Baked Orange Chicken Meatballs are all that you love about a take-out favorite in a delicious bite. The asian style sauce is so flavorful and will become a family favorite for dinner and even lunch. These delicious meatballs are Whole30, Paleo, grain-free, gluten-free, low-carb. Wonderful for meal prep!
Orange Chicken Meatballs
When we began staying home, there were certain things we missed eating. But we realized it was simple to put together some of our favorite takeout dishes. And Orange Chicken Meatballs came together to take care of that craving for one of our favorite take out dishes.
Originally published October 2020, and republished December 2023. We LOVE these meatballs so much and make them all the time...we wanted to share again with all of you!
I have been making this orange sauce for a while and would sometimes make it with tofu and broccoli. Tofu is not a favorite of the younger peeps here and since we are adding in more Whole30/Paleo ideas, ground chicken is what we used.
And yes, the Chinese Orange Chicken you can get take-out does taste really good, but there are things that leave me feeling not the best (MSG being the main culprit). Here is a healthier version of orange chicken that is without gluten and MSG. Since it is made with real ingredients and is gluten-free (grain free), this is perfect for those that are Paleo.
IF you are following Paleo, the meatballs could be coated or not coated with a grain-free coating (I made them uncoated). They are baked in the oven until they get a delicate crunchy outside. Then they are simmered in the Paleo-friendly, absolutely delicious orange sauce. Seriously, you will want to add this sauce to every thing!
I enjoyed mine with a side of cauliflower rice...it wasn't ready when I was photographing, so here it is with the steamed rice I made for the kiddos. So be sure to not eat with side of rice while following a Whole30 cycle or for Paleo!
Why we love these asian chicken meatballs
- Super simple: This is a family favorite recipe because it is super simple to make and everyone loves the flavor combo! Since I have to be more creative with lunches these days with the kids here for lunch (hello, virtual school!), this is fun recipe to keep them going to finish their day. It doesn’t require that much prepping.
- Low Carb: Keep it totally low-carb and serve with the sautéed snow peas and cauliflower rice (I did regular rice for the kiddos…they do not like cauliflower rice!). Make the sauce ahead and you could have a flavorful and fun dinner ready in no time!
- Gluten-free: This recipe is also gluten-free, so it's perfect for those with dietary restrictions. The meatballs are made with ground chicken instead of beef, making it a healthier option as well.
- Flavorful sauce: The baked orange chicken meatballs are coated in a deliciously sweet and tangy orange sauce. It's the perfect balance of flavors and pairs perfectly with the chicken. You can adjust the amount of sauce to your liking, depending on how saucy you want your meatballs.
- Versatile: These meatballs can be served as a main dish or even as an appetizer for parties. Simply serve them with toothpicks and watch them disappear! The flavor is also versatile, so you could easily switch out the orange sauce for a different flavor, such as honey garlic or teriyaki.
- Make ahead: This recipe is great for meal prepping because you can make and bake the meatballs in advance, and then just reheat them in the oven with the sauce whenever you're ready to eat. It's a time saver and perfect for busy weeknights.
- Kid-friendly: Kids love the sweet and tangy flavor of these orange chicken meatballs, making them a great option for picky eaters. You can even get them involved in the kitchen and let them help make the meatballs!
- Healthy option: Using ground chicken instead of beef makes this recipe a healthier option, as it is leaner and lower in calories. You can also use whole wheat breadcrumbs for added fiber and nutrition.
It does take a little time to shape the meatballs, but it’s really fast once you get the hang of it. Baking them is the easiest and fasted way to get them ready. What it is great about the recipe is that it is really easy to make.
While the meatballs are cooking, you can whip up the sauce in not time. Even your customers that weren’t into orange chicken will be fighting for seconds!
How do you make Orange Chicken Meatballs?
It all starts with the meatballs.
Ingredients for meatballs with orange marmalade:
- Ground Chicken: The base protein for our meatballs. It's leaner and lower in calories compared to beef.
- Almond Flour: Used as a binder to hold the meatballs together. For those on a Whole30 or Paleo diet, this is a grain-free alternative to regular flour.
- Garlic: Adds a savory depth of flavor to our meatballs. Fresh is best but garlic powder could work in a pinch.
