Put these best-ever smoked meatballs on your next dinner party or game day menu and watch how happily and quickly everyone gobbles them up! Featuring a blend of ground beef and pork with loads of freshly grated Parmesan, these ultra juicy meatballs show off the perfect touch of smoky flavor for an added complexity, and you can serve them in so many ways. Make sure you keep this smoked meatball recipe handy because you'll turn to it again and again.
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
A delicious twist on classic comfort food: Classic meatballs that slowly simmer in an herby tomato sauce are one of life’s greatest pleasures, but they’re even better with a smoky infusion to make a meatball like no other. You’ll look like a five-star chef when you treat your family and friends to these homemade meatballs.
Plenty of delicious uses: Of course, you can absolutely top a plate of spaghetti with these meatballs, but that’s just one use. They’re especially wonderful with BBQ sauce as a crowd-pleasing appetizer. This one recipe will give you so many different serving options.
Prepare ahead of party time: Make your hosting duties as simple as can be with these meatballs. Once the meatballs go into the smoker, your cooking duties are done, so you can get them going a couple hours before anyone arrives. Plus, they reheat and freeze beautifully for more make-ahead options.
Ground beef: For the best flavor and juiciest meatball, use an 80/20 ground chuck beef.
Ground pork: While all-beef meatballs are tasty, ground pork gives meatballs a more complex flavor profile and adds moisture.
Soft bread crumbs: For the very best meatballs, ditch the dry breadcrumbs and make them from soft sandwich bread soaked in milk. This is known as a panade, which is a classic ingredient for proper Italian meatballs. You’ll get juicier, more tender meatballs with a panade.
Eggs: Eggs act as a binder to prevent the meatballs from falling apart. Plus, it adds some richness, flavor and moisture, so this is a crucial ingredient.
Grated onion: Rather than finely chopping onion, we run it on a box grater. The grated onion almost melts into the meatballs, so you don’t have crunchy little chunks. Grating onion can make your eyes water more than chopping, so feel free to grate in batches while you prep the other ingredients.
Anchovy paste: This is an optional ingredient, but it’s great for adding some umami flavor for a touch of depth. If you don't have anchovy paste, a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce does the trick.
Make the Meatball Mixture
Step 1: To start, we make the panade to give the bread time to soak. This step is as simple as adding the soft bread crumbs to a small bowl and pouring milk on top (photo 1).
Step 2: Now we whisk together the eggs, garlic cloves, Parmesan cheese, grated onion, parsley, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper and anchovy paste in a large mixing bowl. Do not add the ground meat at this point. We can now drain the bread in a fine-mesh sieve and stir in the panade (photo 2).
Step 3: With our wet ingredients prepared, we add the ground beef and pork to our large bowl and combine just until it becomes one cohesive mixture (photo 3). We can gently stir the ingredients with a wooden spoon or even use our hands.
At this point, the meat mixture will be wet. Don’t worry — this helps keep the meatballs super juicy.
Shape the Meatballs
Step 4: From here, we shape our meatballs and place them on a disposable aluminum pan or smoker-safe baking sheet (photo 4). This recipe calls for forming the meatballs so that they’re a little bigger than a golf ball, which yields about 24 large meatballs. If you prefer small meatballs, that’s just fine.
Pro tip: If you’d like, you can store the shaped meatballs in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a day for make-ahead preparation.
Smoke the Meatballs
Step 5: We’re now ready to place the meatballs on top of the smoker's grill grates with a water pan, close the lid and let the smoker work its delicious magic (photo 5).
Now treat yourself to a smoked meatball and enjoy. Best meatballs ever, right?
Recipe testing note: I tested this recipe on a vertical pellet grill, but you can use any type of smoker. And if you don't have a dedicated smoker, you can turn your charcoal or gas grill into one by using a smoke box.
Variations and Substitutions
I designed this recipe to make an all-purpose meatball, but another popular preparation method is to finish the meatballs in a sauce, particularly an Italian tomato sauce or BBQ sauce. If you’d like to try that variation, here’s how to do that for both types of sauces.
- Remove the meatballs when they hit an internal temperature of 140 degrees F.
- For Italian meatballs, simmer them in your tomato sauce to finish cooking.
- For BBQ meatballs, pour BBQ sauce into the dish and brush the outside of the meatballs with more sauce. Place the meatballs back in the smoker to finish cooking and allow the sauce to caramelize.
Besides adding a sauce, you can also experiment with different ground meats, such as bison, venison, Italian sausage, chorizo, chicken or turkey. Keep in mind, leaner meats may result in a meatball that isn’t quite as juicy.
You can even swap the Italian seasoning for another spice blend. Think Cajun seasoning, jerk seasoning, taco seasoning, curry powder, berbéré, ras el hanout or Chinese five-spice. Meatballs are a great canvas for experimenting with different flavor profiles, so let me know if you try something unique.
Fun Serving Ideas
You won’t be disappointed if you bite into an unadorned meatball — they’re that delicious. But you also have so many options for putting these meatballs to use. Here are a few favorite ways to enjoy these meaty balls of goodness.
- Serve with a side of your favorite BBQ sauce for dipping.
- Crumble them into a meatball lasagna.
- Make them into meatball sliders.
- Add them to a cheesy pasta bake.
- Use the meatballs as a pizza topping with my favorite beer pizza dough.
