Mini Porcupine Meatballs

Who else remembers those old-fashioned Porcupine Meatballs, the meatballs with "quills" of rice sticking out? After decades of not, I now mix up a quick batch every so often and every time am surprised just how delicious they taste. It's a great way to make a quick dinner with a pound of ground beef. Let's make it a retro revival ...

Mini Porcupine Meatballs, another Quick Supper ♥, a retro recipe updated for contemporary tastes. Low Carb. High Protein. Cheap Eats.

Whole Food, Fresh & Fast. Budget Friendly. Another Quick Supper, a Kitchen Parade Specialty. Hearty & Filling. Easy Choice for Cooking with Kids. Weeknight Easy, Weekend Special. Weight Watchers Friendly. Low Carb. Naturally Gluten Free. High Protein.

  • "Delicious!" ~ Kirsten

Retro Made Contemporary

Retro recipes from the 1960s and 1970s may tickle a nostalgic fancy but some times, taste-wise, they no longer measure up. Our palates have become sophisticated, our experiences with food more worldly.

But with a few contemporary touches, these Mini Porcupine Meatballs from my childhood kinda knock me over with grown-up goodness.

Mini Porcupine Meatballs, another Quick Supper ♥, a retro recipe updated for contemporary tastes. Low Carb. High Protein. Cheap Eats.

What's In a Name?

What makes these mini meatballs “Porcupine” Meatballs?

In the oven, the rice grains swell out of the meatballs, creating the appearance of "quills" — you know, just like a porcupine.

I don't know about you (or your kids) but the idea of eating a porcupine was amusing to my twelve-year old self: this is one of the very first recipes I ever copied onto a 3x5 card!

My most recent notes, decades later?

  • "Make more often! So good, easy too."
  • "JW loves these, the kids would too."
  • "Meatballs: Easy to adapt. Skipped onion. Used Quick Jalapeño Pickles vs poblano. Added parmesan and bbq sauce."
  • "Sauce: Added salsa and some bbq sauce to tomato soup. VG!"
Mini Porcupine Meatballs, another Quick Supper ♥, a retro recipe updated for contemporary tastes. Low Carb. High Protein. Cheap Eats.

What's In Mini Porcupine Meatballs? Pantry Ingredients!

In all my recipes and most well-written recipes, every ingredient serves a purpose. Each one matters. Each one contributes to the overall dish. It's not that an ingredient can't be substituted by something else but when choosing the substitute, it's important to understand why the original ingredient was present in the first place.

  • Ground Beef Use use ground beef but if you keep ground turkey or chicken on hand, it would work well too.
  • Rice For pretty white "quills," use a white rice. Does it need to be cooked first? Absolutely not. In fact, that's the parlor trick here, that in the oven, the rice absorbs liquid and the "quills" of rice puff up and poke out of the meatballs.
  • Just a Little Plant Freshness Finely minced onion and poblano flavor the meat but also break it up, keeping the meatballs soft and tender.
  • Seasoning Just salt and pepper!

  • Option #1 — Canned Tomato Soup + Water My mom used tomato soup and much to my surprise, I still love it too, not just for convenience and cost but also for taste. And that's from someone who never opens a can of soup!
  • Option #2 — Jarred Spaghetti Sauce or Marinara This is a great recipe for using up some leftover spaghetti sauce.
Mini Porcupine Meatballs, another Quick Supper ♥, a retro recipe updated for contemporary tastes. Low Carb. High Protein. Cheap Eats.

How to Make Mini Porcupine Meatballs

The detailed recipe is written in traditional recipe form below but here are the highlights in three easy steps. You can definitely do this!

  • MIX & SHAPE THE MEATBALLS Just combine all the meatball ingredients, it goes quick-quick when you use your hands, especially since you'll need them to shape the meatballs anyway. To make 24 meatballs close to the same size, divide the meatball mix roughly in quarters; then each quarter in half; then each of those pieces into thirds for three meatballs. Arrange the meatballs in a single layer in an oven-safe baking dish.
  • COVER WITH SAUCE Just spread it evenly across the meatballs, leaving no blank spots.
  • BAKE! Cover the baking dish with foil or an oven-safe lid and bake for an hour at 350F. Afterward, remove the cover very carefully, aiming the release of very hot air away from you, keeping your hands protected. Test one meatball, ensuring the rice is fully cooked, if not, re-cover the dish and put it back in the oven for a few minutes.

Playing Around: Is Tomato Soup the Only Option? No!

Chicken & Rice I was just using up a random can of soup and worried it might be too "rice on rice" so tucked some canned green beans in between the meatballs. So good!

Cream of Mushroom? I haven't tried this yet but would mix the soup concentrate with milk instead of water. Add some extra mushrooms? Sure! Maybe some Simple Roasted Mushrooms? I think so.

