Is there any more iconic MAN food than Buffalo chicken wings? I have 4 men in my immediate family who all love them! Thing is, I’m a woman who wants to savor the awesome flavors of a great buffalo wing without all the bones, grease and mess, cuz I’m just picky that way.
So when I saw recipes for chicken meatballs with buffalo wing flavors in them, I got all excited and rushed out to try them. And they were good! Very good even, “but not great”. They tended to be either dry or mushy, depending on how many eggs and bread crumbs were in them. And the sauce… well yes, it was definitely the standard Buffalo Wing Hot sauce, but what works for me on a fried chicken wing wasn’t working for me on a meatball.
And that’s why and how I came up with my own recipe for Buffalo Chicken Meatball Subs. The best part is that my husband, Tim, LOVES them! I mean truly loves them in a “I’m devouring the entire pan of these honey, so what are YOU having for dinner?” kind of love.
So come celebrate MAN-ic Monday with us and make some buffalo chicken meatball subs this week. The sauce is to die for… honest! And letting the meatballs simmer in them all afternoon means that the meatballs have plenty of time to soak up some of that juice and flavor, which makes them not too mushy and not too dry – bonus!
This is a versatile recipe. You can bake the meatballs ahead of time, then toss them into a freezer bag and freeze them till you’re ready to use them. Or make them the night before, refrigerate over night and toss them into your crockpot the next morning – they’ll be ready to serve that night. You can even do what I did, start the meatballs right after lunch, bake them for 30 minutes while you whip up the buffalo sauce, then toss both the meatballs and the sauce into the crockpot. I set it on low heat and walked away till 6pm, when I dished them up on toasted hoagie rolls.
Here are the simple ingredients for the meatballs:
Be sure to mince the celery and onion very finely so that they don’t cause the meatballs to fall apart… chicken is very tender meat with little fat, so it’s quite picky about the company it hangs out with in a meatball!
If you don’t feel like chopping the vegetables and don’t mind washing out your food processor bowl, go ahead and whirl it for a few seconds to mince it up. I just hate washing the bowl and blade, mostly because half the time I end up slicing bits of my fingers as I’m scrubbing the blades. Yep, I”m clumsy like that.
Add the minced vegetables to the ground chicken meat along with the breadcrumbs, eggs, salt and pepper, then mix well with your hands. Just don’t overmix it, nothing is worse than gloppy meatball mixture – ewwww!
Once you have it mixed, but not overmixed, let it rest for a minute so that the bread crumbs can soak up some of the egg. Then use a scoop to portion out the meatballs. For this meal I used an ice cream scoop to make large meatballs for the hoagie rolls. If you want to make them as appetizers, use something smaller, like a melon baller to scoop them out. Just plop the rough meatball portions onto an ungreased cookie sheet.
Then use wet hands to quickly roll each portion into a ball, setting them back onto the cookie sheet as you go. No need to be picky about lining them up or leaving lots of space between them, they’ll do just fine even if they’re over crowded. =)
See my shamefully old cookie sheet? Yep, I use this one specially for sticky, messy foods and save my pretty, shiny ones for cookies!
Ok, time to pop them into a 350F oven for 30 minutes. While they bake you can make the buffalo sauce.
That’s all you need for the sauce up there in the picture. A large saucepot, 4 tablespoons of butter, 1/3 cup of flour and about 2 cups of whole milk, or part skim and part heavy cream. I know, heavy cream is high in fat and calories, but for this sauce that’s going to simmer all day in a crockpot you really want that richness. It creates a super velvety sauce that won’t break down in the long slow cook.
Turn your stovetop heat to medium high, then add the butter and let it melt.
As soon as it’s melted, either turn off the heat (for gas burners) or remove the pot from the burner (for electric stoves). Once it’s off the heat, stir in the flour till it’s all smooth.
Nice and smooth? YAY! Now slowly pour in the milk or milk/cream mixture, stopping to stir well with a whisk after each half cup of milk is added.
These are some of my favorite kitchen helpers. They're Dang Good and I love 'em!
Once all the milk is added and the mixture is smooth, turn the heat back on to medium-high, and whisk every minute or two till the sauce comes to a boil. If you whisk well in the beginning, you can slack off a bit when you see little bubbles forming around the edges of the sauce and it won’t get lumpy on you, just remember to whisk a couple of times after you see the bubbles… and then wait till it starts to boil. Then whisk some more till it’s at a full rolling boil.
