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These old-fashioned porcupine meatballs are a retro classic that will soon become a favorite for your family, too! The tender, oven baked meatballs are made with ground beef, rice, onion, and seasoning and cooked in a sweet tomato sauce. Serve them with rice, noodles, biscuits, or cornbread for an easy dinner that’s ready with just 10 minutes of hands-on prep!

Close overhead image of a pan of porcupine meatballs with a serving spoon

Porcupine Meatballs Recipe

Porcupine meatballs originated during the Great Depression, when rice was affordable and readily available, but meat was pricey. By adding rice to a classic meatball recipe, home cooks could bulk up the meal and stretch a small amount of beef a little bit further. They get their name because the little pieces of rice stick out of the meatballs like porcupine quills!

Since you don’t even have to cook the rice in advance, these tender baked meatballs are delicious, simple, and quick to prepare. A great family-friendly option if you’ve got picky eaters at home, too!

Hands eating a bowl of porcupine meatballs.

How do you keep porcupine meatballs from falling apart?

Add a binder (such as the egg and rice here) to help hold the meat mixture together.

What is the secret to making tender meatballs?

Do not overwork the meat mixture. Use a fork or your hands to gently combine the ingredients. The more gentle you can be, the more light and tender your meatballs will stay. Also, keep the ingredients cold. This prevents the fat from melting and breaking down before you cook them, so you end up with perfectly moist, flavorful meatballs.

Mixing porcupine meatball ingredients in a white bowl

Ingredients

This is just a quick overview of the ingredients that you’ll need for a pan of porcupine meatballs. As always, specific measurements and step-by-step cooking instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • Ground beef: I use 93% lean meat, which prevents too much excess grease in the pan. A “meatloaf mix,” which is a combination of ground beef, ground pork, and ground veal, will also work. Ground turkey, ground chicken, or Italian sausage are also nice options.
  • Long grain white rice: you do not need to cook the rice before adding it to the meatballs. Instead, the rice bakes in the oven with the meat!
  • Egg: gives the meatballs structure.
  • Onion: adds moisture and flavor to the meat mixture. Make sure to grate it or mince it very finely so that you don’t have any big chunks of onion to bite into. Yellow onion, white onion, sweet onion, any of them will work!
  • Parsley: for fresh, bright flavor.
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper: enhance the other flavors in the dish.
  • Condensed tomato soup, plus water: the sauce that the meatballs bake in. The soup has a delicious sweet flavor that pairs so nicely with the savory meatballs.
Pouring tomato soup mixture over meatballs

How to Make Porcupine Meatballs in the Oven

These meatballs are a quick-prep dinner because you don’t have to worry about browning them in batches on the stovetop, and you don’t have to sauté the ingredients in olive oil before mixing everything together. Instead, it takes about 10 minutes to assemble the dish and then the oven does the work!

  1. Combine the ground beef, uncooked rice, egg, onion, parsley, salt, and pepper in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Shape the meat mixture into 1-inch balls (I use a dough scoop to make this process uniform and fast).
  3. For the tomato sauce, simply whisk together a can of condensed tomato soup with a can of water.
  4. Pour the tomato sauce over the meatballs and cover with foil or with a tight-fitting lid.
  5. Bake the meatballs, covered, in a 350°F oven for 30 minutes. Remove the cover and continue baking for an additional 30 minutes. At this point, the meatballs should be cooked through and the rice inside the meatballs should be tender. If the rice is still crunchy, cover loosely with foil and return to the oven for another 5-10 minutes (or until rice is done).
Square overhead shot of a white skillet full of porcupine meatballs

What to Serve with Porcupine Meatballs

These versatile meatballs pair nicely with just about any sides. Here are some good options:

Hands holding a bowl of porcupine meatballs on a dinner table

Make Ahead

You can shape the meatballs, cover, and store in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. When you need a quick dinner, just pull them out, add the tomato soup and water mixture, and bake! You can also freeze the raw meatballs to enjoy them at a later date (see the freezing instructions below).

Square side shot of a bowl of porcupine meatballs and rice on a dinner table

Storage

Leftover porcupine meatballs will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days. Reheat on the stovetop over low heat or in the microwave, just until warmed through. If the meatballs seem dry, you might need to add an extra can of tomato soup, or even a jar of marinara sauce.

Horizontal overhead shot of porcupine meatballs in a white pan on a wooden table

How to Freeze Porcupine Meatballs

You can freeze the meatballs before or after cooking. To freeze raw meatballs that you’ll bake later, arrange the raw meatballs on a baking sheet, freeze until solid, and then transfer to a large Ziploc freezer bag. Freezing them on the baking sheet first will prevent the meatballs from sticking together or falling apart. Wait to add the tomato soup sauce until just before baking.

To freeze cooked meatballs, bake in the oven as instructed, cool to room temperature, and then freeze the meatballs and sauce in an airtight container or Ziploc freezer bag for up to 3 months.

