Grape Jelly Meatballs

This Grape Jelly Meatball recipe is the perfect party appetizer or tasty dinner slow cooked in finger licking sweet and tangy sauce – made in the crockpot or the stovetop.  This is not your grandmother’s meatball recipe! 

Grape Jelly Meatballs are juicy, crave worthy, and always a runaway hit!  What elevates this recipe are the tender homemade meatballs (may use frozen) and spectacular sauce – it’s simple, sublime, sticky, sweet and tangy with a subtle kick. It’s made with grape jelly, barbecue sauce, red wine vinegar, soy sauce and buffalo wings sauce whipped up in 5 minutes!  You can make these meatballs with grape jelly on the stovetop or in the crockpot, ahead of time or freeze for an easy, stress-free appetizer or dinner served over a bed of mashed potatoes and veggies – SO GOOD.  But no matter how you serve this favorite Grape Jelly Meatball recipe, it’s guaranteed to disappear in a flash!

Meatballs are always the first to go at any party!  Don’t miss Honey Buffalo Meatballs, Cranberry Meatballs, Cocktail Meatballs, Korean Meatballs  Greek MeatballsTurkey MeatballsTeriyaki Meatballs and more.

HOW TO MAKE Grape Jelly Meatballs VIDEo

up close of grape jelly meatball recipe by lining meatballs with grape jelly in a crockpot to cook
serving meatballs with grape jelly as an appetizer with toothpicks

INGREDIENTS FOR Crockpot Meatballs with GRAPE JELLY

These Crockpot Grape Jelly Meatballs are mega juicy and SO easy.  While you can opt for frozen meatballs, once you taste the difference, you will never go back!  I use Ritz or Saltines instead of breadcrumbs as well as dried minced onion for maximum flavor. Here’s what you’ll need to make this recipe (full measurements in the printable recipe card at the bottom of the post):

FOR THE MEATBALLS

  • Ground beef: Use lean ground beef so the meatballs will be tender but not greasy.
  • Crackers: Crushed Ritz or Saltines add fabulous flavor in place of plain panko or breadcrumbs.  I personally prefer buttery, salty Ritz.
  • Dried minced onion: I love using dried minced onions because they deliver concentrated flavor without any raw onions. You can find dried minced onions with the seasonings at your grocery store.
  • Eggs: 2 eggs will do the trick to bind all the ingredients together.
  • Milk: Any kind of milk will work here. 
  • Seasonings: The meatballs are seasoned with ginger, chili powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper for an oomph of flavor without being overpowering.

FOR THE GRAPE JELLY SAUCE

  • Grape jelly: This jelly should be easy to find located with the other jams and jellies at your grocery store. 
  • Barbecue sauce: I recommend a sweet barbecue sauce like Sweet Baby Rays, but you can use any brand and adjust the sugar or vinegar as needed. Of course, my homemade barbecue sauce is always my favorite.
  • Red wine vinegar:  The vinegar balances the sweetness of the jelly and barbecue sauce.  Red wine vinegar boasts a distinct fruity, tanginess so it’s best not to swap it out for a different vinegar.
  • Soy sauceThis adds the grounding umami. Use reduced sodium soy sauce so we can control the salt.
  • Hot wings sauce: I use Frank’s RedHot BUFFALO Wings Sauce– NOT Frank’s original sauce.  Buffalo wings sauce is a spicy hot sauce with the addition of melted butter, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and garlic. It is spicier, smoother, richer, rounder and less of a pure cayenne punch than original hot sauce – it is just plain more delicious in my opinion.  You’ll want to look for “Wings” on the label.  Take care, however, – there is “Buffalo” and there is “Hot Buffalo.” I recommend “Buffalo” – it’s hot enough! Frank’s RedHot Buffalo Wings Sauce is usually located near the other hot sauces or barbecue sauces. 
  • Cornstarch: Just 1 teaspoon helps thicken the sauce to perfection.
showing how to serve grape jelly meatballs as a main dish with potatoes and salad

