Baked Enchilada Meatballs

Baked Enchilada Meatballs are tender, juicy, loaded with fiesta flavor, smothered in enchilada sauce and cheese!

These Enchilada Meatballs are truly something special – guaranteed to become a new favorite dinner with the entire family!  The meatballs are laced with cilantro, green onions, chili and cumin, baked to succulent perfection then smothered with the BEST rich, bold, smoky homemade enchilada sauce, topped with melty cheese, then loaded with your favorite toppings such as sour cream, guacamole and pico de gallo.  Keep the Enchilada Meatballs low-carb or serve them over Cilantro Lime Rice along with Mexican Street Corn Salad and Pina Colada Fruit Salad for the ultimate feast!  You can make the baked meatball recipe completely from scratch, or swap in store-bought meatballs or enchilada sauce for those need-it-now dinner wins.  All shortcuts and recipe variations included!

Meatballs have my heart.  Tender, juicy flavor bombs that are oh so satisfying.  If you’re looking to mix up your meatball routine, don’t miss these favorites:  Honey Buffalo Meatballs, Korean Meatballs, Cranberry Meatballs, Cocktail Meatballs, Greek Meatballs, Turkey Meatballs or Teriyaki Meatballs.

HOW TO MAKE Baked Enchilada MEatballs VIDEo

top view of baked enchilada meatballs in a skillet with cheese
  • spectacular, multi-dimensional, rich and smoky
  • spiked with a pinch of cinnamon, cocoa powder and sugar (to mimic Mexican chocolate) for true authentic flavor with a hint of warm, sweet, spicy mole complexity
  • completely accessible by using pantry friendly ingredients instead of dried chilies
  • made in 15 minutes!
enchilada meatballs baked in the oven covered in cheese

Ingredients in Enchilada Meatballs 

Here’s a quick overview of the ingredients needed to make Enchilada Meatballs from scratch, but keep in mind you can use store-bought enchilada sauce if you’re in a hurry. (Full recipe in the printable recipe card at the bottom of the post):

For the Meatballs: 

  • Ground beef: use lean ground beef so the meatballs will be tender but not greasy.
  • Egg: one egg will do the trick to bind all the ingredients together.
  • Crackers: crushed Ritz or saltines add a fabulous flavor in place of plain panko or breadcrumbs. 
  • Green onions: also known as scallions. They’re not as strong as regular onions so they aren’t overpowering, and you don’t have to worry about raw onions!
  • Fresh cilantro: adds a pop of zesty freshness to the baked meatballs without making them taste overly herby. Add more or less to taste.  If you can’t stand cilantro, then just skip it.
  • Milk: any kind of milk will work here to help moisten the Enchilada Meatballs.
  • Spices: the meatballs are flavored with a blend of chili powder, ground cumin, smoked paprika dried oregano, garlic, salt, and pepper. 

For the Enchilada Sauce

  • Seasonings:  chili powder is the shortcut to freshly ground chilies and works wonders in this recipe.  It is combined with ground cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, ground coriander, smoked paprika, dried oregano, salt and cayenne pepper.  They all work together to create a deep, satisfying complexity.
  • Tomato paste:  adds the signature tomato flavor. Some authentic recipes don’t include tomato paste but it is a flavor must in my book.
  • Oil:  you will want to use a neutral oil such as canola oil or vegetable oil that won’t add flavor to the sauce.  Other suitable neutral oils include grapeseed oil, corn, peanut, or safflower oil.  You may get by with olive oil in a bind.
  • Butter:  use unsalted butter so we can control the salt or you may substitute with the same amount of oil.
  • Flour:  is used to make a roux with the oil/butter to thicken the sauce.  You can use all-purpose flour or all-purpose gluten free flour.  
  • Chicken broth: forms the base of the sauce.  Use low sodium broth so we can control the salt.
  • Cocoa Powder + sugar + cinnamon:  this is an easy substitute for Mexican chocolate which I’m pretty sure most of you don’t keep stocked.  It adds a depth of flavor you will LOVE.
  • Apple cider vinegar:  awakes the flavors of the sauce.  You may substitute with distilled white vinegar.
enchilada meatballs covered in cheese

For the Toppings: 

  • Shredded cheese: I recommend freshly shredded cheddar cheese or a combination of freshly shredded cheddar and Monterrey Jack.  The cheddar boasts the bold flavor needed to cut through the robust sauce and the Monterrey adds a creamy, buttery flavor.  I don’t recommend using a Mexican cheese blend because it is coating in anti-clumping chemicals which means it takes longer to melt (and it doesn’t taste as good!).
  • Toppings: the toppings are optional, but I like to load up my baked meatballs with fresh cilantro, jalapeños, diced tomatoes, olives, sour cream, guacamole, and lime wedges.

