If you are looking for a crowd-pleasing appetizer to serve at your next party, your search has just ended! These Hawaiian meatballs are made from scratch and are so simple to make. They feature water chestnuts that provide a satisfying crunch in each bite and are coated with a sweet and tangy sauce.
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Why make meatballs from scratch?
- It allows you to control ingredients by using better quality ingredients than frozen.
- You can adjust the size to your preference: small, medium, or large.
What are the basics to homemade meatballs?
- Ground meat: ground beef, pork, turkey, chicken, Italian sausage
- Binders: hold it together
- Seasonings: dried or fresh herbs, or nutritional yeast
- Liquid flavor boosters: soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Hoisin sauce, or chili sauce
Why use a binder?
- Stretches the meat.
- Lightens the meatball.
- Provides additional flavor.
What can I use as a binder?
Eggs, breadcrumbs, crushed crackers, shredded cheese, oatmeal, avocado, and chia seeds are good choices for binders.
What can I use to bind meatballs instead of eggs?
- ½ cup mashed potatoes
- 2 ½ tablespoons of ground flax seed
Should a dry binder be soaked in liquid first?
Yes, if you are using a dry binder like fresh breadcrumbs, soak it in milk or water first.
What other spices can I use?
- Ground ginger or minced ginger root
- To add heat: pinch of cayenne, crushed red pepper flakes, jalapeño powder, or hot sauce
What are some tips for shaping?
Use wet hands or lightly grease them with oil, so the meat doesn’t stick to your hands.
What size should my meatballs be?
If you want to make them medium sized, shape them to be 1 ½ inches in diameter, or around golf ball size.
What can I do to help them keep their shape?
Chill for 1 hour on a tray before cooking.
Is it better to fry or bake?
- Frying in a skillet is faster if you have a small number. You’ll need to cook them in batches if you have a lot.
- Baking in the oven is easier, and adds less calories, as there is no oil needed as in frying. It is also faster if you have a lot.
Can you put raw meatballs in a crock pot?
Technically you can, but I wouldn't recommend it. Broil them on a baking tray for 8 to 10 minutes first then place in the crock pot. This step will help them hold their shape while cooking and will prevent them from sticking together.
How do I know if they are cooked?
- Use an instant read thermometer is the best way. It should read 160 F when they are done.
- If you don't own a thermometer, cut one meatball in half and check to see if it's cooked through.
Why are they tough?
- Meat was too lean.
- Overmixed the meat mixture.
- Didn't use a binder.
- Didn't use milk or water to moisten a dry binder.
What is a serving size?
A typical serving size would be 3 for an appetizer, and 10 to 12 for a main course.
How can I serve this recipe?
- Over rice, egg noodles, or quinoa for a weeknight main course.
- As an appetizer with toothpicks at a party.
- On a hoagie roll, lettuce wrap, or on a slider bun for lunch time.
What are other add-ins when serving as a main course?
- Fresh pineapple chunks
- Red bell pepper
- Red onion
How can I freeze this recipe?
- Cook, cool, then place on baking sheet.
- Flash freeze for two hours, then repack in a freezer bag or freezer friendly airtight container.
- Freeze for up to 2 months.
How many meatballs does one pound of ground beef make?
One pound of ground beef will make roughly 24 medium meatballs.
Can this be made ahead?
Yes, prepare and bake them ahead of time. The meatballs and the sauce thaw and reheats beautifully.
What does the sauce taste like?
This is mild and has a sweet, tangy, and fruity flavor. Feel free to add some heat for a bit of a kick by adding a pinch of cayenne pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, or hot sauce.
How do you thicken the sauce?
This is thickened with a slurry of cornstarch and water.
How to Make
Gather all the ingredients. You'll need ground beef, an egg, butter, minced garlic, water chestnuts, soy sauce, brown sugar, and spices.
Melt the butter over medium heat, then sauté the garlic for 1 minute, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until it's fragrant and golden.
Place the ground beef, garlic, water chestnuts, brown sugar, egg, soy sauce, and spices in a mixing bowl.
Mix the meatball ingredients together with your hands.
Wet your hands, then roll the meat mixture into meatballs about 1 ½ inches in diameter. Place them on a baking tray and bake in the oven at 375 F for 20 minutes. They should be browned and have an internal temperature of 160 F.
