Of the thousands (and I mean thousands) of meatballs I have rolled, baked, fried and cooked over the years, I have always used a blend 80% fat ground chuck and ground pork for rich flavor. So —when my daughter challenged me to come up with a chicken version just as good as my popular beef and pork Italian meatballs, I must admit I was a little nervous.

While I had already scored a big thumb-up from family and readers with my flavor-packed chicken parmesan meatballs, could a simple Italian chicken meatball all on its own pack the same punch?

And then I remembered: sometimes a classic needs to be turned on its head. Or rolled that is.

Keys to a juicy chicken meatball

A flavorful and moist chicken meatball centers all a blend of the right ingredients and techniques. And a really, really good tomato sauce.

Finished bowl of chicken meatballs and parmesan with Italian red sauce with lacy napkin and spoon.
Big bowl of flavor thanks to dark meat chicken.
  • Ask your butcher to fresh grind chicken thighs for a really flavorful and tender chicken meatball.
  • Softly roll each meatball. My grandma Nina said that the key to making a great meatball was all about touch. Her technique of lightly rolling the meatballs by hand creates a pillowy meatball that welcomes the sauce and helps tenderize the meatball as it simmers.
  • Add water to the mix instead of milk. You’ll hear people using milk and bread to make a juicy meatball. A combo of warm water and blend of airy panko and seasoned bread crumbs does the trick.

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What you’ll need…ingredient spotlight

Here are the standout ingredients you might not have on hand for your grocery list. That way, you’ll be ready when the request for chicken meatballs comes.

And it will!

ingredients for ground chicken meatballs and tomato sauce.
All the ingredients you’ll need for juicy chicken meatballs.
  • Ground chicken thighs. I touched on this above. Most of the time, the ground chicken packages you’ll find in the grocery store are made of chicken breasts.
    • Chicken breasts are especially lean and when ground, they cook into small pieces that can dry out quickly. Being dark meat, chicken thighs are the perfect choice to create a really juicy meatball.
  • Seasoning blend. Ground chicken needs a lot of flavor and that comes from a seasoning mix of both fresh and dried garlic, and chicken-friendly herbs like:
    • Sage, oregano, thyme and nutmeg
  • Panko. Panko is runs solo to keep things light and crispy.

Italian chicken meatballs: step-by-step

Here’s what you’ll do:

white bowl of ground chicken thighs and unbeaten eggs with minced garlic on top.
Beat eggs in bowl of ground chicken. Add the garlic.
white bowl of panko and seasoning, herbs, eggs mixed in ground chicken.
Top with all the seasonings, panko and cheese.
white bowl of chicken meatball mix with bowls of salt, pepper and measuring spoons.
Mix together by hand until combined.
  1. Add ground chicken to a large bowl. Lightly beat eggs on the side with a fork.
  2. Mix in seasonings and herbs followed by panko and parmesan. Use your hands.


Mixing tip

For the a juicy chicken meatball, don’t use a food processor to mixer to mix your meatballs.

-Josie + Nina

white bowl of chicken meatball mix being mixed with water by hand.
Add in the warm water.
Sheet pan being filled with ground chicken thigh meatballs.
Use a medium cookie scoop or your hands to make meatballs.
uncooked sheet pan of chicken meatballs in rows.
Fill a sheet pan and bake for 10 minutes.
black lined Dutch oven with tomato sauce filled with chicken meatballs.
Simmer for 2 hours in sauce.
  1. Mix in warm water. This is the secret to a tender chicken meatball.
  2. Using a medium scoop or clean hands, lightly roll the balls, taking care not pressing too tightly or compacting them too much. Place on a prepared sheet pan.
  3. Bake the chicken meatballs for 10 minutes to get nice brown edges.
  4. Simmer on low for up to 2 hours covered by a batch of homemade tomato sauce until tender.

Pro tip

Don’t use a non stick pan to par bake the meatballs on. Use a stainless pan lightly sprayed with cooking spray. You want a nice brown exterior if possible.


Chicken meatball sauce options

In addition to the tomato sauce I have included below in the recipe, you can also use a jarred tomato sauce instead. I recommend Rao’s Marinara Sauce as a flavorful, premade spaghetti sauce.


Storage, reheating and freezing tips

Storage. Refrigerate any leftovers in an airtight, resealable container for up to 4 days.

Reheating. Heat leftovers in a saucepan over low heat with a lid, stirring occasionally, until warmed through. Or use a microwave and cover to heat in 1 minute increments until desired temperature is achieved.

Freeze. You can freeze chicken meatballs in an airtight container or freezer safe bag for up to 3 months. Defrost completely before reheating on the stove or microwave until warmed through.

All the best meatball recipes

Get ready to rock and roll:


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Finished bowl of chicken meatballs and parmesan with Italian red sauce with lacy napkin and spoon.
5 from 1 vote

Juicy Ground Chicken Italian Meatballs

You might hear ground chicken with meatballs and think: bland. boring. dry. Nope! This recipe makes a juicy Italian chicken meatball using ground chicken thighs. And a few cooking techniques that will have even the most die-hard meat lovers in your life asking for second helpings!
Prep Time:20 minutes
Cook Time:10 minutes
Simmer time:2 hours
Total Time:1 hour 30 minutes
Servings 48 meatballs

Ingredients
 

For the meatballs

One Batch Grandma's Tomato Sauce

Instructions

For the meatballs

  • Preheat the oven to 400˚.
  • Spray a half sheet pan with cooking spray and set aside.
  • To a large mixing bowl and using clean hands, add the ground chicken.
    Break the eggs into the side of the bowl and use a fork to lightly beat them. Add in all the seasoning and using your hands, lightly work the eggs into meat until incorporated.
    Sprinkle in the panko followed by the parmesan and mix again until blended. Be gentle and take your time.
  • Pour in the warm water and while it'll look like it'll never mix into the meat, trust me, it will! Gently mix. The meat will seem loose but as it sits a bit, it will set up.
  • Use your hands or a medium scoop to make meatballs. Gently roll them but don't pack super tight. Repeat filling the sheet pan.
    TIP: Keep a bowl of water to dip your scoop or hands to keep the meat from sticking.
  • Bake the meatballs for 10 minutes. While they're baking, prepare the sauce.

For the sauce (can use premade sauce too)

  • Sauté onion in oil. After 5 minutes, add in garlic and tomato paste.
  • Add 1/2 tsp salt, a little pepper and caramelize paste in herbs for about 2 minutes stirring the whole time. Add in tomatoes and water. Add fresh basil and follow recipe for meatballs.

Simmer meatballs

  • Drop meatballs in sauce and simmer on low for 2 hours

Notes

  • Ask your butcher to fresh grind chicken thighs for you. The packages at the store are typically ground white meat unless marked otherwise.
  • Don’t use a non stick pan to par bake the meatballs on. Use a stainless pan lightly sprayed with cooking spray. You want a nice brown exterior if possible.
Course: Appetizer, Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Author: Lori Murphy
Did you make this recipe? Tag @josieandnina or tag #josieandnina!
5 from 1 vote

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2 Comments

  1. Great! They were out of ground turkey at Earth Fare so I got ground chicken. I was worried about dry meatballs, but you were correct! It worked out GREAT! Thanks so much! Love your site!5 stars

    1. Marie, this is so lovely! Thank you so much and I’m so happy you enjoyed the chicken meatballs (they’re my family’s fav too). Please reach out anytime with any questions or ideas – I love hearing from readers!😊