The Meatwave

Barbecue Meatballs

Barbecue Meatballs View Recipe

So we've come to SuperBowl weekend. Usually I care about this mainly for the excuse to cook as much bad-for-you party food as possible, although last year I found myself oddly engaged with football through the postseason. I'm back to my old ways though, with food more top of mind than the game, which has given me time to consider how to make a good thing even better—barbecue meatballs. Sure a package of frozen meatballs thrown in a CrockPot with a bottle of barbecue sauce is satisfying, but how much better can it get if done from scratch and on the grill?

Barbecue Meatballs

The easy-peasy norm of slow cooker barbecue meatballs has its allure, and I admit to enjoying them, but it misses so many opportunities to develop great flavor. So in making "true" barbecue meatballs, I wanted to really add depth from the beginning. This had me starting by sauteing onions until lightly browned, then adding to that garlic and chili powder.

Barbecue Meatballs

This served as the internal seasoning for the meatball that consisted of equal parts pork and beef, and an egg as a binder. The onions and meat were throughly combined, then portioned out into 1 1/2" balls.

Barbecue Meatballs

In true barbecue tradition, the meatballs needed a rub. I didn't do anything fancy here, just put together a standard sweet and spicy barbecue rub that was sprinkled all over the meatballs before grilling.

Barbecue Meatballs

I took a slightly different cooking process to making these meatballs than I normally do. Instead of grilling over a direct fire until cooked through, I used a two-zone approach, first browning the meatballs directly over the flames, then transferring them to aluminum pan over indirect heat to finish cooking. I also threw a wood chunk on the fire to impart some smokiness as well.

Happy Meatday to Me!

Once in the pan, the meatballs were completely coated in barbecue sauce the the grill was covered to let them continue to cook. This gave time for the sauce to bake in and create the sticky, caramelized crust that adorns so much good barbecued chicken, ribs, and the like.

Barbecue Meatballs

Unfortunately I made these at my birthday party while a bit inebriated and forgot them on the grill while I was boozing it up indoors with my friends. So this batch got a bit over done, but I could still taste them for what they were—awesomely flavored meatballs. They have everything I was looking for: a slight smokiness, a big meatiness, and an unmistakable barbecue flavor from the rub/sauce combo. There was so much more complexity compared your everyday slow cooker meatballs, which is what defines great grilling and barbecue, and makes these meatballs totally worth the extra effort.

Print Recipe

Barbecue Meatballs

  • Yield 6-8 servings as an appetizer
  • Prep 30 Minutes
  • Cook 20 Minutes
  • Total 50 Minutes


  • For the Rub
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 2 gloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 3/4lb ground beef chuck
  • 3/4lb ground pork
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 small chunk of medium smoking wood, such as oak or hickory
  • 1 disposable aluminum pan
  • 1 cup of your favorite barbecue sauce, plus more for serving


  1. To make the rub, combine paprika, salt, brown sugar, garlic powder, chili powder, cumin, black pepper, mustard powder, and cayenne in a small bowl. Set aside.
  2. Heat oil in a medium skillet until shimmering. Add in onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add in garlic and chili powder and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a medium bowl. Add ground beef, pork, and egg into bowl with onion and garlic and mix until combined.
  3. Roll out meat mixture into balls 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Season meatballs liberally all over with rub.
  4. Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals on one side of the charcoal grate and place wood chunk directly on top of coals. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Grill meatballs until well browned all over on hot side of grill, about 8 minutes total, 2 minutes per side. Transfer to aluminum pan.
  5. Pour barbecue sauce over meatballs and toss thoroughly to coat. Place pan on cool side of grill, cover, and cook until sauce thickens and bakes into meatballs, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from grill, let rest for 5 minutes, then serve with additional barbecue.

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  1. Charlie Sounds great. Meatballs in a mix of bbq & spaghetti sauces over rice for a sitdown meal or for a party is a favorite of mine. Definitely will have to give this version a try.

  2. Chris I find that I have to refrigerate my meatballs for at least 30 minutes prior to going on the grill, otherwise, the soft meat sinks into the grill grates while cooking, messing up their shape a bit.

  3. 'Alohi & Kevin These came out AWESOME! We had to double the dry rub ingredients to cover the 1 1/2 lb's of ground pork and beef that we ended up using and just squirted Sweet Baby Ray's bbq sauce over the cooked balls so we definitely used less than 1c. Also, my husband left them in the foil pan on the cool side for 10 minutes, grated Gouda and Asiago cheeses over the balls, then moved the tray to the hot side for a last 5 minutes. PERFECT!