Now having meatballs in anything other than Italian Gravy is well, not right. Meatballs are supposed to be covered in thick, rich tomato sauce and loaded up with melted cheesy goodness. Well wait, let me restate that… I’m talking about those big fat honkin’ meatballs that go with pasta or on a hoagie roll. Appetizer sized meatballs are fair game. I mean I’ve given you tons of meatball recipes here ranging from Protein Packed to Asian style. All are awesome. But when someone brings out a tray of fat meatballs covered in sauce, you assume they are the Italian Style. I’ll be the first to admit, I assumed incorrectly.
See we were at a friend’s house for the holidays and she had a spread that could feed an army. She kept saying “Oh Lori, you have to try my meatballs.” Now I love a great meatball and there have been very, VERY few meatballs I like that I didn’t make. But I was more than happy to try them.
As I came up to the plate I gave a perplexed face as they weren’t “normal” meatballs. These were big and fat but covered in a deep, deep almost burgundy colored thick sauce. However, I’m always anxious to try new stuff so I put one on my plate.
I asked what was in it (I mean I didn’t want to eat funky meat – like venison *shudder*) but she assured me it was all beef. I cut it down and took a forkful of meatball and sauce. Seriously, people, this flavor was incredible! Thick, rich, smokey and all kinds of BBQ-y. It was really, REALLY good!
So good I ate 3. Being who I am I asked what was in it and she said it was her secret recipe. Knowing how recipes are coveted I respected that and didn’t ask anymore. However, see what most people don’t know about me is that I have a very sensitive palate and can pick apart a dish easily figuring out what’s all in it.
I had to recreate these. I grabbed another, took it into Mr. Fantabulous and asked him to taste it. This was more so for selfish reasons than anything – I wanted him to taste that dish and when I recreated it, tell me if I was spot on or still missing something. Now I never make it taste exactly the same as I may tweak it a bit. I mean I can but while her meatball was great, I wanted awesome.
A few days later I couldn’t shake my craving for those meatballs. So I sat down and started working on my version of her recipe. I started with a list of the ingredients I picked out but one thing that was stumping me was they were so unbelievably tender.
This one made me sit and think for a while. It wasn’t a seasoning but rather it had to be a liquid. It wasn’t oil or a fat so it had to be milk perhaps? THEN IT HIT ME! My Mom used to use evaporated milk to tenderize cuts of beef when they were particularly tough. She’d even put it in her meatloaf as well. Hmmm… I wonder.
Wonder no more!
These meatballs were… hold on, let me sit here for a minute with my eyes closed and think about how heavenly they were. The flavors were seriously some of the best flavor combinations I’ve ever tasted. And once again Mom came through as her technique of using evaporated milk was exactly the trick to get these meatballs super, super tender. Now when I make my meatballs I pan sear them first then I finish baking them in the oven. I don’t like baking meatballs in sauce as the sauce tends to get oily, even with the leanest of beef. Plus to me, I think pan-searing them keeps the juices inside while they bake.
Just look how thick and rich the cowboy bbq sauce turned out. It’s sultry and smokey with the lip smackin’ taste that makes you wanna go out and wrangle the wild west.
This sauce is a true winner and will definitely be posted later on separately. I have a bunch of ideas of how I want to use this in other dishes.
Now what I love about this recipe is that it’s pretty much 2 recipes in one. One of the meatballs that you can use in other dishes (you can even make it as a meatloaf!) and the cowboy bbq sauce which I have tons of plans for!
The sauce I have to say I nailed on my first attempt. It’s really, really simple to make and my God it’s amazing! When I’m creating a recipe I will make a single batch first.
I made one meatball and after it was done it was good BUT it was missing something. It didn’t have that over the top WOW factor. So I tweaked the recipe a bit, added a little of this, a smidge of that and a new spice. I made another meatball and WOO HOO! WINNER WINNER CHICKEN DINNER… er um meatball dinner! LOL
So *I* knew they were amazing but I had to see Mr. Fantabulous’ reaction. So I put one on a plate for him and now unlike me where I would sit and look at the food, examine it and yes, most likely smell it. Not him, he either inhales whole OR he cuts in half and then inhales. So I made that almost fatal mistake of sticking my hand in front of his fork-to-mouth route and wouldn’t let him take the 2nd bite. I wanted a comment. He looked at me, grunted and huffed. LOL,
I said, “Honey, really taste these, please.” So he then decided to cut the remaining half into TEENY pieces and eat them one by one dragging it on forever! Needless to say, he was pushing my buttons. Big brat!
He finally said “Wow baby, these are really good! These almost taste like those ones at the party but these are so much more flavorful. The sauce is awesome and they are super tender! Did she give you her recipe?” I grinned and said “Nope, you know I can recreate dishes. I studied the flavors while I was eating them and then went from sensory memory.” Apparently he tuned me out over my big explanation as all he said was “Can I have more?”
