Grilled Meatballs with Homemade Marinara

Meatballs with Marinara

Spaghetti and meatballs has got to be in the top 5 of classic comfort dishes. And for good reason too as it’s just so dang good. And these grilled meatballs are definitely a favorite around my house. I usually have to make a double batch so that there is enough for dinner and lunch the next day.

There are two reasons this recipe works. All great meatballs start with a panade. This is simply and mixture of liquid and starch. And for this recipe this means buttermilk and panko breadcrumbs. The second reason is bacon. Yes, we are adding bacon to the meatballs because bacon truly does make everything better.

The panade

What’s up with the Panade?

The panade is the key to making amazing meatballs. Lets face it. We’ve all had subpar meatballs at some point in our life. On the surface they seem rather simple to make but it does all come down to technique.

The buttermilk/panko mixture will do two things for us

  • Act as a binder
  • Provide volume (make the meatballs less dense)

The second bullet point is the key. Dense, tough meatballs are the last thing we want. The panade fills in some space between the meats and makes for a much more pleasant and rewarding mouthfeel.

Homemade Marinara

Cooking Tips for the Grilled Meatballs

  • Let the panade hydrate – Don’t overlook this step and we want the panko to soak up all the buttermilk.
  • Work in the panade – Take 1/4 of the meat and really work in the panade. This will help fully spread the mixture into the meatballs.
  • Partially freeze the bacon – Cutting warm bacon into little pieces can be difficult. Freezing it will help with slicing.
  • Don’t overwork the meatballs – Folding ingredients together and being gentle will stop the meatballs from becoming tough. Like I previously said, this is a simple dish so it all come down to technique.
  • Meatballs love high heat – Grilled meatballs are great but this recipe works for frying and baking as well. However you cook them use high heat to caramelize the outside. That’s just something you won’t get from smoking.
Spaghetti and Meatballs

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Meatballs with Marinara
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Grilled Meatballs with Homemade Marinara

Grilling meatballs is a great way to impart some smoky goodness into the dish.
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time45 minutes
Total Time1 hour
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: marinara, meatballs
Servings: 4
Cost: 20


For the meatballs

  • 3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 pound ground beef either sirloin or chuck
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 3 ounces bacon (diced) about 3 – 4 strips thick cut bacon
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 onion finely diced
  • 3 cloves garlic diced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley diced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh basil diced
  • 1/2 tablespoon kosher last

For the marinara

  • 1/4 cup olive oil regular, not extra virgin
  • 1/2 onion diced
  • 4 cloves garlic diced
  • 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons fresh basil


For the meatballs

  • Start by making the panade. Combine the bread crumbs and buttermilk. Let sit for 10 minutes while gathering the other ingredients.
  • Add about 1/4 of the ground beef and pork to the panade. Thoroughly combine the three ingredients.
  • Afterwards, add the remaining meatball ingredients and fold together. Make sure to not overwork the mixture as this will create tough meatballs. You can then roll out the meatballs into evenly sized portions (I like using a 1/4 cup measuring scoop).
  • Set up your grill for medium indirect heat (about 375°F). Place your meatballs on the indirect side and close the grill. Cook until they have reached an internal temperature of 150°F. Then prepare the sauce.

For the marinara sauce

  • Place a non reactive pan (either stainless steel or coated casted iron) over direct heat. Add the olive oil followed by the onion and a pinch of salt. Cook for 3 – 5 minutes or until softened.
  • Then add the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds. Add the oregano and crushed tomatoes.
  • Once the sauce is starting to bubble, add the meatballs to the sauce and close the grill. Cook for another 5 – 10 minutes to let the flavors marry.
  • Serve immediately. Garnish with parsley/basil.