- Ginger: Fresh ginger gives a spicy, aromatic kick. You could also use ground ginger if fresh is not available.
- Egg: Acts as a binder, helping to keep the meatballs together during cooking.
- Orange: Provides the tangy citrus flavor that characterizes orange chicken. We’ll use both the juice and the zest.
- Toasted Sesame Oil: Adds a nutty, aromatic flavor to the meatballs and the sauce.
- Coconut Amino Acid: A healthier, soy-free alternative to soy sauce, gives the sauce its salty, umami flavor.
- Salt: Enhances the flavors of the other ingredients.
- Pepper: Adds a touch of heat and complexity to the overall flavor of the meatballs.
How to make asian style chicken meatballs?
Step 1: Once you have gathered all your ingredients for the meatballs it’s time to form them.
Step 2: If you are having problems forming them, you could even put the mixture in the freezer for about 10 minutes to chill.
Step 3: Next, after you form them, place them on your prepped baking sheet and bake them in the oven. It’s that simple!
Step 4: When the meatballs are in the oven, prep the sauce.
They should be ready in about 13 minutes.
I could have taken mine out a couple minutes earlier (I ended up baking them about 15 minutes)I got caught up with my sauce prep. But they were still nice and tender. So if you cook them two minutes, you could finish cooking them in the sauce the last few minutes.
It’s that simple! Just set a timer for your meatballs so you don't forget to take them out!!
Step 5: Next, the meatballs are combined in a pan with the sauce. Serve it with your favorite veggie side (steamed broccoli or snow peas( any sort of peas are Whole30 compliant) are delicious with these meatballs).
How do you make the orange sauce?
This sauce is versatile. I added a bit of sweetness because I as making this kid friendly and was trying to fake-out/take-out something they love. With that said, if you leave out the coconut sugar, you will be making it Whole30 friendly.
If you decide to sweeten it in a clean way, I listed an option for you. Also, if you aren't Whole30 or Paleo and all you have is soy sauce on hand, use it! Same goes for the starch. If all you have is corn starch (and you're not Whole30/Paleo), use that!
Here are the ingredients you’ll need for this orange chicken meatball sauce:
- coconut aminos (you could use tamari sauce if you eat soy and are gluten-free)
- fresh-squeezed orange juice and zest
- coconut sugar, or agave nectar (omit for Whole30 cycle, fine for Paleo-add a bit more if you like it a little sweeter, but this is not an overly sweet sauce (for the Paleo). For Whole30, leave out)
- sesame oil, or mild flavored oil you like
- ginger (fresh is best, but powdered could work in a pinch)
- garlic (same like ginger, fresh is best, but powdered could work)
- chili pepper (only if you like it hot, I leave out when making sauce for the kids)
- rice wine vinegar (or another vinegar you have on hand… apple cider would do fine)
- arrowroot starch (to thicken sauce, you could omit if you don’t mind a thinner sauce and you could use corn starch if you’re ok with corn in your diet)
Prepping ahead to make the orange chicken meatballs
So you saw the list of ingredients above. This is what you could do to get it ready faster.
- Orange: zest oranges to have a 1/2-1 teaspoon for the meatball mixture and about 2 tablespoons for the sauce (and if you like, you could reserve any extra to garnish the meatballs). Juice enough oranges to have 3/4-1 cup for the sauce (you may need extra if sauce gets a bit too thick, so squeeze a cup).
- Garlic: you’ll need 2 cloves finely minced for the meatball mixture and the sauce (you could mince another 1 or 2 if you like it more garlicky flavored). I have a jar I prep in the fridge with minced garlic that is in oil so it’s ready to use all week.
- Ginger: You’ll need about a 1-inch piece. I love to use fresh ginger, if you have powdered, you could use that in a pinch. But the fresh ginger adds a flavor punch you can’t get with the powdered ginger. So it’s about 1 teaspoon grated for the meatball mixture and 2 tablespoons grated for the sauce. Again, you could adjust and add more (or less) if you love the flavor. Also, you could grate more and freeze (that’s what I did)and then take out what you need.
- Scallions: You’ll need 1/4 cup scallions thinly sliced for the sauce, and reserve some for garnish (if desired).
PIN for later!
What to serve with Paleo orange chicken meatballs?
