My BBQ meatballs recipe is a summery party dish that’ll put a smile on everyone’s faces!
Tender, delicious meatballs smothered in a sweet homemade BBQ sauce, barbecue meatballs (BBQ meatballs) are one of the meatball recipes I reach for when I need a nostalgic potluck tradition.
The normal way to make it is in a crockpot a la our favorite grape jelly meatballs — but using a slow cooker misses out on that rich, smoky flavor we all want, like in classic Italian meatballs or simmered porcupine meatballs.
So, guess what? We’re going to BAKE these meatballs!
Let’s get cooking!
What I Love About This Recipe
Who can resist a big steaming plate of sauce-smothered meatballs? And during the summer, this BBQ meatballs recipe brings it even further with those tart, savory flavors you know and love from the grill!
- Great as a main meal or an appetizer
- Crowd-pleasing power!
- Savory and sweet
- SO easy to make!
How To Make BBQ Meatballs Recipe
Start by preheating your oven and prepping your pan. Remember, this is a baked meatballs dish, so load your pan up with nonstick cooking spray.
Next, combine your bread crumbs and milk. Allow the breadcrumbs to absorb the milk for about 8 minutes. Add in your beef, egg, salt, pepper, garlic powder, chili powder, and onion. Mix until the ingredients are just incorporated, then form into balls and arrange in a single layer in your prepared baking dish.
In a separate bowl, combine the ketchup, brown sugar, onion, vinegar, and liquid smoke. Pour over the meatballs and bake until done!
The sauce will get all caramelized and delicious, and the meatballs will be perfectly tender and moist!
Barbecue Meatballs Recipe Notes
Not sure what to think of baked barbecue meatballs? I promise, this recipe is so easy and the ingredients are so simple, you’ll be a believer in this deliciousness in no time!
- Keeping Things Cool: The secret to tender meatballs is simple: cold. You must keep the fat from breaking down (i.e. melting) before you cook the meatballs, so keep the onion and beef in the fridge when you’re not working directly with them, or try using a chilled bowl and chilled utensils
- Mixing: The more you mix and handle your meatballs, the tougher they are going to be. Even consider using a fork to shape the meatballs! If you must use your hands, coat them in oil and form each ball quickly and gently.
- I often use an ice cream scoop to form my meatballs, helping to ensure I don’t over-handle them and also guaranteeing that the meatballs have a consistent size.
Sweet Meatballs Ingredient Notes
From the sauce to the meat mixture, what secrets will help your meatball-making adventures go smoothly? I’m here to tell you!
- The Beef: In homemade meat mixtures (like hamburgers, meatballs or even BBQ meatloaf recipes), I’ve found that using fresh, quality meat is especially important. Instead of buying ground beef in those tubes of plastic, look for/ask for freshly ground beef. I use and 80/20 blend.
- For me, this ratio has just the right amount of fat to make the meatballs tender and juicy without being overbearing. If you want to reduce the overall fat in the recipe, just use leaner ground beef.
- Bread Crumbs: This recipe calls for “soft, fresh breadcrumbs.” I’ve found that homemade breadcrumbs are best. I usually use just day old stale bread that I have. This allows me to control if any extra butter, fat, salt, etc. get into the bread crumbs mix.
- If you absolutely must use store-bought bread crumbs, go for Panko or generic Italian-style breadcrumbs. They tend to be lighter and make for better meatballs.
- Egg: Eggs don’t bring moisture to meatballs — they bind everything up! Meat doesn’t like to stay in nice little balls without help. That’s what the eggs and breadcrumbs are for. They combine to act as a glue for your meatballs!
- Liquid Smoke: I love using liquid smoke. It’s a byproduct of smoke meeting cold air, so it’s natural, and adds a delicious kick of flavor to your recipes that’s especially perfect for BBQ sauce!
Tools to Make
You’ve got some options when it comes to tools! The basics are:
- A baking sheet
- Mixing bowls
- An ice cream scoop (for measuring out your meatballs)
But if you’d rather grill or cook your meatballs on the stovetop, here are some alternatives!
- Start by browning your meatballs directly over the coals, then finish them in an aluminum pan over indirect heat.
- Tip: Refrigerate the meatballs before you put them on the grill! If you put them on room temperature, the beef might sink into the slits on the grill. Keep your meatballs chilled right up until cooking!
- Preheat your skillet and add oil. Saute until brown, but don’t assume they’re done when browned! Thick meatballs take time to cook all the way through, so you might want to invest in a cooking thermometer to make sure the insides come to temperature.
- Tip: Don’t cook too many meatballs at one time. The meatballs need room to move around on the skillet, so cook in two or three batches when necessary.
How Long Can You Keep This In The Fridge?
Once fully cooked, you can store your meatballs in the fridge for up to four days. Don’t mess with meat longer than that! Toss any meatballs past the five-day mark. But these BBQ meatballs are super delicious, so I doubt you’ll have to worry about too many leftovers!
Can You Freeze Them?
Yes! You can either freeze your own meatballs — for up to four months! — or use store-bought frozen meatballs when making this recipe. Of course, making meatballs yourself is so much yummier, but it’s an option.
If you froze your leftover meatballs, simply thaw in the fridge when you’re ready to eat!