Ingredient Substitutions 

  • Ground turkey: replace the ground beef with ground chicken or turkey. The meatballs won’t be quite as juicy because chicken and turkey contain less fat than beef, so you may wish to add some olive oil to enhance the juiciness or an extra splash of milk. I also like to add 1-2 teaspoons of beef bouillon to enhance the flavor (reduce salt if using bouillon).
  • Crackers: can be replaced with toasted bread crumbs or panko bread crumbs. Add a little extra salt to the ground beef mixture if using.
  • Enchilada sauce: use 2 cups of your favorite store-bought brand. 
  • Milk: any kind of milk will work in this recipe.
  • Onion: swap the green onions for 2 tablespoons dried minced onions or 1 teaspoon onion powder.  
  • Cheese: I prefer Monterrey Jack or cheddar, but for a spicier twist you can use Pepper Jack. 

How to Make Baked Enchilada Meatballs 

Baked Enchilada Meatballs are incredibly easy to prepare. If you use a cookie dough scoop to shape the meatballs, the process goes by in a flash! While the meatballs bake, the enchilada sauce gets whisked together and then all that’s left to do is combine the two. Exact instructions are provided in the printable recipe card at the end of this post, but here’s an overview of the cooking process: 

Step 1: Make the meatball mixture. Whisk together all of the meatball ingredients in a large bowl, except the ground beef. Add the beef last and mix with your hands just to combine.

a collage showing how to make baked enchilada meatball recipe by mixing eggs, cilantro, green onions, and crackers together, then mixing in ground beef, then using a cooking scoop and adding to a baking sheet

Step 2: Shape the meatballs. Scoop the meat mixture using a 1-tablespoon cookie dough scoop, then gently roll them a couple times in between the palms of your hands to shape into balls.

Step 3: Bake the meatballs. Bake the meatballs at 400 degrees F for 12 minutes. The meatballs will NOT be fully cooked through at this point, and will finish cooking with the enchilada sauce. 

Step 4: Make the enchilada sauce. While the meatballs are baking, make the enchilada sauce. Melt the butter in oil in a cast iron skillet, braiser (this is the exact one I use) or large oven-safe skillet. Whisk in the flour and seasonings and cook for 2 minutes, followed by the tomato paste, then gradually whisk in the chicken broth. Continue to whisk until smooth and the lumps are dissolved. Whisk in the cocoa powder, sugar and cinnamon and bring to a simmer to thicken for about 5 minutes.

a collage showing how to make baked enchilada meatball recipe by mixing seasonings together, sautéing the spices, sautéing the tomato paste, adding the chicken broth and simmering until thickened

Step 5: Melt the cheese. Carefully transfer the baked meatballs to the enchilada sauce and turn to coat in the sauce. Top the meatballs with the cheese and place the pan in the oven until the meatballs are cooked to 160ºF. 

showing how to make baked enchilada meatballs by adding the meatballs to the enchilada sauce

Step 6: Add toppings and serve! Remove the skillet from the oven and top the meatballs with your favorite enchilada toppings. 

