Paleo Fried Chicken Meatballs with Collard Greens

I don’t feel like I need to do a hard sell on a recipe called “Fried Chicken Meatballs,” but since this space needs to be filled with words, here goes: These are super easy to make. They taste like fried chicken without the annoying deep frying and pesky bones getting in the way. They’re scrumptious straight out of the oven, but are also awesome at room temperature for picnics, and they freeze/reheat like champs.

The best part? They go from ingredients to dinner in 30 minutes.

This is one of my favorite recipes from Well Fed Weeknights: Complete Paleo Meals in 45 Minutes or Less, and I can tell you, it’s a crowd pleaser. I’ve made these for casual dinner parties and road-trip picnic lunches a bunch of times in the last year. These crispy little devils are always a hit!

Fun fact: There are 100+ new recipes in Well Fed Weeknights that can be made in 30 minutes or less.

That’s 73% of the book for you math nerds out there. And they’re all as delicious as this one. If you need more convincing, download a free 70-page sampler for 18 awesome recipes you can cook in 45 minutes or less.

Fried Chicken Meatballs from Well Fed Weeknights

Serves 2-4 | Total Time 30-35 minutes | Tools: 1-tablespoon scoop, rimmed baking sheet | Whole30 compliant

  • 1 1/2 pounds ground chicken

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

  • 3 tablespoons tapioca starch

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

  • 1/4  teaspoon ground black pepper

  • 1/4  teaspoon rubbed sage

  • 1/4  teaspoon coarse (granulated) garlic powder

  • 1/4  teaspoon coarse (granulated) onion powder

  • pinch dried marjoram

  • pinch ground cayenne pepper

  • pinch ground cloves

  • 1 bunch collard greens (about 1 pound)

  • 1/2 cup water

  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1 clove garlic

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • pinch ground black pepper


Preheat the oven to 425F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.


Season the chicken. Place the ground chicken, salt, and pepper in a large mixing bowl; mix well.


Make the coating. In a shallow bowl, use a fork to combine the tapioca starch, salt, smoked paprika, black pepper, sage, garlic powder, onion powder, marjoram, cayenne pepper, and cloves.


Make the balls. Moisten your hands with cold water, then measure rounded tablespoons of ground chicken and roll the chicken into balls. Roll each ball in the seasoned tapioca starch. Set the chicken balls aside on the baking sheet until you’re ready to fry them.


Fry the balls. Place 1 tablespoon oil in a large, nonstick skillet over high heat, 2–3 minutes. Place half of the meatballs in a single layer in the pan, leaving some wiggle room around them. Cook until they’re browned on all sides, 4–5 minutes total. Transfer the balls to the baking sheet. Add 1–2 teaspoons oil to the pan and brown the remaining meatballs and transfer them to the baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in the oven and set a timer for 10 minutes.


Prep the greens. Wash the leaves and remove the tough ribs. Stack the leaves and cut them crosswise into 1/2-inch strips. Reheat the skillet over medium-high heat. Toss the still-wet greens into the pan, add the water, cover with a lid, and steam for 5 minutes or so, until almost all the water is evaporated. Remove the lid and toss the greens with two wooden spoons until they are very dark green and dry. This takes about 2–3 minutes. Meanwhile, peel and crush the garlic.


Season the greens. Push the greens to the side of the pan, add the oil, and drop the minced garlic into the oil. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Toss everything together and allow the greens to cook for another 5 minutes. Add the salt and pepper, taste, and adjust the seasonings. Turn off the heat and cover to keep warm until the meatballs are finished.


To serve, divide the greens among dinner plates and top with meatballs.

You Know How You Could Do That?

Replace the ground chicken with ground turkey, pork, or beef.

Cookup Tips

Season the ground chicken and form the meatballs. Prep the fried chicken coating. Wash and cut the collard greens. Store everything separately in airtight containers in the fridge, then follow the directions for cooking the meatballs and greens.

Want More 30-Minute Recipes?

Treat yourself to a copy of Well Fed Weeknights now for 127 more awesome recipes like this one! (As well as tempting recipes for Banh Mi Bowl, Pizza Noodles, Mediterranean Tuna Cakes, Sexy Scrambled Eggs, Yucatan Green Chile Sauté, Velvet Stir-Fry, and more.)

