Smoked Shotgun Shells are the perfect BBQ treat, featuring manicotti tubes stuffed with a savory mixture of ground beef and cheese, wrapped in crispy bacon, and glazed with BBQ sauce.
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We love making Smoked Shotgun Shells for our gatherings, they are a great appetizer and our guests love them each time we make them. I know it sounds a bit strange at first. We definitely had that “what in the world is this?” look on our faces when we saw this recipe. But it’s actually pretty great.
The combination of savory ground beef and melted cheese creates a creamy and satisfying filling that perfectly complements the crispy bacon shell, if you prefer you could use Italian sausage but for this recipe, we will be using ground beef.
The other great thing is that these can be cooked at the same time as your main protein, so if you’re making a beer can chicken or some smoked ribs, you can do these on the side and take advantage of the space on the smoker.
What Are Smoked Shotgun Shells?
I’ll be honest, I don’t love the name of this appetizer, but it is what it is, I guess. They are named shotgun shells because they bear a resemblance to the shape of a shotgun shell. Silly name, but it’s catchy, I suppose.
They feature a delectable filling of cheese and seasoned beef, carefully nestled inside a pasta tube. To take them to the next level, the tubes are then wrapped in bacon and given the smoker treatment on the pellet grill.
- Manicotti Shells – If manicotti shells are not available, you can use large cannelloni or jumbo pasta shells as alternatives.
- Ground Beef – Use a high fat content hamburger such as 80/20. It will help to keep the filling moist and lend moisture to the pasta shells.
- Cheddar Cheese – You can substitute cheddar cheese with other types of melting cheeses such as mozzarella, Monterey Jack, or Colby cheese
- Dry Rub – We use our general all-purpose dry rub. You can use any rub you like.
- Jalapenos – You can decide how spicy you want the shells to be by removing all or none of the seeds.
- Bacon – Thin sliced bacon is better than thick or center cut, so it easily wraps around the shells.
- BBQ Sauce – You can use your preferred brand of BBQ sauce or explore different varieties such as smoky, spicy, or honey-infused BBQ sauces based on your taste preferences
What Temperature Should Shotgun Shells Be Smoked At?
We recommend you smoke your Shotgun Shells at 225°F. This low and slow cooking method allows the flavors to develop and the ingredients to cook thoroughly while retaining moisture.
Since we also recommend smoking most meats, like brisket or chicken legs, at 225°F, sticking with this temperature will enable you to cook both at the same time on the smoker. Since pellets don’t last that long in the smoker, it’s always good to double down and make the most of it.
How Long Does It Take to Smoke Shotgun Shells?
Generally, it takes about 1.5 to 2 hours to smoke shotgun shells until they are fully cooked and reach a safe internal temperature of 165°F .
Additionally, the desired level of smokiness and crispness of the bacon can also impact the cooking time. Keep an eye on the shells during the smoking process, and adjust the time as needed until they are cooked to your preference.
How to Smoke Shotgun Shells
Preheat the smoker to 225°F (107°C)
In a mixing bowl, combine the ground beef, cheese, milk, 2 tablespoons of the dry rub, diced onion and jalapeno. and mix well until the mixture is thoroughly combined.
Carefully stuff the dry manicotti shells with the hamburger mixture. We found that it was best to roll a handful of hamburger mixture into the shape and size of the pasta and then shove it in the end. Work from one end pushing it into the middle and then flip it over and push more in from the other end until it is full.
Don’t pack the meat mixture into the pasta too tightly but make sure to fill the pasta to the very end.
Note: Be care when pushing the meat into the shell. The shells will break if you push too hard.
Completely wrap each shell with a strip of bacon. Any exposed parts of the shell will stay crunchy, so it’s important to wrap the whole shell. Use more than one slice of bacon if you need to.
Sprinkle the bacon-wrapped shells with the remaining dry rub.
Place the shells directly on the smoker grill grates and smoke for 1 hour without lifting the lid. When the hour is up brush them on both sides with BBQ sauce and continue smoking for 45 more minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 165° F.
