Delicious as either an appetizer or a meal, these Beef Meatballs with Bourbon & Bacon are unique and so flavorful! Serve them on noodles or if gluten free, try them on a plate of mashed potatoes.
I originally made these Beef Meatballs with Bourbon & Bacon to serve as an appetizer during the Super Bowl but I had several leftover and enjoyed them the next day as a pasta dish too; they are perfect either way…but I had time to photograph the pasta; not so much the appetizer platter I had put together the day before. I wasn’t finished until AFTER company arrived.
I remember the days when I would have everyone wait for me to snap some photos before we could begin a meal. Not only did friends and family have to wait but I was always rushed during that process and I stopped that years ago. It was a good thing too because I think we LOVED them with pasta even more!
Yes, I do have a penchant for bacon and bourbon; something about that combination of sweet bourbon with salty bacon comes together so beautifully. In this dish. I’ve got brown sugar in the sauce but I’ll often combine the two with maple syrup and I think that’s my favorite trifecta. It all started with this homemade bacon and I’ve never stopped!
The meatballs also have onion, garlic and cayenne pepper, a favorite spice. The first batch I made a couple of weeks ago might have gone a bit overboard with the cayenne pepper…I loved it but one of my friends commented on the heat and I know it was a bit too much for her so I needed to adjust.
I reduced the cayenne pepper by half and added some cumin to the sauce and that was it…sometimes I hit it on the first time but we were OK with having these twice to get them perfect.
For those who wonder how boozy these taste, they don’t. I don’t use bourbon to try and have a dish taste like a cocktail; I simply think that it elevates certain dishes with its inclusion; much like vanilla does for baked goods.
I also love a sauce that is a bit sweet; as a matter of fact for this recipe I gave myself a shortcut and used a jar of barbecue sauce and simply added brown sugar, cumin, and dry mustard along with the bourbon to achieve a more nuanced flavor. Add the brown sugar 2 Tablespoons at a time; you might prefer them not quite as sweet.
One thing I love about making meatballs is how simple it is to double the recipe and then freeze leftovers. I did double these and only had about a half dozen of them leftover after company had their fill and that’s why I extended them with pasta the next day.
But normally I double them even without an event planned and cook all of them, vacuum pack the leftovers and stick them in the freezer. They are quick to defrost and make an easy and delicious meal.
One of my little neighborhood buddies was here with me when it was time for dinner so he was invited to stay; I gave him the option of having some shredded cheese on his and he did not hesitate…sure Barb! I was happy with just a sprinkling of parsley but he sure devoured his serving. With this flavor profile; nix the Parmesan and try something with cheddar or a Mexican blend of cheeses.
I love my more old fashioned meatballs with ground beef and Italian sausage so much but these sure hit the spot too. It’s nice to have a variety; both are equally good.
Don’t wait for a party, make these for your family for dinner…I’m sure you will love them too!
PIN IT! ‘Beef Meatballs with Bacon and Bourbon’
- 6 bacon strips
- 1/2 medium yellow onion
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 cup barbecue sauce
- 1 Tbsp molasses
- 2 - 4 Tbsp brown sugar; to taste
- 1 tsp dry mustard
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1/2 cup water
- 3 tablespoons bourbon
- 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
- Cut the bacon into 1/2" pieces and cook it in a large skillet until the bacon fat is rendered and it is just starting to brown. Add the garlic and cook for one additional minute. Strain from the skillet into a food processor, leaving the fat in the skillet.
- Chop the onions into quarters and put into the food processor with the bacon and garlic.
Pulse the mixture until it resembles ground beef and still has some text but small pieces.
- Put the ground beef into a medium size bowl and add the bacon/onion mixture, bread crumbs, cayenne pepper, parsley, egg, and salt. Mix thoroughly with your hands.
- Form mixture into meatballs. I make larger meatballs so get about 18; but you can make them smaller, about 1 inch, and get 24 meatballs.
- Heat the skillet over medium heat. Add additional oil if necessary to lightly cover the bottom. Brown the meatballs, turning every couple of minutes to brown all sides, should take 8-10 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.
- Wipe any fat from the pan and add the barbecue sauce, water, molasses, brown sugar (start with 2 Tbsp and taste; add more if you want a bit sweeter), mustard, cumin, and bourbon to the pan, simmer until will combined and warm.
- Add the meatballs to the sauce and let them simmer 10-15 minutes. Serve with toothpicks or small forks as an appetizer or over pasta noodles for a main course.
- Garnish with parsley if desired.