Chinese Lion’s Head Pork Meatballs (狮子头)

Chinese Lion’s Head Pork Meatballs (狮子头) - Enjoy a healthier version of the tender and moist meatballs | omnivorescookbook.comEnjoy the classic Chinese pork meatballs in a healthier way, without compromising on flavor.

Chinese pork meatballs are also called lion’s head (狮子头, shi zi tou). They feature tender, moist, and light meatballs with a savory taste. This dish is a staple food for my family, because it’s quite easy to cook in big batches and is so comforting to enjoy any time. Eating the savory meatballs with rice is as addictive as eating a burger. Juicy and flavorful meat and starch are the best combo in the world.

You’ll find quite a few versions of Lion’s Head in China. One popular rendition in northern China is braised meatballs. The cooking method for those is quite close to the one in this recipe. But instead of steaming, those meatballs are braised in a soy-sauce-based liquid after browning. Another type is meatballs cooked in chicken broth. They’re usually served by themselves instead of over rice.

Today I’ll introduce a third type – steamed lion’s head. This recipe was passed down from my grandma. She used to make a huge batch of these every two weeks. After cooking them, she’d reserve a small amount to serve to guests who might be visiting her house. She would freeze the rest and give them away to family members, including my parents. These meatballs are my favorite and are even better than the ones from the restaurant. They are extremely fluffy and moist and are as tender as the pork in a slow-cooked Bolognese sauce.

Chinese Lion’s Head Pork Meatballs (狮子头) - Enjoy a healthier version of the tender and moist meatballs |

The secrets to creating super fluffy meatballs are:

  • Mix water into the meat to make a very tender patty
  • Add plenty of breadcrumbs
  • Add plenty of water chestnuts

The truth is, you will need to add so many breadcrumbs and chestnuts, that the size of the patty doubles. The water chestnuts add a really refreshing and crisp mouthfeel, so the meatballs will taste extra light.

My mom once told me, making the meatballs tender was not the original intention of adding so many other ingredients to the pork. It’s because pork was in short supply when she was a kid, so her parents needed to find a way to make these meatballs more filling with limited ingredients. Thus, the moist and tender texture of the meatballs was just a nice side effect of living poor. Even now, my family still enjoys cooking with this recipe. It tastes like home.

I really love this steamed version myself. Besides its superior taste and texture, it’s also a lot healthier than the average meatball. By browning and steaming the meatballs, a lot of fat is rendered out, so the finished dish will end up with fewer calories. The recipe may seem a bit time consuming, but it’s actually very easy to prepare. The active cooking time in the kitchen is only 30 minutes.

The meatballs are one of my favorite lunch items, too. They freeze well and taste as great after reheating. Stuff one of these into your lunchbox with steamed rice and some greens, and you’ll make all of your colleagues jealous when you heat it up in the office microwave.

You can also serve the meatballs for dinner as a main, pairing it with fast and easy sides such as cucumber salad, okra stir-fry, or spinach salad.

Chinese Lion’s Head Pork Meatballs (狮子头) - Enjoy a healthier version of the tender and moist meatballs |

If you like this recipe, also check out the Mom’s best series, which includes a delicious list of recipes that handed down from my grandma.

