Tue Mar 3, 2015
There's a pretty long list of foods that I semi-secretly love. These are things that people might be surprised that I swoon over, or at least get excited by the sight of. One of them are those saucy, sweet slow cooker cocktail meatballs. Whenever someone shows up at a potluck with a CrockPot, I can't wait to see if it contains a plethora of small, supermarket meatballs swimming in a pool of sugary jelly—they're an odd pairing of sweet and savory that I'm somehow attracted to. I've never made them at home, but I thought I could do something similar and up the game by making my own meatballs and tossing them in a tried and true sweet and sour sauce.
The sauce I'm referring to is what you get when you order anything "sweet and sour" at a standard American-Chinese restaurant. It's a fruity, sugary, and tangy mix that's hard to resist when it's good (when it's bad...that's another story). My approximation of a great sweet and sour sauce started with a pineapple juice base that I built upon with rice vinegar, brown sugar, ketchup, and soy sauce. I brought this combo up to a boil, then added a cornstarch slurry and let it thicken to get the right viscous, syrupy consistency.
Making my own meatballs allowed me to match the flavor profile to the sauce to get a harmonious final dish. This required ground beef chuck—using one that had at least 20% fat for the most tasty and juicy results—and the standard players in meatball creation: eggs for binding, bread crumbs (I used panko) for lightness and additional binding, salt, and pepper. To give the meatballs a bit of Asian flavor to pair with the sauce, I also added in scallions, ginger, and garlic.
While the bite-size portion of those cocktail meatballs are part of the attraction for me, I had to roll these ones out a bit bigger so they'd be large enough not to fall through the grill grates. I made each meatball about one and a half inches in diameter, meaning that they were more of a two or three-bite experience.
On the grill, these meatballs browned beautifully over direct heat. I made sure they had a nice crispy sear all around, since that's a big source of flavor. I was also cautious not to overcook them, grilling them until they were just cooked through, or a little undercooked, so the insides would be as tender and juicy as can be.
After the meatballs were done I transferred them to a large bowl and threw some slices of bell pepper on the now empty grill. I cooked those until they were lightly softened, then diced them up and added them in with the meatballs. I poured on the sweet and sour sauce next and tossed to coat everything evenly.
I'll admit, these weren't on of the most beautiful things I've grilled, but they were damn tasty. The meatballs were beefy, tender, and had just enough seasoning to give them a distinctly Asian flavor profile. The sweet and sour sauce then delivered a sugary contrast to the savory meat, while adding a nice tanginess and fruitiness that made these fit in nicely at the Tiki-themed Meatwave I was throwing. They made for great party food, just like the cocktail meatballs that inspired them—you probably wouldn't eat a plate of these for dinner, but there's something great about having a few within a smorgasbord of other options as well.
Sweet and Sour Meatballs
- Prep Time:
- 20 Minutes
- Cook Time:
- 15 Minutes
- Total Time:
- 35 Minutes
- 4-6 servings
- For the Sauce
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon water
- 2/3 cup pineapple juice
- 1/3 cup rice vinegar
- 1/3 cup light brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons ketchup
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- For the Meatballs
- 1 1/2lbs ground beef chuck
- 1/4 cup finely chopped scallions
- 2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
- 2 teaspoons finely minced fresh garlic
- 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 1 large red bell pepper, cut into 4 large slices
- 1 large green bell pepper, cut into 4 large slices
- To make the sauce: In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and water. Set aside. In a medium saucepan, combine pineapple juice, rice vinegar, brown sugar, ketchup, and soy sauce and bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir in cornstarch slurry and cook until thickened, about 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
- To make the meatballs: In a large bowl, mix together beef, scallions, ginger, garlic, bread crumbs, egg, salt, and pepper. Roll meat mixture into meatballs 1 1/2 inches in diameter.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread the coals evenly over entire surface of coal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill, and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Place meatballs on grill and cook until well browned all over and cooked through, about 8 minutes total, 2 minutes per side. Transfer meatballs to a large bowl.
- Place pepper slices on grill and cook until just tender, about 2 minutes per side. Roughly chop peppers and add to bowl with meatballs.
- Pour sweet and sour sauce in bowl with meatballs and peppers and toss to coat. Transfer to a platter and serve immediately.