Confession: when I posted my Bacon Bourbon Barbecue Sauce recipe on Sunday, I had an ulterior motive. As much as I love that sauce, what I really wanted to share with you more than anything before summer’s end is this recipe for Grilled Meatball Subs. While these sandwiches are certainly doable with a bottled sauce, we love the two recipes paired together so much that they’ve become something of a package deal in my house. So, in the age-old question of “which came first,” the sauce recipe had to grab the win, with meatball subs, as promised, not far behind.
Traditional pan-seared and slow-simmered meatballs are some of the best of winter comfort food in my book. Whether served alongside a bowl of pasta, crepe manicotti, or on an Italian roll with marinara sauce and mozzarella, they invoke feelings of warmth and coziness. In the summer months, meatballs take on new life with a trip to the grill for a light char. Layer them with grilled onions, barbecue sauce, and plenty of melted cheese onto crusty artisan rolls and you have a bold, fresh take on the meatball sub that’s perfect for summer entertaining.
I’ve been making this recipe, with a couple of slight variations, for almost ten years now. The recipe I adapted them from came with a meatball grilling basket I picked up at Williams-Sonoma (a fun gadget, especially if you want your meatballs to retain a perfect spherical shape as they cook, but definitely not a necessity). The meatballs are moistened with a panade (bread cubes soaked in milk), which keeps them tender. I’ve always been a fan of using a mixture of ground meats in my meatballs, so I added some pork to the original recipe, as well as additional fresh thyme for added flavor. To better pair with the flavors of my Bacon Bourbon Barbecue Sauce, I decided to swap out the original recipe’s Provolone for an aged White Cheddar, though I’ve also made them with Gouda, Gruyere, and Emmentaler with good feedback.
For a refreshing meal on a hot summer afternoon, pair these with a crisp, cold beer (Saison was my guest’s favorite when I made these over the weekend). These aren’t dainty sandwiches by any means (though, I’ve never met a meatball sub of any variety that I’d call delicate!). With the end of August closing in on us, I say it’s prime time to grab a stack of moist towelettes and a shirt you don’t mind dripping a little bit of barbecue sauce on and go for it. Grilling Season 2015 isn’t over yet, folks!
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- 2 slices white bread, crusts removed, bread cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 1 cup)
- 1/4 cup milk
- 2 medium yellow onions
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- kosher salt
- freshly-ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
- 3/4 pound ground beef (85%/15%)
- 1/4 pound ground pork
- 2 cups barbecue sauce (bottled or homemade, such as my Bacon Bourbon sauce recipe)
- 4 crusty sandwich rolls
- 4 slices sharp cheddar cheese
- In a large bowl, pour milk over bread cubes and toss until moistened. Set aside. Finely chop 1/2 of an onion (about 1 cup). In a small sauté pan over medium heat, cook chopped onions in 1 tablespoon olive oil until softened and just beginning to brown, about 5-8 minutes. Cool slightly.
- Stir cooked onions, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, parsley, and thyme into the moistened bread cubes until thoroughly combined. Crumble ground beef and pork into the bread mixture and gently combine with a fork until incorporated. (Overworking the meat mixture until it resembles a paste will result in tough meatballs.) With lightly damp hands (or an ice cream scoop), shape meatballs into 12 equal portions, about 3 tablespoons each. Cover and refrigerate about 30 minutes, until chilled.
- Heat grill over medium-high flame for 10 to 15 minutes. Oil grates or line with nontoxic, nonstick grill mats. Slice remaining onions into 1/2-inch thick slices. Brush onions with olive oil and lightly season with a few pinches of salt and pepper. Grill onions over direct heat until softened and well-browned, about 5 minutes per side, turning occasionally. Grill meatballs over direct heat until well-browned, about 3-5 minutes per side.
- Pour barbecue sauce into a grill-safe dish or foil pan. Add browned meatballs and gently turn to coat. Lower the flame, close the grill lid, and continue cooking until the sauce is hot and the meatballs register 160 degrees F.
- Cut sandwich rolls in half lengthwise and grill, cut side down, over a low flame, until lightly toasted. Layer rolls with barbecue sauce, grilled onions, meatballs, and sliced cheddar cheese. Turn off the heat and return the assembled subs to the grill, lid closed, until the cheese is melted.