Can you cook frozen meatballs in an air fryer? Yes, you can! Try my air fryer frozen meatballs recipe when you need a quick appetizer or entrée. Both precooked frozen meatballs and raw frozen meatballs can be air fried- no thawing needed! Learn everything you need to know about air frying frozen meatballs, finding the best frozen meatballs, cooking temperatures, nutrition tips, and more!
I’ve got another super easy recipe today. Actually, it’s so simple, it’s barely a recipe at all! We’re making frozen beef meatballs in the air fryer.
Frozen meatballs are one of the easiest things to make in an air fryer. Literally all that you have to do is put them on the air fryer tray (or in an air fryer basket) and cook. There’s no need to thaw them, and you don’t need to add oil, since beef already has plenty of fat.
It’s been a bit of an eye-opener to me how some of the simplest recipes on this site have become the most popular. I think that’s because easy recipes are the ones we find ourselves returning to again and again. These are the foods that count the most nutritionally, because they are what consistently appears in our diet.
Sites like Martha Stewart dominate in providing complicated, time-consuming recipes for special occasions. I think dietitians and home chefs may serve a bigger role in providing ideas for everyday meals.
Like, what do I feed the family at 6 pm after work when everyone is hungry NOW? How can we eat healthy (or semi-healthy) without having to spend a lot of time shopping and chopping?
If this describes your situation, I hope you find this simple air fryer recipe helpful. This one's all about maximizing nutrition in a delicious and EASY recipe!
- How to Find the Healthiest Frozen Meatballs
- The BEST Frozen Meatballs
- How to Cook Frozen Meatballs in Air Fryer
- How long does it take to cook frozen meatballs?
- How to Serve Meatballs
- Expert Tips from a Dietitian
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Other Air Fryer Frozen Recipes
- The Disclaimer…
- 📖 Recipe
- 💬 Comments
How to Find the Healthiest Frozen Meatballs
Homemade is almost always the healthiest option when it comes to meatballs (and many other foods). If you’re looking for a homemade meatball recipe, try my turkey meatballs with zucchini noodles and sauce. It’s a nutritious, low calorie, and low carb dinner that’s pretty easy to make.
That said, I get that a lot of people don’t like to cook. If you can pick up a pack of frozen meatballs and be done with it, why not take the shortcut?
Almost all store-bought frozen meatballs count as ultra-processed foods. They’re not my first choice for a healthy meal, and I only enjoy them once in a while. If you’re having them more often (e.g., they make it onto your grocery list weekly) here are some things I’d look for:
Minimally processed meat
Beef or turkey meatballs are both fine choices nutritionally, providing high-quality protein and highly bioavailable iron. Turkey meatballs tend to be leaner and lower calorie, but can become too dry in the air fryer. I generally choose to skip the “meatballs” made with highly processed soy and pea protein fillers.
Since we’re purchasing frozen meatballs, there really isn’t a need to add preservatives. They’ll last for a long time in the freezer without the preservatives!
No refined grains (or minimal)
Most meatballs use refined grains (flour, bread crumbs, etc.) as a binder. If possible, try to find meatballs using whole grains, eggs, almond flour, or other whole foods as a binder instead.
No added sugar (or minimal)
Added sugars get included in a surprising number of savory processed foods, including meatballs. The added sugar intake of most Americans is well above recommendations; trying to cut back is a smart move for many. One easy way to start reducing your intake is to purchase no added sugar meats (meatballs, bacon, etc.).
If you are on a low sodium diet, one of the biggest disadvantages of frozen foods is that they tend to have high sodium content. Even if you aren’t on a low sodium diet, finding frozen foods with less sodium can be desirable taste-wise.
No low-quality, highly refined oils (canola, soy, etc.)
I try to support products that use the oils I cook with at home (olive, avocado). Often, the products using olive oil are less processed, with more whole foods in the ingredients than competitors. It’s a quick way to determine overall product quality (though not fool-proof).
