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Tuscan Onion Bombs (Master Recipe and Variations)


Tuscan Onion Bombs (Master Recipe and Variations)

Recipe Notes

  • Yield: Serves 6
  • Equipment: Toothpicks; grill rings (optional); hardwood chunks or chips (if using the latter, soak in water to cover for 30 minutes, then drain)


  • 2 large sweet onions, each 9 to 10 ounces
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 pound bulk pork sausage, or more ground beef
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large egg, beaten with a fork
  • 1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, flat-leaf parsley, and/or other fresh herbs
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt (kosher or sea)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 18 slices thin bacon
  • Your favorite barbecue sauce (optional)

Recipe Steps

Step 1: Slice the root and stem ends off the onions. Cut each onion in half lengthwise and remove the papery outer skin and any blemished layers. Separate the onions into layers, keeping the matched pairs together. Reserve the three largest pairs from each onion. Save the remaining onion for another use.

Step 2: In a large mixing bowl, gently combine the ground beef, sausage, garlic, egg, bread crumbs, Parmesan, fresh herbs, oregano, salt, and pepper.

Step 3: Assemble the onion bombs: Place two matching onion layers on your work surface, rounded side down. Mound a portion of the meat mixture (3 to 4 ounces, depending on the size of the onion) in one half. Top with the matching half. (The meat should fill the rejoined onion halves.) Wrap each onion bomb in three slices of bacon, securing with toothpicks. Repeat until you have six onion bombs.

Assembling onion bombs
Photo by Rob Baas.

Step 4: Set up your charcoal or gas grill for indirect grilling and heat to 350 degrees. Brush and oil the grill grate. Arrange the onion bombs over the unlit portion of the grill away from direct heat. (Use grill rings or rings of crumpled aluminum foil to hold the onion bombs upright.) If using a charcoal grill, add a handful of wood chips or a chunk of hardwood to each pile of coals. If using a gas grill, put the wood chips in a smoker box or make a foil smoker pouch and place under the grill grate. Close the grill lid.

Step 5: Smoke-roast the onion bombs until the bacon is crisp and the center of the meat is 160 degrees when read on an instant-read meat thermometer, 45 to 60 minutes. If desired, brush the onion bombs with barbecue sauce during the last 10 minutes. Transfer to plates or a platter. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Onion bombs with barbecue sauce
Photo by Rob Baas.

Recipe Tips


The Mexican: Substitute fresh chorizo for the pork sausage and Monterey Jack cheese for the Parmesan. For herbs, use chopped fresh cilantro and Mexican dried oregano. I wouldn’t object to the inclusion of a diced jalapeño or a minced chipotle chile in adobo sauce. Smoke using mesquite chips or chunks.

Turkish Onion Bombs: Based on koftesi, Turkish “meatball” burgers (see Planet Barbecue!, page 312). Soak 6 slices of stale white bread in warm water, then drain. Wring out the water with your hands and place in a mixing bowl. After separating the onion layers, finely dice the smallest ones until you have 1/2 cup. Mix with 1-1/2 pounds ground sirloin or chuck along with 1 minced clove of garlic, 1-1/2 teaspoons coarse salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Knead the meat mixture for 3 to 5 minutes; this gives it a spongy texture much prized by the Turks. Assemble the onion bombs as described above and skewer the onions on metal skewers and smoke-roast the onion bombs until the internal temperature of the meat is 160 degrees. Serve with lemon wedges and sliced pickled peppers.

Onion Bombs in a Boat: One of my recipe testers (and an administrator on the Barbecue Board), Rob Baas, made the Tuscan Onion Bombs above, but had an abundance of bell peppers on hand from his Kentucky garden. So he ingeniously cut the tops off (peppers with four lobes are the most stable on the grill grate), seeded them, and slipped in onion bombs before cooking as described above. He liked the way the peppers held the bombs together, and I’m intrigued with the idea.

Onion bomb in bell pepper
Photo by Rob Baas.

The Greek: Substitute 12 ounces each of ground lamb and veal for the meats above and feta for the Parmesan. For herbs, use chopped fresh mint and dill. Assemble the onion bombs as described above. Skip the bacon and barbecue sauce. Serve with tzatziki sauce.

T-Bombs: The “T” stands for Thanksgiving. My longtime assistant, Nancy Loseke, came up with this idea: Combine 1 pound of ground turkey with 1/2 pound of pork sausage with sage. Finely dice the smallest onion layers until you have 1/2 cup. Substitute herbed stuffing mix for the bread crumbs. Add chopped fresh parsley, sage, marjoram, and thyme (2 tablespoons total). Season with salt and pepper. Optional: Add 1/4 cup of finely chopped dried cranberries. Assemble the onion bombs as described above. (Bacon optional.) Smoke with hickory chips. Baste with melted butter instead of barbecue sauce. Serve with turkey gravy, if desired. Mashed potatoes make a great side dish.