- Stuff them into meatball subs with melted mozzarella cheese.
- Enjoy as a gyro, pot pie or lettuce wrap filling.
- Drop them into a cozy stew.
How to Store, Freeze and Reheat
If you have leftover meatballs, allow them to cool completely and then store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator. They’ll stay fresh for up to three days.
For longer storage, freezing is your perfect option. After cooling, place the meatballs in a freezer-safe bag or container and freeze for three to four months. When you’re ready to thaw, place the frozen meatballs in the refrigerator overnight or use the defrost setting on your microwave.
To reheat, we have two preferred options.
- If serving with sauce, drop the meatballs into your sauce of choice and simmer the meatballs until fully heated.
- When not serving with a sauce, place the meatballs in a baking dish and cover with aluminum foil. Bake in a 300-degree F oven until the meatballs are nice and warm, about 15-20 minutes.
These meatballs are especially great with mesquite, hickory and oak. Of course, you’re welcome to experiment with other woods. Given the combination of pork and beef, you might also like some of the fruit woods for a more subtle smoke flavor, but you can’t go wrong with those three.
At 225 degrees F, expect these meatballs to take two to two and a half hours of smoking time.
As you might expect, the size of meatballs affects cooking time. These are big meatballs, so they take longer to smoke. That said, you’re welcome to make smaller meatballs, which typically takes closer to an hour and a half.
While you can estimate how long it will take to smoke the meatballs, you want to determine their doneness based on the internal temperature using a digital thermometer. The meatballs are ready when they reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Many factors can affect the cooking time, so you don’t want to rely on time alone — that’s estimated time is simply a guideline.
Ground beef and pork are most common for meatballs, but ground veal is also popular because of its tenderness. However, this meatball recipe creates a perfectly tender meatball without it. If you’d like to add veal to your mix, you’re welcome to use one part beef, one part pork and one part veal so that it adds up to 2 pounds total.
This mainly comes from the binding ingredients. Since we use plenty here, you shouldn’t have a problem with crumbling meatballs.
Mix just until combined: To avoid dry, tough meatballs, we don’t want to overwork the meat.
Chill the meatball mixture before shaping: This is completely optional, but refrigerating the mixture helps stiffen it to make for easier shaping and a more sturdy meatball.
Use a large cookie scoop or ice cream scoop: Like chilling the meat mixture, you may find this also makes the shaping process a bit easier.
Allow the meatballs to rest after smoking: For best results, we need to find some will power and allow the meatballs to sit at room temperature for five minutes before enjoying. This allows the juices to settle back into the meat.
Don't overcrowd the meatballs: Place the meatballs in a single layer and allow for some space in between each piece. This allows that smoke flavor to better infuse into the meat as well as results in better exterior caramelization.
You’ll love sipping on a brown ale with these meatballs. The nutty malt backbone works beautifully with the Parmesan, and it offers a little sweetness to match the pork and caramelization on the outside of the meatballs.
For a delightful wine pairing, you’ll enjoy a zinfandel. This wine has a fruity profile for a bit of contrast while also showing off peppery, spicy notes that work well with that smoky flavor.
Whether you plan on piling these smoked meatballs on a bed of pasta or glazed in your favorite BBQ sauce, everyone will swoon over every succulent, juicy bite.
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Best-Ever Smoked Meatballs
- Wood pellets, wood chips or wood chunks mesquite, hickory or oak recommended
- 1 cup soft bread crumbs torn from white sandwich bread, no crust (see notes)
- 1 cup milk
- 2 large eggs
- 6 garlic cloves minced or grated
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan using the small holes of a box grater
- 1 cup grated yellow onion using the large holes of a box grater
- ½ cup chopped fresh parsley
- 2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon anchovy paste optional
- 1 pound 80/20 ground beef
- 1 pound ground pork
- In a bowl, combine the bread crumbs and milk. Allow the bread crumbs to soak as you prepare the other ingredients.
- Beat the eggs in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the garlic cloves, Parmesan, onion, parsley, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper and anchovy paste if using. Drain the bread crumbs in a fine-mesh sieve. Stir in the bread crumbs.
- Add the ground beef and pork. Using a gentle touch, stir with a wooden spoon to form one cohesive mixture. You could even use your hands to mix the ingredients together. Mix just until combined and don't overwork the mixture. The mixture will be wet — this is normal and helps keep the meatballs juicy.
- Heat the smoker to 225 degrees F. As the smoker heats, lightly oil your hands and form into balls slightly larger than the size of a golf ball. Set the shaped meatballs in a disposable aluminum pan or smoker-safe pan.
- Place the meatballs in the smoker with a water pan. Close the lid and smoke the meatballs until they reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F, about two to two and a half hours. Remove the meatballs from the smoker and allow them to rest for five minutes before serving. Enjoy!
- Store leftover meatballs in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days. Alternatively, you can freeze them for three to four months.
- If you'd like to finish the meatballs in sauce, remove the meatballs when they hit an internal temperature of 140 degrees F. For Italian meatballs, simmer them in your tomato sauce to finish cooking. For BBQ meatballs, pour BBQ sauce into the dish, brush the outside of the meatballs with more sauce and place the meatballs back in the smoker to finish cooking and allow the sauce to caramelize.
- For easier shaping, you can refrigerate the meatball mixture for 30 minutes first.
- Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.