See all those little bubbles around the edges up there? Yep, that’s when the milk is finally hot enough that you can be sure that it won’t get lumpy anymore. Got it boiling and bubbling? Time to add the Buffalo Sauce!
Start with half a cup of hot sauce, then taste it for heat before you add more. For this batch I added a full cup of hot sauce to please Tim. I’m a wimp and would normally only use 3/4 cup if it was just for me.
As soon as you have the right amount of heat in the sauce, turn off the heat and let it cool on the stove till the meatballs are done baking in the oven.
Ok, so let’s just pretend that 30 minutes have elapsed and the meatballs are all brown and crispy on the outsides, shall we? Time to get them into your crockpot:
Action shot – woot!! I’m just thrilled that I didn’t drop the hot pan full of juicy little meatballs, or worse yet, drop the camera INTO the juicy little meatballs!
Alrighty then, once the meatballs are in the crockpot, pour the sauce over the tops of them, making sure that all of them are nicely coated.
Ok ok, my photography skills were on a downward trajectory the further I got into making this dish. It seems like things are fine so long as I’m stationary, but add a steaming hot cookie sheet full of meatballs and then a sauce pot full of blistering hot buffalo sauce and I’m just a fine mess of shaky hands, dark shadows and tunnel vision.
Moving on and ignoring those dubious pictures, here’s an even darker one of the pot full of simmering meatballs!
I swear that looks like cheese sauce!
So, as I was explaining earlier, you don’t have to move straight to the crockpot if you want to make this dish ahead of time. You can cool the baked meatballs, then freeze them, and do the same for the sauce. Just freeze the sauce in a separate container, then bring it to room temperature before adding it to your crockpot to cook on low heat all day long.
You can also cool the meatballs and sauce and then refrigerate them for up to 2 days before reheating them in your crockpot for 4-8 hours on low heat.
Once you’ve got them warm and they’ve had lots of time to soak and bathe in that rich, velvety buffalo sauce, serve them with rice, or do it my favorite way – on toasted hoagie rolls! I add a little crumbled blue cheese on top and serve celery sticks on the side.
- 2 pounds Ground Chicken - White or combo of White and Dark Meat
- ⅔ Cup Bread Crumbs
- 2 Celery Stalks
- ¼ of a Small Yellow Onion
- 2 teaspoons Salt
- ½ teaspoon Pepper
- 2 Eggs
- For the Sauce:
- ½ Stick (4 tablespoons) Butter
- ⅓ Cup AP Flour
- 2 Cups Whole Milk, Half and Half or Part Skim and Part Heavy Cream
- ½ - 1 Cup Buffalo Wing Sauce
- To Make the Meatballs:
- Preheat the oven to 350F
- Place ground chicken into a large mixing bowl. Add the bread crumbs, salt and pepper.
- Finely mince the celery stalks and onion with a knife or food processor.
- Add the vegetables and eggs to the meat mixture.
- Mix with your hands till just blended. Do not over mix!
- Let rest for a few minutes so that the bread crumbs soften and absorb some of the egg.
- With an ice cream scoop (for large meatballs) or a melon baller (for appetizer sized meatballs, scoop the meat mixture into rough balls and place on a large cookie sheet.
- With wet hands, quickly roll each portion of meat into a ball, placing them back onto the cookie sheet as you roll each one.
- Bake at 350F for 30 minutes.
- For the Buffalo Wing Sauce:
- Melt the butter in a large sauce pot over medium high heat.
- When the butter is melted, remove the pan from the heat and add the flour, whisking till smooth.
- Slowly pour the milk into the flour/butter mixture, whisking after each ½ cup of milk added.
- Place the pan back on medium heat and bring to a boil, whisking often.
- When sauce has reached a rolling boil, add the Buffalo Wing Sauce, ½ cup at a time, tasting after each addition till the sauce has the heat you like best.
- Remove from the heat and set aside till the meatballs are cooked.
- To Cook in a Crockpot:
- You can let the meatballs and sauce cool to room temp, then freeze in separate containers. To reheat, bring the sauce to room temperature, then add the frozen meatballs and the sauce to a crockpot. Cook on low heat forf6-8 hours.
- You can also cool both the meatballs and sauce, then refrigerate for up to 2 days. To reheat, place both the cold meatballs and the cold sauce into a crockpot and cook on low heat for 4 - 6 hours.
- To serve the same day: Place the freshly baked meatballs into a crockpot, pour the warm sauce over all, mixing to coat well, then cook over low heat for 2-4 hours.