Make takeout for cheap at home with these easy slow cooked, sweet and sour meatballs.
My kids are big fans of Chinese food. I can’t blame them. So am I. The mere sight of a Chinese food take-out box in the stands of the hockey rink this weekend prompted my youngest to ask if we could have Panda tomorrow. Unfortunately, the answer is no. For our family, that’s easily a $40 meal. When I can make a meal at home for about a fourth of that cost, it doesn’t make sense to do it that often.
Instead, I’m working to recreate Asian-inspired dishes at home — at a fraction of the price.
My kids were a little surprised when I served up these Sweet and Sour Meatballs. The sauce tastes just like Chinese food, Mama!
Well, good. That was the effect I was looking for. This meal is pretty easy to make, especially when you have frozen meatballs on hand ready to go. I make my own, but you could use commercially made meatballs as well.
While I made these with beef, next time around I’ll use ground pork or chicken as I think the flavors in the sauce will really complement those proteins. Let us know what kind of tweaks you try.
Slow Cooked Sweet and Sour Meatballs
- 24 meatballs
- 1 cup pineapple chunks
- 1 tablespoon neutral oil
- ½ onion (for ½ cup chopped)
- ½ bell pepper (any color) (for ½ cup chopped)
- ⅓ cup pineapple juice
- ⅓ cup chicken stock
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 2 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar or honey
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoon cornstarch
- Place the meatballs and pineapple chunks in the crock of a 3-quart slow cooker.24 meatballs, 1 cup pineapple chunks
- In a medium skillet, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion and bell pepper and saute until tender, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add this to the crock.1 tablespoon neutral oil, ½ onion, ½ bell pepper (any color)
- In a small dish, whisk together the pineapple juice, chicken broth, soy sauce, rice vinegar, brown sugar, sesame oil, and crushed red pepper. Pour this mixture into the crock.⅓ cup pineapple juice, ⅓ cup chicken stock, ¼ cup soy sauce, 2 tablespoon rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- Cover the slow cooker and cook 4 hours on high.
- Remove the meatballs, pineapple, and vegetables with a slotted spoon. Cover to keep warm.
- Whisk together the cornstarch and 2 tablespoons water. Add this mixture to the liquid in the crock, whisking until well blended. Cook until thickened, about 10 to 15 minutes.2 tablespoon cornstarch
- Add the meatballs, pineapple, and vegetables back to the crock. Stir gently to coat with the sauce. Serve with white rice and steamed vegetables.
- To freeze: cool the mixture. Wrap, label, and chill well before freezing. Reheat before serving.
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It was a pretty good start but needs more oomph in flavor. I will play with it a bit next time I make it, maybe adding some honey and some more red pepper. It’s neutral enough to work for a group though and our neighbors loved it.
I had to improvise a bit. Currently sitting in my crockpot is the recipe with orange marmalade in place of the pineapple, and white wine vinegar in place of the rice vinegar. I don’t know how it will compare, but it smells amazing!
I think that sounds like a pair of fabulous improvisations! I can’t wait to hear how it tastes!
I really want to give these a try! Do you drain the pineapple before measuring 1 cup? (Then can you use the drained liquid for the pineapple juice)? Thanks!!
Yes and yes. Waste not, want not. 🙂
These look so good. Question for you, my son is allergic to sesame. If I omitted the sesame oil do you think that the end product would still be good?
Yes, it will be fine.
I need a longer cook time as I won’t be home to put them in 4 hrs before dinner…Have you tried cooking these on low? How long and would they turn out okay? Thanks!
I think they would be fine on low.
I had the same question, I leave the house for 12 hours for work. If cooking on low, will 12 hours be too long?
It might be? I’ve never tested it that long. Does your crockpot have a timer? Mine will switch to warm after a certain time.
Were you meatballs already cooked through?
Yes, they were pre-cooked and previously frozen.
Looking for some advice in maybe how to adapt this recipe… this looks like a great recipe, THANKS!!!
There is a group of us at church that meet to make freezer meals that then get shared with those that might be in need of a meal, however I am thinking that this would be way too hard if we had to cook it before we froze it (that would be way too may crock-pots plugged in at church)… would we be able to mix and package all the items together and freeze it (or should we keep the meatballs separate from the sauce, as well as the cornstarch and rice – thaw the sauce, but leave meatballs frozen?). And if this does work, then what would be the instructions/modifications for cooking this. Thanks for your help!!!
Yes, if I was making this as a freezer meal, I would package the meatballs and sauce ingredients separately. Keep the cornstarch separate also. I like to thaw food before putting it in the slow cooker, though I know lots of folks differ from that.
We made these for dinner tonight, and my kids LOVED them- all 7 of them!! The meat ball recipe was very good, though we did sub in some grnd pork. Thanks for this site & for Life as Mom, they are so helpful!
Thank YOU for the nice words. I’m glad you liked them. Good to know about the pork. That’s what I thought….
Wow what a perfect recipe! Sounds delicious.
If I am planning on making my own meatballs how many lbs would this be? Also, if I am making this for a fam of 6 (with 4 hungry kiddos) would I double the sauce if I double the meatballs?
I think this was 1 to 2 pounds of meat. And yes, I would double the sauce if you’re going to make more than 2 pounds of meat.
I love Asian food. But since March, we’ve had to cut soy from our diet due to sensitivities in the family. I’ve tried to come up with a substitute to soy sauce so we can still enjoy our favorite recipes, but I just can’t think of anything. Any recommendations?
NomNom Paleo uses coconut aminos for soy sauce: http://nomnompaleo.com/post/2540014882/new-substitutions-for-the-whole30-pantry
We have a family allergy to gluten and use gluten-free tamari for soy sauce in most recipes.
This sounds great! I have a great recipe from one of the taste of home magazine for a sweet and sour sauce – it has a mexican flair, but kind of reminds me of sweet and sour safe – you combine salsa and apricot jam and pour it over chicken that has been seasoned with chili powder. One of my favorites and so easy.
Kristen @ Joyfullythriving
I haven’t made sweet and sour meatballs in much too long, but I think I need to make these again soon! I don’t always add the peppers and onions, but the recipe is always good. And I always use ground beef. I haven’t considered changing my meatballs to use pork or chicken. Hmm.
this is a welcome idea recipie. i have all the ingredients on hand, so this passes our family’s GCE’s litmus test. i’m going to make bread crumbs with Udi Gluten Free bread so i can eat them too.
jessica, why do you think ground beef wasn’t the best choice for these? did the flavor really fall flat? thanks.
It was good with beef. But, I think that pork and chicken are better foils for the pineapple.
any way this could be done in an oven?
I haven’t done it, but I have for similar recipes. I would mix all of the sauce ingredients, add to meatballs in a baking dish and cook for about 15 to 20 minutes. That should be enough time to reheat the meatballs and thicken the sauce. Glad you asked. I’m going to try it this way!