Comfort Meatballs from The Pioneer Woman

by Cate on December 7, 2009

Comfort Meatballs

These days, it seems like you can’t open a magazine without seeing The Pioneer Woman‘s smiling face on its glossy pages. Ree Drummond’s journey over the past few years has been nothing short of awe-inspiring. A city girl turned country, she started blogging a few years ago about life on the ranch with her Marlboro Man and four punks. Flash forward to now, and she’s in magazine after magazines, including a recent issue of People Magazine Country, First magazine, Southern Living and now the “regular” People magazine. The woman is everywhere! And with good reason. With a loyal following flocking to her site daily, they are rewarded with gorgeous pictures, tales of family and good old fashioned home cooking. And lest I forget her brand spanking new cookbook, she’s definitely made it.

A recent issue of People magazine gave a top-notch review to Ree’s cookbook, and included her recipe for Comfort Meatballs. I ripped it out, knowing that meatballs are a perfectly kid-friendly item in our house, but to be quite honest, I have had a love/hate relationship with Ree’s recipes in the past. I’ve made a few of them before. They haven’t been bad, but they haven’t wowed me either. Just ok. Maybe it’s just me.  They just lacked that final punch of flavor.  Perhaps it’s just a question of adjusting the seasoning.  Given how insanely popular she and her site continues to be, and those mouth-watering pictures certainly don’t hurt, I do keep going back for more.  Even if I never had a hit-it-out-of-the-ballpark recipe from her site, the pictures of life at the ranch and Ree’s self-deprecating sense of humor would always bring me back.

Anyway, these meatballs. Oh these meatballs. The addition of oats as the binder was a new twist for me. Usually I use bread crumbs or bread as the binder. Sneaking in a little extra fiber into our diet was definitely a bonus.  Trust me, although Nick will eat an Oatmeal Raisin Cookie with the best of them, he ain’t asking for a bowl of warm oatmeal any time soon, so getting some extra fiber into a savory dish is a good thing indeed.

I usually don’t toss my meatballs in flour first. I just roll and go.  As the meatballs browned off in the pan and I transferred them to the baking dish, I had one. Quality control and all that. Oh man. Good. Tender. A touch moist. Interestingly enough, not packed with flavor. But it was the tenderness that got me. And the slightly crispy coating the flour gave the outside of the meatball. I had eight a few while I was making the rest of the batch. Madeline came in and asked for one. She came back for more. Smart kid. Maybe this recipe was the one to turn it around for me.

When it came to the sauce, I hesitated. It’s not a tomato sauce in the least with its cup of ketchup in it. I’m more of a traditionalist when it comes to meatballs.  Plain or with sauce.  I loved the meatballs so much that I hesitated to put something on top of it. Something that might not work. Or that I might not like. I should have trusted my instincts.

First, ignore the little white specks you see in the sauce. That would be the lazy man’s version of minced onion. With the sauce, this recipe reminds me a bit of those grape-jelly-slow-cooker-meatballs. All I tasted was ketchup. I wished it was tomato sauce. I wished I followed my gut and left well enough alone.

So while I have had a love/hate relationship with The Pioneer Woman’s recipes, this recipe itself was a power struggle of love and hate. I loved the meatballs. Hated the sauce. Lesson learned. Trust instincts. That being said, make these meatballs. Eat them from the pan. Or with tomato sauce. Or as part of a sandwich. Or stick toothpicks in them and make your own little dipping sauce. Or put on top of buttered noodles. You’ll love them.

P.S. When I went to look these up to see if other people had tried them, I noticed that Ree has them on her site. There, they are clearly called BBQ Meatballs and mention the sweet and sour tang of the accompanying sauce. In the People magazine article, they’re called Comfort Meatballs. Magazines rename recipes all the time, but I think had I seen the word BBQ in the recipe, I would have automatically skipped the sauce.  It just didn’t do it for me.  Her extra description on her site is more helpful than the scant information in the magazine. That being said, make the meatballs! If you like the sweet and sour tangy sauce, make that too. If not, these babies are going to be divine over buttered noodles or with tomato sauce.

