Skillet Supper Series: Kid-Friendly Porcupine Meatballs (Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Egg Free)

I know you all have been waiting patiently for this last installment in this edition of the Skillet Supper Series. I say this edition because yes, there will be more to come after this one. I have a fondness for triple letter series, especially SSS. There’s another SSS series here at gfeSuite of Sweets for Your Sweethearts at Valentine’s Day. There’s MMM, March Muffin Madness, when folks are very preoccupied with hoops and brackets. There’s even Pumpkin Pie Plus. It’s October so I expect you’ll be seeing a comeback from that series very soon! But I digress, and before we move on to this SSS entry, I’d like to make a Public Service Announcement of sorts. 

The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) comment period is ending for the proposed standard for the “Gluten-Free” Labeling Law. This is a very, very big deal for all of us who eat gluten free. Please take a moment now to tell the FDA what your thoughts are on 1) the proposed level of less than 20 parts per million (ppm) gluten for any product labeled “gluten free” and 2) whether you think having a ”low gluten” label as well for products containing at a higher level would be worthwhile. (For example, in Australia and New Zealand, “low gluten” means products have less than 200 ppm gluten.) If you would like additional info, I highly recommend Linda’s (The Gluten-Free Homemaker) post on this topic and Cheryl’s (Gluten Free Goodness) reminder post that tells you all the ways you can have your say, including signing the petition at (versus submitting your own individual comments). 

Now that you’ve shared your opinion with the FDA, let me share today’s skillet supper (literally, we had this one for dinner tonight). I’ve been sharing a lot of old favorites for this Skillet Supper Series, some of which had to be tweaked a bit to be gluten free, dairy free, refined sugar free, unprocessed, etc. Porcupine Meatballs are a meal idea that needs no adjustments at all. The ingredients are naturally gluten free, dairy free, refined sugar free (if certain ingredients are used),  pretty much unprocessed, and best of all, they are kid friendly!  (Well, most kids anyway.)

Initially, children are intrigued by the name of this recipe. If it’s your first time making them for your family, be prepared for some questions. Did these meatballs really come from a porcupine, mom? Aren’t you supposed to stay away from porcupines? Where did you get this porcupine, mom? I don’t want to eat porcupine quills! The questions and comments go on and on and will make you laugh out loud.   

Of course, the reason these meatballs are called Porcupine Meatballs is because the rice that’s been added pokes out of the meatballs like porcupine quills. In fact, the appearance can be a bit deceiving. When I placed Porcupine Meatballs in front of Son for the very first time (I think he was about 5 or so at the time), he thought that all the white protrusions were onions. That was not good, because Son was onion-phobic at the time (and admittedly still has a few issues at the age of almost 24). So he immediately protested and even though I kept telling him that the white things were rice, he simply would not believe me. After a few bites, he asked to be excused to visit his grandparents, my mom and dad, who lived just up the hill from us at the time. ”Mamaw,” he cried, “It was just awful … there were onions everywhere!” We still laugh over that story, although I’m not really sure Son’s ever developed a love for Porcupine Meatballs. So, be sure to tell your children what the ingredients are (or are not, in this case) before you serve Porcupine Meatballs.  

gluten free, dairy free, entree, skillet supper, easy

gluten free, dairy free, entree, skillet supper, easy

Get your children involved in making the meatballs, too. They’ll be sure to eat twice as many if they make them. Seriously. There’s that whole “vested interest” concept. Plus, getting kids involved in the kitchen at an early age can foster a lifelong love of cooking and real food versus a diet of processed foods. Personally, I’ve also found that meatballs formed with little hands are much more tender. Who wants a tough meatball? Son always made better meatballs than I did. We made sure that he knew that and he always jumped right in to make meatballs. I don’t think he ever made Porcupine Meatballs due to his aforementioned phobia and “trauma,” but he did make the meatballs for spaghetti and meatballs all the time. (That’s a super easy, delicious recipe I’ll have to share another time.) 

Porcupine meatballs make for an easy meal, served with some steamed or roasted vegetables on the side, or you can throw a few veggies right in the skillet at the end. Adding them during the last 10 or 15 minutes works well. Perhaps some frozen corn, peas, or green beans. For tonight’s meal, I added corn during the last 10 minutes of cooking. You can even add some veggies to the meatballs themselves, both as added nutrition and as another way to keep this recipe a one-dish meal. For example, tonight’s porcupine meatballs also included chopped mushrooms. Mr. GFE loved this addition. He also suggested that I might add pineapple chunks to the sauce versus veggies in the future. Hmmm, Polynesian Porcupine Meatballs anyone? I admit … they do sound pretty good!  

gluten free, dairy free, entree, skillet supper, easy

Kid-Pleasing Porcupine Meatballs

(Click here for a printable version of this recipe.)