Broccoli Cheese? I would probably slip some broccoli florets in between the meatballs.

Green Chili Sauce? Again, I haven't tried this but think that a jar of mild chile sauce would be excellent. I might sprinkle a little cheese across the top too.

Thai Peanut Sauce? This could be good too.

Bookmark! PIN! Share!

How do you save and share favorite recipes? recipes that fit your personal cooking style? a particular recipe your mom or daughter or best friend would just love? If a retro recipe this useful inspires you, please do save and share! I'd be honored ...

Mini Porcupine Meatballs, another Quick Supper ♥, a retro recipe updated for contemporary tastes. Low Carb. High Protein. Cheap Eats.


Hands-on time: 15 minutes
Oven time: 1 hour
Time to table: 1-1/4 hours
Makes 24 small meatballs, about 6 servings
  • 1/3 cup uncooked rice
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon minced onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced poblano pepper
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
    MODERN-DAY SAUCE (tastes like spaghetti & meatballs!)
  • 1 cup spaghetti sauce or marinara, homemade or from a jar
  • ~ or ~
    RETRO SAUCE (tastes really good!)
  • 1 small can (about 300g) condensed tomato soup
  • 1/2 cup water

Heat oven to 350F/180C. Find an oven-safe baking dish about 7x11 and keep nearby.

MEATBALLS Stir together the rice, salt, pepper, onion and poblano. With your hands, work in the ground beef, working gently so not to compress the meat.

Form 24 small meatballs about the size of a walnut. Just eyeball it, I like to divide the mixture in half three times, creating 8 roughly equal sections, then make 3 mini meatballs from each section. Arrange the meatballs in a single layer in the baking dish. (To bake later, stop here, cover and refrigerate until ready to bake, preferably the same day.)

MODERN-DAY SAUCE Spoon the spaghetti sauce over top of the meatballs, covering as completely as you can.

RETRO SAUCE In a small bowl, stir together the condensed tomato soup and the water, then spoon over top of the meatballs, covering as completely as you can.

BAKE Cover the baking dish with a tight lid or foil and bake for 1 hour.

CAREFUL! Remove the lid or foil very carefully, pointing the heat away from your body and hands. It's hot underneath that lid! Do a quick taste test to ensure the rice is fully cooked (and the meat too if you make fewer, larger meatballs). If not, put the cover back on and return to the hot oven for another few minutes.

TIMING TIP This is one of my favorite last-minute suppers. Even though it takes an hour for the meatballs to bake in the oven, it's entirely hands-off and lots of time to make a salad, cook a vegetable or two, do some meal prep, clean out the fridge, etc. The kitchen smells so good! So you might want to put out some sort of snack because people tend to gather!

MAKE-AHEAD TIPS Because of the ground meat and the rice, mix and form the meatballs no sooner than the same day as cooking and be sure to refrigerate until ready to move to the oven.

LEFTOVERS reheat beautifully!

VARIATIONS I love to add a small splash of BBQ sauce to both the meatball mix and either one of the sauces.

ALANNA’s TIPS Stir together the sauce ingredients before mixing the meatballs, that way you'll only need to wash your hands once. My changes to my mom’s original recipe are minimal, nothing too crazy. The poblano adds a small measure of heat and color. The spaghetti sauce substitutes for the original sauce, a can of Campbell’s tomato soup stirred with a half cup of water. But don't hesitate to stay old-school here, both sauces are surprisingly delicious! Don't worry, the rice will cook right inside the meatballs. It's very cool! This would be a great dish to deliver to someone with a new baby or a family who’s lost a loved one or a household that's just overwhelmed by circumstances.

FOR MORE INFO If you "skipped straight to the recipe," please scroll back to the top of this page for ingredient information, ingredient substitutions, tips and more. If you print this recipe, you'll want to check the recipe online for even more tips and extra information about ingredient substitutions, best results and more. See .

HOW ABOUT A PRESSURE COOKER That old recipe card includes my mom's instructions for an old-fashioned pressure cooker. "Cook 10 minutes at 10 pounds," they say. My own pressure cooker is buried at the back of a cupboard and the InstantPot remains a dust collector so honestly, I have little idea if these are good or bad or would even work. Any ideas, pressure cooker owners?

Per Meatball/Six Meatballs: 44/177 Calories; 2/7g Tot Fat; 1/3g Sat Fat; 12/49mg Cholesterol; 23/94mg Sodium; 2/10g Carb; 0/1g Fiber; 0/1g Sugar; 4/16g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS POINTS Old Points 1/4 & PointsPlus 1/4 & SmartPoints 5 & Freestyle 5 & myWW green 5 & blue 5 & purple 5 & future WW points BLUE & PURPLE PLANS Use ground turkey or ground chicken instead of ground beef for a big difference in points. I think you could substitute quinoa for the rice as well though would likely lose the obvious "quills". Brown rice would be purple-plan friendly but I'd be tempted to cook it before mixing with the meat.
Adapted from my mom's recipe for Porcupine Meatballs, published in our family cookbook way back in 2002.

