Inviting some pals over to hang out can quickly turn stressful when you realize they’re going to expect some food. Before you reach for your phone to order delivery, take a few deep breaths. Homemade eats don’t have to be difficult. With original recipes from our Everyday Appetizers series, you can pull off showstopping starters without losing your cool.
Almost everyone loves meatballs, so it’s a little sad most people describe their go-to recipes as decent or good. You’d think more folks would know how to make an outstanding version of such a popular food. Thankfully, this easy meatball recipe will put an end to this search.
About this recipe
A great meatball really comes down to flavor and texture. This sounds simple enough, but it’s a little more complicated in practice. Flavor often falls short due to lack of seasoning or using ingredients that don’t have enough backbone. As for texture, meatballs usually end up dry, tough, or both. One of the best ways to address both problems is by using bacon. The hearty, smoky taste permeates the entire meatball and the added fat helps them stay incredibly juicy.
Because we wanted the flavor of the bacon to be the star, we opted for ground chicken, which has a milder flavor than beef. It’s also leaner, which is a good thing in this instance. If you were to use a fattier ground meat, the finished product would be too rich.
While the bacon also does a lot for maintaining a tender texture, choosing the proper binder also matters. Instead of using breadcrumbs, which can make meatballs heavy, we used a milk and bread mixture called panade. It helps the meatballs retain their shape and also promotes tenderness. If you really want to get into the details, you can read more about panade over at Serious Eats.
As for the rest of the meatball mix, we tried to get as much flavor as possible without extending the ingredient list or adding more steps than necessary. This is supposed to be an easy meatball recipe, after all. For this reason, sweating aromatics was out of the question. We still wanted some onion flavor, but adding it raw always results in meatballs studded with partially cooked, rather harsh-tasting pieces. The solution is as simple as grating the onion into a paste. We also added a bit of parsley for a pop of freshness.
Once you have all your meatball ingredients, just mix everything together with your hands. You’ll notice the resulting mixture is quite soft. Don’t even try to roll it. Just don’t. The best way to form your meatballs is using two spoons to scoop the mixture onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. You can use the spoons to doctor them a little bit once you have everything scooped out, but don’t stress over the shape too much. Once the meatballs are baking, it’s time to make a quick sauce.
A big pot of red sauce is always a welcome partner for meatballs, but we wanted something with a little more kick to combat the richness of the bacon. With a good amount of acidity and sweetness, barbecue sauce is a perfect choice. We kept ours really simple by using just ketchup, cider vinegar, brown sugar, and some chipotle powder. Once the meatballs are cooked, add them to the simmering sauce, then give everything a gentle stir.
Feel free to serve these meatballs with slider buns to make sandwiches, but it’s really not necessary. Your pals will be happy with nothing more than a fork. Just make sure you have some good beverage options. Food Republic shared a great list of beers that go fantastically with the barbecue, which will all go equally as well with these meatballs. You also can’t go wrong with cider.
Barbecue Chicken-Bacon Meatballs
Know this recipe makes a lot of barbecue sauce. You can easily reserve one-third of it before adding the meatballs and save for another use. This recipe makes enough to serve 4 to 6.
- 1 cup small pieces torn white bread
- ⅓ cup milk
- 4 ounces bacon, very finely chopped
- 1 pound ground chicken
- 1½ tablespoons grated onion
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more
- ⅛ teaspoon black pepper, plus more
- 1 cup cider vinegar
- ¾ cup ketchup
- 5 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1½ teaspoons ground chipotle
Directions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a small bowl, combine bread pieces with milk. Toss a few times to moisten. In a large bowl, combine bacon, chicken, onion, parsley, ¾ teaspoon salt, and ⅛ teaspoon pepper. Use your hands to gently squeeze excess milk from bread. Add bread to chicken and discard leftover milk. Use your hands to mix ingredients until just combined.
Scoop rounded tablespoonfuls of mixture onto prepared baking sheet. Mixture will be too soft to roll with your hands, so using two spoons works best. You should end up with about 24 meatballs. Transfer to oven and bake, rotating halfway through, until cooked through, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine vinegar, ketchup, brown sugar, and chipotle powder in a wide pot. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat to medium low, and let simmer until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. If reserving any sauce, remove at this point. Transfer meatballs to sauce in pot, stir gently to coat, then serve.
See you back here next week.
Follow Christine on Twitter @christineskopec