What can I use instead of flour in meatballs?

When making meatballs, flour is a common binding ingredient used to help the meatballs hold their shape. However, there are many reasons you may want or need to avoid using flour. The good news is there are a number of great substitutes for flour that can work just as well!

Quick Answer

Some of the most common flour substitutes for meatballs include:

  • Breadcrumbs
  • Oats
  • Panko breadcrumbs
  • Crackers
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Potato starch
  • Arrowroot
  • Cornstarch
  • Rice

Why Use a Substitute for Flour in Meatballs?

There are a few main reasons you may want to skip the flour when making meatballs:

  • You are gluten-free or have a gluten sensitivity – Flour contains gluten, so avoiding it is necessary for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
  • You want to reduce carbs – Flour adds extra carbs, so substituting with lower-carb options helps cut back.
  • You don’t have flour on hand – Using alternatives allows you to still make meatballs if you’ve run out of flour.
  • You want more fiber – Some flour swaps like oats, nuts and seeds boost the fiber content compared to all-purpose flour.
  • Food sensitivities – For some people, flour can cause digestive upset. Substitutes may be easier to tolerate.
  • You’re looking for a different texture – Alternatives can result in softer or crunchier meatballs.

Best Flour Substitutes for Meatballs

Here is more detail on the top recommended substitutes to use instead of flour when making meatballs:


Breadcrumbs are one of the most popular and easy swaps for flour in meatball recipes. They perform a similar function by absorbing moisture and binding the ingredients together. Breadcrumbs result in tender meatballs with a soft texture.

You can use plain dry breadcrumbs or even fresh breadcrumbs made from bread slices. For gluten-free meatballs, be sure to use gluten-free bread. Panko breadcrumbs also work well for a bit of a crunchier texture.


Rolled or old-fashioned oats work perfectly in place of flour to bind meatballs. They add great texture and absorb liquid just like breadcrumbs. Oats contain fiber and nutrients like iron. Make sure to use certified gluten-free oats if necessary.

You can pulse oats in a food processor to get an almost flour-like consistency before adding to the meatball mixture. This helps distribute the oats evenly.


Crackers like saltines or Ritz crackers crushed up finely mimic dry breadcrumbs when substituted for flour in meatballs. Opt for gluten-free crackers to keep meatballs gluten-free.

You can use a food processor to grind saltine crackers into fine crumbs to mix through the meatball mixture in place of flour.


Finely chopped or ground nuts add great flavor and texture when swapped for flour in meatballs. They have healthy fats and help hold the meatballs together just like flour does. Try pecans, almonds, walnuts or pine nuts.

Pulse nuts in a food processor until they reach a flour-like consistency before adding to the meatball mixture.


Like nuts, seeds can be used in place of flour when making meatballs. Grind seeds like pepitas, sunflower or chia seeds in a blender or food processor until fine. This flour substitute adds nutrition like protein, fiber and healthy fats.

Potato Starch

Potato starch is a gluten-free, low-carb option that works similarly to flour for binding meatballs. It has a neutral flavor and smooth, powdery texture like all-purpose flour.

Replace flour at a 1:1 ratio with potato starch. It will absorb moisture and hold the meatballs together without any gluten.


Arrowroot is another starchy flour substitute perfect for gluten-free meatballs. It also contains very minimal carbs. Arrowroot is sometimes sold as arrowroot powder or flour.

Like potato starch, you can swap arrowroot 1:1 for regular flour in meatball recipes. It helps bind the meat mixture for nicely shaped meatballs.


Cornstarch is a versatile flour substitute to use for meatballs and other recipes. It provides structure to help meatballs keep their shape and stay tender when cooked. Cornstarch is naturally gluten-free as well.

Use the same amount of cornstarch in place of flour. Combine it with salt and pepper before mixing into the meatball ingredients.


Uncooked white rice ground into a flour-like powder works wonderfully to bind meatballs instead of wheat flour. Rice adds a subtle sweetness and creates light, tender meatballs.

Use short grain white rice and grind it into a fine powder in a blender. Brown rice can work too but may alter the texture slightly.

