Cheesy French Onion Meatballs

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A deliciously cheesy twist on two iconic dishes, French Onion Meatballs! Stuff homemade chicken meatballs with gruyère cheese & bake them until they're juicy, tender, & the cheese is totally melted. Quickly simmer the meatballs in a caramelized onion sauce made with Vidalia onions, creating a cozy & hearty French onion soup-inspired dinner. This French onion meatballs recipe is perfect for date night, girl’s night, or a special weeknight dinner. Total comfort food!
French onion meatballs in a large cast iron skillet that sits atop a light pink textured surface with a blue and white striped linen napkin placed underneath. The meatballs have been topped with toasty garlic herb breadcrumbs. One of the meatballs have been sliced in half and split open to reveal a melty gruyère cheese center.

The Best of Two Classics: French Onion Soup Meatballs

This French onion soup meatball recipe is a really fun twist on 2 classics we all know & love. It takes the melty, cheesy, sweet-savory comfort of French onion soup & turns it into a totally satisfying meatball dinner. (ICYMI, I love re-imagining classic dishes & flavors to bring them to life in meatball form!)

For this recipe, I use my go-to chicken meatballs as a base & tweak things a little bit to add French onion-inspired flair. A little herbes de Provence & fresh thyme makes the meatballs super flavorful while stuffing them with gruyère emulates the crave-worthy cheesiness of French onion soup. The cheese melts as the meatballs cook, so when you slice into them, you get an epic ooey-gooey cheese pull. It’s seriously SO good!

Since you can’t have French onion-anything without beautifully caramelized onions, I gently cook onions to coax out all of their natural sweetness as the meatballs bake. This is the most time-consuming part of the recipe, but it couldn’t be simpler since it’s totally hands-off. For best results, I use Vidalia onions, which are super-special sweet onions with exceptional flavor. Once caramelized, build a quick sauce to simmer the meatballs & marry all flavors together. Pretty simple!

French Onion Meatball Recipe Highlights

You’ll love these French onion soup-inspired meatballs because they’re…

  • THE PERFECT TWIST. This French onion meatballs recipe is a fun blend of 2 iconic dishes: juicy & meltingly tender chicken meatballs meet a rich, savory-sweet caramelized onion sauce. It’s the perfect dish to make whenever you crave something comforting & familiar with a little bit of a twist.
  • OOEY GOOEY GOODNESS. There’s nothing better than a gooey cheese pull! These simple meatballs are stuffed with gruyère cheese & baked to melty perfection. 😍
  • TOTAL COMFORT. Serve French onion meatballs with cozy carbs like noodles or a sprinkle of crispy breadcrumbs to embrace the spirit of French onion soup. It’s a great dish for everything from date night to a dinner party, or just for something fun on a Tuesday night – everyone loves it!

French onion soup, meet French onion meatballs! ♡ Read on to learn more about how to make these French Onion Meatballs, or jump straight to the recipe & get cooking!

How to Caramelize Onions for French Onion Meatball Sauce

Caramelized onions are a defining component of a classic bowl of French onion soup. Naturally, they’re the starting point for this French onion meatballs recipe! Since they need quite a bit of time to slowly cook, it’s best to begin caramelizing the onions right away.

Caramelizing onions is a delicate process that requires low & slow heat to extract the onion’s natural sugars. If you’re interested in food science, caramelized onion chemistry is pretty cool! 🤓 As onions cook, heat transforms the sucrose within the cells of the onions into simpler, smaller sugars (glucose & fructose) that make the onions even sweeter. As the onions cook, they also release a bit of moisture, which causes them to soften.

How to caramelize onions. ⇢ While caramelizing onions takes a little bit of time, it’s a mostly hands-off process. The onions need 8-10 minutes to soften & get a little color, at which point you can season with salt & continue to cook for 20-30 minutes longer until they’re richly caramelized. As they caramelize, the onions require slightly more frequent stirring to prevent burning, but those first 15-20 minutes are very low maintenance.