The bad news is that I have yet to find a store-bought frozen meatball that meets all of the above criteria. I recommend determining which attributes are most important to you and your goals, and choosing products that fit best.
My priorities are minimally processed meat, no preservatives, no added sugar, and no low-quality oils. What are yours? (We also want a meatball that we like the taste of, but that should go without saying.)
The BEST Frozen Meatballs
Why are air fryer meatballs the best? Here are a few of my reasons:
- Minimal Clean Up: Love cooking but hate cleaning up? You don’t even need to mess up a pan to make this recipe! You’ll be putting the meatballs on a non-stick air fryer tray that is extremely easy to clean.
- Easy Protein-Packed Entrée: I really like the concept of prioritizing protein in meals. When you make frozen meatballs in an air fryer oven, you’re all set for protein. Add your favorite pasta, sauce, and salad to make a fast weeknight meal.
- Versatile Appetizer: You can also use these air fried meatballs as an appetizer or snack instead of a meal. I’ll provide some additional serving ideas in the FAQs section below.
- Fits Many Special Diets: There are frozen meatballs available to fit a variety of special diets. The Wellshire meatballs I am using in this recipe are gluten free. It’s not too hard (at least in my area) to find meatballs that are soy free and dairy free.
- Family Favorite: Kids and adults alike tend to like meatballs. The combination of low effort and high household satisfaction sounds like a win to me!
Here’s what you need to air fry meatballs and make them into a pasta meal:
- Frozen Meatballs (do not thaw)
- Marinara Sauce (or your favorite sauce)
- Spaghetti Squash or Pasta
- Parmesan Cheese
I also made side salads with the following:
- Fresh Spinach
- Sliced Green Pepper
- Chopped Roma Tomato
- Chopped Carrot
- Thinly Sliced Red Onion
- Salad Dressing
I used Wellshire Fully Cooked Gluten Free Beef Italian Style Meatballs for this recipe. Feel free to use your favorite brand of beef or pork meatballs instead. (Again, turkey meatballs may end up too dry in this recipe without adding some oil.)
These meatballs came closest to meeting my healthy frozen meatball criteria above. Unfortunately, they use rice flour as a binder (a refined grain) and they are a bit high in sodium. Otherwise, I’m pleased with the ingredients list of the Wellshire beef meatballs:
- Rice Flour
- Romano Cheese
- Fresh Garlic
- Black Pepper
- Dehydrated Chopped Onion
This is very similar to what I'd include in homemade meatballs, except I’d use dry oatmeal or whole wheat flour in place of the rice flour. Nutritionally, the beef is a super source of iron and zinc, while the cheese brings in some calcium.
Though plant-based foods also provide essential minerals, they are not always as bioavailable as the minerals in animal-based foods. To prevent minor deficiencies, it tends to be safest to include a variety of both plant and animal foods in the diet.
The two main pieces of kitchen equipment that you need for this recipe are an air fryer and a meat thermometer. A meat thermometer is essential here to ensure your meatballs have been thoroughly cooked in the middle. They look done on the outside before they’ve fully cooked through, so it is critical to check.
I use a 10-Quart Kalorik Digital Air Fryer Oven and I LOVE it. It has a large capacity, and I’ve never had smoking issues with it like I’ve read about with some other air fryers.
Air frying is so much fun. Putting things in a mini oven reminds me of “cooking” with the Easy-Bake Oven in the 80s. It’s like I get to be a kid again. Haha
All air fryers function a little differently, so if you have a Ninja Foodi XL or another appliance, you may need to adjust the cooking time of this recipe. That said, no matter what air fryer you have, the goal is the same. You need to get your airfryer meatballs to a safe minimum internal temperature.
How to Cook Frozen Meatballs in Air Fryer
These meatballs cook fast, so I recommend preparing whatever you’re serving them with first. If you’ll be having them over pasta, get a pot of water boiling. Heat the marinara sauce on the stovetop or for 2-3 minutes in a bowl in the microwave.
