Chipotle Meatballs

Several years ago a Rick Bayless recipe for chipotle meatballs appeared in the Wednesday section of the New York Times. Fortunately we didn’t notice the recipe until a correction for it appeared in a subsequent paper, correcting the 2 cans of chipotle peppers the paper had published with the correct 2 chiles. We made the meatballs and loved them, but couldn’t help wincing over the idea of eating them made with 5 times as much chipotle!

We first published this recipe in 2006 and have since modified it a bit. This is the updated version. Excellent served with rice and/or tortillas. You could even serve the meatballs with spaghetti for a Tex Mex-ish version. It’s quite spicy and best accompanied with something cooling like sour cream and thinly sliced head lettuce.

Chipotle Meatballs Recipe

  • Prep time: 25 minutes
  • Cook time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 6-8.

Ingredients

Meatballs

  • 2 slices bacon, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground pork
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano or finely chopped fresh mint
  • 1-2 teaspoons chipotle powder (or a couple teaspoons of adobo sauce)

Sauce

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped, about 1 cup
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-3 chipotles chiles in adobo (canned), minced fine and sauce reserved
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes (preferably fire-roasted)
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 cup beef or chicken broth

Method

1 Preheat oven to 400°F. Mix all the meatball ingredients together in a large bowl and mix well with your clean hands for a minute or two. You want the mixture to be well integrated, but you don't want to overwork it or the meatballs will be tough.

2 With wet hands or an ice cream scoop, form meat into about 16 plum-size balls and space them out in a 13-by-9-inch baking dish, or, if you have one, a mini-muffin tin. Bake until lightly browned, about 15 minutes.

3 While meatballs bake, heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat and sauté the onions until they just start to brown. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, then add the minced chipotles, the can of tomatoes, oregano or mint, and beef broth. Mix well and add salt to taste. If you want more chipotle flavor, add the reserved chipotle sauce spoonful by spoonful, mixing and tasting between spoonfuls. Boil the sauce uncovered as the meatballs cook.

4 When meatballs are ready, put them into the sauce and toss to coat. If the sauce is too thin for your taste, continue to boil it down for a few minutes. Otherwise, serve with rice, tortillas or polenta. Garnish with cilantro to serve.

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Notes:

The word "chipotle" actually comes from the Nahuatl words chil (chile pepper) and poctli (smoke). (See Wikipedia.)

Links:

Diana Kennedy's chipotle meatballs from The Wednesday Chef
Rick Bayless' chipotle meatballs as written in the New York Times

34 Comments

  1. scotte

    This sounds sooo tasty, I can’t wait to try it!! I have to ask though. I tried finding chipotle in adobo at my supermarket and couldn’t…I live in an area with a heavy Hispanic make-up and an incredible international food section….was I looking in the place? Where did you find them?

    Hi Scotte, you should be able to find them at your supermarket in the ethnic food section. They come in small cans. Otherwise, you might try to find a local hispanic market, where you would be very likely to find chipotle chiles in adobo. ~Elise

  2. Annabelle

    I just discovered Chipotle Chile Powder and am having fun experimenting with it. All this time I thought it was a whole different variety of pepper, that’s neat that it’s just smoked and dried jalapenos.

  3. Ken Sloan

    I’ve actually been able to find chipotles in adobo at my local walmart of all places. Otherwise, they’re usually in the general ‘ethnic’ section of the supermarket.

  4. Vladimir

    I have some nice smokey bacon ends that I need to use for something. Would this be too much for this dish or would they complement the chipotle? I’ll probably half this recipe and give it a whirl this weekend and will get the opinion of my very-much carnivorous girlfriend.

    I think the smokey bacon will work great with the smokey chipotle. Go for it! ~Elise

  5. Bill

    I made these, but left the seeds in the Chipoltes, added a little extra spice. I also don’t have a food processor, so I left the diced tomatoes whole and just kind of minced up the peppers, it still turned out fantastic, a little more of a rustic type feel leaving the tomatoes whole. I didn’t do the bit with the chicken broth either, but still great either way. I might get a food processor so I can make this dish the way it was intended.

  6. Karen

    Did you use dried bread crumbs or fresh?

