Fire it up: Vietnamese-style grilled pork balls

When my good friend Kyle recruited me to do a fish sauce blind tasting with him, I jumped on the opportunity right away. In addition to having a few samples delivered to him, we also headed over to our local Asian market to purchase additional brands for our tasting session. 

The amber-colored and piquant fish sauce is a prime staple in many cuisines, from East to Southeast Asian cuisines. It is extracted from the fermentation of fish (mostly anchovies) and sea salt and can be used to marinade, brine, dip and in many other forms. It’s umami quality adds that additional level of depth and roundness to any dish.
The snow was packed from a previous snow fall, and for the next few hours Kyle and I tasted all 13 brands to see which one came up on top.


While we documented each brand ranging from color, smell, salinity and taste, the main criteria came down to the purity in each of the fish sauces. 

I’ve been using Red Boat for some time now and when it was all said and done, it was Red Boat that reigned supreme. I had also previously acquired a bottle of the barrel aged Red Boat Blis sauce which we threw in the mix, but quickly found that we could not count it as it was on a league of its own. 


Kyle meticulously breaks down each contender over at his blog, Our Daily Brine, so head over there to see where your favorite ranks. You’ll be curious to find out where the known crowd favorite, Three Crab fish sauce, falls within the list.

It seems like every time we get together, we tend to throw something on the grill, and this time was no different. For the evening’s meal, I prepared some fish sauce infused Vietnamese style pork balls while Kyle arranged a fresh salad spread to accompany the protein. 

Right before going on the grill.


Vietnamese-style grilled pork balls
Serves 6
Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
40 min
Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
40 min
  1. 1 lb lean ground pork
  2. ¼ cup minced shallots
  3. ¼ cup minced garlic
  4. ¼ cup minced Thai or regular basil
  5. 3 tbs Vietnamese fish sauce
  6. 1 ½ tbsp brown sugar
  7. 1 tsp ground black pepper
  8. 2 tbsp toasted rice powder. Made ahead of time
  9. 2 tpsp sesame oil
  10. 1 tbsp finely chopped Thai chillies. Optional if serving with a hot dipping sauce
  1. Place some wooden or bamboo skewers in water for at least 20 minutes before going on the grill.
  2. Once the embers are hot by starting them in a chimney, place on one side of the grill. At this point, chop and mince all the fresh ingredients while setting aside.
  3. Combine all items in a bowl and mix thoroughly. It will yield just over 30 pork balls.
  4. Grill the pork balls for about 20 minutes without drying them out as they should be succulent inside.
  1. What I love about this dish is its balance of sweetness, heat, savory, fat and nuttiness added by the toasted rice powder. Drizzle with Nuoc Cham dipping sauce.
3000 Acre Kitchen




Kyle made a great compliment, Nuoc Cham, a Vietnamese dipping sauce that served as a perfect accompaniment for the meat. Head over to his blog to learn how to make this wonderful dipping sauce. 

: Jaime


  • I can personally attest to the deliciousness that were these balls. And there’s something about grilling in a torrential snow storm that makes the food just that much sweeter.

  • I really want to try this, I can’t look at the photos any longer without tasting it. My only question is, where I live, I can’t get my hands on ‘rice powder’. Is that needed, I guess it holds everything together? Do you think normal flour will work ok as a substitute?

    • Jaime

      Marcus, you can toast some at home on a skillet and then grind it in a coffee maker or a mortar & pestle: While it can help for binding purposes, it mostly adds a nutty fragrance, especially when toasted ahead of time instead of the store-bought variety. Ultimately, you can do without it as well.
      Let me know how it works out.

  • Jaime, they turned out really well. I put them with Kyles fish sauce dip and a few other things and had some very happy BBQ guests. The only thing I think I got wrong was leaving them on the grill slightly over the suggested 20 mins. They were still succulent but next time round I’ll aim to take them off a few mins earlier. The rice powder tip worked a treat – I’ll definitely be using that again. Thanks!

  • What’s the measurement on the Thai basil? it says,”¼ minced Thai basil”

    • Jaime

      Hi Jesse, my apologies for missing that measurement. It’s 1/4 of a cup of Thai or regular basil, minced right at the very end so it doesn’t oxidize. I just adjusted the post to include it. Thanks.

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