Meet the Ultimate BBQ Tourist and his ‘BOINK’ Balls Recipe

In a barbecue world full of options, it helps to have a tour guide to lead you toward the best of the best. BBQ Tourist Ryan Cooper is that tour guide, a capable conductor skillfully leading you through the best pit stops in America.

Between his social presence and The Smoke Sheet newsletter he co-produces, this BBQ Tourist shares insight on everything from the best places to eat to the cooking equipment to use and the barbecue methods to try. Ryan is a great resource for news, information, events, and backyard cooking, especially as the summer smoking season gets fired up.

In this blog, we highlight BBQ Tourist Ryan Cooper, The Smoke Sheet newsletter, and our conversation during The Low & Slow Barbecue Show. For the first time, he shares the ingredients, directions, and photos of his special recipe for BOINK Balls. Keep reading for all the details.

BBQ Tourist Ryan Cooper's bacon-wrapped and glazed meatballs.
BBQ Tourist Ryan Cooper’s ‘BOINK’ balls.

What is BBQ Tourist?

BBQ Tourist is your ultimate guide to exploring the best barbecue spots across America. A social media presence founded by Ryan Cooper, the BBQ Tourist aims to experience and share the diverse world of American barbecue. Through extensive travel, social media, and The Smoke Sheet newsletter, which he co-founded with Sean Ludwig, Ryan connects barbecue enthusiasts with the finest pit stops and barbecue experiences.

How did BBQ Tourist Get Started?

The journey of BBQ Tourist began with Ryan Cooper’s deep-rooted love for barbecue, originating from his Kansas City upbringing. Although he enjoyed grilling and smoking meat from his college days, Ryan became serious about smoking meat after moving to his first house in Omaha, Nebraska.

Influenced by YouTube videos showcasing various barbecue styles, Ryan embarked on a journey in 2016 to explore the barbecue landscape across the United States. By 2018, he officially launched BBQ Tourist, dedicating himself to traveling and understanding the myriad flavors and techniques that define American barbecue.

BBQ Tourist Ryan Cooper with a meat platter. Photo from BBQ Tourist Instagram.

The BBQ Tourist Travel Itinerary

Ryan’s barbecue adventures have taken him to hundreds of spots across the country. From well-known barbecue meccas like Memphis, Kansas City, Texas, and the Carolinas, he’s been to all the classic barbecue regions. (Check out details from his tour of popular North Carolina pit stops here.) Often there are numerous stops in each city – 14 during his last three-day trip to Memphis. So surely, he’s picked a favorite, right?

“There’s really not. That sort of goes against what I am about and what got me into this whole thing … I really just want to experience as much as I can. I want to try as many spots as I can and really understand barbecue and all its different characteristics,” he says. “I can’t imagine eating one style and one style only of barbecue. I think there are good characteristics about every single style there is.”

There’s still plenty of targets on his travel itinerary, too, especially in California and the Northeast.

“I haven’t really experienced traditional Santa Maria style barbecue either. I would say that would really be kind of a major spot that I would like to try,” he says. “I still have the bucket list of barbecue spots that I still haven’t been to all across the country. I keep adding to them. I knock off a few and then I add 10 more.”

While “bucket list” choices often rise to the top of the list, Ryan says the variety that exists across the nation will keep him traveling.

“I like being able to experience all these different regions and the diversity that there really is in this country,” Ryan says. “I just enjoy it so much. I love the people, and of course, the food is great, too.”

What is The Smoke Sheet?

The Smoke Sheet is a weekly online publication co-founded by Ryan Cooper and his friend Sean Ludwig (aka NYC BBQ). Distributed to thousands of subscriber email inboxes a couple of times every week, The Smoke Sheet serves as a comprehensive source of barbecue news, events, recipes, and media recommendations.

The Smoke Sheet aims to keep barbecue enthusiasts informed about the latest trends, competitions, and festivals happening across the country. It has also started including guest voices to capture barbecue perspectives from contributors across the country, including The Low & Slow Barbecue Show.

Click here to subscribe to The Smoke Sheet.

How did The Smoke Sheet Start?

The Smoke Sheet Founders BBQ Tourist Ryan Cooper and Sean Ludwig (aka NYC BBQ) hold large platters of smoked meats and sides.
The Smoke Sheet Founders Ryan Cooper, left, and Sean Ludwig. Photo from The Smoke Sheet Instagram.

The Smoke Sheet story began serendipitously. On his first trip outside the Kansas City area for barbecue, Ryan went to Texas.

“I showed up at 8 in the morning. I didn’t know there would be a long line or anything like that,” Ryan says in our conversation. “Lo and behold, there’s this guy standing right in front of me in line … talking about barbecue, and he seems to know as much as I do and love it as much as I do.”

