Cooking Tips

The Potato Chip Meatball Experiment

Traditional meatball recipes call for a milk-soaked bread panade to keep them moist. Why not use potato chips?

Published May 19, 2021.

Potato chips are having a moment that goes beyond their M.O. as a salty snack. 

In her new cookbook Simply Julia, author Julia Turshen adds potato chips to salmon fishcakes, and in a recent Washington Post article where the recipe was also published, she wrote: “While nutritionists and dietitians might tell you the crushed potato chips that bind the fish cakes add too much salt and fat, I say they add flavor and fun, and aren't those qualities important?” 

Yes, Julia, they sure are! In that same vein of flavor and fun, here at America’s Test Kitchen we recently wrote about how you should throw a handful of potato chips into your Rice Krispies treats for a salty, sweet, crunchy, gooey, and delicious result

If this has proved anything, it’s that potato chips make everything better. So to keep this chip train going, I’m entering meatballs into the fray.

It all started with a simple question: Could you sub potato chips in for panade (a bread-and-milk mixture) or bread crumbs in your meatballs?

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While Nonas around the world might wring their hands at the idea, I grabbed some chips and a few pounds of beef, and invited my bonafide, born-and-bred Italian American friend Adam to lend his taste buds to the cause. (He goes over to his parents every week for Sunday gravy and meatballs, so he knows his stuff.)

My chip selection included our winning kettle and original chips (Utz Kettle Classics and Herr’s Crisp ‘N Tasty Potato Chips, respectively), Cape Cod Sweet Mesquite Barbeque Chips, Lay’s Sour Cream and Onion, and one wildcard, Kettle Brand Pepperoncini Chips (had to stay true to my Rhode Island roots, ya know?). 

As a control, I made a few milk and bread-bound balls using Cook’s Country’s Meatballs and Marinara recipe. 

After mixing the basic meatball mixture sans starchy binders, I divided it into seven portions and made one batch with the bread and milk panade, a hybrid batch with a mixture of original chips and panade, and the rest with each type of potato chip—about ¼ cup of crushed chips for each flavor. I didn’t soak the chips because, when crushed finely, they had a similar texture to panko bread crumbs, which I prefer. 

Once the meatballs were seared and baked, I served them up (sauceless) to my boyfriend and Adam, and we dug in.

Off the bat, we noticed the chip balls were denser and less mushy than the bread and milk ones—a good thing in my book. The hybrid panade-chip balls were a nice blend, with both firmness from the chips and squish from the panade. 

Flavor-wise, my boyfriend liked the potato chip flavor-pockets found in the meatballs made with Herr’s Crisp N’ Tasty chips, but the true flavor bombs were the ones made with the Cape Cod Sweet Mesquite chips. Each bite was loaded with the taste of smoky, sweet barbecue and when served with marinara sauce, I got a cocktail meatball vibe.

“Not bad,” Adam, the Italian American said. 

The only disappointments we had were the sour cream and onion chip balls and pepperoncini chip balls, which just tasted like meatballs; there was no ranchy deliciousness or pickled piquant punch to be found. 

Served with sauce and the playing field was completely leveled, save for the flavor of the barbecue balls and the texture of the panade-based balls, which stood out. 

Overall, potato chips performed quite well standing in for bread, and as my astute boyfriend noted, “In a pinch, throw in chips.” But if I’m honest, I’d rather just eat the chips. 

Inset photo: Grace Kelly

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