Firecracker Air Fryer Chicken Meatballs — Lightly crisped on the outside, juicy and tender on the inside, these homemade meatballs are air fried and then coated in a sweet-with-tangy-heat firecracker sauce with the perfect amount of heat! Serve these as an appetizer or as the main course. They’re perfect for parties and events, too! Oven baking instructions provided as well as for how to make them using frozen meatballs.
Firecracker Chicken Meatballs in an Air Fryer
Whether you’re looking for a meatball appetizer recipe or want to serve these air fryer firecracker chicken meatballs as the main course, you won’t have any leftovers that’s for sure!
That’s because these meatballs are lightly crisped on the outside, moist and tender on the inside, and coated in the most delectable firecracker sauce.
This homemade firecracker sauce is sweet yet savory and tangy, sticky so it clings wonderfully to the juicy meatballs, and has just the right amount of heat from the addition of hot sauce and red pepper flakes.
I can’t help but think that anything with firecracker sauce would be perfect to serve at a Fourth of July party or get-together! Also holidays like Memorial Day, Labor Day, or Christmas or New Year’s Eve parties are made for meatballs.
Set out some toothpicks and watch your friends and family go to town on these tasty homemade meatballs.
Ingredients in Air Fryer Chicken Meatballs with Firecracker Sauce
For these crowd-favorite firecracker chicken meatballs made in an air fryer, there are two components – the meatballs and the firecrackers sauce. Both use very commonly found and basic ingredients.
- Large eggs
- Olive oil
- Onion powder
- Smoked paprika (or regular paprika)
- Ground chicken
- Parmesan cheese
- Fresh parsley, optional for garnishing
- Light brown sugar
- Hot sauce
- Apple cider vinegar
- Soy sauce
- Garlic powder
- Red pepper flakes
Firecracker Sauce Tip: If you’re a dipping sauce freak like I am and love things extra saucy, feel free to double this firecracker sauce recipe so not only will you have enough to coat your air fryer firecracker chicken meatballs in, you’ll have extra to dip them in when serving.
How to Make Chicken Meatballs in an Air Fryer
Making firecracker chicken meatballs in an air fryer is fast and easy. Follow these straightforward steps for crave-worthy air fryer ground chicken meatballs:
Step 1: Mix together beaten eggs, olive oil, garlic, chives, onion powder, salt, pepper, and smoked paprika.
Step 2: Add the ground chicken, panko, Parm, and lightly mix together.
Step 3: Form the large meatballs with a cookie scoop to keep them uniform.
Step 4: Spray the basket of your air fryer with cooking spray, spray the meatballs, and air fry them for 10 minutes.
Tip: While they’re frying, make the firecracker sauce by boiling together all the ingredients for less than 5 minutes, and then adding the red pepper flakes after the sauce cools.
Step 5: Flip the meatballs over and air fry for 5 to 7 minutes.
Step 6: Dip them in the firecracker sauce.
Step 7: Place them back in the air fryer and air fry them for 2 minutes before serving!
How Long to Cook Chicken Meatballs in an Air Fryer?
You’ll want to cook them at 400ºF for 10 minutes, flip the meatballs over, then cook for another 5 to 7 minutes. I prefer to cook them for an extra 2 minutes after coating them in the firecracker sauce.
Can I Use Another Protein for Air Fryer Firecracker Meatballs?
You can absolutely swap ground turkey for ground chicken in these air fryer firecracker meatballs. You can even try ground pork or ground beef, too!
And you can mix and match the protein such as one pound ground turkey and one pound ground chicken.
Also, if you can get a dark meat your meatballs will stay more moist. However, ground dark meats aren’t so easy to find so a white meat like ground chicken or turkey (or pork) is fine.
Can I Bake Firecracker Chicken Meatballs?
For those who haven’t jumped on the air fryer band wagon, that’s okay. Because yes, you can bake these firecracker chicken meatballs instead of air frying them.
I suggest using a 400F oven and baking for about 17 to 20 minutes. While they bake, make the sauce, then add it to the baked meatballs.
And bake the meatballs for two minutes after saucing them.
It’s a similar oven temp and baking time like I use for my Baked Honey Garlic Meatballs. For those, however I toss them in sauce after baking and after saucing them, I don’t bake them anymore.
Can I Use Frozen Meatballs to Make Firecracker Meatballs?
Yes you can use precooked frozen meatballs – turkey, chicken, beef, pork – to make air fryer meatballs.
Make the firecracker sauce, coat them, and finish them off according to the air fryer chicken meatballs recipe.
Are Firecracker Air Fryer Chicken Meatballs Spicy?
For us, no these air fryer firecracker chicken meatballs are not overly spicy but they have just the right amount of kick.
I used Frank’s Original Hot Sauce. If you use sriracha or another type of hotter hot sauce, the resulting firecracker sauce for your meatballs will be hotter obviously.