Place the cooked ones on a paper towel lined tray to absorb any excess grease from the ground beef. They will reduce in size once cooked.
To make the Hawaiian apricot sauce, gather the ingredients: apricot jam, pureed pineapple, apple cider vinegar, sugar, spices, and cornstarch.
Put all the ingredients, except the cornstarch, into a small saucepan, then mix together with a spoon. Heat it up over medium heat.
Whisk together the cornstarch and water to make a slurry.
Pour the slurry into the warm Hawaiian sauce, then whisk until it is well combined over medium heat. Bring to a boil, then simmer until thickened, whisking constantly.
Pour half of it over the cooked meatballs. Pour the other half into a bowl to use for another use. This freezes very well.
Place the meatballs and sauce in a small crock pot and place on the warm setting until ready to serve.
If serving as an appetizer, serve with toothpicks. If serving as a main course place on top of rice, and add red bell pepper, fresh pineapple chunks, and red onion.
- Need this as a main course? Serve over rice along with red bell pepper, pineapple chunks and red onion.
- Want other garnish ideas? Use green onions, sesame seeds, chopped cilantro, or chives.
- Want to add textured ingredients? Try cheese, cooked rice, grains, or crushed nuts.
- Want this meatless? Use canned chick peas, mushrooms, or brown lentils.
- Have some picky eaters? Serve the apricot sauce separately.
- Using these for an appetizer? Mix with the sauce and keep them warm in a crockpot with toothpicks nearby.
- Need to make in advance? Make in advance, then freeze and thaw for the day of your party.
- Wilton Cookie Sheets: these 11x17-inch trays have convenient handles and bake evenly.
- Bamboo Spoon: we like using this long-handled spoon for stirring sauteed veggies.
- Set of 3 Whisks: these durable stainless steel whisks don't bend out of shape easily.
- Bounty Paper Towels: these thick, strong, and absorbent paper towels are our favorite kind.
Your family and friends will love these other amazing appetizers.
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Hawaiian Meatballs from Scratch
For the Meatballs
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 2 teaspoons salted butter
- 2 pounds lean ground beef, 90% meat, 10% fat
- 8 ounces water chestnuts, minced
- ¼ cup low-sodium soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt, optional
For the Apricot Sauce
- ⅔ cup apricot jam
- ⅓ cup apple cider vinegar
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup pineapple, pureed
- 1 ½ teaspoons paprika
- ¼ teaspoon garlic salt
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
Making the Meatballs
- Preheat the oven to 375 F. Spray a rimmed cookie sheet with oil, or line it with aluminum foil for easy clean up.
- Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium-high heat, than saute the garlic until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Place the ground beef, sauteed garlic, water chestnuts, soy sauce, brown sugar, egg, and onion powder in a large bowl and mix together thoroughly with wet hands. Shape into small balls for appetizers or slightly larger than a golf ball for a main course.
- Space the meatballs close together on the prepared cookie sheet and bake uncovered at 375 F for 20 minutes, or until browned. Drain the meatballs on paper towels.
- Serve warm with apricot sauce poured over top. Keep the meatballs hot in a small crockpot set on warm, if desired.
Making the Apricot Sauce
- Place the apricot jam, apple cider vinegar, sugar, pureed pineapple, paprika, and garlic salt in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir well, then reduce the heat to medium.
- Make a slurry to thicken the sauce by mixing the cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of water until the cornstarch has dissolved. Pour the slurry into the sauce, whisking constantly.
- Bring the sauce to a boil, whisking constantly until the sauce has thickened. You'll feel a bit of resistance on the bottom of the saucepan as it begins to thicken. Taste and adjust seasonings, if desired.
- Pour half of the sauce over the meatballs, stirring gently to thoroughly coat each meatball. Pour the other half of the sauce in a serving bowl to use with cooked rice.
- Serve both the sauce and meatballs warm.
- This recipe makes 45 medium meatballs or 80 mini meatballs.
- Serve the apricot sauce separately, if you have picky eaters.
- For easy serving, keep them warm in a crockpot with toothpicks nearby.
- Need to make this way in advance? Flash freeze on a tray then place in zip top bag and freeze for up to 2 months, without the sauce.
This recipe was originally published on November 10, 2017 and was republished on September 27, 2019 with updated photos and content.