If you are on a Whole30 cycle, you could serve with cauliflower rice, zucchini noodles or salad. Steamed broccoli or snow peas. My kids are not into cauliflower rice, so it was served with steamed rice for them. If you’re not Whole30/Paleo, super fluffy rice (white or brown, my kids love white rice ).
es, these meatballs are great to make ahead. A really wonderful recipe for meal prep. The sauce even tastes better the longer it has time to stay chilled in the fridge.
Let the meatballs cool down before storing them in a zipped lock back or an airtight container. Store in the fridge for up to 4 days. Reheat in a saute’ pan with the sauce.
Yes, you can freeze the meatballs in an airtight container or zipped lock plastic bag for up to 3 months.
The same thing goes for the sauce. Since the sauce is so tasty, double the recipe and freeze half for something else.
Why are my chicken meatballs mushy?
One possible reason for mushy chicken meatballs could be over-mixing the ingredients. When mixing the ground chicken with other ingredients, it's important to be gentle and avoid overworking the mixture. Overmixing can result in a dense and mushy texture.
A cause for dense meatballs could be overcooking them. Chicken meatballs should be cooked until they reach an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C), but cooking them for too long can result in a dry and dense texture. Be sure to check the temperature with a meat thermometer and remove the meatballs from the heat once they are fully cooked.
Yes, you can absolutely make and freeze the sauce for your chicken meatballs. However, it's best to cook the sauce first before freezing it. This will ensure that all the flavors are fully developed and melded together. When reheating the frozen sauce, simply thaw it in the refrigerator or heat it up on the stove until warmed through.
Tips to make the best orange chicken meatballs
- Wet your hands: It can be tricky to form the raw meatballs (chicken meat is harder to form than ground beef). You could wet your hands a little bit. Even spraying your hands with cooking spray is a way to help you make them nice and round.
- Chill the meat: Another idea is to chill the meat mixture in the freezer. Ten minutes is all you need to make the mixture firm enough to work better with.
- Brown the meatballs: Baking them in the oven is an easy way to get them ready. You could also brown the meatballs in a skillet with a little bit of a mild flavored oil.
- Flavorful Ground Chicken: To make flavorful meatballs, ensure the ground chicken isn't too lean. A little bit of fat contributes to flavor and juiciness.
- Fresh Ingredients: Always opt for fresh garlic and ginger if possible. They provide a depth and freshness of flavor that can't be matched by dried or powdered options.
- Citrus Zest: When zesting the orange, avoid the bitter white pith just beneath the skin. Only the orange part should be used for the zest.
- Quality Coconut Amino Acid: Not all coconut aminos are the same. Look for brands with no added sugars to keep your orange chicken meatballs Whole30 compliant.
- Seasoning: Don't overlook the importance of salt and pepper. They enhance the flavors of the other ingredients and can make or break your meatballs. Always season to taste.
- Protein Alternatives: If chicken isn't your preference, you can substitute it with ground turkey or pork. Just ensure the meat you choose isn't overly lean, as a little bit of fat helps keep the meatballs juicy and flavorful.
- Alternative Sweeteners: If you're not following Whole30 and prefer a sweeter sauce, you can add a couple tablespoons of honey or brown sugar.
- Spice It Up: For an extra kick, consider adding a dash of chili flakes or a splash of hot sauce to the mixture.
- Veggie-Packed: Want to sneak in some extra veggies? Consider adding finely chopped spinach or grated zucchini to your meatballs.
- Gluten-Free: Ensure your meal is gluten-free by using tamari sauce instead of soy sauce if you can't find coconut aminos.
- Nut-Free: If you're allergic to nuts, you can use flaxseed meal as an alternative to almond flour. It serves the same purpose, providing a bit of bulk and helping to bind the meatballs together.
What to serve with asian meatballs?
Serve with cauliflower rice, sauteed snow peas or fresh steamed broccoli for a delicious Whole30 (and Paleo!) compliant meal. ENJOY!
