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This sweet and sour meatballs recipe is bursting with tangy pineapples and peppers. It’s an easy, 20-minute version of Chinese takeout.

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of all things sweet and sour. Sweet and Sour Chicken, Sweet and Sour Pork, and these sweet and sour meatballs are no exception!

Close up of sweet and sour meatballs topped with green onions.

Quick and Easy!

These sweet and sour meatballs are one of my favorite weekday dinner ideas when I’m craving those flavors. 

The sauce has all the complexity, richness, and balance of a takeout dish. But because it uses pre-made meatballs, it takes less than 20 minutes to make. So anytime I’m craving Chinese takeout, I just make this easy recipe instead! 

This recipe has a lot going on. There’s a rich sweetness from brown sugar and ketchup, some tang from the vinegar, pineapple chunks, and pineapple juice, and a fresh element from peppers and scallions.

It’s not as good as takeout – it’s better! 

Sweet and sour sauce spooned from a white dish.

What Kind of Meatballs to Use

Use almost any type of premade meatball that you like for this sweet and sour meatball recipe. Try to find meatballs that are all-purpose, or neutral in flavor. Meatballs that have a strong flavor added to them might clash with the Chinese sauce.

Meatballs. I find ground pork meatballs are the best with the sweet and sour sauce, but beef meatballs work just fine, too. For a healthier option (but one that’s still juicy and packed with flavor), use chicken or turkey meatballs.

Homemade meatballs. Part of the beauty of this dish is its simplicity. By using store-bought meatballs, you’re able to make this recipe in under 20 minutes.

That said, To make these sweet and sour meatballs a little bit more gourmet, make your own meatballs. Here’s my go-to Easy Meatball Recipe. Use ground turkey, ground beef, or ground sausage.

A bowl of frozen meatballs on a kitchen table.

how to make Sweet and Sour Meatballs

This recipe is so easy to make and takes less than 20 minutes!

SAUCE. Add brown sugar, vinegar, ketchup, soy sauce, and 2 cups of pineapple juice to a large skillet over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil.

In a small bowl, mix cornstarch and the remaining ¼ cup pineapple juice together, whisking to get out all the lumps.

MEATBALLS. Whisk into your skillet and add meatballs and chopped red bell pepper. Bring to a simmer. Cover and cook for 8-10 minutes until the sauce has thickened and the meatballs are heated through.

SERVE. Stir in pineapple chunks. Serve warm over rice.

Thicken the sauce. For a thicker sweet and sour sauce, add more cornstarch.

  • In a separate bowl mix together 1-2 teaspoons of cold water with an equal amount of cornstarch. Pour the mixture into the sauce and simmer. 
Meatballs simmering in a sauce on the stove.

Variations 

Sweet and sour meatballs with pineapple are pretty perfect as is, but sometimes it’s also fun to change it up.

Make it spicy. Chinese food and spice go hand in hand. Turn up the heat with chili flakes or minced chilis when you add the meatballs and peppers for a deep, spicy kick. Or replace some of the ketchup with sriracha. 

Veggies. The sweet and sour sauce goes well with the meatballs, but it also goes well with veggies. You can saute vegetables to use in place of the meatballs or simply add veggies along with the meatballs.

Carrots, broccoli, mushrooms, and onions will all go wonderfully with this sauce. Add them at the same time that you add the peppers.

Balance the flavor. Some people love a sauce that tastes sweeter, while others prefer a more sour sauce. Adjust the sweet and sour flavor by reducing or increasing the amount of pineapple juice or rice vinegar used.

Cooking meatballs in a sweet and sour sauce on the stove.

Storing Info

How much to serve. These meatballs can be served alone as an appetizer or paired with sides and served as the main entrée.

  • Party appetizer: 2-3 (2-inch) meatballs
  • Main entrée: 4-5 (2-inch) meatballs per serving

Keeping meatballs warm. This recipe comes together so quickly that I don’t have a crock pot version. However, I will make this recipe and then keep them warm in a crock pot set to warm.

STORE. Sweet and sour meatballs will last in the fridge for up to 4 days if stored in an airtight container.

Reheat. The best way to reheat meatballs is in the oven, for 8-10 minutes at 350°F. This will help the meatballs retain their juicy consistency. However, if you’re in a rush, the dish reheats just fine in the microwave. 

FREEZE these easy sweet and sour meatballs in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Defrost before reheating in the oven, stovetop, or microwave.

What to serve with Sweet Sour Meatballs

My favorite way to serve this sweet and sour meatballs recipe is simply over white rice. That’s really all it needs!

But it’s also fun to serve it alongside some other Asian dishes. Here are a few of my go-to dishes for pairing with this meatball recipe:

Close up of sweet and sour meatballs topped with green onions.

Recipe FAQ

Do I use precooked meatballs for sweet and sour meatballs?

I used a package of precooked frozen meatballs for this recipe, but you can easily use uncooked meatballs. You will want to brown them in a skillet or broil them in the oven before you add them to the sauce to finish cooking all the way through.

Can I freeze sweet and sour meatballs?

I love a recipe that I can double so that I have extras I can freeze for later and this recipe fits the bill. Cook the sauce according to the recipe and toss it with the meatballs and peppers, before allowing them to cook, add the desired amount to a freezer-safe container. Freeze for up to 3 months. You can heat them up in the slow cooker or stovetop.

What do I do if the sweet and sour meatballs are too sweet?

You can balance out the flavor by adding in something acidic like more vinegar or citrus juice. If the dish is too sour, you can add a sweetener like more brown sugar, pineapple juice, or honey.