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5.0 from 10 reviews
Chinese Lion’s Head Pork Meatballs (狮子头)
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
The cooking time is based on cooking with a medium sized steamer and on steaming the meatballs in two batches. If you use a bigger steamer, you might able to cut the cooking time to 1 hour 20 minutes.
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Chinese
Serves: 10 big meatballs
  • 500 grams (1 pound) ground pork (lean fat ratio 7:3)
  • 4 tablespoons Shaoxing wine (or Japanese sake)
  • 3 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger
  • 1/2 cup minced scallion (or green onion)
  • 1 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 12-15 water chestnuts, finely chopped (generate about 1 cup)
  • 3 eggs
  • 100 grams (1 cup) panko (Japanese style breadcrumb)
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil (or vegetable oil)
  1. Add ground pork into a large bowl. Add 4 tablespoons water. Mix well with a spatula until water is fully incorporated.
  2. Add Shaoxing wine, light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, salt, sugar, grated ginger, cornstarch, and scallion. Mix well.
    Chinese Lion’s Head Pork Meatballs Cooking Process | Chinese Lion’s Head Pork Meatballs Cooking Process |
  3. Add chestnuts and eggs. Mix a few times.
    Chinese Lion’s Head Pork Meatballs Cooking Process | Chinese Lion’s Head Pork Meatballs Cooking Process |
  4. Add panko. Mix well. Add sesame oil, mix until it forms a soft paste.
    Chinese Lion’s Head Pork Meatballs Cooking Process | Chinese Lion’s Head Pork Meatballs Cooking Process |
  5. Heat peanut oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat until warm.
  6. Use bare hands to scoop about 1/3 cup of the paste and shape it into a meatball (*see footnote 1). The meatball should be a bit runny, barely able to hold its shape (so the finished meatballs will be tender and juicy). If the meatballs cannot hold their shape, add a bit more panko and mix again. If the meatballs are still a bit tough, blend in more water and mix well, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the paste turns soft.
  7. Carefully place 3 to 4 meatballs in the skillet and make sure to leave enough space to flip them. When the bottom side is just set, carefully roll the ball with a spatula to cook the other sides. Continue to do this until all sides are set and browned (*see footnote 2). Transfer to a plate. Continue to brown the rest of the meatballs.
    Chinese Lion’s Head Pork Meatballs Cooking Process | Chinese Lion’s Head Pork Meatballs Cooking Process |
  8. Add water to a steamer and place the plate of meatballs on the steaming rack. (*see footnote 3)
  9. Heat the steamer over medium high heat, covered, until the water begins to boil. Turn to medium heat. Cook covered until the meatballs are cooked through, in 40 minutes.
  10. Cook the second batch by using the same method. After cooking the first batch, check the water level and add more if it runs too low.
    Chinese Lion’s Head Pork Meatballs Cooking Process | Chinese Lion’s Head Pork Meatballs Cooking Process |
  11. Serve warm over steamed rice as a main.
Storage and reheat
  1. Store the meatballs in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 days or in the freezer for up to 2 months. After steaming, the meatballs will render some fat and liquid. Drizzle it on the meatballs before storage, to keep the them tender and moist.
  2. The best way to reheat the meatballs is by steaming, the same method used to cook them. The meatballs will be heat up evenly and still be moist inside.
  3. Alternatively, you can use the microwave. Make sure the container has some liquid (leftover grease or 1 teaspoon water) inside. Please a loose lid on top and heat it up in the microwave.
1. This is a bit messy, but I find using bare hands to shape the meatballs is easier than doing so when wearing plastic gloves.
2. It can be difficult to keep the meatballs in shape, because the meat mixture is quite runny. You need to handle them gently, so the balls won’t break apart. You can cook the top and bottom sides first, like cooking a very thick burger patty. Then you can use two spatulas to let the meatball stand, to cook the edges. The meatballs won’t look very pretty, but will still taste great.
3. Unless you are using a very big pot, you’ll probably need to cook the meatballs in two batches. It’s fine to stack the meatballs.

The nutrition facts are calculated based on 1 of the 10 meatballs generated by this recipe.

Chinese Lion’s Head Pork Meatballs Nutrition Facts |


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Meet Maggie

Hi I'm Maggie Zhu! Welcome to my site about modern Chinese cooking - including street food, family recipes, and restaurant dishes. I take a less labor-intensive approach while maintaining the taste and look of the dish. I am originally from Beijing, and now cook from my Austin, Texas kitchen.

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44 thoughts on “Chinese Lion’s Head Pork Meatballs (狮子头)

  1. Shihoko

    Hi Maggie, I will try this recipe! I love Chinese and Asian food as I am from Japan living in Brisbane, Australia. I have been reading Nagi’s food bloggers central and I have just learnt how to hide long pinterest photos. Thank you. Shihoko

    1. Maggie Post author

      Hi Shihoko, thanks for stopping by! I have been living in Japan for two years and I LOVE Japanese food! Just followed back, and looking forward to reading more delicious Japanese recipes 🙂

  2. Lokness @ The Missing Lokness

    These lion’s head looks amazingly delicious! It is a great idea to do a steam version. Much healthier! I will need a big bowl of rice to go along with them. Thank you for sharing your grandma’s recipe! The family’s recipes are the best treasure. They have the comforting flavors that we are always looking for and going back to. I got to try this for sure!

  3. Mary C

    The Shaoxing wine is all I’m missing, and the big Spec’s on mopac (omg you’re moving to Austin! So am I! We just signed everything for our very first house, so no more boonyland living for a while, though finding just the right things may still rely on the almighty Amazon sometimes) might be able to order me some if they don’t have it stocked already.
    TheHubs loves pork so this should please everybody.

    1. Maggie Post author

      Congratulations for you new house Mary! Moving is so exhausting, but it’s definitely rewarding after everything’s settled 🙂
      I rely on Amazon for lots of shopping too. However, I don’t really recommend you to purchase the Shaoxing wine there. I remember it contains salt. The dish will turn up very salty if you’re not careful. If you have moved, check out H.E.B, WholeFoods or any liquor store for Japanese sake (rice wine). The flavor is a bit different from Shaoxing wine, but it’s a great alternative in Chinese cooking. Plus, you can drink it too 😉

      1. Mary C

        It is! All of those things.
        Also, very good to know. Spec’s ( liquor store in Austin ) claims to have some of the wine already, but I will check it to be sure it’s not mostly salt water. That I could use sake instead is excellent to know! Sake is much easier to come by, but I want to try the intended flavor first =)

      2. Maggie Post author

        The tricky part is, Shaoxing wine is drinkable, but the cheap ones are mostly used for cooking. I’ve checked the big Asian market in Austin, and unfortunately it’s the salty one. I didn’t check Spec’s yet, but I’m suspect the Shaoxing wine is not delicious enough for a liquor store. Anyhow, do let me know if you find Shaoxing wine! So I won’t need to drive to Houston to get it every time 🙂

  4. [email protected]

    I love the name of these meatballs. I”m always looking for new recipes and your sounds so flavorful I have to give this a try.

  5. Susan

    These meatballs sound wonderful. And I’m delighted to know that your visa was approved, and I hope your move to Austin goes smoothly.

    1. Maggie Post author

      Thanks Susan! I’m very happy about the visa too. I will keep you updated in my newsletter after the moving. Have a great week 🙂

  6. Marlene

    I’d love to make these, Maggie, but I don’t cook wiht pork. What other ground meat would you substitute, turkey, maybe? Also, thanks for showing Nagi how to hide collage pins. That’s how I discovered your great blog, too.

    1. Maggie Post author

      Thanks for stopping by Marlene! I haven’t tried to use other ground meat with this recipe yet. I’m afraid turkey ground meat is too lean to create a tender texture by using this one. I’d like to try it out in my kitchen and report back how the dish turns out 🙂

      1. Katie

        Hello, I know this is a thread from a few years ago but here’s my experience in case people still have the same question. I made them with ground turkey and I’m not sure how true to the recipe they were but they were delicious! I followed pretty much everything else except I used white vermouth instead of the cooking sake. I just happened upon this blog and I’m so glad I did! Thank you!

      2. Maggie Post author

        Hi Katie, thanks so much for letting me know that the recipe works with ground turkey as well! I’m pretty sure those turkey meatballs you made were delicious 🙂 I will try it again the next time. We are trying to lose some weight lately, so we’d always prefer leaner meat.
        I’m happy that you found my blog as well! Have a great week ahead 🙂

  7. Bam's Kitchen

    Recipes passed on from grandma’s are always the best! Your Lions head meatballs look so tender and delicious. I especially like the added water chestnuts, yum! This is a great meal to cook once and eat twice as freezing is a really good idea. sharing, Pinning, sending smoke signals…Take Care, BAM

  8. Chi @twopickypigs

    Maggie, I made this last weekend and it was AMAZING !!!! *insert clapping sound* I was on a low carb diet so I skipped the corn starch and sugar, but it was still really yummy. This recipe rocks 😀

    1. Maggie Post author

      Hi Chi, I’m so glad you cooked my recipe! 🙂 And it’s great to know that skipping the cornstarch and sugar is fine. I will try it out myself next time. Thanks for leaving a feedback. Have a lovely day 🙂

  9. Marlene

    Hi, Maggie, I’m going to try these tomorrow using ground beef and ground veal, 50-50,, and I’ll report back. I was wondering if you’d ever tried browning them in the oven on broil or at 450 F, perhaps, instead of doing them on the stovetop. I was thinking the meatballs might hold together more easily for the transfer stage.

  10. Marlene

    Reporting back, Maggie: I made them with a 50-50 mix of ground beef and veal, using two eggs and ginger-infused dry sherry instead of the Shaoxing wine. I made them smaller, using about 1/4 cup of he meat mixture or less, for 16 meatballs. Although they were a bit time-consuming, the results were outstanding. My husband, whose nickname is Mr. Fussy, said this was definitely a recipe to make again. I served them with sesame noodles. Thanks for a wonderful recipe!

    1. Maggie Post author

      Hi Marlene, thanks so much for keeping me updated on the cooking! The beef meatballs idea sounds great! I love cooking with beef too and I can’t wait to try out your idea 🙂
      Did you brown the meatballs on stovetop or in the oven? Most of traditional Chinese cooking does not use oven since average family doesn’t have it in the kitchen. But I do think it should work for this recipe. It’s probably possible to cook the meatballs in the oven all the way through, not just the browning part (at a lower temperature of course). I’d love to do some experiments on this 🙂
      So glad you and your husband love this dish. Have a great week ahead!

