These luscious little Bourbon Meatballs are going to be the hit of your next party ~ people will flock to the meatballs, but they’ll hang around for the sauce!!
VINTAGE VIEW ~ these Bourbon Meatballs are from TVFGI archives, first published in 2012. As part of a series on the blog I’m reviving some of the best recipes that you may have missed over the years ~ I’ve updated my notes and taken new photos. These spiked meatballs are legendary in our house, I hope you give them a try!
I have to confess, although these Bourbon Cocktail Meatballs are clearly meant to be appetizers, in our family we just as often make a meal out of them. Last night we had them with mashed potatoes and peas ~ so good! The meatballs themselves are moist and tender because I use a combination of ground beef and ground pork. The pork gives the meatballs great flavor, but also keeps them from being dense. I lighten them up even more with my favorite secret ingredient, Ritz cracker crumbs!
The sauce for these meatballs is pretty darned amazing, if I do say so myself. It’s thick and glossy, with a hefty dose of bourbon. It’s also got that classic cocktail meatball combo of sweet and tangy, thanks to apricot jam and barbecue sauce. Oh, and there’s a hint of heat from sriracha. Just typing out those ingredients has got my mouth watering.
Since Grant drinks Manhattans we always have bourbon and rye whiskey around, and you can use either for the sauce in this recipe. But even if you don’t drink on a regular basis, it’s a good idea to keep certain spirits in your pantry. I consider bourbon and Marsala wine to be pantry staples.
I like to collect mini airline sized bottles of various spirits so they’re on hand when the need arises. Who knows when a stew might need a shot of cognac, or a frosting could use a touch of Kahlua?
I’ve probably made a gazillion meatballs in my career ~ I’ve spiked them, super-sized them, and even made them with zucchini. I’ve drawn inspiration from all over the globe, too, with my Swedish Cocktail Meatballs, my Greek Meatballs in Lemon Sauce, and my Moroccan Cardamom and Lemon Meatballs. But it seems to me there’s something uniquely American about these mini cocktail meatballs slathered in a thick Bourbon sauce, I’m going to claim these for the homeland.
This recipe makes approximately 60 meatballs, so enough for a crowd. But they also freeze well, so you can use half the batch and freeze the rest if you’re not in party mode.
TIP: Meatballs can be frozen either cooked, or uncooked. Freeze them on a tray in a single layer until solid, and then transfer to a thick freezer bag or container.
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 lb ground pork
- 1/2 cup (1 sleeve, finely crushed) Ritz Cracker crumbs (you can use plain bread crumbs)
- 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- lots of fresh cracked pepper
- 1 egg
- 2 Tbsp olive oil (for browning the meatballs)
- 1 jar apricot preserves (about a cup, give or take)
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 Tbsp hot chili sauce (use mild chili sauce if you can't take the heat)
- 1/2 cup bourbon
- 1/2 cup barbecue sauce
- 1 Tbsp molasses
- 1/4 cup water
- Set oven to 350F
- Put the meatball ingredients, except the olive oil, in a large mixing bowl, breaking up the meat as you put it in. Mix together, using the tips of your fingers to gently combine everything without compacting the meat. I like to do this in my stand mixer.
- Form into small 1" balls, I use a small scoop to make them nice and uniform.
- Heat 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a skillet and brown the meatballs, working in batches. Transfer the meatballs to a baking sheet, and bake for about 10 minutes, until cooked through. (Check with a thermometer, it should read 160 degrees)
- To make the sauce, combine all the sauce ingredients in a skillet and bring to a simmer. Simmer gently for about 10 minutes until thick.
- Place cooked meatballs into the sauce, and let heat through until ready to serve. Serve on a plate with toothpicks, a drizzle of sauce, and lots of napkins. Serve a bowl of sauce on the side for extra dipping.
- If you need to reheat these meatballs, do it gently. I put the meatballs in their sauce, cover with foil, and heat in a 350F oven until bubbling. If you do it on the stove, do it over medium heat, and just bring them to a simmer.