Quick note! The onions probably don’t reach what epicureans consider “true” caramelization in this French onion meatball recipe – that can take up to 90 minutes! Since there’s not always that much time to spare in weeknight cooking, there are a few tricks that help speed up the process without sacrificing any beautifully rich & caramelly flavor:

  1. Start with the right onion. Using an extra-sweet variety, like Vidalia onions, helps ensure a full-flavored result. Read on to learn more about Vidalia onions & what makes them so special!
  2. Slice the onions into uniform thin pieces. Doing so creates more surface area, allowing the onions to have more contact with the pan & caramelize faster.
  3. Use other complementary ingredients like flavor-boosting Dijon mustard & Worcestershire sauce, which help the onions reach the peak caramelized flavor in a much shorter timeframe.

Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.

Ingredient Spotlight

The Best Onions to Use for Caramelized Onions: Vidalia Onions

While most onions (red onions, yellow onions, shallots, etc.) have enough sugars to properly caramelize, extra-sweet varieties like Vidalia onions work exceptionally well.

Vidalia onions are not your average sweet onion! Hand planted & harvested in only 20 counties in South Georgia, Vidalia onions have a super distinct flavor. Their naturally higher sugar content means Vidalia onions caramelize easily for an extra impressive sweet finish. That’s exactly why I like to use them whenever I caramelize onions.

Due to their limited harvest, Vidalia onions are only available for a few months out of the year – from about April through August. They’re definitely worth grabbing while you can, especially if you’re prepping caramelized onions!

How to Make Cheesy Stuffed French Onion Meatballs

While caramelizing onions requires a bit of time, it’s almost entirely hands-off & creates a perfect window to multitask by prepping the cheesy gruyère meatballs.

Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.

1

Prep the meatball mixture. Start by mixing the meatball seasoning & binders – panko breadcrumbs, olive oil, herbes de Provence, fresh thyme, garlic, & egg. Once it’s all mixed together, incorporate the ground chicken. Why? ⇢ Since overmixing ground meat leads to tough meatballs, it’s helpful to reduce the amount of time handling the meat by mixing the seasoning first. Doing so ensures the French onion meatballs stay tender & juicy!

2

Form the meatballs & stuff them with cheese. Divide the meatball mixture into 12-16 portions. Gently flatten each portion so you can place a cube of gruyère right in the middle. Carefully wrap the meat around the cheese & roll it into a ball. Be sure to seal the edges so no cheese melts out!

3

Bake the French onion meatballs. Place the gruyère-stuffed meatballs on a lightly greased baking sheet & cook them in the oven for about 15-18 minutes. Pro tip! ⇢ Spritz each meatball with a little cooking spray before they go in the oven to give them a golden finish as they bake!

Tips & Tips for the Best French Onion Meatballs

Choose the right ingredients. Use at least 93% lean ground chicken to ensure that the meatballs stay juicy & tender as they bake.

Mise en place. Taking the time to prepare your ingredients in advance (aka mise en place) actually makes cooking much quicker. Before you mix anything, take a moment to grate the garlic, chop the herbs, cube the gruyère, & measure the rest of the ingredients for French onion meatballs. With everything ready to go, you can power through meatball prep in no time.

Don’t overmix! Overmixing leads to tough, chewy meatballs, so it’s important to minimize how much you handle the meatball mixture. Little tricks like mixing the seasoning & binders before mixing in the meat makes a world of difference!

Bake the meatballs. There’s a lot of debate on pan-frying vs. baking meatballs but I believe baked meatballs are the way to go! In my experience, pan-fried meatballs can get a little tough while baked meatballs cook more evenly & stay super tender.

Building a Caramelized Onion Sauce

By the time the gruyère stuffed meatballs are baked to tender, cheesy perfection, the Vidalia onions should be nearly caramelized. At this point, you’ll build a quick caramelized onion sauce right in the pan where the Vidalia onions have been gently cooking, capturing all of the flavor that’s developed.

Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.

1

Deglaze the skillet with white wine, using a wooden spoon to scrape up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Let everything simmer until the wine is nearly reduced. Why? ⇢ Wine adds bright acidity that helps cut through the rich sweetness of the caramelized Vidalia onions.

2

Build the caramelized onion sauce. Add a little flour & flavor-boosting Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, & fresh thyme to the pan, mixing to coat the onions. From here, add a little chicken broth & simmer to reduce slightly, soaking the Vidalia onions in even more flavor.

3

Simmer. Nestle the baked French onion meatballs into the sauce & simmer for a few minutes. Be sure to stir the meatballs every so often until they’re completely coated in caramelized onions! Why? ⇢ Doing so helps marry all the flavors together, keeping the cheesy meatballs warm & melty before serving.