If you’ll be having spaghetti squash, rinse the squash under cool water and pat it dry. Stab the squash all over with a sharp knife. Microwave the squash on high for 6 minutes, then flip the squash in the bowl. Microwave the squash an additional 6 minutes.
The squash should give a bit when you squeeze it gently when it is finished cooking. You can microwave it a little longer if necessary. Let it cool a bit before slicing in half lengthwise and scooping out the seeds.
Use a fork to scrape the spaghetti squash strands out of the skin. Set the cooked squash aside while you air fry the meatballs.
To air fry frozen meatballs, put them on an air fryer tray (or in an air fryer basket). I was able to fit all of the meatballs on a single tray. Put the meatballs in the top rack position (closest to the heating element) if you have an air fryer oven.
How long does it take to cook frozen meatballs?
Golf ball-sized frozen meatballs have a cook time of 13-15 minutes in an air fryer set to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. I recommend checking the temperature of the meatballs after 10 minutes of air frying. This will help ensure that you do not overcook them, since air fryer cooking times may vary.
Most frozen meatballs have been fully cooked before freezing. These count as “leftovers” that should be heated to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit (FDA).
I made precooked frozen meatballs in the air fryer. However, you can make frozen uncooked meatballs in the air fryer as well!
The directions for cooking raw frozen meatballs in the air fryer are almost exactly the same. Raw meatballs should reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit before consuming. (This temperature is based on FDA guidelines for ground meat, which would include raw but not precooked meatballs.)
How to Serve Meatballs
To serve the meatballs, first plate the pasta or cooked spaghetti squash. Top with the meatballs, then add marinara sauce. Add a sprinkle of grated Parm on top.
If you’ll be serving your spaghetti and meatballs with side salads, you can prepare those while the meatballs air fry. That’s all there is to it if you want to make this simple but tasty meal.
Expert Tips from a Dietitian
This is a level 1 recipe (may help support fat loss). Typically, I give all items containing flour the bump to level 3. However, it’s really, really easy to create a protein-packed, high-volume dinner for under 500 calories with these airfried meatballs. For example, this meal would run you 413 calories (and is low carb):
- ¼ lb. of meatballs (¼ of the bag)
- 2 cups of steamed spaghetti squash
- 1 cup of marinara sauce
- 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese
You could also add a side salad filled with non-starchy veggies to the above, top it with a light dressing, and keep things at level 1. For more protein, ⅓ of the bag of meatballs with the squash, sauce, and Parm would clock in at around 500 calories. Either way, you’re getting a satisfying low carb and low calorie meal.
For my people who need a higher energy (i.e., high calorie meal), throw these meatballs over pasta instead. My family tried Tolerant Organic’s Gluten-Free Green Lentil Rotini with these meatballs. We were all surprised at how “normal” this legume pasta tasted, especially considering the only ingredient is green lentils.
A huge advantage of the lentil pasta over regular whole grain pasta is the protein! This lentil rotini provides 25 grams of protein and 35% DV iron per generous 3.5-ounce serving (measured dry).
However, you’ll save about 300 calories per serving using spaghetti squash versus pasta. Since you’re getting adequate protein from the meatballs, I’d choose the squash with this meal if you have a weight loss goal. Spiralized zucchini or shirataki noodles are other low calorie and low carb options if you don’t like spaghetti squash with meatballs.
Frequently Asked Questions
To make your air fried frozen meatballs taste better, don’t serve them plain! Enjoy them in meatball subs, or serve them with marinara or alfredo sauce over pasta. Alternatively, serve the meatballs as an appetizer with a dip or sauce. Gravy, keto cheese sauce, barbecue sauce, sweet and sour sauce, jelly-based sauce, or peanut sauce are some tasty ideas.
You can reheat your meatballs in an air fryer for 2-5 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. They are done when they’ve reached a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. If you won’t be serving the meatballs with a sauce, reheat them at 350 degrees Fahrenheit so they don't dry out too much.