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  • Mary says:

    The ground chicken I have available locally tends to be a little watery. Could I use turkey instead?

    • Of course! Hope you like them!

      In a pinch, you can also grind up chicken breasts and thighs in the food processor and make your own ground chicken… but that adds about 10-15 minutes to the prep time.

  • Heather says:

    This sounds great! Could arrowroot starch be used in place of the tapioca in this instance?

    • I *think* arrowroot will work, but I’m not sure if it will get the crispy coating that tapioca does. It won’t ruin the flavor, however, so you could try it and see how it works. If you do, let me know!

      • Mollie Ergle says:

        I used arrowroot because that’s what I had and the meatballs did not crisp up but they still tasted amazing. Also, I pulsed boneless skinless chicken thighs in the food processor and it worked great. Next time I will double the recipe.

  • Nancy says:

    Yummy, will whip some up tonight!

    GO PATS!


  • Lori says:

    This recipe looks fantastic and I can’t wait to read your new cookbook! My preference would be to buy it in a digital format, but the pre-order page only offers the paperback format. Do you plan to offer it in an electronic format? And if the answer is yes, is there a way for us to pre-order an e-book and take advantage of the bonus offers? Thanks!

    • YES, try this recipe 🙂

      We’ll have Kindle and iBook versions soon. The Kindle has been submitted to Amazon — just waiting for them to do whatever they do on their end to put it up for presale. And on November 1, we’ll have a PDF version available on my site, too.

  • Paige says:

    Yum! Made these with ground beef (aka chicken fried steak meatballs). So tasty! Normally I wouldn’t consider shallow frying a weeknight activity, but I had all the ingredients in the house and they just sounded so good so I gave it a whirl. Will definitely make again, but next time with gravy! You are the reason I ask my butcher for as much ground beef as possible when I buy my cow shares. Burgers, Bangers, and balls 4 lyfe.

  • Wendy says:

    Just got these out of the oven a few minutes ago. SO good! I served them with cauliflower mash and green beans with sauteed mushrooms. I did my first Whole30 in July. I am struggling with eliminating sugar altogether, but I have lost 16 lbs and my blood pressure, glucose levels, and cholesterol levels are all down. The best part is I never have to go hungry. I have all three of your books coming – can’t wait to start cooking with them! Thank you so much for the wonderful recipe!

    • Right on! I’m glad they were a hit. Congratulations on your success with improving your health! That’s really awesome. And yes, cutting out sugar is HARD, but keep fighting the good fight. It sounds like you’re doing really great. Thank you for ordering our books!

  • Lizzie says:

    I just made these and they are super simple and packed full of flavour. Thank you so much, can’t wait for the whole book to arrive in the post! I used arrowroot and they did crisp up in the oven. I can’t keep my balls round though, more like meat prisms…. Would you have any tips?

    • I’m so glad you tried this recipe!

      There’s a trick you can try, but it adds more time to the recipe. After you roll the chicken balls, before you put them in the coating, pop them into the fridge for 10 minutes to get really cold. Then roll in coating and cook right away. That should help keep them rounder.

  • Nicole says:

    I made this recipe this evening. We all loved it (kids weren’t as impressed with the greens as hubby and I were, but that’s kids for you). I do have to say, however, that it took me more than 30 minutes to make. I think it took about an hour. If I’d been making it on a weeknight, I would have been disappointed. I will definitely make these again, but not on a night I’m in a hurry.

    • Yeah, I imagine collard greens aren’t so popular with kids! 😉

      The times for the recipes are an average, based on making them several times with a variety of cooks of different experience levels. They’ll probably go faster for you next time, now that you’ve made them once.

  • Kate says:

    I’ve been following your blog for ages and finally bought Well Fed 2- LOVE IT! Putting your new book on my list! These meatballs look INSANE. Question- have you tried just baking them and not pan-frying first? Like, 20-25 mins at 400 just like your turkey cranberry meatballs? (One of our faves, BTW). Think they’ll crisp up just as nicely?

    • I’m so glad you’re enjoying WF2. Thank you for buying it! And yes, these are DELICIOUS! But no, sadly, they won’t get crisp without a little fat to help them along. I wish they could just go straight into the oven, but the skillet step is necessary.