At this point, your kitchen should smell absolutely heavenly – just like a pot of caramelized French onion soup! Except you’ve upgraded to French onion meatballs…a big win! 😉

What to Serve with French Onion Meatballs

From here, it’s totally up to you how to serve. I’m always of the opinion that saucy meatballs beg for a pile of cozy carbs, but balancing the richness of caramelized onion with fresh veggies is also a great call.

Some French onion meatballs serving ideas to get you started:

  • French onion soup style! Serve the meatballs with slices of cheesy bread or a sprinkling of toasty garlic herb breadcrumbs (pictured). Refer to the Recipe Notes, below, for guidance on how to make either!
  • Classic meatball style! Spoon the meatballs over egg noodles or any other pasta you love. Some gnocchi or cauliflower gnocchi are fabulous choices too!
  • Other cozy carbs. Creamy mashed potatoes or polenta create a perfect base to soak up the caramelized onion sauce.
  • Feeling fresh? Try serving the meatballs alongside a simple green salad tossed with PWWB’s All-Purpose Vinaigrette to balance their richness with zingy, bright flavor.

I can’t wait for you to try this Cheesy French Onion Meatballs recipe. It’s cheesy, caramelized goodness, & makes for such a fun dinner – I know you’ll love it!

If you do give it a try, be sure to let me know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. I LOVE hearing about & seeing your PWWB creations!

Print
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Finished French onion meatballs fill a large cast iron skillet in a caramelized Vidalia onion. sauce. The skillet sits atop a light pink textured surface with a blue and white striped linen napkin placed underneath. A gold serving spoon rests inside of the skillet and the skillet is surrounded by a small white plate full of toasty garlic and herb breadcrumbs, loose sprigs of fresh thyme, and a glass of white wine. The meatballs have been topped with toasty garlic herb breadcrumbs and one of the meatballs have been sliced in half and split open to reveal a melty gruyère cheese center.

Cheesy French Onion Meatballs

  • Author: Jess Larson
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 40 minutes
  • Total Time: 55 minutes
  • Yield: serves 4
  • Category: Main Dishes
  • Method: Baked, Stovetop
  • Cuisine: French, American

Description

French onion soup, meet French onion meatballs! This recipe is such a fun re-imagination of everyone’s favorite cozy soup: juicy & tender chicken meatballs are stuffed with gruyère cheese, baked until melty for an epic ooey-gooey French onion-effect, & finished in a caramelized onion sauce. 

It takes a little bit of time to come together, but thanks to some multi-tasking, it’s a really simple process:

  1. Start by caramelizing the onions. Using an extra-sweet variety, like Vidalia onions, & slicing them really thinly helps speed things along. 
  2. Prep & bake the gruyère meatballs as the onions cook. Take care not to overmix the meatballs to ensure they stay really juicy & tender – refer to the blog post, above, for more tips & tricks! 
  3. Build a caramelized onion sauce & bring it all together. By the time the meatballs are cooked, the onions should be ready too! Simmer them together for a couple of minutes to marry the flavors, then you’re ready to serve. 

As far as serving goes, there are a ton of different options based on whatever you happen to be in the mood for. For a classic French onion soup-inspired meal, try cheesy baguette toasts or toasty garlic herb breadcrumbs (full details in the Recipe Notes, below), otherwise cozy carbs or a fresh salad are great options, too. Check the blog post, above, for more inspiration to get you started. ♡ Enjoy! 


Ingredients

Scale
  • cheesy gruyère meatballs, below
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 large Vidalia onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (see Recipe Notes, below)
  • 2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme (roughly 810 sprigs or substitute with a generous pinch of dried thyme)
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • kosher salt & ground black pepper, to season

for the cheesy gruyère meatballs:

  • nonstick cooking spray
  • 1 pound 93% lean ground chicken or turkey
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon herbes de Provence
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme (about 810 sprigs or substitute with a generous pinch of dried thyme)
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
  • 1 large egg
  • 6 ounces gruyère cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • kosher salt & ground black pepper, to season