Some other Whole30 recipes to enjoy:
- Italian Breakfast Hash
- No Bean Butternut Squash Chili
- Slow Cooker White Chicken Chili
- Garlic Rosemary Whole30 Meatballs
- Best Traditional Italian Wedding Soup (Easy Recipe)
- Gluten-Free Baked Spaghetti-Spaghetti al Forno
Did you make this? Please RATE THE RECIPE below:)
Asian Style Chicken Meatballs (With Orange Sauce)
- ¼ cup coconut aminos
- ¾ cup fresh-squeezed orange juice from about 4 medium oranges, more to thin out sauce
- 2 teaspoons coconut sugar or agave nectar (omit for Whole30 cycle, fine for Paleo)
- 1 Tablespoon sesame oil or any mild flavored oil you like
- 2 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 2 Tablespoons orange zest from the oranges before juicing
- 2 Tablespoons ginger grated
- 2 garlic cloves finely minced
- 2 chili peppers
- 2 Tablespoons arrowroot starch
- ½ cup scallions sliced, for garnish
- cooked rice and sautéed snow peas for serving
- Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with foil and grease lightly with cooking spray; set aside. While oven is heating up, prep the ingredients.
- Egg: Lightly beat the egg; set aside.
- Oranges: Zest enough orange to have ½-1 teaspoon for the meatballs, 2 tablespoons for the sauce and 1 tablespoon for garnish (if desired). Squeeze enough orange to have 3/4-1 cup juice for the sauce.
- Garlic and ginger: Mince enough fresh garlic to have ½ tablespoon for the sauce. Grate enough fresh ginger to have a teaspoon for the meatballs and ½ tablespoon for the sauce. A little trick is I have a container in my freezer with grated ginger. In a pinch, you could use ground ginger (but it’s not the same flavor complexity as freshly ground ginger).
- Scallions: 1/4 cup for garnish (if desired).
- In a large bowl, combine the chicken, almond flour, ginger, garlic, egg, sesame oil, coconut aminos, and salt until evenly incorporated.
- Roll meatballs into the size you prefer. Mine are approximately 2 inches in diameter (about 2 tablespoons each). This produces 20 – 22 meatballs. You can of course make them smaller if you like.
- Arrange the meatballs on the baking sheet. Bake for 13-15 minutes, flipping halfway. When they’re golden brown and cooked through, remove pan from oven and set aside.
- While the meatballs are in the oven, prep the sauce.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the orange juice, coconut aminos, coconut sugar (fine for paleo, not for Whole30), rice wine vinegar and orange zest.
- In a medium saucepan on medium heat, add the oil. When it is heated, add the ginger and garlic (and chiles, if using). Cook for just a minute (the garlic and ginger should begin to soften slightly, you do not want the garlic to brown). Raise the heat to medium-high. Add in the orange juice mixture. Stir it all together and cook for 2 minutes.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the arrowroot starch with 1/2 cup water until smooth. Next, whisk the starch mixture into the saucepan with the orange sauce. Lower the heat to medium low and let it simmer together, while continuing to stir so it doesn't clump, until it starts to thicken (should take 6-8 minutes).
- If sauce is too thick, add a little bit of water (or a bit more of orange juice) while it’s simmering. Check the sauce, and add more coconut aminos or rice wine vinegar, if needed.
- At this point, if you’re serving with snow peas, add a bit of oil (about 1 tablespoon any mild flavored oil)to a medium pan. When it heats up, add in the snow peas and sauté. Season with salt. In a few minutes (5 minutes max)they will be tender and a bright green color. If instead you are serving with broccoli, this is when you could steam the broccoli. Set aside when ready and finish the sauce and meatballs.
- Add the meatballs to the sauce and cook together on medium heat so the sauce completely coats the meatballs and they heat up (should take a few minutes).
- Garnish with scallions (if desired). Serve with snow peas or steamed broccoli or a side of cauliflower rice.
Please keep in mind that the nutritional information presented below is an approximation and may vary depending on the exact ingredients used.
*I liked to bake these meatballs instead of frying in a pan. Line the pan with foil paper and you have one less thing to worry about cleaning up.
*The sauce will reduce to about half as it simmers. If you find that it gets too thick, you could thin it out with a bit of water or some more freshly squeezed orange juice.
*Orange juice-use freshly squeezed. The store-bought will have added sugar. So to stay low-sugar, stick with fresh. *Double the sauce and freeze what you don’t use. You’ll have a delicious sauce ready to make with a stir-fry or to make this meatball recipe again. *Spicy-you could totally spice up with sauce with some Thai chiles (or whatever spicy pepper you have on hand (I kept this mild for the kids).