A Pound of Ground Beef = Another Quick Supper

~ beef recipes ~
Easy Skillet Stroganoff (Beef or Chicken), more weeknight comfort food ♥ Budget Friendly. High Protein.

Hamburger Soup ♥, a hearty meat and vegetable soup, easy comfort food.
  • THE RECIPE Hamburger Soup A hearty soup with chunks of meat and a cornucopia of bright-colored vegetables.
  • ANOTHER TAKE My Chicken Noodle Soup The way I make it, meaty and noodle-y with just a few noodles.

Minnesota Sloppy Joes ♥, sloppy joes made from scratch in the crockpot.

Shop Your Pantry First

(helping home cooks save money on groceries)

~ beef recipes ~
~ rice recipes ~
~ poblano pepper recipes ~

~ All Recipes, By Ingredient ~
~ How to Save Money on Groceries ~

Kitchen Parade is written by second-generation food columnist Alanna Kellogg and features fresh, seasonal dishes for every-day healthful eating and occasional indulgences. Quick Suppers are Kitchen Parade favorites and feature recipes easy on the budget, the clock, the waistline and the dishwasher. Do you have a favorite recipe that other Kitchen Parade readers might like? Just send me a quick e-mail, you'll find my current address in the FAQs. How to print a Kitchen Parade recipe. Never miss a recipe! If you like this recipe, sign up for a free e-mail subscription. If you like Kitchen Parade, for more scratch cooking recipes using whole, healthful ingredients, you're sure to like my food blog about vegetable recipes, too, A Veggie Venture. If you make this recipe, I'd love to know your results! Just leave a comment below.

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Alanna Kellogg
Alanna Kellogg

A Veggie Venture is home of "veggie evangelist" Alanna Kellogg and the famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables.


  1. Do you think the same timing would work with brown rice? I want to try this with some venison that I have in my freezer :)

  2. Anonymous5/23/2012

    My porcupine meatballs, the favorite of my 21 year old son, are made with green peppers, but I'll give yours a try. You never steer me wrong.

  3. RevizMomma ~ Brown rice, y'know, I almost tried brown rice but went with the rice my mom would have used instead. I "think" it would work - the one worry is that the brown rice would take longer to cook than the lean venison. Let me know if it works for you!

    Anonymous ~ Thanks so much for that note, you made my day!!

  4. When I was in Women’s Health Initiative, I adapted it this way:

    > used ground chicken
    > used canned crushed tomatoes w/ basil [Tuttorosso brand, I think]
    > added 1 pkg froz ch spinach, thawed, to tomato, B4 I put in the very small raw meatballs

    So when serving, the actual fat grams per serving were very low, and the veggie servings [tomato + spinach] were increased, plus the grains servings [rice] made it a very good product. And served over rice, even better. I even served it as a hot appetizer once, and it’s comfort food.

  5. wow, blast from the past! I've totally forgotten about these - and never made them. The addition of poblano sounds great. Really fun recipe - thanks for reviving this so we can all experience it again, virtually speaking!

  6. They do look cute - and I love the name :)

  7. Sharon5/23/2012

    These are absolutely to-die-for done in the pressure cooker. It is an old, old pressure cooker recipe....well, not like yours but traditional porcupine meatballs. We have them about twice a month and no one tires of them.
    Gonna give yours a try too.

  8. The kid in me (and my two boys) would get a big kick out of these. I appreciate any updates that involve adding poblano peppers.

  9. Anonymous6/10/2012

    I've never stopped making porcupine balls. I remember them as a child, fed them to my children and now as a grandmother, I continue to serve them. I learned to use pressure cookers from my mother and continue to use the appliance. It takes minutes to cook these once you've built up the pressure. Thanks for your version of the recipe. Mine called for tomatoe soup. I'll try the spaghetti sauce. Much more flavorful, I am sure.

  10. I made them tonight for New Year's Eve--skipped the poblano because I was wanting something more sweet 'n sour. My daughter was making molten chocolate lava cakes for our dessert, so I used her leftover egg whites instead of a whole egg. I also used Penzey's Raspberry Enlightenment plus some pizza sauce thinned with pineapple juice from the chunks as the sauce, and added pineapple chunks to the pan. Delicious!

    Thanks for the inspiration!


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Thank you for taking a moment to write! I read each and every comment, for each and every recipe. If you have a specific question, it's nearly always answered quick-quick. But I also love hearing your reactions, your curiosity, even your concerns! When you've made a recipe, I especially love to know how it turned out, what variations you made, what you'll do differently the next time. ~ Alanna