1 lb ground beef (I used ground venison; ground turkey or ground chicken may also be used)
½ cup uncooked rice (see more info in notes below)
1 small onion, chopped finely
1 tsp salt
½ tsp garlic or celery salt 


2 1/2 cups tomato juice (see notes)
4 cloves
½ tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp brown sugar (optional; amount to taste if used)
1 tbsp gluten-free Worcestershire sauce (see notes for substitutes)
dash or two of red pepper flakes (optional) 


Combine the meatball ingredients and shape into meatballs; set aside.

Combine the sauce ingredients right in a large, deep skillet to make the sauce.

Add meatballs and stir until all meatballs are coated with sauce.

Bring sauce to a boil over medium heat; stir if needed. Reduce heat to medium-low.

Cover skillet. Simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring two or three times. After the last stir, add any other ingredients that are going into your skillet supper.  

gluten free, dairy free, entree, skillet supper, easy


Shirley’s Notes: Instead of tomato juice, you may use watered down tomato paste, tomato sauce, or similar. I’ve used V-8 in place of tomato juice before and I’ve even used finely diced tomatoes with green chiles (undrained) for us “big kids.” If you need a substitute for Worcestershire sauce, you can use 1 tbsp of balsamic vinegar (great idea that Ina of Gluten Free Delightfully Delicious just shared with me!); or 1 ¼ tsp hot sauce, ¼ tsp dry mustard, and ½ tsp honey. Feel free to play around with the meatball ingredients. If you have a child who won’t eat onions, consider using a teaspoon of onion powder and/or adding another ingredient like grated carrots or grated celery for added nutrition and taste. Mr. GFE loves it when I add chopped mushrooms (about ½ cup) to the porcupine meatballs. I use long grain white rice in these meatballs. Brown rice would require a longer cooking time and perhaps more sauce, plus even some presoaking I expect. I’m not totally sure on brown rice. (For only a half cup of rice, I don’t mind using white rice in this recipe.) Minute rice might work, but in that case, cooking time would be less and, therefore, probably less sauce required as there would not be sufficient “reduction” time, so you would need to make adjustments. I know some folks who prefer a white sauce for their Porcupine Meatballs—like one you would make as sausage gravy. Some Porcupine Meatball recipes call for eggs, but they are not needed—yippee for the egg-free folks! Finally, I know some folks who even make an oven version of these. I haven’t tried an oven version, so I’m not sure on sauce amounts or oven temperature, but you may want to search for that info if that method appeals to you. 

Recipe adapted from one provided by Carol, the parent of one of my third-grade students from my teaching days long ago

Not just gf, but gfe!

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34 Responses to “Skillet Supper Series: Kid-Friendly Porcupine Meatballs (Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Egg Free)”

  1. Kay Guest on October 2nd, 2011 7:18 am

    “There were onions everywhere”. Oh, Shirley, this is so funny to me since MY son (who will be 22 in November) was the exact same way. If I put a TEASPOON of onion in a dish, he could taste it.
    He still has issues with onions, even though he will happily eat fried onion rings! When my Daddy cans tomatoes, he always had some tomato juice leftover that he also cans, and nobody wants it except me! Won’t that fresh tomato juice be PERFECT for this recipe? :-)

    • Shirley on October 2nd, 2011 8:44 pm

      Hi Kay–Although Son is now gluten free and gf fried onion rings are few and far between, he does like them, but still is iffy on onions in dishes. Just like your son. He used to send his hamburger back at fast food places if they screwed up his order and put onions on it. Isn’t that funny about our “boys”? So many can relate. :-)

      Oh, fresh tomato juice from your dad?! That would be fantastic with these porcupine meatballs!

      Enjoy, dear!

  2. Jeanette on October 2nd, 2011 7:42 am

    What a funny story – kids are so visual aren’t they? I remember my son coming home from a friend’s house whose mom made these when he was young. He loved them. I”d forgotten about this recipe and so glad you’re sharing it.