It was Sean. As they started talking, they discovered they shared similar roots as Kansas City natives and University of Missouri alumni.

“You go to these restaurants, you want to try everything, and here I am, a solo traveler,” Ryan continues. “So me and Sean and one of his friends and some other traveler from Canada, we all just made friends in line and said, ‘Let’s just order everything and share it.’”

The next day, Ryan saw Sean at another Texas barbecue restaurant.

“OK, this guy has good taste in barbecue,” Ryan remembers. “After that, he and I kept in touch. We ended up meeting a few months later in Kansas City, and he proposed the idea.”

The Smoke Sheet was born, and it came just a few months after Ryan launched BBQ Tourist in 2018. With Sean’s background in journalism, Ryan’s traveling journey, and their combined love for barbecue, they united under a single masthead to offer a national perspective on the barbecue scene.

BBQ Tourist Shares His ‘BOINK’ Balls Recipe

'BOINK' balls wrapped in bacon, seasoned and ready for the smoker.
BBQ Tourist’s ‘BOINK’ balls, seasoned and ready for the smoker.

As the summer meat-smoking season ignites, Ryan shares his BOINK Balls recipe for the first time with The Low & Slow Barbecue Show. It is a delicious blend of bison meat, pork, and bacon, smoked to perfection. As a native of Nebraska, Ryan proudly promotes bison products from the plains state and recommends Central Nebraska Buffalo Company.

“People are often gathering with family and friends” for summer cookouts, Ryan explains. “They want lots of little appetizer-type things, and this is one of those kinds of recipes.”

Recipes for this dish often go by the clever name of MOINK Balls, he says, due to the combination of beef (MOO) and bacon (OINK) as ingredients. Ryan’s variation substitutes beef with ground bison.

“Since I am not quite sure what sound a bison makes,” he says, “I decided on the silly name of BOINK Balls for the recipe.”

Bison is much leaner than beef, so adding ground pork to the mix is a necessity.

“I also use Bacon’s Heir Pork Panko in place of breadcrumbs to help bind everything together,” he says. “The BOINK Balls are wrapped in bacon, seasoned with Blues Hog Dry Rub, and grilled using indirect heat.

To take this recipe over the top, glaze the BOINK Balls with a combination of Blues Hog Champions’ Blend BBQ Sauce and Plum Habanero Pepper Jelly.

‘BOINK’ Balls Ingredients

Ingredients for BBQ Tourist Ryan Cooper's 'BOINK' balls.
Ingredients for BBQ Tourist Ryan Cooper’s ‘BOINK’ balls.
  • 1 lb ground bison
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 12 slices of bacon, cut in half
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup Pork Panko breadcrumbs
  • ¼ cup chopped onion
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbsp Blues Hog Original Dry Rub
  • 1 cup Blues Hog Champions’ Blend BBQ Sauce
  • ½ cup Chili Dawgs Plumbanero Habanero Pepper Spread

‘BOINK’ Balls Directions

'BOINK' ball ingredients in a bowl.
The ‘BOINK’ ball ingredients combined and ready to mix.
  1. Set up your grill or smoker for indirect grilling and preheat to 325°F. Fruit or nut woods such as cherry or pecan work particularly well in this recipe.
  2. Slice bacon in half and set aside.
  3. Add ground bison, ground pork, eggs, panko breadcrumbs, chopped onion, minced garlic, and Worcestershire sauce to a bowl. Use your hands to combine, but don’t overdo it, as this will make the BOINK Balls fall apart more easily.
  4. Form BOINK Balls using both hands and roll each one up using a half slice of bacon. Use a toothpick to hold the bacon in place. A baking or cooling rack makes transporting to and from the grill much easier.
  5. After all BOINK Balls are formed and wrapped in bacon, season them lightly with Blues Hog Original Dry Rub.
  6. Place the BOINK Balls on the grill to cook.
  7. While the BOINK Balls are cooking on the grill, stir together the Blues Hog Champions’ Blend BBQ Sauce and Plumbanero Habanero Pepper Spread in a small saucepan and simmer on medium-low heat for a few minutes.
  8. Once the bacon on the BOINK Balls is browned and crispy, use a basting brush to add the sauce mixture onto the BOINK Balls. Grill for 5 minutes until the sauce sets.
  9. Remove the BOINK Balls from the grill and enjoy! 

Pro Tip: Avoid overworking the meat mixture to keep the meatballs tender and cohesive.

‘BOINK’ balls on the smoker at 325, cooking over indirect heat.

Follow BBQ Tourist Ryan Cooper

By following Ryan Cooper, the BBQ Tourist, and subscribing to The Smoke Sheet, barbecue lovers can stay connected to the vibrant and ever-evolving world of American barbecue. Whether you’re a backyard cook or a traveling foodie, Ryan’s insights and recommendations will enhance your barbecue journey.

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