Chicken Parmesan Meatballs is a genius recipe you’ll have memorized by the end of the week. This easy take on an Italian favorite freezes beautifully, tomato sauce and all, so make a big batch and you’ll always have dinner ready to go.
Meal prep favorites like Lemon Rice Pilaf, Mediterranean Lentil Salad, or a fabulous low-carb Cauliflower Tabbouleh, are easy to make and last for days in the fridge. Culinary Hill has lots of how-to tutorials, from roasting vegetables (looking at you, crispy green beans!) to perfectly cooking quinoa in your pantry, to help you use up every last bit of the food you have.
Tender baked meatballs in Italian-style homemade tomato sauce, served over noodles, zoodles, or a pile of buttery mashed potatoes? Sign me up! Tonight, tomorrow, and even the next day.
This recipe is one of my all-time favorites for make-ahead meal prep. The meatballs are good for about 4 days in the refrigerator, so you can have a hot dinner on the table even when things get crazy. Make as many as you like—these babies freeze like a dream.
And if you’re lucky enough to have leftovers, make a meatball sandwich between slices of toasted garlic bread for lunch the next day. Amazing.
Making chicken meatballs for the whole family? Just click and slide the number next to “servings” on the recipe card below to adjust the ingredients to match how many you’re feeding—the recipe does the math for you, it’s that easy.
Chicken Meatballs ingredients:
- Chicken. Ground chicken, of course. Or make your own ground chicken from thighs--it's talked about in the "tips" section.
- Bread crumbs. Regular bread crumbs, panko breadcrumbs, or gluten-free breadcrumbs.
- Parmesan cheese. Grated.
- Eggs. One egg per pound of ground meat.
- Garlic. Store all out of garlic? Use garlic powder.
- Parsley. But any Italian herb will do, as well: oregano, basil, thyme, or rosemary.
- Salt and freshly ground pepper.
- Olive oil.
- Mozzarella cheese. The recipe calls for the drier kind of shredded mozzarella, which gets sprinkled over the meatballs as they simmer in the tomato sauce. However, if you want to stuff a little fresh mozzarella inside the meatballs, buy a ball of fresh mozzarella, as well. I’ll show you how to stuff the cheese into the meatballs in the “tips” section.
What’s in the tomato sauce:
This recipe uses a flash-in-the-pan, quick homemade tomato sauce, loaded with garlic, herbs and a pinch of red pepper flakes (for a little kick.)
- Olive oil.
- Crushed tomatoes.
- Basil. Dried is fine!
- Oregano. Dried is fine!
- Red pepper flakes.
- Salt and freshly ground pepper.
How to make chicken meatballs:
- First, mix together the ground chicken, bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, egg, minced garlic, parsley (or other herbs) and some salt and pepper in a bowl.
- To form the meatballs, spoon out 2 tablespoons of meat at a time, and roll by hand into balls. If your hands get sticky, get them wet—that will keep the meat from sticking to you. By the way, feel free to make smaller (or larger) meatballs, if you want.
- As you go, place the meatballs on a baking sheet or plate. Once all the meatballs are made, slide the tray into the freezer for at least 10 minutes. Freezing/chilling a bit will help the meatballs hold their shape as they cook.
- When you're done rolling, it's time to cook. But before you add the meatballs to the tomato sauce, you should brown them. You have two good options!
- Pan-cooked meatballs. You need a large, oven-safe skillet for this. Heat a little olive oil in the pan over medium-high heat. When the oil shimmers, add the meatballs in a single layer (working in batches of you need to) and browned—about 2 minutes per side.
As the meatballs brown, take them out and transfer them to a plate. They’ll finish cooking in the oven.
- Oven-baked meatballs. First, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil for easy cleanup. Coat the foil with nonstick spray and arrange the meatballs on the prepared baking sheet. Bake, turning occasionally, until browned with crispy edges, about 8 to 12 minutes.
The meatballs will finish cooking in the sauce, so they don’t have to be completely cooked through at this point. (If you're cooking them to freeze, cook them longer. About 15 to 20 minutes, until the meatballs register 165 on the inside.)
Making the tomato sauce:
- First, pour a little olive oil in the skillet and heat over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Then add the smashed garlic cloves and cook until browned. Stir them to keep them from scorching—no one wants burnt garlic!
- Once the garlic is cooked, remove it and throw it away. Its job is done here.
- Next, remove the skillet from the heat and carefully pour in the crushed tomatoes, herbs, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and some salt and pepper. Put the pan back on the heat and return the sauce to a boil.
Putting it all together:
Have you browned the meatballs? Great!
Have you made the marinara sauce? Excellent! Now let’s get dinner on the table.