top view of baked enchilada meatballs in skillet topped with sour cream, guacamole, cilantro and tomatoes
  • Start with cold ingredient:  use cold eggs, cold milk and add cold beef straight from the fridge.   This will make the meatballs much easier to roll.
  • If the meatballs are dry: add a splash of milk to the meatball mixture. The meatball mixture should be moist but hold its shape.
  • Don’t overmix the meatball ingredients: overmixing results in tougher Enchilada Meatballs.
  • Make uniform meatballs: use a cookie scoop to form your meatballs so they are all the same size and will cook evenly. This also makes forming the meatballs quick and easy. If you do not have a scoop, use a measuring spoon to make them roughly the same size.
  • Don’t roll the meatballs too tightly:  roll the meatballs as loosely as you can without falling apart.  The looser the meatballs, the more tender.
  • Non-stick trick: if the meatballs are sticking to your hands (it’s a good thing, means they are extra moist), lightly grease your hands with cooking spray or cold water.
  • Don’t overcook: overcooked meatballs are dry meatballs. Cook just to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. The easiest way to tell when they’re done is by using an instant read thermometer. 
  • Cook the flour when making the enchilada sauce: cook the flour for a full two minutes before adding the tomato paste. We don’t want any raw flour taste to ruin our enchilada sauce!
  • Add the chicken broth over low heat: this prevents the broth from bubbling and spattering, but most importantly, it really gives you time to whisk the flour and broth together before heat is introduced which makes getting rid of lumps 10X harder. 
  • Simmer the enchilada sauce to your desired consistency: this can be different for every individual, but make sure it is at least thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. 
up close of a enchilada meatballs covered in cheese
  • Frozen meatballs: These Enchilada Meatballs are infused with cilantro, green onions, garlic, chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika, etc. which is part of what makes them Enchilada Meatballs.  However, sometimes you just don’t have time to make meatballs from scratch – so break out those frozen meatballs!  To use, cook the meatballs according to package directions until completely warmed through. Transfer to the skillet with the enchilada sauce, add the cheese and bake until the cheese is melted.
  • Use ground chicken or turkey: Ground poultry contains less fat than ground beef, so you may want to add a little oil to the meatball mixture or swap the milk for sour cream or plain Greek yogurt. I also recommend adding 2 teaspoons granulated beef bouillon, better than bouillon or 2 cubes, crushed to infuse the meatballs with bold beefy flavor. Reduce the salt in the meatballs if using bouillon.
  • Use different seasonings: You could try flavoring the meatball mixture with your favorite store-bought enchilada or taco seasoning. 
  • Use green enchilada sauce: For a totally different flavor profile, make green enchilada meatballs instead of red enchilada meatballs. 
  • Make the sauce spicier: Add minced chipotle chilies, cayenne pepper, chipotle chile powder or hot sauce to spice up the enchilada sauce.  
  • Mellow the acidity of the sauce: Add additional sugar to taste after the sauce has simmered if you would like to tone down the tanginess.
  • Make the sauce thicker or thinner: Simmer the enchilada sauce longer to thicken it up or simply don’t simmer it for as long for a thinner sauce. If you’re past that point, stir in chicken broth or water a little at a time until you reach desired consistency.
top view of serving baked enchilada meatballs over rice with guacamole, sour cream and cilantro

Additional baked meatball FAQs 

How to Prevent Baked Meatballs from Falling Apart

Meatballs require both eggs and crushed crackers to bind the ingredients together. If you don’t have enough of either ingredient compared to the ratio of meat and liquid, the meatballs can fall apart. My general rule of thumb for no-fail enchilada meatballs is 1 large egg + ½ cup crushed crackers + 2 tablespoons milk/or other liquid per 1 pound of ground meat. Works like a charm every time! If your meatballs are too loose to roll, then try adding more crushed crackers. 

What Does Adding an Egg to the Meatballs Do? 

Contrary to popular belief, eggs do not add moisture to meatballs. Instead, their role is to help bind the ground meat, crackers, and herbs together. As the meatballs cook, the eggs cook which helps all the ingredients stick together instead of crumble apart. Typically, you don’t want more than 1 egg per pound of meat, otherwise the meatballs can be dense instead of soft.

Why Are My Meatballs Tough? 

Meatballs can be tough and dense instead of light and juicy because of three reasons:

1.     too little liquid
2.     overworking the meatball mixture 
3.     over-rolling/compacting the meatballs 

To prevent tough meatballs, add all of the meatball ingredients to the bowl except the ground meat, stir to combine and then mix the ground meat in with your hands. This method allows you to handle the meat as little as possible. You don’t want to over-mix the meat into a paste, instead, pieces of ground meat should still be visible. Also, take care when rolling the meatballs to use a light touch by not squeezing them too much or rolling them too much.  Leave them airy instead of compact.

How Long Do Raw Meatballs Last in the Fridge? 

Cook them within 24 hours for optimal freshness and juiciness. Make sure to bring them to room temperature by sitting on the counter for 30 minutes before baking. Cooked meatballs are good for up to five days stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. 

How Large Should I Roll Meatballs? 

