Delicious homemade smoked meatballs bursting with rich flavor, cooked to perfection on your backyard grill or smoker! From meatball preparation to smoker setup, discover how to smoke meatballs today.
These easy smoked meatballs transform ordinary ground beef into juicy, flavorful meatballs perfect for backyard barbecues, sandwiches, or weeknight dinners.
While most homemade meatball recipes call for the oven or griddle pan, we cook these little beauties on your outdoor smoker. The distinct smoky flavor this imparts on them takes them to an entirely new level, while the low and slow cooking method ensures they are tender, juicy, and cooked evenly.
Today, we show you just how simple it is to make homemade meatballs from scratch, and how to smoke them to perfection so they are mouthwateringly juicy every time.
How to Make Smoked Meatballs
Homemade meatballs make for a beautiful sandwich filling, appetizer, or simple dinner serving. This quick and easy recipe takes less than 90 minutes from scratch, making it a perfect last-minute option for busy weeknights. Here’s how to make them:
- Fire Up: Preheat your smoker to 250 degrees Fahrenheit (120 Celsius)
- Mix: In a large chilled bowl, combine the ground beef, egg, breadcrumbs, and spices
- Meatball: Roll the mixture into 1-inch wide round meatballs
- Arrange: Set the meatballs on a lined aluminum tray, ready for cooking
- Smoke: Place the tray on your grill or smoker’s grates. Smoke for about one hour, to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit (70 Celsius)
- Eat: Remove from smoker and enjoy immediately!
Best Meat to Use for Smoked Meatballs
Ground beef is an ideal meat to use for smoked meatballs as it gives a great flavor base while retaining moisture well throughout the cooking process. Ideally, you should be looking for an 80:20 ground beef mixture to ensure you’ve got enough fat content for a good flavor and to stop it from drying out when cooked.
When making ground beef at home, there are a few different options on which cut of beef to use:
Chuck roast is a great cut to use if it’s your first time making ground beef as it gives you a pretty spot-on meat-to-fat ratio of 80:20. This means you’ve got enough fat to keep the mixture moist and consistent without being greasy.
Boneless Short Rib
Boneless short rib is another option that gives you more versatility when making ground beef. Short rib will provide a slightly fattier mix leaning more towards a 70:30 meat-to-fat ratio. To get this closer to the ideal ratio of 80:20, you can add some extra lean meat, like beef round.
Beef round is a popular choice of cut for making ground beef as it’s a great value cut for the size you get. However, it is very lean, so you will need to add fat to get a good ratio mix. Using beef round gives you a good chance to experiment with adding different types of fats (such as lard, bacon fat, or suet) to your mix.
How to Make Ground Beef
The key to a good smoked meatball is in preparing the meatball mix! Making homemade ground beef with a meat grinder is a great way to use lower-cost cuts of meat or even use up any trimmings you might have left over from other recipes.
- Trim and Cut: Remove any large pieces of fat (but still keep to a 80:20 ratio), gristle, or connective tissue from the beef. Cut the meat into 1-inch cubes.
- Chill the Meat: Place the beef in the freezer for 30-45 minutes until it’s firm but not frozen solid. Chilled meat is easier to grind and reduces the risk of over-processing.
- Assemble Grinder: Set up your meat grinder with its medium-sized grinding plate. This should give you the best texture and consistency. Place the grinder parts (auger, blade, and plate) in the freezer for 15-20 minutes before grinding to keep the meat cold and prevent smearing.
- Grind the Meat: Feed the cubed beef into the grinder, gently pushing it through with the grinder’s plunger. Collect the ground beef in a bowl, ready for combining with the other ingredients.
Best Wood for Smoking Meatballs
The best wood for smoking meatballs is mild hardwood that doesn’t overpower our meat. Our go-to wood is oakwood, but pecan also works well.
If you want to add a heavier smoke flavor, try combining oak with hickory in a 1:1 ratio. This will allow you to add more heavy smoke aromas without letting the hickory overpower the beef.
Times & Temperatures
Our smoked meatball recipe uses ground beef as its main ingredient, so we need to ensure our meatballs reach an internal temperature of 160℉ (70℃) to be safe to serve.
In a smoker set to 250℉ (120℃), it should take around 60 minutes for the meatballs to reach an internal temperature of 160℉ (70℃).
Smoked meatballs make for a great appetizer, side dish, or snack. If you want to serve them as part of a meal, you can make the meatballs slightly bigger before cooking them. Similarly, if you’re going to serve them as a quick snack or part of a buffet, you can make them smaller and skewer them with toothpicks to make them easy to eat. Just be sure to smoke them for a little longer to allow for the change in meatball size.
Smoked meatballs taste great when served with pasta and a simple tomato sauce or cut in half and added to a roll to make a meatball sub.
If you want to save some smoked meatballs for later, why not freeze them? Once cooked, allow the meatballs to cool down completely and set them in the freezer in an airtight container or ziplock bag. As long as they don’t get freezer burnt, they will keep for up to 3 months.
To reheat, let them thaw in the fridge overnight. Then set them in the oven at a temperature of 250℉ (120℃) covered with foil until they are heated through (if in doubt, check with a meat thermometer).
- Don’t Forget the Binder: Using a binder will help keep the meatballs together while they cook, helping to keep them moist in the process. For this recipe, we’ve used breadcrumbs and a beaten egg. Breadcrumbs help to hold on to extra moisture and flavor, while the egg mix holds the ingredients together as it turns from a liquid to a semi-solid state when cooked.
- Don’t Overwork the Mixture: Overworking your meatball mixture can cause it to become dry and fall apart when cooking.
- Use a Cold Bowl: We need to continue to keep our meat cold once it’s been processed (we need to keep the meat out of the temperature ‘danger zone’). Have a cold bowl prepared to catch your meat once it’s been ground. To make a cold bowl get two mixing bowls that will fit one inside the other. Fill the larger bowl with ice and then nestle the smaller bowl inside it, ensuring the ice reaches the top edges.
- Don’t Want to Get Your Hands Dirty?: If you’re not overly keen on getting your hands stuck into the meatball mixture, it’s perfectly fine to wear gloves to combine the ingredients. If you want to avoid handling the mixture to form the meatballs, a small ice cream scoop is a great mess-free option too!
- Added Extras: The great thing about having a simple recipe like this is that you can add whatever flavor variations you like without causing too many issues. Shredded cheese is a popular choice for adding to homemade meatballs. If you do this then it’s best to take away some of the breadcrumbs or add more meat to keep the ratios of meat vs. other ingredients balanced. Adding chopped jalapenos or chillis is also a nice way to give the recipe a bit more kick – just be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after handling the meatball mixture!