Men! LOL But these are one of the best meatballs I’ve had in a long, long time! And that sauce! Dear Sweet Home on The Range Cowboy Lovin’ Yumminess!
With all of the big games going on right now, these would be PERFECT to serve!Print
Cowboy Meatballs with Cowboy BBQ Sauce
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- 3 lbs ground beef (85/15 or 80/20)
- 2 eggs
- 2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 2 teaspoon pepper
- 1 cup minced onion
- 2 cups old fashioned oatmeal, not instant or quick cooking
- 2 teaspoon salt
- 12 ounces evaporated milk
- 1 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
Cowboy BBQ Sauce:
- 2 cups ketchup
- 2 tablespoon liquid smoke
- 1 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup minced onion
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- Preheat oven to 350F.
- In a medium sauce pan over medium heat, add all of the ingredients for the sauce.
- Cook until thick and bubbly; stirring occasionally. ~10 minutes.
- To make the meatballs, mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl.
- Then when it is all uniformly mixed, form into meatballs about the size of large golf balls or a bit larger.
- Place a large skillet over medium heat. You can add a tablespoon of olive oil if you want.
- Put the meatballs in the pan (don’t overcrowd).
- Brown on all sides (about 2-3 minutes per side).
- Remove from the pan and place in a casserole pan. The meatballs may touch, but don’t crowd them together.
- Pour the sauce over the pan seared meatballs.
- Bake uncovered for 45 minutes hour (depending on the size of the meatballs). You can cover for the first 20 minutes but then uncover the last 20-25 minutes to allow the sauce to get dark and super thick. The meatballs should be 165F with a meat thermometer.
Recipe Reviews & Comments
I’ve been making these for over forty years , way back when carnation evaporated milk had recipes on the label . That’s where I got my recipe they were just called bbq meatballs.
Nancy Jackson says
What happens if u use quick? I just dumped it into my meat
They tend “melt” into the meatballs rather than add a textural element. They aren’t as bad as instant oats as they can make the meatball gummy.
I like the texture of old fashioned oats.
How did the quick oats turn out for you?
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Katherine Dietz says
I was getting ready to make my grocery list and had a few more questions.
1. Is the ground beef a chuck, beef or ground sirlion?
2. Is the minced onion raw or dehydrated?
3. Is the oatmeal Quaker Old Fashioned or ?
4. I noticed the recipe makes a lot so I found your bbq meatloaf stacks recipe and noticed the bbq sauce includes BBQ SAUCE, which brand like sweet baby rays or kraft or ? And what flavor I saw no honey but what did you use?
Thanks for a prompt reply I just want to make it all like yours, I love your recipes and all the stories. Your Dad’s Red Beef is the best!
I’m so happy you love my Dad’s Red Beef soup! The ground beef is just regular ol’ ground beef – nothing fancy. Just be mindful of the fat content. The onions are raw. If there were to dried or dehydrated it would have said so. Yes it’s old fashioned oats.
As for the other recipe, it’s can be any non-honey flavored (essentially no super sweet bbq sauces). Sorry but I don’t buy bottled bbq sauce. You could use any brand you want or choose from my several I have posted. It’s ok if the bbq sauce has brown sugar or honey in it. You just don’t want a really sweet sauce. I would suggest going with this tangy bbq sauce – https://www.thekitchenwhisperer.net/2018/09/11/ultimate-meatloaf-with-tangy-sauce/
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Katherine Dietz says
I want to make these but I’m not sure if you used hickory or mesquite liquid smoke and did you use light or dark brown sugar?
I use hickory liquid smoke.
Brown sugar on my blog is always Light brown sugar. If I ever use dark I will put that. But great questions!
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Is it okay to make the bbq sauce and refrigerate before you use it?
Absolutely! You can even make a big batch and freeze it!
Best Kitchen Wishes!
I’ve been making these for at least 25 years. I don’t know where the original recipe came from but I got it from a coworker in the early 90’s. The only difference is that I do not pan sear the meatballs first. It is a favorite holiday recipe for my family.
Funny, my grandma was making this exact same dish back when I was a kid. She got it out of a church cookbook, and the lady who put it in there got it out of a 1960s issue of BH&G.
Like, down to the evaporated milk, and the sauce you make to put on top of it. The exact same thing.
Grandma wasn’t a church-going person though she believed she never was associated with a church. This recipe was inspired by the lady who’s Christmas party we went to. This was my interpretation of her recipe. As for the evaporated milk, that’s something Mom would use as a child to tenderize cuts of tough beef and add a bit more tenderness to meatloaf without adding oil/butter (fat).
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