Sausage-Pecan Balls

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
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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


  • 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 has foraged for berries in the Alaskan wilderness, harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, and executed the food styling for a Super Bowl commercial seen by over 160 million people. She is a James Beard award-winning cookbook author and chef for Food Network Kitchen. Virginia lost 65 pounds and has kept if off for over 3 years. Her health journey has been documented in Eating Well, as a cover story for Woman’s World, Allrecipes, and AARP. Virginia has embraced her new outlook on life and has become a cheerleader for those wanting to make their own life changes, “If a French-trained Southern chef can do it, you can, too!” Her cookbooks include Fresh Start: Cooking with Virginia My Real Life Daily Guide to Healthy Eating and Weight Loss; Secrets of the Southern Table, Lighten Up, Y’all, Bon Appétit, Y’all, Basic to Brilliant, Y’all, Okra, and Grits. She is the former TV kitchen director for Martha Stewart, 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 Alex vs America, The Rachel Ray Show, Food Network’s Chopped, CBS This Morning, Fox Family and Friends, Martha Stewart Living, and as a judge on Throwdown with Bobby Flay. Virginia has also been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, People Magazine, Eater, and Food52. She has contributed to Eating Well, Garden & Gun, and Bon Appétit, and more. Fans love her down-to-earth attitude and approachable spirit. Learn more about Virginia and Good and Good for You Living, a real life health and wellness approach for mind, body, and spirit that includes food, fun, and fitness at

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