Chinese Lemon Chicken Meatballs

5 from 2 votes

These lemon chicken meatballs are a quick and healthy 45-minute meal. This Asian-inspired recipe is packed with ginger, garlic, cilantro, lemon, and an abundance of savory umami flavors, steamed for maximum juiciness that you can taste with each succulent bite!

overhead: plate of lemon chicken meatballs served over white rice with lemon slices

We usually think of meatballs as heavy and greasy. Cast those thoughts aside with these lemon chicken meatballs!

Seasoned and simmered in bright and herbal flavors, these Chinese chicken meatballs are made with lean protein and made with no added oil or butter. 

This is because they’re steamed — not pan-friend, oven-baked, or slow-cooked — and this helps them retain a ton of moisture. It’s the same process used to make Chinese steamed chicken. Actually, these two recipes have a lot of similarities. Take a look next time you need a recipe for chicken breasts or thighs! The sauce for both is what does it me, so good!

platter of chicken meatballs served over rice

Tip From Kevin

Are water chestnuts really a nut?

Water chestnuts are aquatic vegetables native to Southeast Asia. Despite their name, they aren’t nuts but tubers. Crunchy and mildly sweet, they’re commonly used in Asian cuisine for their unique texture. High in fiber and low in calories, they add a delightful crunch to stir-fries, salads, and appetizers.

Ingredient Notes and Substitutions

  • Ground Chicken – You can substitute with another lean protein, such as ground turkey.
  • Panko Breadcrumbs & Egg Together, these two form a very important binder to hold the chicken meatballs together.
  • Water Chestnuts – Fresh water chestnuts need to be thoroughly rinsed and peeled before use. 
  • Ginger Paste & Minced Garlic These are two defining flavors of Asian cooking. Use fresh whenever possible!
  • Oyster Sauce This viscous sauce is where the “umami” flavor comes in! If you don’t have it on hand, substitute with equal parts soy and hoisin sauce. 
  • Soy Sauce – Use dark soy sauce for a richer flavor and thicker texture — light is a bit too salty.
  • Chopped Cilantro We’re using a lot of cilantro in every part of these lemon chicken meatballs to get a really fresh, herbaceous flavor!
  • White Pepper – This pepper is very common in Chinese cooking — be sure to stock up! If you need to use black pepper, that’s absolutely fine. 
  • Chinese Five Spice – It’s sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and savory all at the same time! Perfect for Asian cooking. 
  • Lemon Juice & Zest One large lemon will yield enough juice and zest for the whole recipe.
  • Lemon Sauce – In addition to lemon juice, cilantro, and white pepper, this sauce contains cornstarch, soy and oyster sauce, sesame oil, chicken stock (which you can substitute with chicken broth or a vegetable broth/stock), and rice wine vinegar.
dish of creamy lemon sauce next to platter of chicken meatballs

How to Make Lemon Chicken Meatballs

  1. Mix Ingredients. Add the ground meat to a bowl along with the breadcrumbs, water chestnuts, egg, cilantro, soy and oyster sauce, garlic, ginger, Chinese Five Spice, white pepper, and lemon zest. Combine with your hands until everything is well incorporated.
  2. Chill Mixture. Cover the bowl and transfer to the freezer for 15 minutes.
  3. Form Meatballs. Take the chilled mixture and scoop into 12-16 balls.
  4. Steam. Transfer to a non-stick skillet on medium-high heat. Add ⅓ cup of water — the water doesn’t need to cover the meatballs completely — and bring it to a boil. Cover the skillet, lower the heat to a simmer, and steam for 10 minutes. Keep an eye on the water level and add more if needed. Transfer to a platter and cover with foil to keep warm while preparing the sauce.
  5. Prepare Sauce & Serve. Add all of the sauce ingredients to a saucepan and whisk together. Stir over medium heat until thickened. Stir in some diced lemon pieces (if desired) and pour over the platter. Serve over steamed rice or noodles and garnish with more chopped cilantro.
  • Skillet – Use a non-stick skillet with a lid to steam the meatballs.
  • Medium Cookie Scoop – Overhandling the ground meat can lead to dry chicken meatballs. Avoid this by using a cookie scoop to shape them, rather than rolling and shaping too much with your hands. 