    • Shirley on October 2nd, 2011 8:47 pm

      Hi Jeanette–Thanks! Yes, very visual, and once they are convinced of something, it can be so hard to change their minds. ;-) Many have heard of or enjoyed porcupine meatballs, but the recipes can vary so much. I’m always intrigued to hear the differences. This recipe seems a bit unusual with cinnamon and cloves as ingredients, but the flavors work well together. :-)


  3. Linda on October 2nd, 2011 9:14 am

    I love the story about your son. It made me laugh. Porcupine meatballs are not something I ever got into making. I guess when I make meatballs, I want them to go on spaghetti. But I can see why they would be kid friendly (for most kids), and now I’m thinking that I should have made them some over the years. They do look good!

    Thanks for the link to my FDA post!

    • Shirley on October 2nd, 2011 8:55 pm

      Thanks, Linda! Just thinking about the incident so long ago makes me laugh still. We were at my parents today for my dad’s birthday and I was telling mom that I’d shared the story in my post. She reminded me of another time that I’d made a casserole of some sort (a little foggy on which one) and Son told her with dismay, “There was a big old onion right on top!” Boy, did I traumatize him as a kid! LOL

      Meatballs with spaghettis are my favorite, too, but we do enjoy these from time to time. I think the novelty of this recipe and the simple ingredients make them a winner with *most* kids.

      I hope mentioning yours and Cheryl’s posts got more folks to reflect on what is proposed, and most importantly to comment!


  4. cheryl on October 2nd, 2011 12:15 pm

    kids are absolutely more vested in things they make!
    I haven’t eaten meatballs in…oh…at least a decade, and it wasn’t until your post that I considered thinking about them again!
    thanks for mentioning my post, and have a great day.

    • Shirley on October 2nd, 2011 8:58 pm

      Hi Cheryl–I love it when you enlist kids with cooking and they enjoy it so and then beam with pride when they and others eat what they’ve made! :-)

      Meatballs can be a fun and healthy meal. ;-)

      The timing of your post was perfect and the info concisely shared (uh, my weakness); I appreciated being able to reference it!

      Have a good week! Shirley

  5. Debbie on October 2nd, 2011 1:04 pm

    Shirley, Thank you for the reminder to make our voice heard. I will have to share this.

    I love your ideas and skillet dinners are the best!
    Just perfect for this chilly day. Best wishes to you. xo

    • Shirley on October 2nd, 2011 9:03 pm

      Hi Debbie–Thanks for sharing the info! We need as many voices on this effort as possible. :-)

      I appreciate the sweet feedback, dear. I absolutely love skillet dinners. Today was sure chilly. Welcome to fall! ;-)

      xo to you,

  6. SunnyB @ andloveittoo on October 2nd, 2011 2:09 pm


    My kids will love these!

    Thank you for reminding us about the important dates coming up. You are wonderful.



    • Shirley on October 2nd, 2011 9:05 pm

      Hi Sunny!–I hope your kids enjoy these “unusual” meatballs. ;-)

      You are always so generous, Sunny–thanks so much! I’m happy to get ” the word” out whenever it’s needed. :-)


  7. Maggie on October 2nd, 2011 5:37 pm

    Looks like a perfect Halloween meal too Shirley :) You’re so right, kids would love this! I love your series or series, they’re so GFE :)

    • Shirley on October 2nd, 2011 9:15 pm

      Maggie–Yes! Halloween is all about unexpected “pricklies,” isn’t it? ;-) Thanks so much for the lovely feedback, Maggie! :-)


  8. InTolerant Chef on October 2nd, 2011 7:22 pm

    I learnt to make these way back in primary school! They were so easy and fun and I was so proud to make them at home for my mum and dad. My daughter is not a huge fan of onions, but will eat some cooked in a meal, so maybe I can talk her into making these for our dinner with her little hands too.

    • Shirley on October 2nd, 2011 9:33 pm

      InTolerant Chef–Oh, how sweet that you have experience from long ago with making these meatballs and experiencing kudos from your mum and dad! :-) I hope you can get your daughter to give these a try. Of course, you could opt for ingredients other than onions, too (pizza seasoning? an all-purpose seasoning like Mrs. Dash), or perhaps just a tad of onion powder. Usually that’s less objectionable than actual onions. ;-)

      Thanks, dear!