How to Substitute for Flour in Meatballs

When substituting for flour in meatballs, there are a few simple tips to follow:

  • Process dry ingredients – Grind nuts, seeds, crackers etc. into a flour-like consistency first for best results.
  • Use a 1:1 ratio – Swap your flour substitute at the same amount the recipe calls for in flour.
  • Mix well – Ensure ingredients are evenly incorporated into the meat mixture.
  • Adjust seasonings – The flour swap may alter flavor slightly so tweak herbs and spices if needed.
  • Don’t overwork – Handle the meat mixture gently; overmixing can make meatballs dense.

Depending on the flour substitute you choose, the texture and even cooking time may vary slightly. Keep an eye on meatballs the first time you make them with something new and adjust cooking times accordingly if needed.

Meatball Recipes Without Flour

To give you an idea for how easy these substitutions are, here are a few flourless meatball recipes to try:

Breadcrumb Meatballs


  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup breadcrumbs
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper


  1. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl until thoroughly combined.
  2. Shape into 1-2 inch balls and place on a parchment lined baking sheet.
  3. Bake at 400F for 15-20 minutes until browned and cooked through.

Oat Meatballs


  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • 1/2 cup old fashioned oats
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Pulse oats in a food processor into a flour-like powder.
  2. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well.
  3. Roll into 1 inch balls and bake at 375F for 20 minutes until cooked through.

Parmesan-Panko Meatballs


  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl until combined.
  2. Roll into 1 1/2 inch balls.
  3. Bake at 425F for 18-20 minutes until browned and cooked through.

Storing and Freezing Meatballs Made Without Flour

Meatballs made without flour should be stored the same way you would regular flour-based meatballs:

  • Refrigerate – Keep fresh meatballs in an airtight container for 3-4 days.
  • Freeze – For longer storage, freeze cooked meatballs in a freezer bag for 2-3 months.
  • Reheat – Thaw frozen meatballs and reheat gently in the oven or microwave before serving.

One benefit of flourless meatballs is they generally hold up well to freezing and do not get mushy when reheated.

Tips for Making the Best Meatballs Without Flour

Follow these tips for flawless flourless meatballs every time:

  • Don’t overmix – Gently combine ingredients just until blended.
  • Chill first – Refrigerate meatball mixture for 30+ minutes before rolling into balls.
  • Use binders – Include eggs, cheese or pan drippings to help hold meatballs together.
  • Brown properly – Ensure meatballs are nicely browned on the outside to enhance flavor.
  • Check internal temp – Cook until meatballs reach an internal temperature of 160F.
  • Let rest – Allow meatballs to rest for 5+ minutes before serving for juiciest results.

Common Questions

Why do meatballs need flour?

Flour helps bind the ingredients in meatballs together so they hold their shape. Flour absorbs moisture from the meat mixture which allows the proteins to cross-link and create structure.

Do meatballs really need eggs?

Eggs aren’t strictly necessary but they do help meatballs keep their shape during cooking. The proteins in eggs act as a binder. You can leave eggs out completely or substitute with milk, yogurt or grated cheese.

Can I freeze meatballs without flour?

Yes, flourless meatballs freeze very well! Make sure to cook them first, let cool completely, then freeze in an airtight bag or container. They will keep for 2-3 months in the freezer.

What is the best meat to bind meatballs without flour?

The best meats for binding meatballs without flour are beef and lamb. Both contain lots of natural collagen and fat which helps keep the meatballs moist and held together. Ground turkey or pork can also work well.

Do meatballs cook faster without flour?

Meatballs without flour often cook a little faster than flour-based meatballs. Flour needs time to absorb moisture and gelatinize during cooking. Keep an eye on flourless meatballs and reduce oven time by a few minutes if needed.


With so many easy, tasty options for substituting flour, there’s no need to skip out on meatballs if you don’t have flour or want to avoid it. Ingredients like breadcrumbs, oats, nuts and crackers can fill in for flour beautifully.

Experiment with different flourless recipes to find the textures and flavors you like best. Just remember to handle the meat gently, use a binder and cook thoroughly. Enjoy your delicious flour-free meatballs!

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