When deciding how large to make your meatballs, take into consideration how you will be serving them and that, in general, larger meatballs are juicier. For baked skillet meatballs, like in this recipe, about 1 tablespoon inches in diameter is appropriate so they are bite size but still juicy. 

showing how to serve baked enchilada meatballs by adding to a bowl with rice and topping with sour cream, guacamole, tomatoes and cilantro

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top view of enchilada meatballs in a skillet with cheese

Baked Enchilada Meatballs

These Enchilada Meatballs are truly something special – guaranteed to become a new favorite dinner with the entire family!  The meatballs are laced with cilantro, green onions, chili and cumin, baked to succulent perfection then smothered with the BEST rich, bold, smoky homemade enchilada sauce, topped with melty cheese, then loaded with your favorite toppings such as sour cream, guacamole and pico de gallo.  Keep the Enchilada Meatballs low-carb or serve them over Cilantro Lime Rice along with Mexican Street Corn Salad and Pina Colada Fruit Salad for the ultimate feast!  You can make the baked meatball recipe completely from scratch, or swap in store-bought meatballs or enchilada sauce for those need-it-now dinner wins. 
Servings: 6 servings
Total Time: 50 mins
Prep Time: 30 mins
Cook Time: 20 mins

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Ingredients

MEATBALLS

  • 1 egg
  • 11 Ritz or saltine crackers, crushed (may sub scant ½ cup panko with pinch of salt)
  • 3 tablespoons minced green onions
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp EACH ground cumin, smoked paprika, dried oregano, salt, pepper
  • 1 pound lean ground beef

ENCHILADA SAUCE (May sub 2 cups store-bought)

  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tsp EACH ground cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp EACH smoked paprika, salt, dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional for spicier)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (may sub oil)
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil or other neutral oil
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 3 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

Toppings (Pick your favs!)

  • 3/4 cup combo of shredded cheddar and Monterrey cheese (or all cheddar)
  • Cilantro
  • Jalapenos
  • Tomatoes
  • Olives
  • Sour cream
  • Guacamole
  • Lime wedges

Instructions

Make the Meatballs

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil (optional for easy cleanup) and top with an oven safe baking rack. Spray the rack lightly with cooking spray; set aside.
  • Whisk all of the meatball ingredients together EXCEPT the beef in a large bowl. Add the beef and mix with your hands just to combine (don’t over-mix or your meatballs will be tough).
  • Scoop the meat mixture using a 1 tablespoon cookie dough scoop (or a heaping 1 tablespoon), then gently roll them into balls, but don't compact too much or the meatballs will be dense. Place the meatballs onto the prepared baking sheet without touching, you should have about 30.
  • Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and bake at 400 degrees F for 12 minutes (they won’t be quite done at this point). Meanwhile…

Make the Enchilada Sauce

  • Whisk the flour and all seasoning together in a small bowl (chili powder through optional cayenne pepper); set aside.
  • Melt the butter in the oil in a large braiser, cast iron skillet or oven safe skillet over medium heat. Whisk in the flour mixture and cook, while whisking, for 2 minutes. Whisk in the tomato paste until completely combined and continue to cook for 1 minute.
  • Reduce the heat to low. Gradually whisk in the chicken broth. Continue to whisk until smooth and the lumps are dissolved. Whisk in cocoa powder, sugar and cinnamon.
  • Bring the sauce to a simmer, whisking often, until it thickens to your desired consistency, about 5-7 minutes. Keep in mind the sauce will thicken a little when baked. Remove from heat and stir in the apple cider vinegar.

Combine and Bake

  • Transfer the seared meatballs to the enchilada sauce and turn to coat. Spread into an even layer then top with the cheese. Bake for 8-12 minutes more or until the meatballs are cooked to an internal tempreature of 160 degrees F on an instant read thermometer and the cheese is melted.
  • Delicious served over plain rice, cilantro lime rice or cauliflower rice along with desired toppings.

Video

Notes

  • Enchilada Sauce: If you don’t have all the ingredients, you’re welcome to use store-bought enchilada sauce, but at some point, please try it with the sensational homemade sauce!  It only takes 15 minutes to make, is rich and smoky spiked with a pinch of cinnamon, cocoa powder and sugar (to mimic Mexican chocolate) for true authentic flavor with a hint of warm, sweet, spicy mole complexity. 
  • Frozen meatballs: These Enchilada Meatballs are infused with cilantro, green onions, garlic, chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika, etc. which is part of what makes them Enchilada However, sometimes you just don’t have time to make meatballs from scratch – so break out those frozen meatballs!  To use, cook the meatballs according to package directions until completely warmed through. Transfer to the skillet with the enchilada sauce, add the cheese and bake until the cheese is melted.
  • Ground chicken or turkey: Ground poultry contains less fat than ground beef, so you may want to add a little oil to the meatball mixture or swap the milk for sour cream or plain Greek yogurt. I also recommend adding 2 teaspoons granulated beef bouillon, better than bouillon or 2 cubes, crushed to infuse the meatballs with bold beefy flavor. Reduce the salt in the meatballs if using bouillon.

