Grandma’s BBQ Meatballs

I love learning new kitchen tricks from friends and family and today I learned how to make Grandma’s BBQ Meatballs. Well, not my grandma, but Darren’s grandma!

bowl of bbq meatballs with mashed potatoes with text overlays


 

Grandma’s BBQ Meatballs are a tasty and unique take on a classic. Perfect for game day, as an appetizer, or as a main course. They make a sweet and zesty BBQ sauce with the most tender meatballs you ever did eat. They’d make my Italian grandmother proud!

What You’ll Need

  • Olive Oil– For sauteing the onion and garlic. A great base for a tomato-based sauce.
  • Sweet Onion- White onion, a more pungent choice, can be swapped out. Make sure to mince it pretty small so you don’t get large chunks in the sauce.
  • Garlic- Fresh garlic has the best garlicky flavor, while a minced jarred garlic is sweeter and saves a small amount of time.
  • Ketchup– The base of many BBQ sauces, it differs from tomato paste because it is a little seasoned and sweetened already.
  • Water– In order for the sauce to have time to simmer, infuse and marry, it needs water to not get too thick and caramelized. Beer or chicken broth are other options. The recipe calls for 2 cups, but you can eyeball it by filling up the ketchup bottle about halfway, shaking it well to get all the bits of ketchup stuck to the walls.
  • Light Brown Sugar– Balances the acidity in all the other ingredients. For a sweeter sauce, double the sugar.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar– Vinegar is the base in many BBQ sauces to provide the signature bite. Champagne vinegar, white vinegar and white wine vinegar or other mild vinegars can be swapped.
  • Yellow Mustard– Yellow mustard is the standard, but Dijon is another good option.

  • Worcestershire sauce– A robust, heady sauce that adds loads of sophistication to any sauce, including BBQ sauce.
  • Molasses– Another great way to balance acidity but also offers a sweet, smokey and warm. There is some in the brown sugar, but more is better.
  • Celery Salt- A seasoning made from dried ground celery seeds and salt.
  • Black Pepper & Coarse Kosher– Freshly ground provides the most flavor, for a milder flavor use white pepper. Kosher salt is the least salty of the salts.
  • Evaporated Milk– Milk that has been simmered so the water content evaporates out leaving behind a pure dairy product that is slightly thicker than regular milk. This makes the dry meatball ingredients into a paste and creates so moist and tender meatballs.
  • Seasoned Bread Crumbs– Make your own, use plain or even panko is fine. If they are plain, I suggest 1/2 teaspoon of Italian seasoning to boost the profile.
  • Eggs– Binder for the meatballs.
  • Ground Meat– This recipe is closer to a meatloaf mix using ground beef and ground pork, but any combination of ground meats can be used or just one. I do like a small amount of fat to help bind, so if using ground chicken or turkey, add some fattier beef or pork.
BBQ meatballs over a pile of mashed potatoes

Make the BBQ Sauce

Start with the BBQ sauce because it takes some time to reduce, but you’ll need a few tablespoons of it to season the meatballs.

  1. In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and then add the onion and saute until soft and fragrant. I like to use a mini food processor to mince the onion to get a nice, fine mince without much effort. Add the garlic, sauteing for another 1 minute, but not longer so it doesn’t burn. Burnt garlic gets bitter, so stir to prevent burning.
  2. Stir in the ketchup and then fill the ketchup bottle halfway with water (it doesn’t have to be exact). Shake it well to release any ketchup sticking to the sides of the bottle. Pour the water into the pot and stir.
  3. Stir in the rest of the BBQ sauce ingredients and continue to simmer uncovered over medium-low heat, uncovered so it can reduce. Don’t be alarmed if the mustard doesn’t mix in smoothly, as the sauce heats, it will start to break down and blend.
  4. Continue to simmer on the lowest heat while you make the meatballs.
meatballs in sauce

Make the Meatballs

  1. Preheat the oven and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil (lightly coated with cooking spray) or parchment paper to prevent sticking.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the evaporated milk, bread crumbs, onion, garlic, BBQ sauce, eggs, black pepper and salt into a paste. Overmixing is the enemy of a good meatball, so by mixing together the binding ingredients you won’t be tempted to overmix the ground meat.
  3. Break the ground beef and pork into small pieces as you add it to the mixture. Toss with clean heads (or wear gloves) until blended. Do not overmix.
  4. Form meatballs into 2-3 inch large meatballs or 1 inch small meatballs and place onto the prepared baking sheet. Roll in your palms or toss from hand-to-hand to form. Bake for 15-20 minutes, depending on size. They are going back into the sauce to simmer and will cook a bit more there.
tray of raw meatballs
  1. Remove from the oven and transfer directly to sauce using a slotted spoon so you aren’t also transferring grease. Simmering helps tenderize and flavor the meatballs with sauce and helps infuse the sauce with flavor too.
  2. Continue to cook uncovered at a low simmer for about an house or until sauce has reduced and thickened and coats the back of a spoon.
cooked meatballs in a bbq sauce

Serving Suggestions

Grandma served her meatballs over mashed potatoes. Make traditional mashed potatoes, ranch flavored, mascarpone laced or just grab instant potatoes from the store. If potatoes aren’t your jam, couscous, ranch rice or cheddar grits is another good choice.

