Merry Meatballs

By Sharon Naylor

September 28, 2015 4 min read

At parties and at weddings, you've most likely seen a variety of food bars, such as mashed potato bars, taco bars and sushi stations. The idea of a station is a good one, because guests can help themselves and customize their choices from that food bar. Providing an array of featured foods like those mashed potatoes or pastas, plus a variety of toppings, is an exciting and often economical way to make your guests very happy with your party menu.

A new party station trend is emerging now: meatballs. A meatball bar provides plenty of opportunity to please guests with traditional meatball tastes and also to mix it up with some exotic and unexpected flavors. The key to a great meatball bar is in providing a wide variety of meatball types, plus a variety of enticing sauces ... and maybe a few surprises.

Here are some inspirations for your meatball bar.

*Meatballs

Start with at least two traditional meatballs, such as those made with ground beef, chicken, turkey, pork, sausage or lamb.

Add in a vegetarian or vegan meatball, such as one made with diced mushrooms or lentils. Quinoa is also making an appearance in meatball fare.

Now go international, offering your guests a taste of your favorite cultural meatball recipes, such as kofta (Greece, Middle East, South Asia), skilpadjes (South Africa), albondigas (Spain), pulpety (Poland), tsukune (Japan), and other internationally inspired meatballs.

And tap into top chef culture, such as with a meatball you've seen on "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" with Guy Fieri or from "The Meatball Shop Cookbook," by Daniel Holzman and Michael Chernow, whose mini Buffalo chicken meatballs and jambalaya meatballs exemplify the culinary flair trend of meatball cuisine.

Create a combination of fried, baked and slow-cooker meatballs to give guests more of a choice, and consider retro meatball recipes like Swedish meatballs that guests may not make for themselves all too often yet adore. And throw in a cheese-filled meatball that oozes with mozzarella upon each bite.

*Sauces

At your meatball station, set out an array of sauces in chafing dishes to keep them hot. Include a traditional marinara and a meat sauce and expand into vodka sauce, Alfredo sauce and other classic meatball sauces. Then expand your repertoire into sweet-and-sour sauce, teriyaki sauce, plum sauce, salsa, and ranch and blue cheese dressings.

Hummus is also a favorite dipping sauce for meatballs, in a variety of tastes such as classic, garlic, lemon, jalapeno, roasted red pepper, and spinach and artichoke. And Holzman and Chernow suggest a parmesan cream sauce and a mango raising chutney to add extra flavor to your meatball bar.

*Toppings

Your guests' meatball and sauce plates get even more delectable with some sprinkle-on toppings, such as shaved parmesan (all the better if it's fresh-shaved), shredded mozzarella, shredded Asiago, shredded jack cheese and shredded white cheddar. Cheesy toppers should be in the lead here for your meatball bar because there's not a lot of crunch needed. But if you can manage fried onion straws as a topper, that crunch is certainly going to be welcome.

Add to your tabletop a container of garlic powder, onion powder, Old Bay seasoning and fresh-ground black pepper, and your guests can master their own meatball creations, prompting raves and repeat visits to your meatball bar.

Always be sure that each of your meatball types and sauces are ID'd with printed signs so that guests know what's been used to make them and can avoid any displeasure or allergies upon these tastes.

Don't forget to set out mini cocktail forks and toothpicks, and provide a discard container for used toothpicks. Some guests may take tastes at the station, and they'll need a safe and sanitary place to dispose of their mini forks and toothpicks.

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