These Asian meatballs are a hit everywhere – parties, potlucks, or large family gatherings. Conveniently, they can be cooked by baking, braising, pan-frying or slow cooking. I like them best when they are slowly braised or cooked in a slow cooker. Baked meatballs are good but slow cooked ones are just more succulent and more tender. It takes longer to cook them in a slow cooker but it’s totally worth it. Besides, a slow cooker makes it very easy to keep the meatballs warm.
Traditionally, Asian meatball recipes use hoisin sauce, soy sauce and rice vinegar as the base for the sauce. This is a great combination, but it can be even better. Try substituting rice vinegar for garlic chili sauce. It adds a ton of flavor and a zing to meatballs.
Alternative meatball cooking options
Heat two tablespoons of cooking oil in a large braiser or a dutch oven. Brown the meatballs, then add the sauce and the chestnut mix and bring the liquid to a simmer. Transfer to the oven pre-heated to 300F and braise covered for at least 2 hours and up to 4-6 hours.
Place the meatballs in a large baking dish, mixed with the chestnut mix and the sauce. Bake at 425F for 18-20 minutes or until the meatballs are cooked through.
Heat two tablespoons of cooking oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, or until brown on all sides. Add the sauce and the chestnut mix and stir will. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 25 minutes or until the meatballs are cooked though.
Do you need to use breadcrumbs to make meatballs?
No, you don’t need to use breadcrumbs or bread in this recipe. Soaked in a little milk, they are often mixed into the meat to help add moisture to the meatballs and also prevent the meat from shrinking and becoming tough.
However, adding a fair amount of chopped onions is just another way to achieve that. In this recipe, the egg is used as a binder and the onions are added to make the meatballs plump and juicy. Onions also add a ton of flavor unlike plain bread or breadcrumbs.
Using chopped onions has another benefit. Unlike milk-soaked bread, they don’t make the meat mixture soft and soggy. This helps the meatballs keep their shape in the slow cooker.
Hoisin sauce is delicious but some people may find it a little too sweet. If you want less sweetness, try other Asian sauces that can be commonly found at a local supermarket. One of my favorite ones is this Sesame Garlic Sauce from Wegmans. I find it very tasty, with a lot of Asian flavors yet less sweet compared to hoisin sauce. If you can’t find it, I am sure you will be able to find something similar.
Asian meatballs recipe
Meatball ingredients (see notes)
- 2 lbs ground beef (also can use pork, or beef/pork combination)
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp white pepper
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 egg
- 1 cup yellow onion (finely chopped)
- 1 Tbsp chopped parsley (or Thai basil, regular basil, cilantro, etc.)
Asian sauce ingredients
- 1 cup water chestnuts (finely chopped)
- 1/2 cup green onions (thinly sliced)
- 2 garlic cloves (pressed)
- 1 tsp ginger
- 1 cup hoisin sauce (or plum sauce)
- 1/4 cup garlic chili sauce (or to taste, see notes)
- 3 Tbsp low sodium soy sauce
- In a large bowl, combine the ground beef with the rest of the meatball ingredients.
- Mix the meat mixture until all ingredients are incorporated.
- Shape into 1 1/2" balls, ending up with about 20 meatballs.
- In a small bowl, combine the water chestnuts, green onions, garlic and ginger in a bow and mix well.
- In a separate bowl, mix the hoisin sauce, garlic chili sauce and soy sauce.
- Layer the meatballs, water chestnut mixture and sauce mixture alternately in a slow cooker until all of the ingredients are used.
- Cook on High for 2 hours (Low for 4-6 hours) stirring occasionally to ensure even cooking.
- Reduce the heat to low and serve when ready. Sprinkle with sliced green onions and sesame seeds if desired and use the pot juices as a dipping sauce.