For those of you who don’t like heat, use the mildest hot sauce you know you can tolerate. And perhaps omit the red pepper flakes.
And for those of you, like me, who are fire-seekers, feel free to add extra red pepper flakes (such as 2 or 3 teaspoons) or a few shakes of cayenne pepper.
Make Ahead Instructions
If you’re making these for a party or event, or just want to get ahead on your own cooking, you can feel free to make up the meatball mixture ahead of time and form your chicken or turkey meatballs.
Then store them in an airtight container in your fridge and air fry them within 24 hours.
How to Store Firecracker Chicken Meatballs
These air fryer firecracker meatballs are amazing hot and fresh out of the air fryer. However, extra meatballs will keep airtight in the fridge for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 4 months.
Extra firecracker sauce will keep airtight in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. Store it separately from the meatballs if you have extra or if you purposefully made extra (recommended)!
Tips for the Best Air Fryer Chicken Meatballs
Make sure to use panko breadcrumbs and not regular bread crumbs in your meatball mixture. If you need other recipes to help you finish off that box of panko, I have plenty of recipes that use panko breadcrumbs.
When you are mixing up the meatball mixture, don’t overmix or the firecracker chicken meatballs will become tougher and drier after you air fry them.
You can, of course, make the meatballs whatever size you like but I find meatballs of about 3 tablespoons are ideal for air frying or oven-baking if you’re going that route. To make them uniform, I suggest using a large cookie scoop.
After scooping them out and rolling them between your palms to make them smooth, don’t crush and smoosh them. Use light pressure without overly compacting them to combat denseness and tougher meatballs.
You need a bit of oil to make sure the air fryer can actually “fry” your meatballs. Plus, spraying the basket helps with sticking.
When placing the meatballs in the air fryer basket, they can be lightly touching but don’t smoosh or pack them in.
They will shrink in size as they cook. However, you may need to air fry the firecracker chicken meatballs in batches.
I know that for some people, three-quarters of a cup of brown sugar for the firecracker sauce sounds like a lot of sugar. However, that amount of brown sugar is necessary to have the right flavor balance for this sauce.
I don’t recommend using less brown sugar, nor do I recommend using Splenda, honey, agave, or anything else. Your sauce won’t come out right.
Cook the sauce on the stove while you’re air frying the meatballs. It won’t take long to thicken and get sticky, about 5 minutes. Don’t overcook it because it will thicken as it cools and can become overly thick.
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Air Fryer Firecracker Chicken Meatballs
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh chives, finely minced (optional but recommended for flavor)
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika, regular paprika may be substituted
- 2 pounds ground chicken*, See Notes for substitutions
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- ½ cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
- Fresh parsley, optional for garnishing
- ¾ cup light brown sugar, packed
- ½ cup hot sauce, sriracha or another hot sauce may be substituted
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce, I use lite or reduced sodium
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or as desired
- Meatballs - To a large bowl, add the eggs, olive oil, garlic, optional chives, onion powder, salt, pepper, and stir to combine.
- Add the ground chicken, panko bread crumbs, Parmesan, and stir to combine. Tips - Do not overmix or your meatballs will be tougher and drier. A light mixing with clean hands or a wooden spoon is all you need.
- I recommend using a large cookie scoop and making 3-tablespoon sized meatballs, rolling them lightly in your palms to smooth them. Tip - Don't overly compact or squish them.
- Preheat an XL air fryer or similar to 400F, spray the basket with olive oil cooking spray or another favorite cooking oil, add the meatballs to the basket, and lightly spray them with oil as well. Tips - They need some oil in order to actually "fry". When adding them to the air fryer, they can be close and touching but don't pack or cram them in. They will reduce in size as they cook.
- Air fry the meatballs for 10 minutes. Tip - Make the firecracker sauce while you're waiting.** (See Notes for oven baking instructions)
- Turn the meatballs over, spray them again lightly with cooking spray, and fry for an additional 5 to 7 minutes.
- Firecracker Sauce - To a small saucepan, add the brown sugar, hot sauce, vinegar, soy sauce, garlic powder, salt, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves.
- Cook until the sauce thickens and gets sticky, less than 5 minutes. The sauce will thicken as it cools so don't over thicken it.
- After the sauce has cooled, stir in the red pepper flakes. Use less or more than I call for, depending on how spicy you want your sauce.
- Meatballs - After the second round in the air fryer for 5 to 7 minutes, remove the meatballs one-by-one and dip them in the firecracker sauce making sure they are well coated. Place them back in the air fryer after dipping.
- Fry the sauced up meatballs for 2 minutes.
- Remove the meatballs, optionally garnish them with fresh parsley, and serve with any remaining firecracker sauce if desired. Extra meatballs with keep airtight in the fridge for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 4 months. Extra sauce will keep airtight in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. Store the meatballs and sauce separately.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
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