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.

Recipe for Meatballs: (makes 125 meatballs)


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.

For the Italian meatballs, create a tomato sauce.

Recipe for Tomato Sauce for 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.


I can’t wait to thaw my second gigantic bag of Italian Meatballs. I am going to serve them on hoagie rolls and melt provolone cheese on top.

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