Comfort Meatballs
Recipe courtesy of The Pioneer Woman

1-1/2 pounds ground beef
3/4 cup quick oats
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons finely minced onion
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
black pepper
4 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 cup flour

1 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons distilled wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
4-6 tablespoons minced onion
dash of Tabasco

In a bowl, combine ground beef and oats.  Add milk, onion, salt and pepper; stir to combine.  Roll mixture into tablespoon-size balls (I used a cookie scoop), refrigerate 30-45 minutes.  Preheat oven to 350.  Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat.  Dredge meatballs in flour and brown in batches until light brown.  Place into baking dish.  Stir together sauce ingredients and drizzle on meatballs.  Bake about 45 minutes or until bubbly and hot.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Cathy December 7, 2009 at 8:53 pm

I agree, the idea of the sauce kind of turns me off. But I am all for a good meatball.


Casey December 7, 2009 at 9:31 pm

I love her. LOVE her. Have learned so much since discovering the site. Just made the roasted chicken legs this evening for dinner!


Sarah Caron December 7, 2009 at 11:01 pm

What an interesting and cool idea to use oats as the binder in the meatballs. Love that!


Karen December 7, 2009 at 11:12 pm

I bought her cookbook for myself and for a housewarming gift for a friend. I made a few things from her site over the years. Olive Cheese Bread and the “Sleep-in” Omelet were big hits for me that I have repeated several times.

I just made meatballs and red gravy today, but I will have to try these meatballs next time.


Joanne December 8, 2009 at 7:21 am

I’ve become increasingly enamored with Ree. I made one of her breakfast casseroles (latest blog post) and absolutely loved it. Her pureed butternut squash recipe is also very simple but VERY delicious.

I would have nixed the sauce as well, but these meatballs look delicious!


Natashya December 8, 2009 at 8:45 am

Sounds tasty! I have her book on my wishlist but haven’t tried any of her recipes yet.


mandy December 8, 2009 at 10:17 am

I love meatballs and dont make them nearly often enough. I’ve also never made any of The Pioneer womans recipes. I have heard several people have mixed reviews.


saramariesue December 8, 2009 at 10:42 am

I’ve tried her meatballs before – pretty tasty. I like her sauce – but I’m one for bbq flavoring. :) You should definitely try her brownies with mocha icing…oh man. (not healthy by all means – but that makes it better right?). I think they lasted for about 1 hour at my family’s house. One to try for your love/hate relationship…


lisa December 8, 2009 at 1:58 pm

I’m pretty sure they’re called “Comfort Meatballs” in her cookbook as well but I don’t have it near me. And yeah, they’re not the kind of meatballs that most people think of, the ones on top of spaghetti…all covered with cheese. :) I want to make these because I love the grape jelly sauce, on cocktail wieners or meatballs!

I just made her Chicken Spaghetti the other night with a few changes of my own. The thing I love about Ree’s recipes is that she provides me with a starting point and I can customize as I see fit.


grace December 8, 2009 at 4:24 pm

“comfort meatballs,” eh? i guess that’s an effort to catch the eye–it’s definitely misleading if you’re not a barbecue sauce fan! the meatballs themselves do indeed sound fantastic and i have a lot of faith in many of ree’s recipes. excellent post, cate!


Natasha - 5 Star Foodie December 8, 2009 at 4:43 pm

I like the oats in these delicious meatballs!


Shannon December 8, 2009 at 5:27 pm

while i love meatballs, i’ve always loved ones that weren’t my mom’s (sorry mom!), so never taken to making them myself. i’m going to have to try these though! and check out that cookbook!

ps- the mat I have in my kitchen does make standing much easier on my feet. it may not be as good as the more expensive versions, but worth the $20 :)


Helen December 11, 2009 at 7:35 am

I totally agree with you. I thought the sauce was too tangy and I like tangy!
I totally love PW but her recipes are a hit or miss.
I have made this Asian type salad which is really good. I’ve made it a few times and it makes a ton.
I also used her brining recipe for turkey and cooking method for the past 2 years with fabulous results.
Keep posting. I love your blog!


pamela December 16, 2009 at 10:30 pm

I keep looking for good and different meatball recipes. Thanks for the recipe and the review!


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