No, you should not eat meatballs that have been left at room temperature for more than 2 hours. 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit is considered the food safety “danger zone.” This is the temperature range where bacteria in food can rapidly multiply, increasing food poisoning risk.
These Wellshire gluten free meatballs are not keto diet friendly since they have rice flour as the third ingredient. However, with only 5 grams of net carbs per 3 meatballs, they can fit in more relaxed low carb diets.
I wouldn’t really say these meatballs end up lighter air frying versus baking in the oven. Very little fat drips off these meatballs with air frying. That said, air frying is a time-saver; you don’t need to preheat the air fryer as you do with an oven.
Other Air Fryer Frozen Recipes
Looking for more easy air fryer recipes using frozen foods? When time is short but everyone is hungry, check out these recipes for the air fryer:
- Air Fryer Frozen Chicken Nuggets
- Air Fryer Frozen Pizza
- Frozen Hash Browns in Air Fryer
- Air Fryer Frozen Chicken Wings
- Air Fryer Frozen French Fries
All recipes on this website may or may not be appropriate for you, depending on your medical needs and personal preferences. Consult with a registered dietitian or your physician if you need help determining the dietary pattern that may be best for you.
The nutrition information is an estimate provided as a courtesy. It will differ depending on the specific brands and ingredients that you use. Calorie information on food labels may be wildly inaccurate, so please don't sweat the numbers too much.
For more information on how the three recipe levels may help with a weight management goal, refer to my overnight oats with yogurt post. Let's get cooking!
Frozen Meatballs in Air Fryer
- 1 lb. frozen meatballs (454 grams; beef or pork; I used Wellshire gluten-free beef Italian meatballs)
- 8 cups cooked spaghetti squash (about 2-3 squashes; or use your favorite whole grain or legume-based pasta)
- 4 cups marinara sauce
- 4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
For optional side salads:
- 8 ounces fresh spinach, chopped (227 grams)
- 1 large green pepper, chopped
- 1½ large Roma tomatoes, chopped
- 1 large carrot, chopped
- ⅛ cup red onion, sliced very thin
- 8 tablespoons low-oil salad dressing of choice
Cook the spaghetti squash or pasta:
- If making spaghetti squash: Rinse the squash under cool water and pat it dry. Stab the squash all over with a sharp knife. Microwave the squash on high for 6 minutes, then flip the squash in the bowl. Microwave the squash an additional 6 minutes.
- The squash should give a bit when you squeeze it gently when it is finished cooking. You can microwave it a little longer if necessary. Let it cool a bit before slicing in half lengthwise and scooping out the seeds.
- Use a fork to scrape the spaghetti squash strands out of the skin. Set the cooked squash aside.
- If making pasta: Boil a pot of water. Cook the pasta in the water according to the package directions.
- Heat the marinara sauce: Cook on the stovetop or heat for 2-3 minutes in a bowl in the microwave.
Air fry the meatballs:
- Do not thaw the meatballs before air frying! Arrange the frozen meatballs on an air fryer tray in a single layer. Put the meatballs in the top rack position of the air fryer oven.
- Air fry the meatballs for 10 minutes at 400°F (200°C). Check the temperature of a meatball using a meat thermometer. If your meatballs have not reached a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F (74°C), air fry for an additional 3-5 minutes.
- If making the optional side salads, plate them while the meatballs cook. Divide the spinach, pepper, tomato, carrot, onion, and dressing between four serving bowls.
- To serve, divide the spaghetti squash or cooked pasta between four pasta bowls. Top each bowl of pasta with meatballs, and spoon the warmed marinara sauce over everything. Finish each bowl with 1 tablespoon of Parmesan. Enjoy!
- ¼ lb. of meatballs (¼ of the bag)
- 2 cups of steamed spaghetti squash
- 1 cup of marinara sauce
- 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese