It is spring and I am itching to fire up my smoker to try some smoked meatballs recipes I have been dreaming up all winter. There is nothing better than grilling and smoking just about anything in my book. My wife is very supportive of my love for fire and smoke, as long as I keep both outside the house.
I have smoked meat, poultry, seafood, vegetables, and fruit. I also like to experiment with dishes like meatloaf, baked beans, casseroles, and even fruit cobblers. My smoker is my outdoor oven and an extension of our kitchen.
For this smoking exercise, I tried my hand at smoked meatballs using fresh ground pork. My mom used to slow simmer homemade meatballs in tomato sauce for a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon. The kitchen smelled awesome all day and the meatballs melted in my mouth.
Smoking is another slow cooking method that imparts an enormous amount of flavor into meatballs. The smoky finish on the meatballs enhances any sauce they are paired with and the entire family loves them. I, or my wife, will make a pot of easy homemade tomato sauce that we drop the smoked meatballs into and then they are served over a steaming bowl of pasta with some grated cheese on top and some crusty bread to sop up any extra sauce.
I’ll walk you through the process of making and smoking meatballs. First, I will try to answer some common questions about meatballs in general.
Looking for other smoked recipes? You need to check out my fan favorites such as my smoked chicken breast, smoked chicken thighs, smoked corned beef, smoked pork roast, smoked whole chicken, poor man’s burnt ends
What is the best meat for meatballs?
I am partial to ground meat that has a decent amount of fat content for flavor and moisture. Skip the 80/20 lean beef mix for this recipe. Go right for pork or a combination of pork and a fattier cut of beef, such as short rib. You can also add some veal to this mix for a softer texture.
How do I make meatballs that are tender?
It may sound odd, but breadcrumbs can add a bit of a soft texture to the ground meat that ensures the meatballs aren’t tough or chewy. If you don’t have breadcrumbs, crumbled fresh or even stale bread that has been soaked in milk will work. Just squeeze the milk out of the bread before adding it to the meat mix.
Why do meatballs sometimes fall apart while cooking?
Meatballs need a binder to hold everything together. Think of a binder as the glue that holds the ground meat and breadcrumbs together so the meatballs don’t fall apart while cooking. A lightly beaten egg is the perfect ingredient for this. As the egg cooks, it turns from liquid to soft solid that acts as the binder that keeps the meatballs from crumbling.
What Makes a Good Meatball Recipe?
A good meatball recipe starts with the ground meat you select. In the recipe here I recommend ground pork because it is flavorful and has a good ratio of muscle to fat. This combination keeps the meatballs juicy while they are cooking.
If you use only ground meat, the meatballs can become dense and tough to chew. To prevent this from happening, add breadcrumbs and an egg to the ground meat. These two ingredients not only lighten the meatballs, they also add a softer texture and a bit more volume.
Finally, your meatballs will need some aromatics, herbs, and spices to impart even more flavor. Chopped onion is my go-to aromatic. You could add minced garlic as well. Parsley, basil, thyme, and cayenne are excellent choices for herbs and spices. Finally, season the mix with salt and pepper.
Get your hands in there and combine all the ingredients, being careful not to overwork the mixture. Shape into balls that are approximately 2 to 3 inches in diameter. To make forming the balls easier, you can dip your hands in a bit of cool water so the mixture rolls smoothly without sticking to your hands.
Now you just need to cook the meatballs. If you aren’t up to smoking the meatballs, this recipe also works for pan-frying, oven baking, or simmering in sauce.
Once cooked, you can serve while warm with pasta and tomato sauce, make into meatball subs with cheese, or just have as an appetizer with a barbeque dipping sauce. Smoked meatballs are also excellent as an entrée with some mashed potatoes or polenta and a salad on the side.
Delicious smoked meatballs in under 2 hours
- 2 lbs Ground Pork
- 1/2 cup Breadcrumbs
- 1 egg Lightly beaten
- 1 piece Medium Onion diced
- 2 tbsp fresh parsley leaves chopped
- 1 tbsp fresh basil leaves chopped
- 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves chopped
- 1/2 tbsp Salt
- 1 tsp Ground Black Pepper
- 1/2 tsp Cayenne Pepper Flakes optional
Set up your smoker with wood chips and water in the bowl, if your smoker has a bowl. Preheat to 225°F with the top vent open.
While the smoker is heating up, lightly whisk the egg in a large mixing bowl. Add the pork, breadcrumbs, onion, herbs, and seasonings to the bowl. Omit or reduce the cayenne if you don’t want too much heat. Using clean hands, mix everything until well combined.
Dip your hands into a bit of water and form the meat mixture into balls that are approximately 2 to 3 inches in diameter. Place these on a sheet panor a disposable aluminum foil baking pan.
Place the pan of meatballs inside the smoker and cook for approximately 1-1/2 hours. The interior of the meatballs should reach an internal temperature of1 65°F when checked with a digital meat thermometer.
Remember toreplenish wood chips, if necessary.
Remove the meatballs from the smoker and serve while warm with your favorite side dishes or on pasta with sauce.
Cooked meatballs will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of days. Alternatively, you can place the meatballs into freezer plastic baggies in individual portion sizes and store them for up to 6 months in the freezer. These make for a great weeknight meal after a busy day.