Grilled Meatballs with Spicy Marinara Sauce (Gluten-Free)

Grilled Meatballs with Spicy Marinara Sauce (Gluten-Free)
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Spaghetti and meatballs. The tried-and-true American dinner that fed the bulk of the country through the 1950s and 60s. But these days, meatballs are showing up in a wide variety of preparations and presentations. From the Vietnamese Banh Mi and Spanish albondigas to cocktail bites and turkey meatballs, meatballs are popping up in specialty shops and corner grocers everywhere. It has inspired me to try my very own version of the classic dish. Instead of cooking them on the stove or simmering them in a pot of sauce, I wanted to get the crunchy exterior and smoky goodness that only comes from a grill. And, oh boy, was I right – they were fabulous! I think your family will love this Grilled Meatballs with Spicy Marinara Sauce recipe just as much as mine did.

meatballs for spicy meatball sandwich

The biggest challenge to cooking meatballs on the grill is sticking. There are a couple of things that will help prevent that, however. First, preheat the grill thoroughly, making sure the grates are screaming hot. If they are, the meatballs will sear quickly, sealing in the juices and releasing more easily. The second thing is to oil the grates as well as the meatballs themselves. These little guys really want to stick like crazy and anything you can do to help alleviate that problem will be beneficial.
meatballs grilling

If your meatballs stick to the grill, use a long offset spatula to loosen them. The slender metal spatula worked really well to release the meatballs without losing too much of the crispy coating. I also used a long handled spoon to move them around, turning them as needed. The spoon was also the perfect tool to transfer the cooked meatballs to a clean platter.
grilled meatballs

The next time I make these, I’m going to try using a griddle or grilling pan that sits on top of the grates. It will help contain the meatballs (they have a tendency to roll around) and should help reduce the sticking. The good news is that once the first side is browned and loosened, the other sides do not stick nearly as badly. That allows you to move them so that all sides turn a beautiful golden brown.

Grilled Meatballs with Spicy Marinara Sauce (Gluten-Free)

The sauce I made to go over the meatballs was the perfect blend of strong tomato and seasonings with a touch of heat from sriracha. You can leave that out if you like, but I think it complemented the smokiness from the fire. I only spooned about a tablespoon of the sauce over each meatball, which was great for eating them as a sandwich. But if you like a more heavily sauced sandwich that is messier, consider serving them open-faced and eating them with a fork and knife. I definitely recommend passing additional sauce at the table so people can add more to their liking.

Gluten-Free Grilled Meatballs with Spicy Marinara Sauce; 2014 Jane Bonacci, The Heritage Cook

The Artist bought a French baguette for himself and gluten-free rolls for me. Both were delicious and I was happy to have a roll that stood up to the meatballs, sauce and cheese. Regular hot dog buns would also be fine, but they are very soft so be sure to toast them to give them a little more structure. And, as with most gluten-free breads, toasting the gluten-free versions really helps the internal texture from becoming gummy.

So, that’s my take on a tried-and-true American dinner. I’d love to hear your family’s creations!

Grilled Meatballs with Spicy Marinara Sauce (Gluten-Free) Recipe

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour

Total Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Serving Size: 1 sandwich

Calories per serving: -

Fat per serving: -


    For the sauce:
  • 2 tablespoons organic olive oil
  • 1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled, cut in half lengthwise, (discard bitter center core), minced
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano leaves
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed or pureed tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon sriracha, Tabasco, or other hot sauce, optional
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine, sherry, or water
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • For the meatballs
  • ¾ pound ground pork
  • ¾ pound ground dark turkey (you can substitute beef or use all pork)
  • ¼ cup dry breadcrumbs
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 3 teaspoons dried oregano leaves
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons sriracha or other hot sauce, optional
  • Organic olive oil
  • For the sandwiches
  • 4 hoagie rolls cut into 6-inch lengths
  • Butter
  • 4 slices mozzarella or Monterey Jack cheese
  • Fresh basil leaves or green onions, chopped for garnish


    For the marinara sauce
  1. In a deep, heavy-bottomed pot such as a Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat.
  2. When the oil is rippling, add the onions. Stir to coat evenly with the oil. Cook, stirring occasionally until softened and translucent but not browned, about 3 minutes.
  3. Stir in the garlic and oregano. When you can smell the garlic, but before it browns (about 30 seconds), add the tomatoes, hot sauce, and wine. Add the salt and pepper; stir to combine.
  4. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low or low and let simmer for at least 30 minutes and up to 1-1/2 hours. Add a little water if the sauce becomes too thick.
  5. Taste and adjust seasonings. Add more hot sauce if you want a spicier sauce.
  6. If you have a grill with a side burner like the Char-Broil® Performance™ 3 Burner Gas Grill, you can make the sauce and grill the meatballs at the same time.
  7. The sauce can be made several days in advance. Store, covered, in the refrigerator and reheat before pouring over meatballs. Extra sauce will hold in the refrigerator for several days or in the freezer for about three months.
  8. For the meatballs
  9. Place the pork, turkey, breadcrumbs, cheese, onion powder, garlic powder, oregano, salt, pepper, egg and sriracha in a large mixing bowl. Mix well with hands.
  10. Divide the meat mixture into 16 portions and roll into balls about the size of large walnuts.
  11. Place the meatballs on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and brush each one lightly with olive oil (to help keep them from sticking to the grate).
  12. Preheat grill to medium-high heat for 15 minutes or build a two-tiered medium-hot charcoal fire. Bank the charcoal on one side of the grill. Scrape the hot grates to remove any cooked-on foods. It is very important for your grill to be hot before setting the meatballs on it.
  13. When the grill is hot, turn one side down to low. Brush the entire surface with vegetable oil to help avoid sticking. Place the meatballs on the hot side of the grill, oiled side down. If using charcoal, place the meatballs directly over the hot coals.
  14. Cook the meatballs about 4 to 5 minutes on the first side. Turn them carefully and gently with a long offset spatula (the kind you use for frosting a cake). If they are sticking, leave them alone for another minute until they release on their own. When they are cooked through, transfer to a clean baking sheet using a long-handled spoon. Tent meatballs with foil to keep warm.
  15. Assemble the Sandwiches
  16. Split the rolls in half lengthwise, brush the cut sides with butter and set cut-side-down on the grill. Toast lightly.
  17. Transfer cut-side-up to a baking sheet.
  18. Fill each roll with four meatballs. Spoon some of the sauce over the meatballs and top with the cheese slices.
  19. Place the sandwiches back on the grill, on the cool side; cover the grill and cook until the cheese is melted and the meatballs are warmed through.
  20. Sprinkle chopped basil or green onions over the melted cheese if desired. Serve immediately.

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