    When a recipe calls for bread crumbs, we take the hard ends of French bread that we save, break them up a bit, and run them through a blender. So they are definitely dry. ~Elise

  7. Rebecca

    Boy, these meatballs pack a punch! I’m in the midst of a kitchen remodel (no oven right now) so sauteed meatballs on the stovetop. Also couldn’t gain access to my put-away food processor — just chopped all ingredients finely. These were really very good. I love how the hint of mint shines through. I served with some leftover brown rice blend from Trader Joe’s that was really too hearty and chewy for an already pronounced dish. Will definitely make again with some fluffy white rice and a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt on top.

  8. KA Jones

    Wow, this was good. You know what’s really good with it? is polenta — especially polenta into which you’ve mixed some fresh corn (say, an ear’s worth) that you’ve cut from the cob and sauteed in a little butter until it almost starts to brown. Then when the polenta is done simmering, stir in the corn, mix, and spoon the whole shebang into an oiled pan, let it cool, then slice it, grill the slices, and serve them alongside the meatballs with some of the sauce drizzled over. YUM.

  9. David

    A note not included here from Rick Bayless’ book. If you’re using panko, increase to 3/4 cup. I always use panko now and think others probably are doing it more, too. Love this recipe. If you like Authentic Mexican, check out any of Rick’s books. He’s the best, bar none!!

  10. Kendra

    Wow are these tasty! I used ground turkey and omitted the bacon (and used my usual wheat germ for the bread crumbs), and they turned out fantastic! The sauce was one of the best I’ve ever had. The chipotle flavor was so powerful, and the fresh cilantro was a nice touch. Thanks for this recipe!

  11. Anne

    Oh! I love Rick Bayless. I can’t wait to try these.

  12. Becki's Whole Life

    These sound delicious and full of flavor. That is kind of funny that the original recipe called for 2 cans….wow, that would be pretty hot!

    Not the kind of typo you want! Rick’s recipe called for 2 chiles. The NYT called for 2 cans. Can you imagine being at the editor’s desk the next morning when the calls came in from all the people who tried the recipe with two cans? Yikes. ~Elise

  13. Katie | Healthnut Foodie

    What is it about this time of year that just screams meatballs? I just posted a more mild, turkey based version a couple weeks ago! Yours look fantastic! I can’t wait until my girls get a bit older so we can start cranking up the heat again!

    On a side note, the first time I made homemade baked beans, I naively swapped the traditional chili powder for chipotle chile powder. Holy moly! Makes me feel bad for those that used two cans of chipotle in adobo!

  14. latenac

    My family loves the original Rick Bayless recipe. With the bacon it’s quite good with ground turkey as well.

  15. Rachel @ Not Rachael Ray

    Yum! I love all the flavors you included in these meatballs. So funny that the recipe originally called for two can–yikes! What a typo!

  16. Erinn

    I can’t eat very spicy food, but these sound amazing! I may have to try a toned down version because they look too good NOT to eat!

  17. The Starving Student

    Sounds delicious! But for some reason it is almost impossible to find chipotles in adobo in Canada (or at least where I live). They are so good…our grocery stores need to smarten up and get with the program! I always add a combination of chili powder and smoked paprika to give it that extra smokey flavor.

  18. Rocky Mountain Woman

    I love anything Rick Bayless makes. The man is brilliant! I’ll give these a try..

  19. Lady Amalthea

    I love the idea of serving these over spaghetti! I think I may also make a double batch of the sauce and use it to make a spicy version of baked ziti, with Jack cheese and cotija instead of the usual mozzarella. Yum!

  20. Jo

    Hi, long-time site gawker.. I love Simply Recipes!

    Just a question: It says to use pork, but unfortunately my mother grew up not eating it, therefore anything I make for the family cannot include pork, ham, bacon, etc.

    Mindful of possible flavour sacrifice, what would be the next best type of ground meat to use?

    I know others have used ground turkey but I’d be happy to know your opinion :)

    I would use ground turkey and perhaps up the spices a bit. Also, you’ll need to add fat to the meatballs as ground turkey is lean. I would add some olive oil. ~Elise

  21. Ashley

    Hi Elise, where did you buy the dish in the picture? It’s absolutely beautiful.

