Beef and Bacon Meatballs in a Bacon-Flavored Barbecue Sauce Recipe

Bacon. It’s like chocolate—it grabs your attention, doesn’t it? Mmm…bacon. Now what about bacon-flavored barbecue sauce? How about bacon in meatballs simmered in and covered with bacon-flavored barbecue sauce? Even better. So if you’re having a few friends over to watch a little football this weekend or looking for something to serve at the upcoming Super Bowl party, meatballs are always a “fan favorite.”

These tasty little gems make an ideal appetizer, notes meat authority Bruce Aidells, who contributed this recipe to Real Food. They also can be cooked over a gas or charcoal grill; form them in 2-inch oval patties for easy handling so they don’t fall through the grill.

So whether you really care about who wins or loses the game, or you just enjoy the party, you’ll have a winning combination in this beef-and-bacon team.

Beef and Bacon Meatballs in a Bacon-Flavored Barbecue Sauce

Makes 6 Servings

Beef and Bacon Meatballs
1⁄2 c. fresh breadcrumbs
1⁄4 c. yogurt
4 tbsp. melted bacon fat or olive oil, divided
1 c. finely chopped onion
1⁄4 c. finely chopped carrot
2 tsp. minced garlic
2 tsp. fresh sage, chopped (or 1⁄2 teaspoon dried)
1⁄2 tsp. cumin
114 lb. 80% lean ground beef
1 egg, lightly beaten
1⁄4 lb. bacon, finely chopped
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. salt, or more to taste
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste

Bacon-Flavored Barbecue Sauce
6 oz. bacon, diced
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. fresh sage leaves, chopped
3 tbsp. smoked paprika, such as pimentón de la Vera or Hungarian paprika
1⁄2 teaspoon cumin
2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste
1⁄2 tsp. ground ginger
1⁄2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. mustard powder
2 tsp. finely ground coffee
3 tbsp. packed dark brown sugar
2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1⁄4 c. apple cider vinegar, or more to taste
1 c. canned low-sodium chicken broth
112 c. chili sauce, such as Heinz
few dashes hot sauce, such as Tabasco, or more to taste
2 tsp. hickory liquid smoke (optional)

1. For the meatballs: In a small bowl, stir together breadcrumbs and yogurt. Set aside. Heat a medium frying pan over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons bacon fat, onion, carrot, and garlic. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes, until soft. Stir in sage and cumin until vegetables are coated.

2. Scrape mixture into a large mixing bowl and add breadcrumb mixture. Add remaining ingredients including liquid smoke, if using. Knead and squeeze mixture until well blended. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight. Form into 1-inch meatballs.

3. Heat remaining bacon fat over medium-high heat in a large frying pan. Add meatballs and fry in batches 5 minutes, until lightly browned. Turn and fry other side 5 minutes. Set pan aside.

4. For the sauce: Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add bacon and fry 10 minutes, until fat renders and bacon starts to brown (do not let get crispy). Add onion, carrot, and garlic, and cook, covered and stirring occasionally, 10 minutes, until soft.

5. Add sage and cook, stirring occasionally, 1 minute. Add paprika, cumin, black pepper, ginger, cayenne pepper, and mustard powder and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add coffee, sugar, Worcestershire sauce, and vinegar, and stir well to combine and bring to a boil, loosening any browned bits from bottom. Add broth, chili sauce, and hot sauce, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes, until sauce is thick enough to coat back of a spoon but still thinner than ketchup. Add vinegar, hot sauce, salt, and pepper to taste.

6. Pour sauce over meatballs and cook at a simmer 5 minutes to reheat meatballs. Place in a chafing dish and serve.

Cook’s Notes
• The barbecue sauce can be made ahead and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks. Warm the sauce gently in a saucepan before serving.
• To serve as a main dish, use a slotted spoon to place 4 to 5 meatballs per serving over mashed potatoes. Using a large spoon, drizzle over 2 to 3 tablespoons sauce. Let diners add more sauce as desired.
• To grill the meatballs, shape them into ovals 1⁄2 inch thick, 2 inches long, and 11⁄2 inches wide. Grill 2 to 3 minutes per side then add to the warmed sauce and serve.
• For a lighter dish, substitute ground turkey for the beef.

Nutrition info Beef & Bacon Meatballs in a Bacon-flavored Barbecue sauce (per serving): Calories 499 (361 from fat); Fat 40g (sat. 15g); Chol 122mg; Sodium 833mg; Carb 11g; Fiber 2g; Protein 22g

Mary Subialka is the editor of Real Food and Drinks magazines, covering the flavorful world of food, wine, and spirits. She rarely meets a chicken she doesn’t like, and hopes that her son, who used to eat beets and Indian food as a preschooler, will one day again think of real food as more than something you need to eat before dessert and be inspired by his younger brother, who is now into trying new foods.