Small Bites For the Big Game #3: Italian Meatball Sliders

When it comes to party appetizers, there are few things more adorable or magically-delicious than sliders. Think about it; miniature replicas of your favorite big burgers or sandwiches are an automatic crowd-pleaser. Say you're at a party and the host brings out sliders. They're gone before you can find yourself a plate. Three minutes, tops.

Here are two of my absolute favorite sliders:

Bacon Cheeseburger Sliders
(these were from our wedding!)

Pulled Pork & Cole Slaw Sliders
Photo courtesy of Maggiesmeals.com

But aside from these two miniature classics, there's a third I've been wanting to try. I've adapted it from Bon Appetit's January 2010 Meatball feature, which highlights a fantastic recipe for Spaghetti & Meatball All'Amatraciana. But when you take away the pasta, the homemade meatballs and accompanying marinara sauce seemed like a perfect match for Super Bowl sliders, especially when you put them on homemade brioche burger buns. So off I went, on a brioche-baking and meatball-making test run. Or frenzy, however you want to look at it!

I'm not going to lie; there are a lot of steps and time involved in making the meatballs and the marinara sauce from scratch. But my goodness is it ever worth it. Simply put, these meatball sliders are incredible; they are so flavorful and in my opinion, don't have that metallic taste of a typical ground beef slider. The addition of bacon, marjoram, roasted red pepper, garlic, egg and bread crumbs – in the patty alone, no less– makes the slider incredibly moist and full of textural contrasts. And double-cooking the patties – first in bacon grease and then in the marinara sauce – just adds that certain..."Ooomph." Not to mention "Ooh's" and "Aah's" from your party guests. Just top with a few shreds of mozzarella and freshly grated Parmesan cheese and you've got yourself one of the best Super Bowl sliders in town!

The Best Meatball Slider Ever
Note: The sliders are small; about 2 1/2" across. My photo is not to scale!

Meatball Ingredients:
  • 3 ounces uncured applewood-smoked bacon (about 3 slices), diced
  • 1 large garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 pounds ground beef (15% fat)
  • 1/3 cup chopped drained roasted red peppers from jar
  • 1/3 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup coarsely grated onion
  • 1/2 tablespoon minced fresh marjoram
  • 1 teaspoons dried crushed red pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Sauce Ingredients:
  • 1 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes in juice (preferably San Marzano)
  • 1 large garlic cloves, peeled
  • 3 ounces uncured applewood-smoked bacon (about 3 slices), diced
  • 1 1/2 cups finely chopped onions
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
  • 3/4 cup beef broth mixed with 1/4 cup water (one cup total)
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh marjoram
Additional Sandwich Ingredients:
  • 12 mini brioche buns (recipe here)
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Make the Meatballs: Place bacon in processor. Using on/off turns, grind to coarse paste. Transfer to large bowl. Using garlic press, squeeze in garlic. Gently mix in beef and all remaining ingredients. Let stand 15 minutes.

Grind bacon in food processor until a paste forms
Press garlic into bowl
Add beef & remaining ingredients, mixing gently
Let combined ingredients sit for 15 minutes

Line large rimmed baking sheet with plastic wrap. Using moistened hands and scant 2 tablespoonfuls for each, roll meat mixture into 1 1/2-inch meatballs. Arrange meatballs on sheet and press down gently so they have a flatter surface. (DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover with plastic wrap; chill.) Note: I used a plate since my sheet pans were occupied by fresh brioche buns!

Roll meat mixture into 1 1/2" patties
Make the Sauce: Puree tomatoes with juice and garlic in batches in blender until smooth. Cook bacon in large pot over medium heat until crisp; transfer bacon to plate. Add 1 tablespoon oil to drippings in pot and heat over medium heat. Add half of meatballs. Cook until brown on all sides, turning carefully with small metal spatula, about 9 minutes. Transfer meatballs to baking sheet. Add more oil to pot if needed and repeat with remaining meatballs.

Puree tomatoes and garlic in blender until smooth
Cook meatballs in bacon drippings, one batch at a time
Cook meatballs until brown on all sides, about 9 minutes
Set cooked meatballs aside and cover with foil
Increase heat to medium-high. Add onions and crushed red pepper to pot. Sauté until golden, about 6 minutes. Add wine; boil until reduced by half, stirring up browned bits, about 8 minutes. Add tomato puree and marjoram. Boil until sauce thickens slightly, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Add onions and crushed red pepper to pan
FYI: This is Marjoram, in case you were curious
Add tomato & garlic puree and marjoram to pan
Mix bacon into sauce. Add meatballs; bring to simmer. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer until meatballs are heated through and tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Season sauce with salt and pepper.

Add bacon to tomato sauce
Place meatballs in sauce and cook for another 10 minutes
Assemble the Sliders: Heat your oven to 300 degrees. Slice mini brioche buns in half and place, cut-side up, on foil-lined sheet pan. Place in oven and bake until edges are toasted and golden brown, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from oven and place bottom halves of buns on serving platter. Top with a meatball and a small scoop of marinara sauce. Drizzle shredded mozzarella and freshly-grated Parmesan cheese on marinara sauce. Add top-halves of brioche buns, serve and enjoy!

Slice mini brioche buns in half
Place brioche halves on foil-lined sheet pan
Enjoy your mini meatball sandwich (about 2 1/2" wide)!


  1. That is just so many levels of "wow". I hope my sriracha wings hurry up and get done in the smoker.....I'm hungry and these pics aren't helping!

    btw, I just copied and pasted your brioche slider roll recipe into my BigOven software, I am definitely making those soon. Now I see these beauties? Sigh.

  2. I haven't had dinner yet. I am so hungry after looking at these sliders. OMG... I feel like a zombie that do as told. I guess that means sliders are in my future.

  3. this blog is the next best thing besides porn

  4. LOL! Thanks Chris & Moogie (and Anonymous "porn" person!) for the great comments. I can't wait to make more of these beauties for the Super Bowl this weekend. Granted, I'm sure I'll sneak a few before the game! They are so delicious and the bacon makes your kitchen smell incredible...mmm...

  5. geebus you just got retweeted by Bon App. Good times!

  6. what delicious, I have never seen the method how prepare the Ground meat, it is so delicious, love make hamburgers!I need to eat now , I will die lol!


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