Slow cooker cocktail meatballs will be a hit as a party appetizer or even as a main dish. Cooked meatballs are tossed in a sweet and (slightly) spicy sauce and simmer away in the crock pot in this easy recipe.
Party meatballs in the crock pot aren't an earth-shattering, revolutionary food. This we know. But these sorta sweet and spicy slow cooker cocktail meatballs are a whole new ballgame...no grape jelly needed!
Instead of sticking with the ubiquitous two-jar sauce recipe, these cocktail meatballs in the crock pot are coated in a semi-homemade BBQ sauce mixture made with your choice of fruit preserves for a fun, fruity, and unique take on this classic dish.
Reasons to Love This Recipe
- Can it be easier to make? Whisk together the sauce ingredients in your crock pot, then stir in the meatballs and set it to cook.
- It's a slow cooker recipe that doesn't take all day. These sweet and spicy cocktail meatballs will be bubbly hot in an hour or two.
- It's a perfect party appetizer as it can stay warm in the slow cooker for several hours to be hot and ready to eat at any time.
- Frozen meatballs: Be sure to use fully-cooked frozen meatballs (I think most of the store-bought ones are). I recommend the "homestyle" flavor over Italian as it works better with the sauce. A 32-ounce package is great with this quantity of sauce, but a little smaller or larger also works.
- Ketchup: This acts as the base of our semi-homemade BBQ sauce.
- Fruit preserves: These are a fun way to switch up the flavor and they add a wonderful flavor to BBQ sauces, like in these grilled blackberry chicken wings. We *LOVE* seedless raspberry preserves here, but blackberry, apricot, and yes, grape jelly, are all fine.
- Mustard: Either dry mustard or prepared Dijon mustard work.
- Worcestershire sauce: This bumps up the "meaty" flavor of these cocktail meatballs.
- Apple cider vinegar: This brings a controlled tang.
- Hot sauce: Use as much (or as little) as you like of your preferred hot sauce. Two teaspoons adds a very mild zip - increase accordingly!
- Add all of the ingredients (except for the meatballs) to the insert of your crock pot, then whisk to combine them well.
- Add the thawed meatballs and give them a big stir to coat evenly.
- Place the lid on and cook on low heat for 1.5-2 hours, or until the center of the meatballs register 165°F. Stir everything up and switch the temperature to warm for serving, or transfer to a bowl.
- The easiest way to thaw fully-cooked frozen meatballs is to thaw them in the refrigerator overnight. For a quick thaw, transfer meatballs to a microwave-safe dish or bowl and microwave in spurts on very low power, about 20% or so, until thawed. Stir the meatballs around the bowl after each spurt so that they thaw evenly.
- This recipe provides a generous amount of sauce for 32 ounces of meatballs. If using a smaller package of meatballs, you may wish to decrease the quantity of sauce.
- This recipe is pictured in a 4.5-quart slow cooker and just about fills it half-way. I would not use a much larger crock pot here without doubling the quantities as too much empty space in it as it can lead to overcooking.
Of the fully-cooked frozen meatball varieties, I recommend a homestyle flavor as it's neutral. I would not use Italian flavored meatballs as they wouldn't mesh well with the flavoring of the sauce. Beef or a blend of beef/chicken/pork meatballs all work, as do vegetarian meat-less balls.
While this is a common method in some recipes, I thaw the frozen meatballs before cooking, as the USDA recommends thawing all frozen meat before slow cooking. Even though these meatballs are fully-cooked in the first place and don't take all day to cook, I prefer to be safe and thaw them. This also helps them heat evenly.
Switching up the flavor of fruit preserves is an easy way to make a new spin on these cocktail meatballs. Just be sure they're seedless. Raspberry preserves are my favorite to use here for their flavor, but blackberry preserves provide a more neutral flavor. Other options are strawberry or apricot preserves, or grape jelly.
If you’ve enjoyed this recipe, I’d love for you to leave a star rating in the recipe card and/or a comment review below!
Slow Cooker Cocktail Meatballs
- 1 cup seedless fruit preserves raspberry, blackberry, grape,
- ¾ cup ketchup
- 2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard or 1 Tablespoon prepared Dijon mustard
- 2 cloves garlic minced/pressed
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- ⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2-3 teaspoons hot sauce more or less as you like
- 32 ounces fully-cooked frozen meatballs homestyle, thawed
- All all sauce ingredients (everything but the meatballs) to the insert of your slow cooker and whisk well to combine.
- Add the thawed meatballs and stir to coat evenly.
- Cover and cook on low heat for 2 - 2.5 hours, or until the meatballs register an internal temperature of 165°F. Switch to the warm setting if serving from the slow cooker, or transfer to a bowl.
- To make these cocktail meatballs vegetarian or vegan, use frozen meatless meatballs and choose a vegan Worcestershire sauce, if needed.
- The meatballs will thaw in the refrigerator overnight. To quick thaw, take them out of the package and add them to a microwave-safe bowl or plate. Microwave in spurts at 20% power, stirring after every round, until the meatballs are thawed.
- This recipe fills up a 4.5 quart slow cooker about halfway, so I would not use a very large capacity crock pot without increasing the yield as you'd end up with a lot of empty space.
Nutritional information is provided as an estimate. As it can vary due to many factors (brands used, quantities, etc.), we cannot guarantee its accuracy.Food Safety and Nutrition Disclaimer
Lori McKay says
Can you do this with homemade meatballs? How?
Hi Lori, I bet you could as long as they're fully-cooked already. I haven't tried it myself so I don't have instructions. If they're coming from the refrigerator and not frozen I would think the sauce would work fine, they'd just need less cook time to sufficiently heat through.
I'd I wanted to double this (for 15-20 people) would I double all the ingredients?
Hi Mary, I've never doubled the recipe, but if your slow cooker permits I'd say a safe bet would be to double everything. Making everything at this quantity does yield some extra sauce, though I love drizzling it over the meatballs and whatever starch I'm serving this with. You could try doubling the meatballs and only increasing the other ingredients by 1.5x or so, so long as the meatballs are covered in the sauce for cooking. That's really the only thing (making sure the meatballs are covered for cooking). I hope that helps!
I'm with you Catherine! I'd probably end up hovering over the slow cooker with a toothpick. 🙂 Thanks!
I go long stretches without thinking of making them, but all of a sudden a craving will hit and I'll want them all the time! I think I need to plan a get together just to have a legit excuse to make a big batch! haha
I agree, thanks Rebecca!