Some Tips for Smoking Shotgun Shells
- Make sure to cover the entire noodle with bacon or you will have crunchy noodles.
- It’s important to use a high fat content burger mixture to add moisture. The shells will need it while cooking. You could also use half hamburger and half sausage.
- If you have time baste with BBQ sauce a second time just to add more flavor.
- Accompany the smoked shotgun shells with a variety of dipping sauces such as more BBQ sauce, ranch dressing, spicy mayo, or chipotle aioli.
How to Store
Refrigerator: Place the cooled smoked shotgun shells in an airtight container or wrap them tightly with plastic wrap. Store them in the refrigerator for up to 3 to 4 days.
Freezer: If you want to store the smoked shells for longer periods, freezing is a great option. Wrap each individual shell tightly in plastic wrap and place them in a freezer-safe bag or container. They can be stored in the freezer for up to 2 to 3 months.
How to Reheat
Oven: To reheat the smoked shells, preheat the oven to 350°F and place them on a baking sheet and bake for about 15-20 minutes or until heated through.
Smoker: To reheat shotgun shells on a smoker, preheat the smoker to 225°F , place the shells on a wire rack or grill grate, and smoke them for 15-20 minutes or until heated through.
- Meat: Instead of hamburger use breakfast sausage, Italian sausage, chorizo, or half hamburger and half sausage.
- Cheese: Instead of shredded cheese try cutting the cheese into cubes and adding them in between chunks of the meat mixture.
- Sauce: Instead of basting them in BBQ sauce try using this honey sriracha sauce, Alabama white BBQ sauce, marinara, or honey mustard.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you make these without a smoker?
The best way to get the smoky flavor on these “smoked” shotgun shells it to put them on a smoker, but you can also put them in the oven for pretty much the same temperature and time as on the smoker. You won’t get the same smoky flavor but they are still very good. You could also make them on a Ninja Woodfire Outdoor Grill, which I really love and is so much more manageable than a full-sized smoker.
How do you make sure the shells get cooked through?
The shells need some moisture in order to get soft or fully cooked through without still being crunchy at the end of the smoke. To do this, you can allow them to sit in the refrigerator after being wrapped for a few hours before smoking, or you can partially cook the shells before stuffing them.
What is the best wood pellets to use for smoked shells?
You can use any wood pellets for these smoke shells. I would suggest using whatever is already in your smoker at the time. Hickory gives a nice robust smoky flavor, while Apple gives a sweeter, less intense smoky flavor.
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Smoked Shotgun Shells
- 14 Manicotti shells
- 1 pound (454 g) ground beef 80/20 mixture
- 1 1/2 cups (170 g) cheddar cheese shredded
- 1/4 cup (59 ml) milk
- 1/2 cup (35 g) dry rub divided
- 1/4 cup (40 g) onion diced
- 2 jalapenos seeded and diced
- 14 slices bacon
- 1/2 cup (118 ml) BBQ sauce
- Preheat the smoker to 225°F (107°C).
- In a mixing bowl, combine the ground beef, cheese, milk, 2 tablespoons of the dry rub, diced onion and jalapeno. Mix well until the mixture is thoroughly combined.
- Carefully stuff manicotti shells with the mixture.
- Completely wrap each shell with a strip of bacon. Any exposed parts of the shell will stay crunchy, so it’s important to wrap the whole shell.
- Sprinkle the bacon-wrapped shells with the remaining dry rub.
- Place the shells directly on the smoker grill grates and smoke for 1 hour without lifting the lid.
- Baste the shells with BBQ sauce then flip them over and baste the other side.
- Continue smoking for 45 more minutes, or until the shells reach an internal temperature of 165°F (75°C).
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Angie is a dedicated grilling aficionado who has experimented with a wide variety of techniques, equipment, and ingredients, to discover the endless possibilities of flavors and textures that grilling can achieve.