As with any festive meal, an outdoor cookout ought to begin with appetizers. This week on Grill Marks, we make MOINK Balls. Moo + oink = beef meatballs wrapped in bacon, then smoked.
Like the rest of the Grill Marks series, this post will focus on the technique and the grill setup, rather than a specific recipe. Feel free to use whatever combination of seasoning and sauces you think will be delicious. Today's suggested method uses classic American barbecue seasonings and store-bought, full cooked meatballs. A North African take with lamb merguez meatballs would be delicious, as would a Japanese yakitoriya version with chicken meatballs glazed with teriyaki sauce. Just don't call it a MOINK ball if you're straying from the beef + bacon template, or you'll hear an earful from the guy who named them!
- Frozen beef meatballs. For appetizer-sized MOINKs, I prefer the mini, one-bite meatballs from Trader Joe's, which come 40 per bag.
1 pound bacon, the thinnest-sliced you can find. Typically, this means the cheapest, off-brand bacon. Save the fancy thick-sliced brands for another use.
- BBQ dry rub, your favorite brand. Different brands are saltier than others. More on this in a moment.
- BBQ sauce to finish, your favorite brand
We're using the classic Weber 22 1/2" kettle grill, a piece of equipment many of you already own. We're setting up the grill as a lidded smoker. The target temperature is about 400 degrees and the cook time is 30 minutes. Why 400? Because that's about right for cooking bacon perfectly.
- Open the bottom vent of the kettle wide open.
- Fill a chimney starter half-full with charcoal and add one fist-sized lump of hardwood. Starting with too little fuel is better than too much!
- When the charcoal just barely starts to ash over, pile the fuel off to one side of the kettle.
- Cover the lid with the top vent also wide open, and allow this fire to settle in for 30 minutes or so before cooking. During this time, the charcoal will burn off some of its initial volatile compounds and the smoke will become a little less harsh-tasting.
- If you don't have an instant-read thermometer that reads past 500F degrees, don't sweat it too much. Trust that this small amount of fuel chugging along with the lid covered and all the vents open will result in an cooker temperature of roughly 400F degrees.
- Thaw the frozen meatballs, either overnight in the fridge, or for a minute or two in the microwave.
- Season the meatballs with dry rub. How much you apply depends on the salt content of that brand. If you're using a product like Lawyry's Seasoned Salt, which is mostly salt with a little bit of spice, use very little. If using product that's made by and for competition BBQ cooks like Simply Marvelous, it might have a much lower proportion of salt in the blend, and you can apply it more heavily. Err on the side of less seasoning if you're not sure.
- Cut a slice of bacon so that it wraps around the meatball with a short overlap. For this particular brand of mini-meatball, slice each bacon strip into thirds.
- Wrap the bacon tightly around the meatball, and skewer two or three per serving.
- Smoke your skewered MOINK balls on the side of the grill with no coals underneath. Replace the lid quickly, and don't peek. After 15 minutes, flip each skewer over. At 15 minutes, the bacon should be lightly brown but still a little soft and fatty, but adjust your timing if it's cooking faster.
- Smoke the MOINKs until the bacon has crisped up to your liking, roughly a total time of 30 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- You may glaze with your favorite BBQ sauce, thinned with a little water. A light glazing of sauce is better than a thick, gloppy coat, which can overwhelm the food.
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The author is an award-winning BBQ Pitmaster who teaches Smoking 101 classes. Details on professsorsalt.com