  • sallie says:

    I tried these this weekend and OMG…I now think THIS recipe is my favorite of all of yours (and I do have a lot). I haven’t had fried chicken in forever and we all know the skin is the best part. This tastes just like fried chicken. Wit skin. How’d you get so smart? THANK YOU!

    • Hooray! I’m so happy that you like this one! The secret is that I researched Kentucky Fried Chicken’s spice blend, then tinkered with it and different coatings until it was juuuuuuuuuuuuust right. I’m very glad you think so, too. Thanks for letting me know you like them!

  • Mallie says:

    Just bought the book based on seeing this recipe. Thank you. The husband is going to be thrilled!

  • Lynn says:

    Made it. Loved it. Posted the pic on Instagram. 🙂

    Thanks for another amazing recipe, Mel!

  • LOVE, LOVE, LOVE these! They were so crazy quick to make, and fun to have a few leftovers in the fridge. I used coconut flour, because that’s what I had on hand and they turned out great. It was definitely the seasonings that made them. Next time I would probably double the recipe…I can eat meatballs for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

  • Chance Bunger says:

    Made these balls with my zoodles and marina tonight – big hit ! U should have a place to put a pic out here : ) Thanks for the recipe!

  • Rpbin Lewis says:

    How can I make/freeze a triple batch ahead of time (for a party next weekend? These are yummy, and paleo and kid and party friendly!

    • I think the best way is to prepare them all the way through the baking step, then let them cool completely. Freeze in baggies, then defrost on baking sheets in the fridge. Before you eat, reheat them covered in foil at 300F until they’re hot, then uncover, crank the heat to 450F and let them get crispy again.

  • Lindsay Carrington says:

    I live in the Netherlands and cannot find Tapioca starch ANYWHERE. Maybe its here and the Dutch call it something else. Its a tough language so I really can’t tell, BUT, can I use cocunut or almond flour as a substitute?

    • The best options are arrowroot powder or potato starch. Almond or coconut flour don’t work as well for “breading” but in a pinch, I’d opt for almond flour. Let me know how it turns out!

  • Susan says:

    These were delicious! Thank you!

  • Meg says:

    How did you come up with 30-35 minutes? Understatement of the year. This took about 1.5 hours! And this ain’t my first rodeo in the kitchen. While this is easy and simple, it is by no means quick… I just think it’s a little false advertisement. Great recipe, but I want to alert others who want to try this.

    • I haven’t heard from any other followers that they ran into timing issues. Did you double the recipe or deviate from the order of the instructions? To hit the timing, you really have to follow the instructions exactly as written.

  • Charmaine says:

    OMG I love you.

    I made a batch of these for my lunches for the week and they lasted about two days as I ended up eating them for breakfast lunch and dinner! How I’m ever going to eat anything else is the next question.

    Couldn’t get hold of any ground chicken breasts, so through some thighs in the processor and that worked fab. I also used arrowroot flour as I couldn’t get tapioca and the crisped up wonderfully.

    Thank you as always

    • That’s awesome—I’m glad you like them! and yes, the recipe is pretty flexible. You can also make them with ground beef (taste like chicken-fried steak!) or pork. Happy cooking!

  • Nancy Smith says:

    This recipe is so genius! I have probably made it 20 times since the cookbook came out. They are little nuggets of wonderfulness that really taste like fried chicken! Thanks for all your recipes!

  • Lora says:

    I made these tonight, but shaped more like patties so I cook them through without drying get them out. I chopped thighs in the food processor. While my husband and I were thoroughly enjoying them, he asked me why I wouldn’t just season and coat the whole thigh, intact. I didn’t really have an answer. These were delicious, and we liked the texture of the rough-chopped meat, but I might try pounding the thighs flat next time.
    Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Jim Brennan says:

    Winner winner chicken dinner! Another awesome recipe, and another former fast food fave I never need to visit again…

  • Yael says:

    Can this be finished in the frying pan without popping in the oven?

    • Yes, you can finish them on the stove. I like the convenience of letting the oven do the work while I clean up the kitchen 🙂 but they can be cooked through on the stovetop, if you prefer. I’d say 10-12 minutes to make sure they’re cooked all the way through.