Instructions

  1. Soften the onions: Add 2 tablespoons of the butter to a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Once melted, add the sliced Vidalia onions, stirring to coat. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10-12 minutes until softened & browned. The onions shouldn’t require too much attention at this point, this is a great time to begin prepping & rolling meatballs (Steps 3-4).A close up shot of how to make french onion meatballs, step 1: soften the onions. Thinly sliced Vidalia onions soften in the large gray Staub cast iron skillet. A wooden spoon rests inside of the skillet for stirring and the pan sits atop a light pink textured surface.
  2. Caramelize the onions: Once softened, reduce heat to medium-low. Season the onions with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, stirring to combine. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, fragrant, & deeply browned, 20-30 minutes more. Helpful hints: Be sure to adjust heat as needed to allow the onions to caramelize slowly & prevent burning. The closer the onions get to reaching caramelization, the more often you will want to stir to promote even browning & prevent burning.A close up shot of how to make French onion meatballs, step 2: Caramelize the onions. Caramelized Vidalia onions fill a large gray Staub cast iron skillet that sits atop a light pink surface. A wooden spoon rests inside of the pan for stirring.
  3. Prep the cheesy gruyère meatball mixture: Meanwhile, as the onions soften & caramelize, prepare the cheesy gruyère meatballs. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly spray a rimmed baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside. Add the panko breadcrumbs, olive oil, herbes de Provence, chopped fresh thyme, garlic, & egg to a medium mixing bowl. Season with 1 teaspoon kosher salt & ground black pepper as desired. Use your hands to mix well. Once the breadcrumb mixture is combined, add in the ground chicken or turkey. Using your hands, mix just until combined – take care to avoid over-mixing.
  4. Form & stuff the cheesy gruyère meatballs: Divide the meatball mixture into 12-14 equal portions. Working one portion at a time, press the meatball mixture into a flat patty about 2-3 inches wide. Place a cube of gruyère cheese in the center, wrap the edges of the patty around the cheese, forming a meatball with a piece of cheese encased in the center. Be sure to seal the edges tightly, then gently roll into a ball. Place the meatball on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining meatball mixture.
  5. Bake the cheesy gruyère meatballs: Lightly spritz the meatballs with cooking spray for a golden finish, then transfer the baking sheet to the oven. Bake 15-18 minutes, until cooked through.Twelve baked gruyère cheese stuffed meatballs arranged on a small aluminum baking sheet. The baking sheet sits atop a light pink textured surface with a blue and white striped linen napkin placed underneath the pan.
  6. Build the caramelized onion sauce: Once the onions are caramelized, deglaze the skillet. Slowly pour in the white wine, using a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits formed on the bottom of the pan. Increase the heat to medium-high to bring the wine to a simmer, then simmer 4-5 minutes or until reduced completely. Add the flour, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce & thyme to the skillet, stirring to coat the onions, then add in the chicken broth. Bring to a simmer & allow to reduce slightly.A close up shot of caramelized onion sauce inside of a large gray Staub cast iron skillet that sits atop a light pink textured surface. A wooden spoon rests inside of the skillet for stirring.
  7. Add the French onion meatballs & simmer: Nestle the baked cheesy gruyère meatballs from Step 5 into the French onion sauce. Spoon some of the onion sauce over top the meatballs. Simmer 5 minutes, stirring & turning the meatballs every so often to ensure they’re nicely coated in the French onion sauce.A close up of French onion meatballs nestled inside of a caramelized onion sauce inside of a large gray Stuab cast iron skillet. The skillet sits atop a light pink textured surface and is garnished with ground black pepper and fresh thyme leaves.
  8. Serve: Allow to cool slightly, then serve the French onion meatballs over egg noodles, mashed potatoes, or alongside simple green salad. For an extra-special finishing touch, sprinkle toasty garlic herb breadcrumbs over top – see Recipe Notes for more details. Enjoy!Finished French onion meatballs fill a large cast iron skillet in a caramelized Vidalia onion. sauce. The skillet sits atop a light pink textured surface with a blue and white striped linen napkin placed underneath. A gold serving spoon rests inside of the skillet and the skillet is surrounded by a small white plate full of toasty garlic and herb breadcrumbs, loose sprigs of fresh thyme, and a glass of white wine. The meatballs have been topped with toasty garlic herb breadcrumbs and one of the meatballs have been sliced in half and split open to reveal a melty gruyère cheese center.

