Easy, Old-Fashioned Porcupine Meatballs

updated Jun 20, 2021
Porcupine Meatballs

These retro beef meatballs are made with uncooked rice, which cooks as the meatballs bake in the oven. The result is a saucy, satisfying weeknight dinner.

Serves4 to 6

Prep20 minutes

Cook50 minutes to 55 minutes

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Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Have you heard of porcupine meatballs? They’re an old-school dish that are ready for a comeback. (You heard it here first!) Despite their rather funny name, porcupine meatballs are just beef meatballs made with white rice that get slowly cooked in a simple tomato sauce. The resulting meatballs are tender, flavorful, and perfect for serving on top of mashed potatoes, noodles, or honestly, more rice. They’re comforting and filling, and make the perfect weeknight dinner.

Porcupine meatballs came about during the Great Depression era as a way to help stretch ground beef into more meals. Adding rice bulked up the beef, yielding more meatballs for less money. The recipe stuck, and eventually people started making rice-filled meatballs by choice rather than necessity.

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Porcupine Meatballs Are the Easy, Budget-Friendly Dinner You Need to Try

Part of what makes this recipe so easy is that you don’t even have to cook the rice before you add it to the meatball mixture. The trick is adding half a cup of water to the ground beef. The rice absorbs this added moisture (along with the moisture in the tomato sauce) during cooking, causing the grains to soften and swell in the oven like quills — hence the name “porcupine meatballs.” The cooked rick sticks out of the sides of the meatballs and gives them their signature look.

You can also make these meatballs with leftover cooked rice. To do so, use one cup cooked long-grain white rice in place of the uncooked rice and omit the half cup of water in the meatball mixture. The rice won’t stick out of the meatballs as much, but the meatballs will taste just as good.

Porcupine Meatballs

These retro beef meatballs are made with uncooked rice, which cooks as the meatballs bake in the oven. The result is a saucy, satisfying weeknight dinner.

Prep time 20 minutes

Cook time 50 minutes to 55 minutes

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info


  • Cooking spray

  • 1 large yellow onion

  • 2 cloves garlic

  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves, plus more for garnish

  • 1 pound lean ground beef

  • 1/2 cup uncooked long-grain white rice (such as basmati)

  • 1/2 cup water

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided

  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided

  • 1 (28-ounce) can tomato sauce

  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce


  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Lightly coat a 9x13-inch or 3-quart baking dish with cooking spray. Prepare the following, placing them all in a large bowl: Finely chop 1 large yellow onion, mince 2 garlic cloves, and finely chop 1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves.

  2. Add 1 pound ground beef, 1/2 cup long-grain white rice, 1/2 cup water, 1 teaspoon of the kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of the black pepper. Gently mix with a fork until combined. The mixture will be wet but should hold together.

  3. Form the mixture into 1 1/2-inch meatballs (about 2 tablespoons each), wetting your hands with water as needed to prevent sticking. You should have about 18 meatballs. Place in the baking dish. It’s OK if the meatballs are touching.

  4. Pour 1 can tomato sauce and 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce over the meatballs. Sprinkle the top with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Cover tightly aluminum foil.

  5. Bake for 35 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until the tops of the meatballs are lightly browned, 15 to 20 minutes more. Garnish with more parsley leaves.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Make ahead: The meatballs can be shaped, placed in the baking dish, loosely covered with plastic wrap, and refrigerated up to 2 days.