Tailgate Meatball Sub Bar

The beauty and genius of this setup is in the variety and diversity of sauces and toppings you offer with the meatballs. Of course, we can recommend Armanino Basil Pesto Sauce and Creamy Garlic Sauce, but don’t stop there. We especially like giardiniera, caramelized onions, sauteed mushrooms, herbs and a selection of cheeses piled high beside the meatballs and buns.


For the Sauce
  •  3 tablespoons olive oil
  •  1 large yellow onion, diced
  •  2 280z cans whole peeled tomatoes, San Marzano if possible
  •  1 cup water
  •  ¼ cup Armanino Creamy Garlic Sauce
  •  ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  •  1 ½ teaspoons Italian seasoning
  •  2 bay leaves
  •  salt & pepper
  •  ½ cup roughly chopped fresh basil leaves
  •  2 lbs Armanino Gourmet Italian Meatballs
For the Meatball Bar
  •  an assortment of breads & rolls: foccacia, ciabatta, Italian rolls, Hawaiian buns, slider rolls, hero rolls and/or pretzel rolls
  •  Armanino Basil Pesto Sauce
  •  Armanino Creamy Garlic Sauce
  •  assorted sliced cheeses: mozzarella (regular, fresh or smoked), provolone (regular or smoked), fontina
  •  vegetables – caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, sautéed or roasted pepper strips, pickled peppers – giardiniera, sliced banana peppers, pepperdew or hot cherry peppers
  •  sliced black olives
  •  fresh basil leaves
  •  dried oregano & crushed red pepper flakes
  •  grated Parmesan


For the sauce
  1. In a large saucepan over medium heat, add the olive oil and onions and sauté until the onions are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
  2. Turn off the heat, add the water and then the tomatoes, crushing them into the pot with your hand into little pieces.
  3. Stir in the creamy garlic sauce, salt, pepper, chili flakes, Italian seasoning and bay leaves.
  4. Turn the heat to high and bring to a boil then reduce to low and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Discard the bay leaves and stir in the basil. Simmer on low for another 10 minutes.
  6. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. (Can be made several days ahead and refrigerated for several days or frozen up to 2 months.)
  7. Add the meatballs and simmer on low until heated through, 20 minutes. If meatballs are frozen, add another 10 minutes.
For the Meatball Bar
  1. Transfer the sauced meatballs to a slow cooker on low or keep in the pot and place on a hot plate or grill on low to keep warm. If using a grill, keep an eye on the pot and stir frequently to prevent scorching.
  2. Cut any breads/rolls in half and place in a basket or on a serving platter.
  3. Cut the cheese slices in half and arrange on a platter
  4. Place the sauteed vegetables, peppers, pickled vegetables and/or olives in small jars or bowls.
  5. Put the oregano, red pepper flakes and grated parmesan in shaker jars.
  6. Bring plenty of napkins, paper plates, serving spoons and tongs.
  7. Make your sandwich: select your roll, add your cheese of choice, top with warm sauced meatballs, and whatever toppings desired. Enjoy!

Chef’s Tips

  • Tailgating tips: a good tailgate requires a certain amount of prep and planning. If traveling, make it easy on yourself and place all the topping in canning jars – they make for a pretty presentation, store easily in the fridge and most importantly, seal tightly and securely to prevent spills in transit. To seal any shaker jars, place a piece of plastic wrap on top of the open jar and screw on the lid. Be sure to bring plenty of napkins and garbage bags. If you have access to power, a slow cooker is the easiest way to keep the meatballs warm over several hours though a grill on low can work.
  • Cheese hack: lay the cheese slices into the bread first so it acts as a barrier between the bread and the sauce. Meatball sub experts use this trick to prevent soggy bread and it works particularly well if you like extra sauce.
  • Crushing tomatoes into a pot by hand is satisfying if a bit messy. Alternatively, insert a pair of kitchen scissors directly into the can and chop up tomatoes into smaller pieces.
  • No fresh basil for the sauce? Substitute a few spoonfuls of Armanino Basil Pesto Sauce.
  • No time to make sauce? Use a few jars of good quality purchased marinara.
16 servings (2 meatballs per person)
Prep Time
30 minutes
Cook Time
60 minutes

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