Buffalo Chicken Meatballs

I think there is going to be a meatball renaissance. Call it a hunch. In fact, we’re going to lead the parade. Let’s #MakeMeatballsGreatAgain.

A lot of people hear the word “meatball” and instantly feel like yawning. Not me. My first thought is “What kind of meatballs?”

Swedish meatballs … Porcupine meatballs … Italian meatballs … Spaghetti and meatballs … Meatball subs … Meatball soup … Baked meatballs … Fried meatballs … Crock Pot meatballs …

I have seen how hamburgers have become the latest craze for creativity. What is a meatball but a ground up burger, bun and all? Why shouldn’t it be as trendy as its cousin? I started thinking about how versatile meatballs are and ended up channeling my inner Forrest Gump! “I know everything there is to know about …” meatballs.

WingSauceWhen we go out to eat, someone invariably orders buffalo chicken in some form: wings, sandwich, salad, etc. It is a major crisis at our house if the bottle of hot/wing sauce in the refrigerator is empty. Years ago, I started making homemade hot wings using only two ingredients: wing segments and Cookies Wings ‘n’ Things Sauce. We have tried a lot of hot-, wing-, buffalo-sauces and this is, by far, our favorite. And, being the good Iowa girl that I am, the fact that it is made in NW Iowa is a bonus!

And this is where meatballs start getting attention again. Let’s face it. After you say “buffalo” people don’t care what form of chicken you serve them! Okay so maybe that’s just my house, but I doubt it!

And what is the best part of ordering wings at a restaurant? It’s that everybody gets to choose their sauce! Mild or hot, tangy or spicy, barbeque, or buffalo, they’ve got us covered. So we are going to start with a basic chicken meatball with three different sauce options: buffalo, sweet-sour/schezuan, and honey-bbq.

BUFFALO CHICKEN MEATBALLS

1 cup finely diced celery
1 cup finely diced onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 teaspoons red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or beer
2 pounds ground chicken
1 pound ground pork 
2 eggs
2 cups bread crumbs
1 tablespoon dry ranch seasoning (or dressing mix)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 350°. Saute celery, onion and garlic in olive oil over medium-low heat until tender, 5-6 minutes. Add vinegar/beer to pan to deglaze the pan (i.e. get all the yummy brown bits off the bottom). Remove from heat and allow to cool. 

In a large bowl, combine ground chicken and pork, cooled celery/onion/garlic, eggs, bread crumbs and seasonings.* Gently, mix by hand until evenly distributed. Form into balls and place in 9″x13″ pans that have been lined with aluminum foil (for easy clean-up). This recipe will make about 60-70 meatballs. 

* Please note that unlike most other meatball recipes, this one does not add milk. The moisture from the ground chicken that I use is enough to create a consistency that will form into balls. If your mixture is too dry, try adding milk, a couple tablespoons at a time, until the mixture holds together.

Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, turn meatballs over, and drizzle sauce over meatballs. Increase oven temperature to 400° and return pans to oven for 15 minutes. Turn meatballs again to coat with sauce and return to oven for 5-10 minutes or until sauces are bubbly.

SAUCES

Since I was making 3 different sauces, I divided the meatballs into 3 pans. For the buffalo meatballs (top left on the plate of meatballs pictured above), I used the Cookies Wings ‘n’ Things sauce. This sauce does not thicken up like a lot of sauces that have sugar in them but the flavor is awesome. You could probably add a couple tablespoons of honey to it to make it thicker. It will, of course, take some of the heat away. Some of you may appreciate that but we’re sticking to the hotter version.

For the Honey-BBQ version I mixed one cup of our favorite BBQ sauce (a sweet and zesty version) with 2 tablespoons of honey. This one created the prettiest meatballs (top right on the plate of meatballs pictured above) simply because it got thick and glossy.

Lastly, I tried to make an Asian Zing style sauce by combining 1/2 cup Sweet and Sour Sauce (I think I used La Choy) and 1/8 cup of Schezuan Sauce (House of Tsang). The meatballs turned out beautiful (bottom on the plate of meatballs pictured above) but my guys said right away that it wouldn’t be fair to call it “Asian Zing” because there just wasn’t enough “zing”. They were delicious but needed extra Schezuan sauce, or maybe some sriracha. 

If you are wondering why I added ground pork to a chicken recipe, it is because the ground chicken is such a lean meat that it needs a little extra fat (even though pork is extremely lean itself it still has more than chicken). It seems that in meatballs, choosing more than just one meat makes for a better texture and flavor as well.

Experiment with the sauces your family likes most. Check out menus on-line to get ideas for other sauces. Make sure you have some fresh veggies and ranch dressing to go with your meatball buffet. Even though this recipe makes A LOT of meatballs, it has been proven at our house that there will not be as many leftovers as you think!


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