Notes

  • Simple add-on ⇢ Toasty Garlic Herb Breadcrumbs. For a simple crispy garnish, prep some toasty garlic herb breadcrumbs as the onions caramelize & the meatballs bake. Melt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs, 2 cloves finely chopped or grated garlic, & 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme. Season with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt & ground black pepper as desired. Stir to combine. Cook, stirring occasionally, until toasted & golden. Remove from the heat & transfer to a small bowl for serving.
  • Simple add-on ⇢ Cheesy Baguette Toasts: Another simple, French onion-inspired finishing touch, serve your meatballs with broiled cheesy toasts. Lightly drizzle 4-8 thick-cut slices of baguette or your favorite bread with olive oil. Transfer to a foil-lined baking sheet. Broil 2-3 minutes, until toasty but not burnt. Rub each piece of toasted bread with the cut side of a garlic clove. Place the bread back on the baking sheet & top with 2-4 ounces grated gruyère (or cheese of choice). Broil 3-4 minutes or until the cheese is melted & lightly browned – be sure to keep a close eye on the toasts as they broil to prevent burning.
  • Ingredient Notes:
    • Vidalia onions are a super special sweet onion variety harvested exclusively in 20 counties in South Georgia. While all onions have some natural sweetness, a Vidalia onion’s abundance of sugars makes them a fantastic choice for caramelizing. Look for Vidalia onions in the produce section at your grocery store during spring & summer months (from about April to September).
    • White wine substitute: The acidity of white wine plays a crucial role in this dish; its brightness cuts through the rich sweetness & deep flavor of the French onion-inspired caramelized onion sauce. If you do not have white wine on hand, or you prefer not to cook with alcohol, substitute for an equal amount of chicken stock with a splash of apple cider vinegar whisked into it.
  • Storage & Reheating: Transfer cooled French onion meatballs & sauce to an airtight container. Store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop until warmed through, adding a splash of water or beef stock as needed to loosen up the caramelized onion sauce.
  • 10-20 Minute Meal Prep: Nearly all of the active prep work for these French onion meatballs comes from slicing the onions & prepping the meatball mixture. Take care of some of this in advance & you can jump straight in to cooking during the week:
    • Slice 2 large Vidalia onions. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. (5 minutes active prep)
    • Mix the cheesy gruyère meatball mixture according to Step 3 of Recipe Directions, above. You can roll out the meatballs immediately or save the rolling for dinnertime; either way, the mixture will keep for up to 3 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator. (10 minutes active for meatball mixture prep, 5 minutes active for forming the cheesy gruyère meatballs)

Keywords: French onion meatballs, Vidalia onion recipe, Vidalia onions, caramelized onions, caramelized onions recipe

Recipe & Food Styling by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by Rachel Cook, Half Acre House.

Follow along with Plays Well With Butter on Instagram, Facebook, & Pinterest for more easy, modern recipes & fun!

Hi there, I'm Jess!

If there’s 1 thing to know about me, it’s this: I am head-over-heels in love with food. I’m on a mission to make weeknight cooking flavorful, fast, & fun for other foodies, & PWWB is where I share foolproof recipes that deliver major flavor with minimal effort. Other true loves: pretty shoes, puppies, Grey’s Anatomy, & my cozy kitchen in Minneapolis, MN.

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Comments

  1. 8.4.22
    Angie said:

    I just read this recipe and it looks amazing! I have a freezer full of ground beef and was wondering if it could used in place of the ground chicken?

    • 8.5.22
      Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Hi Angie! Yes, ground beef should work great too! Let us know if you give them a try! 🙂

  2. 8.3.22
    Meghan Thomas said:

    This was absolutely delicious!!! I can’t wait to make it again when fall hits in ND.

    • 8.4.22
      Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Thank you so much, Meghan! We are so glad you loved them – such a perfect cozy meal!

  3. 8.1.22
    Stephanie said:

    This looks amazing!! But it is way too hot to turn on the oven here. Do you think this could be adapted to the slow cooker? Maybe do the onions/sauce on the stove, put in slow cooker and add meatballs on top? I may just have to wait for cooler weather, but I can’t wait to try these!

    • 8.2.22
      Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Hi Stephanie! We’ve never tested a slow cooker version so can’t say for sure how it would be best replicated. We’re really partial to baking the meatballs as baked meatballs have yielded the most tender & even cook for us! We hope you’ll save for later & let us know when you try them!! 🙂

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