Meal Prep

You can prepare parts of the Enchilada Meatball recipe in advance, or you can make the entire recipe as written to reheat and enjoy later. Here’s the breakdown:
  • Make Meatballs: roll the meatballs up to 24 hours ahead of time, cover with plastic wrap, refrigerate, then bake when ready.  You can also go one step further and bake the meatballs, cool, then either store in an airtight container or store in the skillet with the enchilada sauce.
  • Enchilada sauce: prepare the sauce up to 7 days in advance and store in the fridge until ready to use or freeze for up to three months, then thaw when needed.
  • Fully assembled: prepare and bake the meatballs as written, transfer to the skillet with the enchilada sauce and top with cheese, cover and refrigerate. When you’re ready to enjoy, pop the skillet in the oven until warmed through.

How to Store and Reheat

  • Storage: Let the pan cool completely, cover and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
  • To freeze: Transfer meatballs and enchilada sauce to a freezer safe container (preferable without the cheese).  Label and store in the freezer for 2-3 months. When ready to use, let meatballs thaw overnight in the refrigerator. Transfer to an oven safe pan, top with cheese, then bake per instructions.
  • To reheat: Microwave servings at 30-second increments until warmed through, on the stove, stirring occasionally or transfer the oven-safe skillet to the oven and heat at 350ºF for about 10 minutes, or until warmed through. You can also top with additional cheese before reheating – yum!  

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14 Comments

  1. Lynn says

    Hi Jen, this recipe couldn’t have come at a better time! Hubby & I are helping our son, daughter-in-law and grandson move to a new home. I always take frozen prepared meals down with us when we visit with them. This will be absolutely perfect because we all love Tex Mex food! Thanks so much for sharing this recipe! I know it will be another winner from your fabulous repertoire!

    • Jen says

      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment Lynn! That is so thoughtful of you to take prepared frozen meals to your son/daughter-in law – I’m sure that is SO appreciated. I’m excited for you/them to try this recipe!

  2. Teena says

    This was amazing! Was looking for something different for taco Tuesday and this was a hit! Will definitely make the enchilada sauce and double it to freeze for other recipes. I will never buy store bought again. I also made your cilantro lime rice….all I can say is amazing! Hubby can’t stop eating it lol. Thank you for amazing recipes I can’t wait to try some of your others.

    • Jen says

      Thank you so much Teena! I’m thrilled you loved the enchilada sauce so much – it really is a game changer! I hope you enjoy exploring my site and hopefully discover many new favorites!

  3. Mary says

    Hi Jen! What a great recipe! I love meatballs!!! I made your recipe exactly as you wrote it. It was delicious. I served it on rice as recommended but also added the option of putting it on a salad (even with your enchilada sauce as the dressing). On the side, I also had diced green onions, diced jalapenos, sliced black olives, diced green chilies, diced avocado, diced tomato, shredded cheese, sour cream, lime wedges. It was a huge hit whether it was on rice or the salad and everyone could customize their plate as they desired. The meatballs were so tender, and the enchilada sauce was wonderful. The next time I make it, I will double the recipe as it went fast! I think I may just make the meatballs in the future, cook them and freeze them to have on hand. I never would have thought to make a Mexican meatball……you are a GENIOUS…!!!

    • Jen says

      Thank you so much for your kind comment Mary, I’m so happy this recipe was a huge hit! I love your idea of adding the meatballs to a salad – I never would have thought of that – sounds delicious! I’m sure many readers will love your idea as well!

  4. Paddy says

    JEN!!!!!
    This is sooooo good!!!! Thank you again for all you do!!!! I no you don’t no it, but you are a regular in our home! Everyone knows you i will be makeing this meal over and over!!!!

    • Jen says

      YAY! Thanks so much Paddy, I’m so pleased this recipe is a new repeat favorite! Thank you for making my recipes and always bringing a smile to my face!

  5. Tammy says

    What kind of rice do you use?

  6. Daryl says

    I made the enchilada meatballs and I will “write home” about how delicious the dish is! Thanks for sharing your cooking expertise & recipes.
    I’ll be back searching for more dishes.

    • Jen says

      That is awesome, thank you so much Daryl!

  7. Susan says

    I made sure I had everything, all lined up on the counter. Followed the recipe to the letter. Fantastic! Don’t change anything! My husband came in from outside just as I was putting the meatballs in the sauce “whoa, that smells awesome!”

    Thank you for yet again a total score recipe!

    • Jen says

      You are so welcome Susan, thank you for making it and taking the time to comment! I’m so pleased it was a hit!

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