    Thanks Ashley, it’s Mexican talavera pottery. I either bought it somewhere around here (lots of place in California sell this style of Mexican pottery) or I picked it up on one of my trips to Mexico, can’t remember. ~Elise

  22. Rose

    My husband and I both like spicy food so we tried this for dinner tonight. I tasted a meatball shortly after they came out of the oven and thought that it might not be spicy enough. Shortly after I put the meatballs in the sauce, I tasted the sauce and still thought that it might not be spicy enough. We let the meatballs simmer in the sauce for about 2 hours and then ate dinner. On the front of the palate there wasn’t much heat but there was a very pleasant heat on the back of the palate which kept us going until our plates were clean. We will definitely try this recipe again.

  23. Helen

    Do you think veal would be a good substitute for the pork?

    No idea. If you try it with veal, please let us know how it turns out for you. ~Elise

  24. Kris

    HELP! I have the worst luck with canned chipotles in adobo. I’ve made two chili recipes using them and both were disasters. One from Bobby Flay and the other Rick Bayless. Both had such strong chili flavor we couldn’t eat it. What am I doing wrong?

    For anyone in the San Francisco area check out the supermarket called Mi Pueblo. It’s a fantastic grocery store for authentic Mexican ingredients.

    Sounds like you just need to cut back on the amounts you are using. Everyone’s taste is different and perhaps your tastebuds are just more sensitive to chiles than the authors of the recipes you are trying. ~Elise

  25. Cheryl A.

    Hi there – I love this website. Anyways, I have been meaning to make these since you posted this recipe. Was finally able to make these last night and they were SOOOO delicious!! My husband’s words – “this is a keeper.” Thank you for the recipe!! Very flavorful and a nice change from regular italian meatballs. FYI – to the person who posted that they don’t eat pork – I used ground turkey because that’s what I had on hand. I also didn’t use the bacon as my husband suffers from heart failure and we can’t have the excess sodium. They were still delicious!! I plan on making them for some friends in a couple of weeks and will use the bacon then though – I’m sure they will be really good!! Thanks again!!

  26. Grace

    I have a dumb question… are the bacon slices cooked first or uncooked and right from the package?

    They are uncooked. ~Elise

  27. David boring

    Loved it. I still prefer my meatballs which I use hot italian sausage to make, but I love new uses for Chipotle peppers in adobe sauce. I make fire roasted salsa with them and chicken tortilla soup and now I can make meatballs! I never use a full can(anymore!) and I hate for it to go to waste.

  28. Allison

    This recipe is absolutely amazing. I used the mix of pork/veal/beef for the base. Great kick and flavor – pared it with manicotti – yum!

  29. Jennie

    I made this into meatball subs with some manchego cheese on top. My fiance who is not a fan of meatball subs could not get enough.

  30. Erin

    My daughter made these meatballs tonight for dinner. They were very good. Funny, though…she misread 1-3 chiles and instead read it 1-3 CANS OF CHILES. Thankfully we only had one can!! So, she used an entire can of chipotles. IT WAS SO HOT!! She was able to salvage it though, by taking out some of the sauce and adding more tomatoes and broth. The sauce was hot, but the flavor of the meatballs, as well as the sauce was very good!

  31. Helen

    I did try making these with veal and they turned out terrific.

    Fabulous recipe.

  32. Jo

    Me again. Finally found chipotles in adobo here! I just wanted to know, since I’ve heard that there are two types of oregano (Mex and Italian?), would it be okay to use Italian oregano? I’ve never come across the Mexican type.

    If I have Mexican oregano on hand, I use it, if not, I use regular (Italian) oregano. ~Elise

  33. Renee

    Hi Elise,

    big fan… been following along time. This is a go to recipe for me & hubby…but what I like to do is turn it into a sub. Toast the sub bun, add some cheese, top it with meatballs and sauce, then some cilantro, maybe a little mayo and a big squeeze of lime. Yum!

  34. Diego

    Elise,

    I was born and raised in Mexico city, living in Switzerland at the moment and this is what my mexico blues needed. Whenever i end up making meatballs, i make the traditional “Albondigas” meatball soup. But today, i found your recipe and it hit my “Mexican food” crave back in to place. I had also just chipotles brought by my mom from Mexico city so it was meant to be. It was Delicious!!!!! Thank you!

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