Porcupine meatballs and rice in a bowl garnished with fresh herbs

Recipe Variations

  • In lieu of the ground beef, substitute with ground turkey, ground chicken, ground pork, Italian sausage, or a “meatloaf mixture” (a combination of ground beef, pork, and veal).
  • Add a couple teaspoons Worcestershire sauce to the meatball mixture for a bit of salty, umami flavor.
  • Add more flavor with more herbs. Use fresh herbs when available, and include any of your favorites. Basil would also be a nice addition! A teaspoon garlic powder or grated garlic cloves are also great here.
  • Include some crushed red pepper flakes for spicy meatballs.
  • Double the Recipe. Using 1 lb. of meat yields about 18 meatballs. If you’d like to prepare a larger batch to feed a group or to save leftovers in the freezer for another meal, just double all of the ingredients. Bake the meatballs in a 13 x 9-inch baking dish.
Close up side shot of a bowl of porcupine meatballs on a wooden dinner table

Tips for the Best Porcupine Meatball Recipe

  • I like 93% lean ground beef, which is a nice balance of fat to keep the meatballs juicy without leaving too much grease in the baking dish.
  • This recipe is designed for and tested with long grain white rice. Brown rice, instant rice, and other varieties of rice will require very different cooking times, so they are not equal substitutes.
  • Combine the meatball mixture with your hands or with a fork — not with a wooden spoon. The more gentle you can be, the more light and tender your meatballs will stay. Don’t overmix, or you’ll end up with tough, dense, and dry meatballs.
  • A cookie dough scoop helps form even meatballs that cook in about the same amount of time. Scoop, roll gently in your hands, and then bake.
  • There is not a lot of sauce in the pan with these meatballs. If you prefer a “saucier” dish, use two cans of soup (and twice as much water). Alternatively, add a jar of marinara sauce to the pan with the tomato soup mixture.
Overhead shot of a white pan of porcupine meatballs

More Meatball Recipes to Try

Square overhead featured image of porcupine meatballs in a white baking dish

Porcupine Meatballs

5 from 6 votes
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 1 hour
0 minutes
Total: 1 hour 10 minutes
Servings 4 – 6 people (18 meatballs total)
Calories 208.7 kcal
You only need 10 minutes of prep for these easy old-fashioned porcupine meatballs!

Ingredients
  

  • 1 lb. ground beef (I used 93% lean)
  • ½ cup uncooked long grain white rice
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • ¼ cup grated or finely minced onion
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley (or 2 teaspoons dried parsley flakes)
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 (10.75 oz) can condensed tomato soup, not diluted
  • 1 soup can of water

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 2-quart baking dish with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.
  • In a large bowl, combine ground beef, uncooked rice, egg, onion, parsley, salt, and pepper. Shape into 1-inch balls.
  • Place the meatballs in the prepared baking dish.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together tomato soup and water. Pour soup mixture over the meatballs.
  • Cover and bake for 30 minutes.
  • Remove cover and continue baking for 30 more minutes. At this point, the meatballs should be cooked through and the rice inside the meatballs should be tender. If the rice is still crunchy, cover loosely with foil and return to the oven for another 5-10 minutes (or until rice is done).

Notes

  • There is not a lot of sauce in the pan with these meatballs. If you prefer a “saucier” dish, use two cans of soup (and twice as much water). Alternatively, add a jar of marinara sauce to the pan with the tomato soup mixture.
  • I like 93% lean ground beef, which is a nice balance of fat to keep the meatballs juicy without leaving too much grease in the baking dish.
  • This recipe is designed for and tested with long grain white rice. Brown rice, instant rice, and other varieties of rice will require very different cooking times, so they are not equal substitutes.
  • Combine the meatball mixture with your hands or with a fork — not with a wooden spoon. The more gentle you can be, the more light and tender your meatballs will stay. Don’t overmix, or you’ll end up with tough, dense, and dry meatballs.
  • A cookie dough scoop helps form even meatballs that cook in about the same amount of time. Scoop, roll gently in your hands, and then bake.
  • In lieu of the ground beef, substitute with ground turkey, ground chicken, ground pork, Italian sausage, or a “meatloaf mixture” (a combination of ground beef, pork, and veal).
  • Add a couple teaspoons Worcestershire sauce to the meatball mixture for a bit of salty, umami flavor.
  • Add more flavor with more herbs. Use fresh herbs when available, and include any of your favorites. Basil would also be a nice addition! A teaspoon garlic powder or grated garlic cloves are also great here.
  • Include some crushed red pepper flakes for spicy meatballs.
  • Double the Recipe. Using 1 lb. of meat yields about 18 meatballs. If you’d like to prepare a larger batch to feed a group or to save leftovers in the freezer for another meal, just double all of the ingredients. Bake the meatballs in a 13 x 9-inch baking dish.

Nutrition

Serving: 3meatballs with sauceCalories: 208.7kcalCarbohydrates: 19.4gProtein: 17.6gFat: 6.8gSaturated Fat: 2.5gPolyunsaturated Fat: 0.4gMonounsaturated Fat: 0.3gCholesterol: 77.7mgSodium: 530.2mgPotassium: 313.7mgFiber: 0.5gSugar: 4.5g
Keyword: porcupine meatball recipe, porcupine meatballs, porcupine meatballs in the oven
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: American
Author: Blair Lonergan

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. I may earn a small commission for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial, and/or link to any products or services from this website. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

This recipe was originally published in January, 2020. The photos were updated in August, 2022.

blair

Hey, I’m Blair!