Storing and Reheating

Store the lemon chicken meatballs, sauce and all, in an airtight container. Refrigerate and consume within 4 days. 

To reheat, put everything back in a saucepan and simmer on low heat until the meatballs are warmed through. You can also reheat, covered, in the microwave in 30-second bursts until warm.

overhead: Chinese chicken meatballs with white rice

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the secret to making firm meatballs?

Freezing the meatball mixture for just a short while, even just 15 minutes, goes a long way toward keeping them firm. 

Another trick is to make sure you don’t add too much egg. One egg is plenty for one pound of meat. Finally, don’t overwork the mixture — use your hands and mix just until everything is mixed in.

How can I keep my chicken meatballs from falling apart?

This is all about the binder. I use both breadcrumbs and egg in my lemon chicken meatballs to ensure they stick together during the steaming process. The egg binds the mixture while the breadcrumbs soak up moisture, preventing the ground protein from becoming too dry and falling apart while cooking.

What can I pair with lemon chicken meatballs?

The sauce with these Chinese chicken meatballs has so much flavor on its own that I usually serve them with plain steamed rice or noodles — nothing extravagant, just something to soak up the last of that delicious sauce with!

You can also serve them with rice noodles, like lo mein, or with some fresh spring rolls. For a vegetable, my bok choy stir fry is always a hit.

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overhead image: plate of Asian lemon cilantro chicken meatballs served over white rice with lemon slices

Lemon Chicken Meatballs

5 from 2 votes
Steamed lemon chicken meatballs are succulent and juicy, coated with a thick lemon cilantro sauce seasoned with zesty, spicy Asian flavors.
Servings: 4
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 12 minutes
Freeze Time: 15 minutes
Total: 42 minutes


For the Meatballs

Lemon Sauce


Chicken Meatballs

  • Place ground chicken in a bowl and add the Panko breadcrumbs, water chestnuts, cilantro, egg, oyster sauce, soy sauce, garlic, ginger paste, Chinese Five Spice, white pepper and lemon zest. Using your hands to incorporate and mix well.
  • Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in freezer for 15 minutes to firm up the meatball mixture.
  • Roll or scoop mixture into 12-16 meatballs. Transfer to a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Add 1/3 cup water, bring to a boil, cover and lower heat to simmer. Steam the meatballs for 10 minutes (water should almost completely evaporate; add more as needed). Remove from skillet and transfer to platter. Tent with foil to keep warm.

Lemon Sauce

  • Place the juice from a large lemon (about 3-4 tablespoons), chicken stock, cornstarch, soy sauce, oyster sauce, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil and white pepper in a saucepan. Whisk together over medium heat until thickened.
  • Stir in the diced lemon pieces (optional) and pour the sauce over the meatballs. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve with steamed rice or noodles.


Serving: 4meatballs | Calories: 298kcal | Carbohydrates: 23g | Protein: 26g | Fat: 13g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 139mg | Sodium: 877mg | Potassium: 831mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 158IU | Vitamin C: 37mg | Calcium: 65mg | Iron: 3mg

The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Chinese
Author: Kevin
Have You Made This Recipe? Let Me Know on InstagramTag @keviniscooking or tag me #keviniscooking!
titled image (and shown): lemon cilantro chicken meatballs


I was bitten by the cooking bug as a kid cooking and baking along side my mom. After an ROP restaurant course in high school, I went to work in restaurants and catering. My love of travel and food has led me across the world and I love to share those foods with family and friends.

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Recipe Rating


  1. 5 stars
    This was amazing! I made 24 meatballs out if a pound of meat. I had no cilantro but subbed in 1 1/2 tsp dried Thai basil. I steamed them 20 minutes and served them on top of leftover lemon pilaf. A truly outstanding dinner. Thank you! ❤️