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Sweet and Smoky Korean Meatballs

Sweet and Smoky Korean Meatballs

  • This recipe originally appeared in Volume 1, Issue 1 of Hunt to Eat Magazine.
Korean Meatballs rest on a plate.

Serve these delicious and versatile wild game Korean meatballs over rice or noodles, or take them on the road for your next adventure

I have heard of dreaming in black and white, in slow-motion, with no sound, and with clear dialogue absent of all imagery. The human brain is a mysterious and powerful organ though the mind is debated in science and literature as an autonomous house of consciousness. Since early childhood, I have dreamed with vivid realism both in times of restless insomnia and restful deep sleep. Keeping a dream journal, I believe, helps me capture the subconscious stream of what my mind is truly focused on, despite the daily demands I put on my brain. 

In my subconsciousness there is a steady reel of field and forest to table activity. At my table, every dish set to present typically has hours of thought in preparation, though some of those hours inevitably come from my obsessive thinking the dish over both in an active waking state and passive dream state. 

This juxtaposition recently has me wondering if we really are born into some versions of taste preferences. Several of my college friends moved to S. Korea to teach abroad for a year in our twenties. Living with my girlfriend Rachel some years after, she would observe my eating behavior and frequently shake her head and say, “you don’t even know it, but you are so Korean.” As an adoptee growing up in venison Hamburger Helper (or any fish or game dusted in Pride of the West and pan fried), my introduction to Korean cuisine did not come till my early twenties. I’ve grown to intensely crave Vietnamese, Thai and even Korean foods, though I have yet to travel to any of these countries. Perhaps my biological lineage has biased me in the direction of these flavors and my tastebuds have become the vehicle of that expression. Until the chance comes for me to back up the bags and get on a plane, I’ll keep researching and creating dishes like this one that works well in myriad settings.    

Cook’s Notes

  • Fresh ground meat is always best. There are a dozen scientific reasons why (from taste to texture), though I’ll let you Google that on your own. Keep your food processor handy and start making it a habit to grind fresh. Every time.
  • To fresh grind with a food processor: Roughly chop into 1” to 2” cubes and freeze on a sheet tray for 20-30 minutes until just firm, though not frozen through. Pulse in batches appropriate for the size of your prep bowl, until finely ground. 
  • This recipe uses a fine meat grind, making the mixture almost paste-like. This results in a superbly tender meatball that is both moist and crisps up on the outside well. A coarser grind will have a meatier bite, yet risks falling apart in the cooking process for these ingredients. For other meatballs intentionally made coarse, I add different ratios of wet and dry ingredients. 
  • I used half whitetail and half elk. Both the earthiness of the whitetail and sweetness of the elk meat comes through in this recipe. 
  • Potato starch is wonderful in this meatball, especially Korean sweet potato starch if you can find it. In a pinch, substitute cornstarch. 
  • Meatballs are super versatile for serving over rice, vegetables, in a soup or as a snack on their own. 
  • Gochujang is a popularized spicy fermented Korean condiment. Chung Jung One O’Food Medium Hot Pepper Paste Gold is a gluten free version that I use. 
  • Dried chili flavored mangos are sold nearly everywhere now. I use the Patagonia Provisions Fair Trade mango from Nicaragua. It is flavored with red Aji Molido and a hint of lime. It goes into all of my sweet and savory drizzle sauces. 
  • Serve a crowd or meal prep for a week. This recipe scales up or down with simplicity, depending on how much meat you have. 
  • Using a wire rack in the sheet tray when forming meatballs allows you to move the entire rack directly to the smoker grill. I prefer this method immensely. I can rotate the whole rack for even cooking easily, and you also lose less heat when opening the lid to maneuver the meat in and out. 
  • This recipe calls for a smoke then grill. You can easily skip this and roast on a baking sheet at 400F for approximately 20 minutes. 
  • Freezing these makes for an easy meal later on – including in hunting camp. Vacuum seal fully cooked and cooled meatballs in a single layer, and be sure to bring a pot to camp large enough to drop the bag into. After bringing water to a boil, shut off heat, drop bag into the hot pot (I set a steamer basket in the pot first to keep the bag from melting from contact with the pot itself). The meat will come to full temp by the time sides are ready and the water can be used for camp dishes after eating. 
Korean Meatballs rest on a plate.

Sweet and Smoky Korean Meatballs

Molly VandeVoort
Serve these delicious and versatile wild game Korean meatballs over rice or noodles, or take them on the road for your next adventure.
No ratings yet
Prep Time 1 hr
Cook Time 30 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine Korean
Servings 24 meatballs
Calories 106 kcal


  • Smoker



  • 2 lbs game meat
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves minced
  • 2 tbsp gochujang
  • 1 tbsp + 1 tsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp agave syrup or honey
  • 1 tsp rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp potato starch


  • 3 oz dried chili mango
  • 1 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 2 tbsp gochujang
  • 1 tbsp + 1 tsp gluten free tamari or soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp + 1 tsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp fish sauce


  • In a large bowl, gently fold together all of the meatball ingredients.
  • Add a wire rack to a sheet tray or add a silicone baking liner or parchment paper if your smoker/grill grates can accommodate the meatballs directly
  • Using a #20 cookie scoop (3 tablespoons), portion meatballs onto the tray. Refrigerate panned meatballs. They will firm up while you pre-heat the smoker.
  • Preheat smoker to smoke for 15 minutes.
  • Start the sauce. Add mangos to a high-powered blender and cover with boiling water.
  • Smoke meatballs for 45 minutes.
  • Finish the sauce. Add the remaining ingredients to the blender and process first on low, then high power until smooth. Reserve a ½ cup for glazing the meatballs and put the rest in a bowl or squeeze bottle for serving
  • Remove meatballs from smoker after 45 minutes. Turn heat up to 375F. Brush reserved sauce over the meatballs.
  • When pre-heated, cook the meatballs for another 20 minutes or until instant read thermometer shows 165F internal temperature
  • Serve over rice, with roasted vegetables, or in a noodle dish. Drizzle generously with mango sauce. Or, put them all in a Thermos and hit the road with them on your next adventure.


Calories: 106kcalCarbohydrates: 2gProtein: 7gFat: 8gSaturated Fat: 3gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 27mgSodium: 129mgPotassium: 126mgFiber: 1gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 30IUVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 10mgIron: 1mg
Keyword meatballs, Smoked Meat
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