatball:
- Make sure you keep the skillet tightly covered while the meatballs are cooking. This will help ensure all the available heat is being used to cook the rice.
- Once the sauce has been brought to a boil, reduce the heat to its lowest setting, cover tightly, and cook until the rice in the center of the meatballs is soft and tender. The first few times you make this recipe, you’ll want to cut a meatball in half and check on the rice.
- Remember that every cooktop cooks at slightly different temperatures. On my cooktop it takes about 45 minutes of simmering to completely cook through.
- Don’t form your meatballs too big! This recipe should produce about 20 meatballs.
You can simplify the whole rice issue by making these meatbhalls with Minute Rice (instant rice).
Soup: In many recipes for porcupine meatballs, tomato soup is a key ingredient in the sauce. However, I love porcupine meatballs with cream of mushroom soup and a little dill instead of the tomato soup. I find that it’s heartier, and more flavorful. Then I top it with 2 cans of Rotel tomatoes with the juice, which eliminates the need for water.
Toppings: My mother’s original recipe never included covering the porcupine meatballs with shredded cheese. But my family has come to love serving these wonderful meatballs with a healthy topping of delicious melted cheese. I photographed the meatballs without the cheese soyou could see the fun texture of them.
I also garnish the meatballs with a sprinkle of fresh parsley. I find that a little bit of fresh herbs makes everything prettier and more appetizing.
Baked Porcupine Meatballs: If you want to use your oven for this recipe, here’s how:
- Place meatballs in a square baking dish, 8x8x2 inches.
- Mix remaining ingredients, and pour sauce over the meatballs.
- Cover and cook at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes.
- Uncover and cook 15 more minutes.
Pressure Cooker: When preparing your porcupine meatballs, pressure cookers should be avoided. They do not work well for this recipe—slow cookers, however, or even your oven will work just fine!
- Yield: Serves 4
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 30-40 minutes
- Ground Beef - 1 Pound
- White Rice-Uncooked - 1/2 Cup
- Ketchup - 1/4 Cup
- Onion, Finely Chopped - 1/3 Cup
- Large Egg, Lightly Beaten - 1
- Celery Salt - 1/4 Teaspoon
- Salt - 1 Teaspoon
- Black Pepper - 1/4 Teaspoon
- Dried Italian Seasoning - 1 Teaspoon
- Garlic Powder - 1/2 Teaspoon
- Condensed Cream of Tomato Soup - 1 Can
- Worcestershire Sauce - 2 Teaspoons
- Water - 1 Cup
- Cheddar Cheese, Shredded - 1 1/2 Cups
- Flat Leaf Parsley, Chopped - 1-2 Tablespoon
- In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients for the meatballs and mix together well wit clean hands.
- Roll into 20, 1 1/2 inch meatballs. Place meatballs in a large skillet.
- In a small mixing bowl, combine the ingredients for the sauce. Pour into skillet over meatballs. Bring sauce to a boil over medium heat and reduce heat and gently simmer for 15 minutes, covered. Very gingerly turn meatballs and continue to cook 25 minutes longer, or until meat and rice are cooked through.