For More Meatball Recipes, Try:

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4.98 from 394 votes

Sweet and Sour Meatballs

By: Lil’ Luna
This sweet and sour meatballs recipe is bursting with tangy pineapples and peppers. It's an easy, 20-minute version of Chinese takeout.
Servings: 6
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes
Total: 20 minutes

Ingredients 

  • ½ cup brown sugar loosely packed
  • ½ cup rice vinegar
  • ¼ cup ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • cups pineapple juice
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 25 all-purpose meatballs (frozen is fine)
  • 2 bell peppers chopped (optional)
  • 1 cup drained small pineapple chunks
  • 2 tablespoons sliced green pnions for garnish
  • rice for serving
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Instructions 

  • Add brown sugar, vinegar, ketchup, soy sauce, and 2 cups of pineapple juice to a large skillet over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil.
  • In a small bowl, mix cornstarch and the remaining ¼ cup pineapple juice together, whisking to get out all the lumps. Whisk into your skillet.
  • Add Meatballs and chopped peppers. Bring to a simmer. Cover and cook for 8-10 minutes until the sauce has thickened and the meatballs are heated through.
  • Stir in pineapple chunks. Serve warm over rice. Top with green onion.

Video

Notes

Keeping meatballs warm. This recipe comes together so quickly that I don’t have a crock pot version. However, I will make this recipe and then keep them warm in a crock pot set to warm.
STORE. Sweet and sour meatballs will last in the fridge for up to 4 days if stored in an airtight container.
Reheat. The best way to reheat meatballs is in the oven, for 8-10 minutes at 350°F. This will help the meatballs retain their juicy consistency. However, if you’re in a rush, the dish reheats just fine in the microwave. 
FREEZE these easy sweet and sour meatballs in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Defrost before reheating in the oven, stovetop, or microwave.

Nutrition

Calories: 325kcal, Carbohydrates: 42g, Protein: 11g, Fat: 13g, Saturated Fat: 5g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g, Monounsaturated Fat: 6g, Cholesterol: 42mg, Sodium: 301mg, Potassium: 480mg, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 36g, Vitamin A: 1341IU, Vitamin C: 65mg, Calcium: 49mg, Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American, Chinese
Making this recipe? Tag us!
Share it with us on Instagram using the hashtag #lilluna, so we can see what you’re creating in the kitchen!

Adapted from foodnetwork.com

About Kristyn

My name is Kristyn and I’m the mom of SIX stinkin’ cute kids and the wife to my smokin’ hot hubby, Lo. My mom’s maiden name is Luna, and I’m one of the many crafty “Lil’ Lunas” in the fam. On this site I like to share all things creative - from recipes to home decor to gifts and home decor ideas. Welcome!

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Recipe Rating




144 Comments

  1. Mary J Theriault says:

    5 stars
    This is the best recipe i have tried thank you

    1. Lil'Luna Team says:

      You’re welcome! I’m so glad you enjoyed the meatballs!

  2. Courtnie Nicole says:

    5 stars
    Turned out delicious! I added red pepper, salt, and pepper along with pouring the juice from the canned pineapple (mixed with a little extra cornstarch).

    Simple recipe and it makes for great leftovers!

  3. Amy says:

    I plan to make homemade meatballs because of my daughter’s food allergies. Do you think this would still turn out OK in a slow cooker? I usually cook meatballs about 6 hours on low but wasn’t sure if this sauce would work well slow cooked.

    1. Lil'Luna Team says:

      Yes, I suppose it would. I haven’t made it in the slow cooker, but I think this sauce would be just fine being slow-cooked. You may want to bump the heat to high towards the end to help it thicken a bit, but again, I haven’t made this one in the crock pot, so not 100% sure how it’ll turn out. You’ll have to let us know how it goes! 🙂

    2. Stephanie says:

      I was coming to ask the same question. How did it turn out in the slow cooker?

  4. Carla Drake says:

    Could I use white wine vinegar instead of rice vinegar?

    1. Lil'Luna Team says:

      Yes, you could! I haven’t tried with the white wine, but it would still taste delicious I’m sure.

  5. Peg says:

    5 stars
    The recipe says this serves 6 with 25 meatballs. Looking at the picture that’s only 4 small pineapple chunk size meatballs per person. Assuming the portion sizing is meant for children only?

    1. Lil'Luna Team says:

      The meatball size will depend on which meatballs you get… or you can make homemade, too. With the peppers and pineapple and rice, we’ve found about 4-5 meatballs per serving feeds an adult. But you can definitely increase the amount of meatballs. You may want to double the sauce if you love lots of sauce. But, adding a few extra meatballs to the recipe would be just fine if you feel like you need more.

  6. Elise says:

    Love this recipe and so does my family. ❤️ wondering if I can somehow make a large batch and freeze it?

  7. Marti says:

    5 stars
    My Quilting Club loved this and several quilters asked for the recipe!! (I added red, yellow, and green pepper pieces and sprinkled the top with sesame seeds just before serving.)

  8. Joey says:

    5 stars
    Great recipe very easy to put together my family loved it.

  9. Sherri says:

    2 stars
    This sauce is too sweet and the pineapple juice is all you taste.

    1. Lil'Luna Team says:

      Thanks for the feedback and for giving the recipe a try!

  10. Joanne Johnson says:

    5 stars
    Very quick and easy recipe! We loved it! I added a couple tablespoons of Sriracha to give it a nip and to counter the sweetness a bit. Will be making this again for sure, I’ll just cut the amount if sugar for our liking! I’m sure this will be excellent with chicken as well! Thank you!

    1. Lil'Luna Team says:

      You’re welcome! I’m so glad you enjoyed the recipe. A little sriracha sounds tasty. Thanks for sharing what you did.

    2. Michelle says:

      5 stars
      This was a very easy dish. I had 4 grand daughters over for dinner. We used speghetti noodles instead of rice. I will double the batch next time. Great for leftovers.