BBQ Meatball Recipe Make Ahead Tips
My favorite make-ahead tip for this BBQ meatball recipe: make your meatballs ahead of time and let them chill in the fridge for up to two days before cooking! That way, your fat is chilled and cooks up perfectly, and you don’t have to rush around making meatballs. They’re ready and waiting for you!
Now, the big question: what should you serve this BBQ meatballs recipe with? Is it a side or a main meal? Your choice!
If you make these meatballs as a main meal, serve it with a matching soup, like my hearty beef tomato soup. The combination of the meatballs’ sweet-savoriness and the soup’s tomato tartness is divine!
Or if you want the meatballs to be the supporting role, make up a big batch of my Mexican spaghetti recipe for the main dish! The zesty Mexican flavors will be the perfect finishing touch after delectable meatballs.
I love serving them over plain rice, buttered noodles or, best of all, buttery mashed potatoes.
What variations can we make with these BBQ meatballs? Oh so many!
- Swap the breadcrumbs for your favorite yellow box and get Bisquick sausage balls! Moist, tender, and delicious.
- Swap the barbecue sauce for Asian stir fry with teriyaki meatballs.
- Want a taste of autumn? Cranberry meatballs scream holiday dinner party!
- You can’t get more classic than meatballs and noodles! Serve these meatballs with a side of pasta.
- Go back to basics with Sicilian meatballs — simply add in more traditional herbs and spices to this meatballs recipe, and you’re rockin’ Italy!
- 2 cups soft fresh bread crumbs
- 1 cup milk
- 2 pounds ground beef
- 1 large egg lightly beaten
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 3/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/2 cup yellow onion finely chopped
- 1 cup ketchup
- 1 cup brown sugar firmly packed
- 1/4 cup yellow onion finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons white vinegar
- 2 teaspoons liquid smoke
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9 X 13 inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
- In a medium mixing bowl, add bread crumbs and milk. Allow breadcrumbs to sit and absorb the milk, about 8 minutes. Add beef, egg, salt, pepper, garlic powder, chili powder, and onion. Mix until ingredients are evenly incorporated. Form into 1 1/2 inches balls and arrange in a single layer in the prepared baking dish.
- In a small mixing bowl, combine ketchup, brown sugar, onion, vinegar, and liquid smoke. Pour evenly over top of the meatballs.
- Bake uncovered in the preheated heated oven, for about 1 hour, or until the internal temperature of meatball reaches 160 degrees.
Fans Also Made:
More Meatball Recipes
Want more meatball madness? Check out these recipes!
- Best Meatballs – I call this my best meatballs recipe for a reason — it’s THAT GOOD!
- Spaghetti and Meatballs Recipe – You can’t go wrong with a classic
- Instant Pot Spaghetti and Meatballs – Short on time? This recipe is here to rescue you!
- Mexican Meatballs – are the perfect easy appetizer for any get-together
- Sweet and Sour Meatballs – perfect for kids!
Barbecue flavors don’t have to stay on the grill, and meatballs aren’t only for tomato sauces! I hope by BBQ meatballs recipe changed your view of meatballs and opened your eyes to the wide, wonderfully delicious world of meatball meals!
Did you make your BBQ meatballs a main dish or an appetizer? Let me know in the comments!
Appreciate your comment about skipping liquid smoke and still being yum. I don’t have any either!
I wanted to make this for a group. Would they be ok in a crock pot for a few hours to stay warm?
Hi, Kendra. Yes, for a few hours. Enjoy!
Looks great! Lots of mistakes in the instructions though. Might want to proofread before publishing. My husband who is less intuitive with cooking would get confused by some of these mistakes. One major one: the brown sugar and ketchup are listed as ingredients for the meatballs instead of the sauce. Also, it says to shape meat into 1 1/2 balls. Those would be pretty big! Should say 1 1/2 inch balls.
Thank you, Tammy! All correct now.
Looks great! I will try with maybe coleslaw or potato salad on the side.
I wonder if perhaps smoked paprika would work in lieu of liquid smoke. Not a huge fan.
One last thing, it appears that the words meatball and sauce in the ingredient list are misplaced. No biggie, just thought you may like to know.
Thanks for the great recipe!
Hi, Rhonda! Thank you for noticing that, it’s correct now. 🙂
I haven’t tried substituting the liquid smoke, but I think adding paprika is also great.
Let us know how it turns out! 🙂
I love bbqs and meatballs! This is perfect
Thank you, Kadence!❤️
Barb McGann says
I was thinking of cutting up small pieces of green onion to put into the frozen meatballs with barbacue sauce and grape jelly. What do you think?
I think that would be fine. I would be sure to sweat the onion before adding it to prevent bitterness and bring out their sweet mellow flavors. I think then it would blend well with the sweet smoky bbq sauce….let me know how it works out!
Will this work for frozen meatballs as well? I’m going to make 2 bags of 64oz frozen meatballs.
Hi Emily! Since I haven’t made this with the 2 bags of frozen meatballs, my concern is the baking pan size and you might need more sauce. The sauce is super easy and would be crazy delicious on frozen meatballs! Best of luck. Would love to hear back from you <3
Wow…my mind is blown!! I tried this recipe last night and it was a game changer. I followed everything to the T minus the liquid smoke (I didn’t have any). I mixed lightly, shaped lightl put in for about 1 hr and 10 minuets. Had to write down so I never forget. Will NEVER make meatballs any other way!!
Yay! So glad these BBQ Meatballs were a hit for you Kayce!