  9. Alisa Fleming on October 2nd, 2011 8:14 pm

    What a cute and tasty idea Shirley! I was so curious to see what would make them porcupine-like – love this. I actually love tomato juice as a sauce, but haven’t had it since I was a kid. Need to give that a go too. Such a kid-friendly dish!

    • Shirley on October 2nd, 2011 9:36 pm

      Hi Alisa–Thanks! I’m glad you appreciate the fun and deliciousness of porcupine meatballs. :-) Give them a try and feel like a kid again! ;-)


  10. Heather @Gluten-Free Cat on October 2nd, 2011 11:17 pm

    Shirley, you’ve been giving me childhood flashbacks all week! I remember my mother making “porcupine balls” when we were little, and we had the same reaction. What? Are we eating porcupine? Food memories warm the heart, don’t they? Thanks for helping me remember. <3

    • Shirley on October 3rd, 2011 11:55 am

      Hi Heather–I love hearing that! :-) Not only do I like inspiring food memories in general, but I also like to show that going gluten free can still mean that many old favorites can grace the table. ;-)


  11. Nancy @SensitivePantry on October 3rd, 2011 6:58 am

    I love that story, Shirley! Never heard of porcupine meatballs and admit I was intrigued with the name. Makes sense now. These look so easy to make. Thanks for sharing.

    • Shirley on October 3rd, 2011 12:16 pm

      Hi Nancy–Thanks, dear! I remember being intrigued, too, the very first time this student’s mom mentioned porcupine meatballs. ;-) Easy and good for those times when that’s just what you want.

      Now when I want something more upscale, I’m definitely going for your Mallomars (Whippets!) with the white wine factor. They look incredible! :-)


  12. Peter Bronski on October 3rd, 2011 11:35 am

    Hi Shirley… Love the name “Porcupine Meatballs!” Going to have to use that one with the girls as they get just a little older. Thanks for the inspiration!

    Cheers, Pete

    • Shirley on October 3rd, 2011 2:00 pm

      Hi Pete–Thanks! I bet the girls will really enjoy this recipe (or whatever your variation might be). :-)


  13. Kalyn on October 3rd, 2011 2:19 pm

    I’m kind of amazed, but I’ve never had porcupine meatballs. Sounds like something I’d like!

    • Shirley on October 4th, 2011 1:23 pm

      Hi Kalyn–It seems like a lot of folks have missed out on porcupine meatballs! I think you’d like them, too. I just had them as leftovers for lunch and they were better than ever. ;-)


  14. Carol, Simply...Gluten-free on October 4th, 2011 8:59 am

    I agree – there is no better way to get kids to eat than to involve them in the making of dinner. These sound easy and delish!

    • Shirley on October 4th, 2011 1:19 pm

      Hi Carol–I’m betting your kids loved cooking with you and eating all their results. :-) I know your grandkids do now!

      Thanks! xo,

  15. Diane-thewholegang on October 11th, 2011 9:25 am

    I love the name of these. Very clever. My youngest son had an onion phobia too. Of course I’m always hiding things in meatballs so now he’s just suspicious. These meatballs would be great in that Mexican soup, Albondigas. The best bowl I had was at Tropesuena in San Fran with you!

    • Shirley on October 12th, 2011 10:35 am

      LOL, Diane, on the suspicion from your son. All that should matter is that it tastes good, right? Wonder how many kids have been traumatized by their mom’s reckless use of onions? ;-)

      I remember how crazy you went over those Albondigas! Sounds like it’s time to create a porcupiney version. :-)

      • Diane-thewholegang on October 12th, 2011 10:36 am

        I forgot too, my oldest didn’t like the word onions so we called them schrugens in the dish. He ate those, just not onions. :-)

        • Shirley on October 12th, 2011 11:05 am

          Haha! That sounds very Harry Potterish … is it an HP term? ;-)

          Here’s one as good … Mr. GFE’s dad called sweet potatoes “music roots” in order to get him and his siblings to eat them. Totally nonsensical/illogical, but it worked. Of course, he won’t eat them now unless I hide them in dishes. ;-)

          • Diane-thewholegang on October 12th, 2011 11:13 am

            Or course I’m not spelling it right but I think that schrugens may be onion in another language. Either way he liked the word. What we need to do in order to have people eat real food!

          • Shirley on October 12th, 2011 5:40 pm

            Ah, I like the sound of that word, too. Sounds much more comforting and friendly than onions, even though I love them. ;-) Haha on your last statement! Yes, sometimes that is true. :-)

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