Sweet and Savory BBQ Meatballs

published Jul 20, 2021
BBQ Meatballs

Bring the life to the party with these BBQ sauce-smothered cocktail meatballs.

Serves4 to 10

Makes30 meatballs

Prep20 minutes

Cook25 minutes

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BBQ meatballs in a white bowl with toothpicks next to the bowl.
Credit: Laura Rege
BBQ Meatballs

Bring the life to a party — or weeknight dinner — with a batch of BBQ sauce-smothered meatballs. This mash-up combines classic meatballs with tangy barbecue sauce for an irresistible sweet, savory, and smoky combo that makes it impossible to eat just one.

Because rolling meatballs is enough work, we made cooking this recipe as simple and flavorful as possible without too many steps. Baking the meatballs in the oven is a fast method for cooking a whole bunch at once — requiring no standing over the stovetop! — and, better yet, it helps the meatballs retain their nice, round shape.

Doctored-up store-bought barbecue sauce boosts flavor with minimal ingredients and time, helping you customize the flavor to the sauce you love most. An extra touch of apple cider vinegar and sweet molasses-flavored brown sugar complements the richness of the meatballs.

What’s the Secret to Tender Meatballs?

Not overworking the meatball mixture is key, along with using meat that has enough fat (around 15 to 20 percent is best) so the meatballs remain juicy. You’ll also want to include ingredients that promote tenderness like breadcrumbs, egg, or milk.

Credit: Laura Rege
BBQ Meatballs

How Do You Cook Meatballs Without Drying Them Out?

Don’t overcook the meatballs with a long simmer in the sauce. Since these meatballs come right out of the oven tender and juicy, just add them to the skillet and toss until they’re well-coated; they will absorb all the rich barbecue flavors fast. The end result is a crowd-pleasing appetizer or main with minimal effort and lots of payoff.

What Goes with BBQ Meatballs?

These BBQ meatballs work perfectly as an appetizer served on toothpicks during cocktail hour. To serve these meatballs for dinner, they go wonderfully with the following:

BBQ Meatballs

Bring the life to the party with these BBQ sauce-smothered cocktail meatballs.

Prep time 20 minutes

Cook time 25 minutes

Makes 30 meatballs

Serves 4 to 10

Nutritional Info


For the meatballs:

  • 1 clove


  • 1 bunch

    fresh parsley

  • 1/4

    medium onion

  • 1 pound

    ground beef (85% lean)

  • 1/2 pound

    ground pork

  • 1/2 cup

    panko breadcrumbs

  • 3/4 ounce

    Parmesan, freshly grated (about 1/4 cup)

  • 1

    large egg

  • Kosher salt

  • Freshly ground black pepper

For the BBQ sauce:

  • 1

    18-ounce jar or 1 3/4 cups barbecue sauce

  • 2 tablespoons

    packed brown sugar

  • 2 tablespoons

    apple cider vinegar

  • 1 teaspoon

    smoked paprika

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    garlic powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    onion powder

  • 4 dashes

    hot sauce


Make the meatballs:

  1. Heat oven to 350ºF and line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Use a garlic press to crush garlic into a medium bowl or remove papery skin and finely grate garlic clove. Pick about 1 cup parsley leaves and fine stems from bunch and finely chop the leaves and stems until you have 1/4 cup. Add parsley to bowl with the garlic. Grate the onion on the large holes of a box grater or finely chop the onion until you have 1/4 cup and add to the same bowl. Finely chop more parsley until you have 1 teaspoon more and reserve for garnish.

  2. Add the ground beef, ground pork, 1/2 cup breadcrumbs, 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan, and egg to the bowl with the garlic mixture. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Use a spoon or your hands to gently mix ingredients until just combined. (Overmixing can lead to tough meatballs.)

  3. Roll 30 meatballs about 1 1/2-inch in diameter and arrange in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet.

  4. Bake the meatballs for 10 minutes, then remove the sheet tray from the oven and flip each meatball. Rotate sheet tray and bake until golden and cooked through, about 10 minutes more.

Meanwhile, make the sauce:

  1. In a large skillet over medium heat, combine 1 3/4 cups barbecue sauce, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 2 tablespoons vinegar, 1 teaspoon paprika, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/2 teaspoon onion powder, and 4 dashes hot sauce. Whisk until smooth and bring to a simmer. Once the mixture has reached a simmer, turn off heat.

  2. When the meatballs are done in the oven, scrape them into the skillet with the barbeque sauce and place over medium-high heat. Simmer, turning to coat the meatballs, until the sauce is slightly thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Garnish with remaining teaspoon of parsley and serve.

Recipe Notes

Substitutions: Panko can be swapped with regular breadcrumbs. Pork can be omitted and 1 1/2 pounds of ground beef can be used instead.

Storage: Cooked meatballs can be frozen in their sauce in a freezer-safe airtight container for up to 1 month. Defrost in the refrigerator and reheat completely before serving.