If I had to pick a theme in my cooking over the past couple years, my reliance on miso is certainly a top contender. In my earliest days of cooking, I would never have touched miso because I had a strong distaste for miso soup, but at some point along the way I learned that I do indeed like miso and that it's dashi that doesn't agree with my palette. I think my brain still had trouble disassociating those two though and miso never really became an ingredient I relied on until I made a couple recipes in 2021 for sweet potatoes and beef skewers that invigorated miso for me and it then evolved to being something I consider upfront in a lot of my recipe development. I may be venturing into over-reliance at this point, but I keep churning out amazing tasting dishes with miso and by far these miso-glazed meatballs have been the best to date.
Since I felt like I was going a little overboard on the miso, my original concept for this recipe was a variation of tsukune—Japanese chicken meatballs—done in a mini-sandwich form. However, as I crafted my menu for this particular cookout, every other dish was chicken, so I changed course with the meatballs to introduce a different meat into the mix, and with that I also went with a different seasoning, turning to miso. I went all in on the miso, deciding to deliver a double dose both in the meatball mixture and also as a glaze that included sugars, soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, and ginger all reduced down to a complex and insanely savory sauce.
A lesser amount of white miso went into the beef and pork meatball mixture, which retained a lot of the tsukune influence with the seasonings of garlic, ginger, scallions, and white pepper along with panko breadcrumbs and egg for binding.
Since this was a new recipe, I needed to taste test the meat mixture to ensure the seasoning was hitting right before committing to meatball formation. I did this by breaking off a small piece of the meat and cooking it up. What I tasted was already crazy delicious, although it needed just a tad more miso, and I got super excited to see how the whole dish was going to come together in the end.
With confidence, I moved forth with shaping the meat mixture into balls roughly one and half inches in diameter. I chose this size for a couple reasons—it was big enough to handle easily on the grill and would fit nicely on the King's Hawaiian rolls I was planning on serving the finished meatballs on.
I cooked these meatballs first on the hot side of a two-zone fire, where the coals were situated on one side of the charcoal grate. I stayed grill-side as the meatballs cooked and flipped them regularly to ensure they were cooking evenly and browning nicely all over. As each meatball was done, I would move it over to the cool side of the grill.
Once they were all on the cool side, that's when I brushed the glaze all over and closed the lid to allow the sauce to set. I wasn't quite sure if the meatballs would need extra time over the hot side of the grill to fully caramelized the sauce, but after three minutes of indirect cooking, the glaze was well baked down and gave the meatballs the shiny appearance that let me know they were ready.
I went back and forth on whether I wanted to just stick toothpicks in the meatballs and serve, or make them into little sandwiches and finally decided on the latter and was happy I did. I really didn't want the extra fussy work of making small sandwiches, so I kept the extra ingredients super simple with merely a squeeze of Kewpie mayo and some arugula. Arugula was actually my third choice green—I had originally wanted mustardy mizuna, but I knew I probably wasn't going to find that, so was going settle on peppery watercress, but that too was unavailable when I went shopping, leading me to get plentiful arugula.
As soon as I bit into one of these tiny sandwiches, I was totally smitten. While I acknowledge I'm a decent cook, I still don't make that many dishes that I taste and feel like they'd be worthy of being a star on a restaurant menu, but that's the feeling I got from these meatballs. After downing one, I then enthusiastically took the tray the were on and passed out the sandwiches to my guests and, one after another, I got agreement on my perception with everyone singing the praises of these incredibly savory, sweet, and hearty meatballs. It's also not often that I feel the need to make the same recipe again soon after I developed it, but in the case of these meatballs, I couldn't wait for another taste and I ended up cooking them up again not long after this cookout, on at a beach week with my family where they too agreed on their awesomeness.
- Yield 6-8 servings
- Prep 20 Minutes
- Cook 11 Minutes
- Total 31 Minutes
- For the Glaze
- 1/4 cup white miso paste
- 1/4 cup light brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons sake
- 2 tablespoons mirin
- 1 teaspoon finely minced ginger
- 1 teaspoon finely minced garlic (about 1 medium clove)
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- For the Meatballs
- 1 pound ground beef chuck
- 1/2 pound ground pork
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
- 1/3 cup finely minced scallions
- 2 tablespoons white miso paste
- 1 tablespoon finely minced ginger
- 1 tablespoon finely minced garlic (about 3 medium cloves)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground white pepper
- For the Sandwiches
- 24 Hawaiian sweet rolls, halved
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise, preferably Kewpie
- 1/2 cup roughly chopped watercress, mizuna, or arugula
- To make the glaze: In a small saucepan set over medium-high heat, whisk together miso paste, brown sugar, rice vinegar, soy sauce, sake, mirin, ginger, garlic, and sesame oil. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and cook until sauce is thick and syrupy, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
- To make the meatballs: In a large bowl, mix together beef chuck, pork, eggs, bread crumbs, scallions, miso paste, ginger, garlic, salt, and white pepper until thoroughly combined. Roll out meat mixture into balls 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 arrange the coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover gill, and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Place meatballs on hot side of grill and cook, turning frequently, until well browned all over and cooked through, about 8 minutes total. Transfer meatballs to cool side of grill and brush all over with glaze. Cover grill and continue to cook until glaze has set, about 3 minutes more.
- Place about 2 teaspoons of mayonnaise on the bottom half of each roll and top with chopped greens. Place 1 meatball on each roll, set top half of bun in place, and serve immediately.