Welcome to my farmhouse kitchen in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by local traditions and seasonal fare, you’ll find plenty of easy, comforting recipes that bring your family together around the table. It’s down-home, country-style cooking!

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Comments

  1. 5 stars
    These are an old family favorite that my Greek grandmothers passed down to us. The only difference is is that we use greek egg lemon soup for the sauce and often make the soup and add the meatballs to it! It’s a cozy winter soup with a great protein punch from the meat and the eggs! You could probably substitute cream of mushroom, chicken or celery soup for a different flavor combo.

    1. My husband used to make these before he got dementia. He uses tomato sauce on his and cooks them on the stove. They were so good. He used to make them huge. It was the only thing we had.

        1. Sure! You might want to thin the soup with milk instead of water, but that’s totally up to you. Sometimes the cream of mushroom soup is a bit thicker than the tomato soup, so you might need more liquid to thin it to a sauce-like consistency as well.

    2. I’m 65 and my kids still request these. My mom made them for us growing up. We don’t use tomato soup, we just cover them with tomato juice.and made them no less that 2”. Perfect.

  2. 5 stars
    Too funny, this recipe has been in my repertoire for years! My parents and grandparents did a lot of stuffed cabbage/perrpers when I was young. I adapted that to porcupine meateballs, and have never heard anyone else call them that! I’m rating this recipe a five star, because it is almost my exact recipe!

  3. 5 stars
    I’ve made these for years. What I do differently, though, is to leave the rice out of the meat mixture. Make meatballs, then roll them in the uncooked rice, & proceed with your recipe. This way the rice on the outside of the meatballs makes them Porcupines.

    1. Wow, I’ve never thought of doing it that way, but I’m sure it works great. It’s funny how so many families have their own versions of the similar dish. Thanks, Pam!

  4. 5 stars
    My mother made this when I was a child, it was a favorite meal of mine. So I was so pleased to see this recipe since I hadn’t thought of it in years! I made mine with turkey but it was just as delicious as I remember. Thanks for a great recipe and bringing back great memories!

    1. That’s awesome, Kristen! I’m so glad that it brought back good memories from your childhood — those are always the best, coziest meals! 🙂

  5. My recipe is very similar, except I bake the meatballs (covered) for 45 minutes, and then, uncovered for 15 minutes. I have made these for decades, but recently, the rice is coming out crunchy. I don’t know what I’m doing differently. Any ideas?

    1. Hi, Donna! I’m not sure, but it sounds like the rice just isn’t cooked through and needs a bit more time in the oven. I would try baking your meatballs a bit longer. 🙂

  6. 5 stars
    I found this when googling for a recipe that sounded like what my, long time ago, ex boyfriend’s Mom used to make that I could never forget. I remember her putting roughly sliced green pepper in the sauce part of the mixture before baking, but your recipe was otherwise a match. I followed your recipe- subbed turkey for beef and used Italian seasoning because I’m out of parsley. Also added some worshtershire (sp??) sauce and garlic powder to the meatball mix. Sooo delicious! Thank you!

    1. That’s wonderful, Rachel! I’m so glad that you were able to enjoy an old favorite again. 🙂 Thanks for your note!

    2. We make ours just like these except with green pepper rings sliced over the top also. It gives the sauce such a great flavor. Love porcupines with mashed potatoes.

  7. Wow
    I thought I was the only one that knew what porcupine meatballs were. None of my friends ever heard or had them until me. Brings back memories of mom making us a big batch during hard times. Only difference is she did not put in eggs. Don’t know how she kept them together but she did. They were yummy. Thanks for the memory of all my sisters (6) fighting for the last one. Usually mom or dad won except when Charlie our lab decided he was the winner.
    By chance do you have a recipe for a casserole called the “Autumn Dish”?

    1. That’s a great memory, Diane. I’m so glad that you remember this dish, too. Unfortunately I don’t have a recipe for Autumn Dish. If you explain it to me maybe I can come up with something similar or find it online?

      1. This dish was made by Gram for the Dime a Dish Church suppers and only for the autumn season. I can’t remember the exact ratios but the ingredients were:
        Sliced
        Potatoes
        Onions
        Bacon for layering
        Kidney beans
        Tomato Soup
        It was done casserole style in the oven
        It was layered like lasagna
        I have tried but it lacks something doesn’t come out the same. Something is missing. Thanks for any help you could give.

          1. Never seen it written down anywhere. Looks like it could be exactly what Gram called the Autumn Dish. Thanks to you i have the exact ingredients and measurements. Going to try it and will let you know how it turns out. Perhaps Gram made up the name. lol. She never really wrote out her recipes. Her recipes were scribbled on scraps of papers or envelopes and placed in an old cigar box. She claimed they were all in her head. No need to write them down. Many had no names, or exacts on measurements or ingredients. Thanks again. Will let you know how it works out. Try it without the meat it is a filling dish. Goes great with biscuits on the side.

          2. Perfect! I hope it brings back good memories of your grandmother. Those are always the best meals!