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Recipe Makeover: Sausage-Pecan Balls

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Sausage-Pecan Balls

Everyone looks down their nose at sausage balls, pigs in a blanket, and meatballs in BBQ sauce, but the reality is that these popular nibbles are the first to go at a party.  The original recipe for sausage balls uses Bisquick. I’ve made a few changes and developed this “from scratch” version — as well as lightening things up with reduced-fat cheese and turkey sausage. Read on to learn how to make them!

Sausage-Pecan Balls

Lighten Up, Y’all!

As a chef and cookbook author, one of my favorite things to do is to lighten up my favorite dishes with makeovers that create more healthful versions without sacrificing flavor. It’s just as simple as looking at each individual ingredient. There aren’t many ingredients in Sausage-Pecan Balls — but it still can be done!

Sausage-Pecan Balls

Recipe Makeover

First up, for our recipe makeover for Sausage-Pecan Balls, let’s take a look at the sausage. Is turkey sausage healthy? Compared to pork sausage, absolutely. It’s significantly lower in calories and saturated fat.

I’ve kept the all-purpose flour, but you could also substitute whole wheat pastry flour or “white wheat” for some or all of the flour. It won’t lower the points or calories, but it will increase the nutritional density. Personally, I prefer using flour over a baking mix, but you do what you need to do.

Reduced-fat cheese can be tricky. Most of it is rubbery, fairly tasteless, and doesn’t melt very well. I find that reduced-fat Cabot or Tillamook cheeses are the best of the bunch. Cabot makes  75% and 50% cheese with less fat than regular sharp cheddar. Either will work well in this recipe. Tillamook reduced-fat cheddar is about 1/3 less than regular sharp cheddar.

Many original recipes call for shortening. I’ve swapped that out with canola oil. Canola oil comes from the canola plant, a genetic variation of rapeseed. (Rapeseed oil is an industrial oil; canola was developed using traditional plant-breeding methods to make the rapeseed edible.) I often use canola oil because it’s flavorless and allows the flavor of the food to shine through. Most canola in the US is genetically engineered — unless it is certified organic, so I make that choice. Look for Organic Expeller Pressed Canola Oil, which is a chemical-free mechanical process that extracts the oil. Canola is good all-purpose cooking oil and is excellent for sautéing, frying, and baking or for use in raw form in salad dressings, mayonnaise, and vinaigrettes.

I’ve kept the pecans in my Sausage-Pecan Balls. Sure, nuts are high in fat, but they are so good and good for you! Pecans are rich in protein, fiber, antioxidants, and heart-healthy nutrients. I love Georgia pecans!

Sausage-Pecan Balls

Holiday Nibbles

I hope you enjoy my updated version of Sausage-Pecan Balls that are full of flavor, not fat. I do not, however, have a magic wand in my kitchen so keep in mind they are still about 2 points each if you follow WW. Please let me know if you give them a try! If you need another lightened-up nibble, check out my Buffalo Chicken Dip.

Bon Appétit, Y’all

Virginia Willis

PS – my favorite tool for making these Sausage-Pecan Balls and holiday cookies is my stainless steel ice cream scoop. Take a look!

Sausage-Pecan Balls

Sausage-Pecan Balls

Makes 40
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time20 minutes
Course: Appetizer, hors d'oeuvres, Snack
Cuisine: American, Southern
Keyword: healthy-ish, low fat, sausage
Servings: 40 pieces
Author: Virginia Willis


  • 16 ounces raw turkey sausage
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup chopped pecans
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 8 ounces sharp light Cheddar cheese grated


  • Heat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking sheet or parchment paper. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the turkey sausage and cook no longer pink and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat to cool slightly.
  • You can do this by hand with some elbow grease, with a handheld mixer, or in a stand mixer. Combine the flour, pecans, baking powder, salt, and cayenne pepper. Add the oil, grated cheese, and reserved sausage. Stir to combine. It will be quite crumbly, but you should be able to press it together into a ball.
    Sausage-Pecan Balls
  • To form the balls, using a small ice cream scoop or a 1-tablespoon measure and your hands, shape the mixture into 1-inch balls and place about 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until browned, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool.

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Please note that this post may contain affiliate links.

Virginia Willis

Georgia-born French-trained Chef Virginia Willis’ biography includes making chocolate chip cookies with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, foraging for berries in the Alaskan wilderness, harvesting capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, and hunting for truffles in France. She is talent and chef-instructor for the digital streaming platform Food Network Kitchen. Her segments feature authentic and innovative Southern cooking. She was the celebrity chef at the Mansion at Churchill Downs for the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby. Virginia has spoken at SXSW, cooked for the James Beard Foundation, and beguiled celebrities such as Bill Clinton, Morgan Freeman, and Jane Fonda with her cooking — but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. Recently, her work has been inspired by her weight loss success story, Virginia has lost 65# and kept it off for over 2 1/2 years! “If a French-trained, Southern chef can do it, you can, too.” She is the author of Fresh Start; Secrets of the Southern Table; Lighten Up, Y’all; Bon Appétit, Y’all; Basic to Brilliant, Y’all; Okra; and Grits. Lighten Up, Y’all won a James Beard Foundation Award of Excellence in the Focus on Health Category. Lighten Up, Y’all as well as her first cookbook, Bon Appétit, Y’all, were finalists in the Best American Cookbook for the International Association of Cookbook Awards and were also named by the Georgia Center of the Book as “Books Georgians Should Read.” She is the former TV kitchen director for Martha Stewart Living, Bobby Flay, and Nathalie Dupree; has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants; and traveled the world producing food stories – from making cheese in California to escargot farming in France. She has appeared on Food Network’s Chopped, CBS This Morning, Fox Family and Friends, Martha Stewart Living, and as a judge on Throwdown with Bobby Flay. She’s been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, People Magazine, Eater, and Food52 and has contributed to Eating Well, GRLSQUASH, Culture, Garden & Gun, and Bon Appétit, and more. The Chicago Tribune praised her as one of “Seven Food Writers You Need to Know.” Her legion of fans loves her down-to-earth attitude, approachable spirit, and traveling exploits. Her culinary consulting company, Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc specializes in content creation, recipe development, culinary editorial and production services, cookbook writing, media training, spokesperson and brand representation, and public speaking. Virginia is on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force, the Atlanta Community Food Bank Advisory Board, as well as the Community Farmers Market Advisory Board. She is a food and hunger advocate for No Kid Hungry and a premier member of the No Kid Hungry Atlanta Society. She a member of The James Beard Foundation, Chef’s Collaborative, Georgia Organics, and Southern Foodways Alliance.

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