- Make sure your oven is still set to 400 degrees. Then nestle the browned meatballs into the hot tomato sauce in the skillet. Next, top the meatballs with shredded mozzarella cheese and slide the skillet into the oven. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, until the meatballs register 165 degrees internally, and the cheese is melted.
- Remove from the oven, sprinkle on some extra parsley and even some Parmesan cheese if you like. Then serve immediately over pasta, mashed potatoes, or all by themselves.
Tips for making Chicken Parmesan Meatballs:
Use ground turkey instead. Go ahead and make this recipe with ground turkey—no one will be the wiser.
Make your own ground chicken. Use boneless, skinless chicken thighs! Spend some time trimming off any of the fat, then grind up the thighs in a food processor. The darker thigh meat may help the meatballs hold together.
Mozzarella stuffed chicken meatballs. Want to fill the meatball with a little cheese? It’s so easy. Cut fresh mozzarella into small (1/2-inch) cubes and wrap the chicken meatball mixture around them, making sure the cheese is completely enclosed in the meat.
If this sounds too complicated, scoop out spoonfuls of fresh mozzarella or burrata on top of the tomato sauce before baking. It will melt and get deliciously gooey without the extra work.
Fresh mozzarella can be found in the feta / mozzarella / burrata section of your grocery store’s cheese section.
- Make rolling easier. Wet your hands between each ball to keep the meat from sticking.
- Gluten-free chicken meatballs. Instead of panko or breadcrumbs, find your favorite gluten-free breadcrumb blend.
- Opt for store-bought sauce. In a pinch for time? Use a jar of your favorite marinara, like Rao’s sauce at Costco, Trader Giotto’s, or Prego Farmers’ Market classic marinara.
- Skip the skillet. If you don't have an oven-safe skillet, brown the meatballs in whatever skillet you have, then transfer to an oven safe baking dish. Add the sauce, cheese, and bake as directed.
How to freeze meatballs for later:
So easy, there’s no excuse not to set up a meatball factory in your kitchen for a month’s worth of chicken parmigiana.
- Scoop, roll, and cook the meatballs completely through (165 degrees inside.) Let cool, then line them up in a single layer on a baking sheet.
- Place in the freezer for 1 hour, or until solid.
- After frozen, transfer the meatballs to a freezer safe container. Then label, date, and keep for up to one month.
- To reheat in your favorite sauce, simply place the meatballs in with the sauce and cook over low heat for 10 minutes, or until heated through.
Another option is to freeze the meatballs in the tomato sauce (using a freezer-to oven container) and reheat in the oven. Sprinkle with cheese and bake at 350 degrees, until the meatballs register 165 degrees internally.
How to make Chicken Parmesan Meatballs in the crockpot:
If you just want to make the meatballs the night before, you can. Reheat them in the slow cooker or on the stove if you're in a rush (and transfer to the slow cooker to keep warm).
Once you browned all the meatballs you made, add them to the crockpot with the tomato sauce. Give everything a gentle stir.
If you're using frozen meatballs, just add the frozen meatballs directly to the crockpot. There is no need to thaw them out beforehand.
That’s it! Cover the crockpot and cook on LOW for 4 to 6 hours, or HIGH for 2 to 3 hours. Sprinkle on the mozzarella about 30 minutes before you plan on eating. The tomato sauce should be hot.
Chicken Parmesan Meatballs Recipe
For the meatballs:
- 1 pound ground chicken
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs or panko
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 large egg
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
For the sauce:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 6 cloves garlic peeled and smashed
- 1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes optional (only if you like the spice)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
- minced fresh parsley for garnish
- 8 ounces cooked spaghetti for serving, optional
To make the meatballs:
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- In a medium bowl, combine ground chicken, bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, egg, garlic, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste (I like 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper). Mix until combined.
- Working with 2 tablespoons of meat mixture at a time, roll into balls and arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet or plate. (I use the OXO medium scoop (heaping), a size 40 portioner, and make 20 meatballs about 1 ounce each). Freeze at least 10 minutes for best results (this is optional but will help the meatballs hold their shape).
- In a large oven-proof skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add meatballs in a single layer and cook until browned all over (about 2 minutes per side). You can do this in batches if necessary. Transfer to a bowl.
To make the sauce:
- Add remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil to skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add garlic cloves and sauté until browned, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove garlic and discard.
- Remove pan from heat and stir in crushed tomatoes, basil, oregano, crushed red pepper if using, and salt and pepper to taste (I like 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper). Be careful; the crushed tomatoes might splatter when they hit the hot oil. Return pan to medium-high heat and bring to a boil.
To bake the meatballs and serve:
- Add meatballs to sauce. Top with mozzarella cheese and bake until the meatballs are 165 degrees when tested with an internal thermometer and the cheese is melted, about 10 to 12 minutes.
- Garnish with parsley and serve with cooked spaghetti if desired.