Meatballs, two ways

This is primarily about these glossy and beautiful cocktail meatballs. I think there is something incredibly 1970’s about serving meatballs as an hor d’oeuvre…especially slathered in barbeque sauce. But, I think we need to start an “everything old is new again” trend and bring back the meatball. This is my mother’s recipe. And, before you get irritated with me for calling for a half of a bag of bread stuffing…let me tell you that this recipe is the halved version of my mother’s. And her recipe creates something in the neighborhood of 250 meatballs. So I halved it…and I also have created a recipe modification so that you can make half of the resulting meatballs into Italian style meatballs for spaghetti or meatball sandwiches. So this recipe makes about 60 to 65 cocktail meatballs and 60 to 65 Italian meatballs. If you want to make all cocktail meatballs instead then simply don’t add the Italian ingredients, and buy four bottles of the barbecue sauce instead of two. But, make no mistake…this is a huge recipe of meatballs.

I think that any guys will particularly appreciate this recipe. These are not quaint little bites of the cucumber sandwich family. Each of these is a big, meaty, substantial bite. Four of them will fill you up like you just ate a steak. So this definitely falls under the category of “heavy” hor d’oeuvre. They freeze beautifully, too. You can prepare them completely, cool them, and store them in the freezer (sauce and all) in several bags and then just take them out as you need them.

I use KC Masterpiece sauce in this recipe. You may choose whatever barbecue sauce you like, but I highly recommend a sweet and thick sauce.

Also, if you do not own a gigantic bowl in which to mix this meat, consider simply mixing it on the countertop. I used parchment paper underneath to help with the clean up, but it is almost not sturdy enough. Freezer paper might work better. Working directly on a very clean counter top will work the best of all. But you will need to clean before and after with enthusiasm to make sure that you have properly sanitized surfaces.

Should you make the Italian version, I guarantee that you will not be disappointed. Consider this…toast and butter slices of good bread. Once you have the meatballs in a pan of tangy tomato sauce, cover them with some mozzarella and stick them under the broiler for a minute. Serve the meatballs with the bread and nothing else. It is a meal. That they will be wonderful on a sub loaf as a meatball sandwich goes without saying. There are a million ways to use these meatballs.

meatballs balling

Meatballs, two ways
Recipe type: Appetizer
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 125 meatball yield
While it takes only 16 minutes to cook a batch, you will be cooking several batches. This is a LOT of meat.
Basic Meatballs
  • 3 pounds ground beef (I used sirloin)
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 2 pounds Jimmy Dean sausage
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 and ½ (14 ounce) bags Pepperidge Farms Herb Seasoned Stuffing Mix (for a total of 21 ounces)
  • 6 eggs
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 bottles (28 ounce each) KC Masterpiece Classic BBQ Sauce
Italian Meatballs (add to half the above meat mixture to create Italian Meatballs, as well)
  • ¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon dried parsley
  • ½ teaspoon dried basil
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Using your hands, thoroughly mix together the meats. Add the chopped onion and one bag of the stuffing mix. In a small bowl, beat the eggs together with the garlic powder and cayenne pepper. Mix the egg into the meat. Add as much of the second bag as necessary for the meat to be moistened, but not soupy, up to another one-half bag. Mix all of the ingredients together again until they are evenly distributed. While this takes a great deal of mixing, try not to handle the meat any more than necessary than to combine the ingredients.
  3. Divide the meat into two equal halves. For the Italian meatballs, in a separate bowl, combine half the meat, cheese, oregano, parsley and thyme, and mix until the herbs and cheese are evenly distributed.
  4. Using a 1-½ inch scoop, create meatballs. Then, roll each ball between your flattened hands to ensure that they stay intact. Place them at least 2 inches apart on a rimmed baking sheet. Place the tray in the oven and bake the meatballs for 16 minutes. Halfway through the cooking time, reach into the oven carefully with a fork or tongs and roll the meatballs over so that they don’t get a “flat side”. Make sure you keep your "basics" separate from your "Italians".
  5. As each batch comes out of the oven, move the balls to a paper towel lined tray to drain and cool. This will take approximately six batches if using one oven. You may bake two trays at a time, but switch their positions halfway through the cooking time, and cut open a meatball to ensure its doneness.
  6. When the meatballs are finished, place the basic meatballs in a large bowl and cover them with barbecue sauce. Reserve one-half bottle of sauce to warm and add just before serving, if you are not serving them immediately. You can refrigerate these for a day or two prior to serving them. Re-warm them gently. Serve them with toothpicks. A crock-pot is very useful for keeping the meat balls warm.

Following is a simple tomato sauce recipe to try with your Italian meatballs. If you are having a large party, you might be able to use the whole recipe for BBQ meatballs, but you will likely want to divide them up. I always do. It is so nice to have dinner ready to pull from the freezer. This tomato sauce comes together in a flash. Boil some spaghetti…and ring the dinner bell.

Tomato Sauce for Meatballs
Recipe type: Entree
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Here is a quick sauce to use with your meatballs.
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 3 (28 ounce) cans whole tomatoes
  • 9 ounces tomato paste
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon dried basil
  • ½ teaspoon dried parsley
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  1. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and sauté the onions in it for 4 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for an additional minute. Add the tomatoes and herbs. Crush the tomatoes with a masher or the back side of a large spoon. Allow the tomato sauce to simmer for approximately 20 minutes until thickened. Taste the sauce and season with salt and pepper, as necessary.
  2. If serving immediately, place the Italian meatballs into the tomato sauce and simmer to re-warm the meatballs. Serve over spaghetti. If not serving immediately, you can freeze the meatballs in a resealable plastic bag, either with the sauce or separately. When you place them in large freezer bags, consider laying the bag on its side and filling it so that it can lay down in one layer. They stack very nicely in the freezer this way.


  1. Courtney says

    Happy belated TDay. I hope you guys had a wonderful holiday. After a week of all-inclusive resort eating, I am ready to cook! This looks like just the ticket. I especially like your idea of the meatball subs. Tell Lily her running group sounds super cool.

  2. Kelly says

    Thank you Courtney. We had a very quiet and a very nice Thanksgiving. Let me know how you like the meatballs and if you change anything up. If you make the tomato sauce, make sure you let it thicken before adding the meatballs so they get sauced…not watered. I’ll pass on the kind words to Lil. Thanks. Let’s talk soon.

  3. M the chef says

    love seeing other peeps meatball recipes and I LOVE jimmy dean sausage, especially because we would go to the original jimmy dean farm and eat on our way to or from deep southern west virginia to see my granny. I’ll bet the spicy version makes good lil’ meatballs too! Thx!

  4. Kelly says

    Melissa, my maiden name is Dean and my relations have been holding out hope for YEARS that someone would find the secret link between our Deans and his Deans. No such luck. But, I still buy his stuff.

  5. Courtney says

    We had our first round of the meatballs as spaghetti. Caroline summed it up by saying “these meatballs are just perfect.” I am glad I didn’t change a thing to the recipe. The only thing I did differently was use my hand held mixer to blend the tomato sauce. The meatballs and sauce were superb! We are looking forward to eating the remaining meatballs with the BBQ sauce and as subs.


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