Italians call them polpetti. The French name is boulettes. For Swedes they’re known as frikadeller, while Mexicans enjoy them as albondigas. Whatever you call them, you know a great meatball when you taste it: ground meat, bread, and seasonings combined into flavorful spheres that are substantial enough to satisfy you but not so dense they give you heartburn.
So what makes a great meatball? Well, first there’s the meat, or more accurately, the meats, because most great meatballs feature a combination of beef, pork, and veal—or other animal proteins. Then, there’s the binder—often bread or breadcrumbs soaked in milk or cream—enough to hold the mixture together, but not weigh it down. You’ll need seasonings—lots of seasonings—onions, garlic, or other alliums, herbs (preferably fresh), hot peppers, grated cheese, and plenty of salt and pepper. Then there’s the cooking method, pan-frying and baking in red sauce being the standbys.
The common meatball is about to get a lot better. You saw this coming—the secret is to cook it on the grill.
Grilling sizzles the fat, endowing the meatball with a crusty exterior. (It also melts out some of the excess fat—a nod to our health-conscious readers. Toss soaked wood chips on the coals and you bronze the meatballs with a flavorful blast of wood smoke. If you’re used to soggy meatballs poached in tomato sauce, these sizzling crusty spheres will come as a revelation.
So how do you grill a meatball? You could line them up on the grill like miniature burgers. You could skewer them on flat bamboo skewers like they do in Japan and elsewhere in Asia.
But my favorite method involves my favorite new grill tool: the meatball basket. The beauty of this cool tool? With one twist of the wrist you can turn 12 meatballs at once.
To get you started, here’s a basic three-meat meatball recipe with suggestions on how to customize it and make it your own.
Do YOU have a favorite grilled meatball recipe? Please share details, photos, and recipes on the Barbecue Board.
Try these recipes: