Hawaiian meatballs from scratch is an easy recipe for homemade meatballs baked in the oven.  The sweet and tangy sauce has pineapple, apricot jam, apple cider vinegar and spices and is thickened on the stove top, poured over the meatballs, then kept warm in a crock pot.  Serve for a crowd as an appetizer or over rice as a main course.

Prep Time: 40 minutes
person holding a Hawaiian meatball on a fork

Hawaiian Meatballs from Scratch

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This recipe was originally published on November 10, 2017.

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.  The meatballs feature water chestnuts that provide a satisfying crunch in each bite and are coated with a sweet and tangy sauce.

Keep reading to find out more tips and tricks about making the best, juicy homemade meatballs.

bowl of Hawaiian meatballs with forks

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Why make meatballs from scratch?

  • It allows you to control ingredients by using better quality ingredients than frozen meatballs.
  • You can adjust the size of the meatballs 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 the meatballs 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?

  • 1/2 cup mashed potatoes
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons of ground flax seed

person holding a bowl of Hawaiian meatballs

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 for the Hawaiian meatballs?

  • 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 meatballs?

Use wet hands or lightly grease them with oil, so the meat doesn’t stick to your hands.

What size should my meatballs be for Hawaiian meatballs?

If you want to make medium sized meatballs, shape them to be 1 1/2 inches in diameter, or around golf ball size.

How to Help Meatballs Keep Their Shape

Chill for 1 hour on a tray before cooking. 

Is it better to fry or bake meatballs?

  • Frying in a skillet is faster if you have a small number of meatballs. You’ll need to cook them in batches if you have a lot of meatballs. 
  • 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 of meatballs.

bowl of Hawaiian meatballs with a fork

Can you put raw meatballs in a crock pot?

Technically you can, but I wouldn’t recommend it.  Broil the meatballs on a baking tray for 8 to 10 minutes first then place in the crock pot.  This step will help the meatballs hold their shape while cooking and will prevent the meatballs from sticking together. 

How do I know if my meatballs are cooked?

  • Use an instant read thermometer is the best way.  It should read 160 F when the meatballs 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 my meatballs 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 for meatballs?

A typical serving size would be 3 meatballs for an appetizer, and 10 to 12 for a main course.

How can I serve Hawaiian meatballs?

  • 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 if you want to serve Hawaiian meatballs as a main course?

  • Fresh pineapple chunks
  • Red bell pepper
  • Red onion

person holding a Hawaiian meatball on a fork

How to Freeze Homemade Meatballs

  • 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 Hawaiian meatballs be made ahead?

Yes, prepare and bake meatballs ahead of time.  The meatballs and the sauce thaws and reheats beautifully.

What does the sauce for Hawaiian meatballs taste like?

This sauce 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 for Hawaiian meatballs?

This sauce is thickened with a slurry of cornstarch and water.

How to Make Hawaiian Meatballs from Scratch

Gather all the ingredients.  You’ll need ground beef, an egg, butter, minced garlic, water chestnuts, soy sauce, brown sugar, and spices.

ingredients for the Hawaiian meatballs

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.

sauteing garlic in a small skillet

Place the ground beef, garlic, water chestnuts, brown sugar, egg, soy sauce, and spices in a mixing bowl.

person holding a bowl of soy sauce

Mix the meatball ingredients together with your hands.

person mixing the meatball mixture with her hands

Wet your hands, then roll the meat mixture into meatballs about 1 1/2 inches in diameter.  Place the meatballs 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.

raw Hawaiian meatballs on a cookie sheet

Place the cooked meatballs on a paper towel lined tray to absorb any excess grease from the ground beef.  The meatballs will reduce in size once cooked.

baked Hawaiian meatballs on paper towels

To make the Hawaiian apricot sauce, gather the ingredients: apricot jam, pureed pineapple, apple cider vinegar, sugar, spices, and cornstarch.

ingredients for the apricot sauce

Put all the ingredients, except the cornstarch, into a small saucepan, then mix together with a spoon.  Heat up the sauce over medium heat.

apricot sauce ingredients in a small pot

Whisk together the cornstarch and water to make a slurry.

whisking a cornstarch slurry in a bowl

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.

whisking the apricot sauce in a small pot

Pour half the sauce over the cooked meatballs.  Pour the other half of the sauce into a bowl to use for another use.  This sauce also 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.

pouring apricot sauce onto Hawaiian meatballs

Pro Tips for Making Hawaiian Meatballs

  • Have some picky eaters?  Serve the apricot sauce separately.
  • Using these for an appetizer?  Mix the meatballs with the sauce and keep them warm in a crockpot with toothpicks nearby.
  • Need to make in advance?  Make the meatballs in advance, then freeze and thaw for the day of your party.
  • Need this as a main course?  Serve the meatballs 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 to the meatballs?  Try cheese, cooked rice, grains, or crushed nuts.
  • Want this meatless?  Use canned chick peas, mushrooms, or brown lentils.

Our Go-To Kitchen Tools for Hawaiian Meatballs

Your family and friends will love these other amazing appetizers.

dipping one of the cheesy sausage balls in honey mustard person holding a bread bowl filled with dip white bowl of cowboy caviar

The pleasure of a 5-star review for these Hawaiian meatballs would be greatly appreciated.

person holding a Hawaiian meatball on a fork

Hawaiian Meatballs from Scratch

  • Author: Brooke
  • Prep Time: 40 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour
  • Yield: 45 medium meatballs 1x


Hawaiian meatballs from scratch is an easy recipe for homemade meatballs baked in the oven.  The sweet and tangy sauce has pineapple, apricot jam, apple cider vinegar and spices and is thickened on the stove top, poured over the meatballs, then kept warm in a crock pot.  Serve for a crowd as an appetizer or over rice as a main course.



For the Meatballs

  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons salted butter (9g)
  • 2 pounds lean ground beef (90% meat, 10% fat; 907g)
  • 8 ounces water chestnuts, minced (226g)
  • 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce (60 ml)
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar (12g)
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)

For the Apricot Sauce

  • 2/3 cup apricot jam (218g)
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar (80 ml)
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar (66g)
  • 1/2 cup pineapple, pureed (120 ml)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch (10g)


Making the Meatballs

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 F.  Spray a rimmed cookie sheet with oil, or line it with aluminum foil for easy clean up.
  2. Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium-high heat, than saute the garlic until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Serve both the sauce and meatballs warm.


  • This recipe makes 45 medium meatballs or 80 mini meatballs.
  • The pleasure of a 5-star review for these Hawaiian meatballs would be greatly appreciated.
  • 👩🏻‍🍳 Want to see our latest recipes?  Subscribe to our email newsletter to get our latest recipes, fun food facts, food puns, and behind the scenes news about our blog.
  • Category: Appetizer
  • Method: Baked
  • Cuisine: American

Keywords: tangy hawaiian meatballs, polynesian meatballs, hawaiian meatballs from scratch

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4 thoughts on “Hawaiian Meatballs from Scratch

  1. I love the crunch of the water chestnuts, the softness of the meat, and the delicious garlic! I love the sweet and tangy apricot sauce; I can taste the apricot. Yum yum!

  2. These meatballs are amazing when they are hot, and the water chestnuts add a delightful crunch. The sauce is exceptionally tasty!

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