They are can also be rolled into smaller meatballs and served as cocktail meatballs.

meatball cut in half in bbq sauce

Tips for Great Meatballs

  • Always allow meatballs to simmer in whatever sauce you are serving them with. They will absorb flavor and stay moist while lending flavor to the sauce.
  • You can use bottled BBQ sauce for Grandma’s BBQ Meatballs, but I recommend the super simple recipe below. It’s great for these meatballs but also on anything from grilled meats to veggies.
  • One this is for sure, fat is important in making meatballs. Do not opt for the super lean (and super expensive) beef blends. Aim for an 80/20 mix or more.
  • Do not over mix! Over mixing makes for chewy and tough meatballs. Use your hands, versus an electric mixer, and toss instead of blend.
  • This is a place where the meat can be over handled. Take small portions and toss them from one hand to another to pack it in instead of rolling or kneading.
angle view of meatballs over mashed potatoes

Storage & Freezing

Make Ahead & Storage: Meatballs and sauce can be made up to 2 days in advance and honestly, they will only gain more flavor sitted and marinating. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Store the mashed potatoes (or other preferred base) separately from the meatballs.

Reheat on the stove top in a saucepan or in the microwave.

Freezing: Meatballs and sauce can be frozen. Place in an airtight plastic freezer bag and expel as much air as possible. Keep frozen for up to 6 months. Thaw in the fridge overnight and reheat on the stovetop in a saucepan. If the sauce is too thick, thin it with 1/2 cup water, beer or chicken broth.

collage of bbq meatballs for dinner

More Meatball Recipes

bowl of ranch cocktail meatballs

Ranch Meatballs

With simple ingredients and 35 minutes, you can make these delicious EASY Ranch Meatballs for dinner! A great way to spice up your spaghetti and meatballs!
See The Recipe!
overhead shot of instant pot with meatballs

Meatballs with Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry Chili Meatballs are always a party appetizer favorite, especially around the holidays. Party meatballs don’t get easier than these Instant Pot meatballs made with cranberry sauce and sweet chili sauce. Yum!
See The Recipe!
A plate of Meatball and Spaghetti

Homemade Spaghetti and Meatballs

Homemade Spaghetti and Meatballs just the way mom makes them. Just a handful of ingredients makes the perfect sauce.
See The Recipe!
overhead of meatballs for an entree
close up of meatballs in bbq sauce

Grandma’s BBQ Meatball Recipe

5 from 9 votes
The best darn BBQ meatballs you’ll ever sink your teeth into!
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours
Servings: 8

Ingredients

BBQ Sauce:

Meatballs

Instructions

BBQ Sauce:

  • In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and then add the onion and saute for 3 minutes, or until soft. Add the garlic, sauteing for another 1 minute and stirring to prevent burning.
  • Stir in the ketchup and then fill the ketchup bottle halfway with water (it doesn't have to be exact). Shake it well to release any ketchup sticking to the sides of the bottle. Pour the water into the pot and stir.
  • Stir in the brown sugar, vinegar, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, molasses, celery salt and pepper. Continue to simmer uncovered over medium-low heat, uncovered so the BBQ sauce can reduce.

Meatballs:

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil (lightly coated with cooking spray) or parchment paper.
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine the evaporated milk, bread crumbs, onion, garlic, BBQ sauce, eggs, black pepper and salt. Stir well.
  • Break the ground beef and pork into small pieces as you add it to the mixture. Toss with clean heads (or wear gloves) until blended. Do not overmix.
  • Form meatballs into 2-3 inch large meatballs or 1 inch small meatballs and place onto the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes, depending on size.
  • Remove and transfer directly to sauce, discarding any grease that came off the meatballs.
  • Continue to cook uncovered at a low simmer for 60-90 minutes, or until sauce has reduced by a fourth.
  • Serve over mashed potatoes, rice or couscous.
  • If you've tried this recipe, come back and let us know how it was in the comments or star ratings!

Nutrition

Calories: 652 kcal, Carbohydrates: 77 g, Protein: 25 g, Fat: 28 g, Saturated Fat: 10 g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 2 g, Monounsaturated Fat: 13 g, Trans Fat: 1 g, Cholesterol: 127 mg, Sodium: 2608 mg, Potassium: 980 mg, Fiber: 2 g, Sugar: 60 g, Vitamin A: 724 IU, Vitamin C: 8 mg, Calcium: 172 mg, Iron: 4 mg
Author: Jessica Formicola
Calories: 652
Course: Main Course, Main Dish
Cuisine: American
Keyword: bbq meatball recipe, bbq meatballs, homemade meatballs
Did you make this recipe?I’d love to see your recipes – snap a picture and mention @savoryexperiments or tag #savoryexperiments!

 

Jessica Formicola in her ktichen

About the Author

Jessica Formicola

Jessica the mom, wife and chef behind Savory Experiments. You might see her on the Emmy- nominated TV show Plate It! or on bookshelves as a cookbook author. Jessica is a Le Cordon Bleu certified recipe developer and regularly contributed to Parade, Better Homes & Gardens, The Daily Meal and more!

Read More About Jessica

5 from 9 votes (9 ratings without comment)

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Questions and Reviews

  1. That is really interesting about the evaporated milk. I have never heard of that before.

  2. My wife’s family also has a BBQ meatball recipe that is handed down and is similar to this one. It’s always the first thing to run out at family gatherings.