  11. Marlene

    I browned them on the stove as the recipe says. And thank you for including storing and reheating directions. We had them again tonight and they steamed perfectly. Next time I’ll make more because they freeze so well. And I will see if the right kind of ground turkey might work..

    1. Maggie Post author

      Hi Marlene, thanks for leaving a comment and let me know! Yes they freeze very well. That’s why I always make a big batch and save them for later. I believe ground turkey will work if you get the one that contains 15% fat. I tried it the other day with a slightly different recipe, the meatballs turned out very tender and nice.

  12. Cathleen

    OMGoodness!!! It’s delicious, tender and moist! I added napa cabbage on the bottom of the meatballs before steaming it. Served it with steamed rice!!! YUMMIE!!!

    Thanks for sharing!!!!!!

    1. Maggie Post author

      So glad to hear you cooked many of my dishes and enjoyed the result. You just made my day Cathleen!
      The meatball recipes is a family recipe that was handed down from my grandma. I’m so glad the dish can be shared and enjoyed with people around the world 🙂

  13. Stephen

    I’m only able to find the salty Shaoxing cooking wine variety. I plan on reducing the light soy sauce by a teaspoon and a 1/2 to balance the salt out. Should I omit more light soy? Can’t wait to make these

    1. Maggie Post author

      Hi Stephen, I never used the salty Shaoxing wine, so it’s really difficult for me to tell. I think you can try slightly reduce soy sauce. I won’t suggest omitting it because it adds nice flavor. Even if the meatballs turn out a bit salty, you can always serve them with a bit more rice.
      Happy cooking!

    1. Maggie Post author

      There is no perfect substitutes because water chestnuts add a nice crispy texture that make the meatballs light. I’d suggest diced white onions if you don’t have water chestnuts. They do turn soft after cooking. The result won’t be the same, but should still be tasty.
      Happy cooking!

  14. Anita

    Hi Maggie, I came across your blog while searching for meatball recipe. Yours look very delicious, will try it soon. Do you have any recipe on pairing the meatball with some kind of sauce?

    1. Maggie Post author

      Hi Anita, sorry I do not have a sauce recipe that goes with this dish. We usually season the meatballs with plenty of spices so they will be flavorful enough to serve by themselves.
      If you’d like to serve it with sauce, I think a yogurt based sauce (such as tzatziki) should go these meatballs.

  15. Cyn

    eep… just tried the recipe and the flavor was good but it’s wayyyyy too salty for my taste. even paired with rice and veggies still salty I would cut the salt by 1/3 next time and just keep the soy. four tablespoons of soy is already pretty sodium heavy.

    1. Maggie Post author

      I’m sorry to hear it! Did you use a salted Shaoxing wine? This recipe uses a lot of wine and it might cause the problem (I was using a Shaoxing wine that does not contain salt). Also, there is only 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce. It is less powerful than light soy sauce. So if you’re using 4 tablespoons, it will increase the salt level. Anyhow, I hope they will turn out tastier the next time.

  16. Melissa Higgins

    Just tried this recipe and oh my goodness! So flavoursome, delicious and moist just as you described. We also just as an accidental happinstance – tried them with tzaziki and they tasted amazing.

    Thanks for a wonderful and authentic recipe – I love cooking outside of my cultural upbringing and these are delicious, light, fluffy and a bright addition to our ’round the world’ attitude to food x

    1. Maggie Post author

      Hi Melissa, I’m so glad to hear the recipe worked out well! And yes, I believe the tzaziki sauce will go very well with these meatballs. It is great that you’d like to venture out of your comfort zone and challenge new dishes! I’m happy to share the recipes from my culture with you 🙂
      Have a great day!

    1. Maggie Post author

      Hi Kathryn, I’ve never tried to make these meatballs in the oven but I think it should work. The meat patty in this recipe is quite tender. The meatballs won’t stay in perfect shape but it won’t affect the taste.
      Happy cooking and hope the dish will turn out great 🙂

  17. Amanda

    Oh wow! Maggie! This was absolutely mouth-watering. I missed the sesame oil, overbrowned the balls and had to braise them quickly with cabbage cos of time constraints. But, just WOW! I can’t wait for the weekend to make it the way you did. Thanks for the great recipe!

    1. Maggie Post author

      Hi Amanda, I’m so glad to hear you tried my recipe and enjoyed the dish! Braising these meatballs totally make sense and I believe they turned out delicious.
      I can’t wait to hear your feedback on the steamed version!
      Happy cooking and hope you have a great week ahead 🙂