HOW TO MAKE GRAPE JELLY MEATBALLS

This Grape Jelly Meatball recipe is as easy as rolling the meatballs, searing the meatballs and cooking them in the sauce. Here’s an over view of how to make them (full measurements in the printable recipe card at the bottom of the post):

STEP 1: COMBINE MEATBALL INGREDIENTS

  • Add all of the meatball ingredients to a large bowl except the beef and whisk to combine.
  • Add the ground beef and then mix with your hands until combined. Adding the beef last helps to not overwork the beef.
showing how to make grape jelly meatball recipe in the crockpot by mixing all of the meatball ingredients together in a large mixing bowl

STEP 2: ROLL MEATBALLS

  • Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper for easy cleanup.  Top with a baking rack and spray with cooking spray.  The baking rack will elevate the meatballs which 1) allows them to bake evenly and 2) allows the grease to drip off so they don’t cook in a pool of grease.
  • Use a small cookie scoop (1 ½ tablespoon capacity) to roll the mixture into meatballs. 
  • Place meatballs onto prepared baking sheet without touching.
showing how to make grape jelly meatball recipe in the crockpot by rolling meatballs and adding them to an oven baking rack in order to sear in the oven

STEP 3: SEAR MEATBALLS

  • Bake the meatballs at 400 degrees F for 8 minutes to sear the meatballs – they will not be cooked through.  The searing creates a coating of flavor, but most importantly, firms the meatballs up enough so they don’t smooth or fall apart in the crockpot.
showing how to make grape jelly meatball recipe in the crockpot by baking meatballs in the oven before adding to the crockpot to finish cooking

STEP 4: MAKE THE SAUCE

  • While the meatballs are in the oven, whisk all of the Sauce ingredients together in medium bowl.
showing how to make grape jelly meatball recipe in the crockpot by whisking together the grape jelly chili sauce ingredients

STEP 5:  COOK THE MEATBALLS

  • Add a layer of meatballs to a lightly greased slow cooker, followed by a layer of sauce; repeat.  Do NOT stir the meatballs with sauce yet or they will fall apart.
  • Cook on LOW for 2-4 hours, until meatballs are cooked through, gently stirring one hour into cooking. 
  • After the meatballs are cooked, you can switch the crockpot to the WARM setting until you’re ready to serve.
showing how to make meatballs with grape jelly by cooking in the crockpot until cooked through
meatballs with grape jelly in a serving bowl showing how juicy they are
  • Start with cold ingredient:  Use cold eggs, cold milk and add cold beef straight from the fridge.   This will make the meatballs much easier to roll.
  • If the meatballs are dry: Add a splash of milk to the meatball mixture. The mixture should be moist but hold its shape.
  • Don’t overmix the meatball ingredients: Overmixing results in tougher meatballs.
  • Make uniform meatballs: Use a cookie scoop to form your meatballs the same size so they cook evenly. This also makes forming the meatballs quick and easy. If you do not have a scoop, use a measuring spoon to make them roughly the same size.
  • Don’t roll the meatballs too tightly:  Roll the meatballs as loosely as you can without falling apart.  The looser the meatballs, the more tender.
  • Non-stick trick: If the meatballs are sticking to your hands (it’s a good thing, means they are extra moist), lightly grease your hands with cooking spray or cold water.
  • Don’t overcook: Overcooked meatballs are dry meatballs. Cook just to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. The easiest way to tell when they’re done is by using an instant read thermometer. 
  • Use ground chicken or turkey: Ground poultry contains less fat than ground beef, so you may want to add a little oil to the meatball mixture or for the JUICIEST turkey meatballs, swap the milk for ¼ cup sour cream or plain Greek yogurt. I also recommend adding 1 tablespoon granulated beef bouillon, or 3 crushed cubes to infuse the meatballs with bold beefy flavor. Reduce the salt to ½ teaspoon in the meatballs if using bouillon.
  • Cracker substitute:  Swap the crackers for your favorite salty cracker or a scant cup of panko breadcrumbs with a pinch of salt.
  • Adjust the sauce to taste: This is YOUR Grape Jelly Meatball recipe so make it just how you like it. Make it sweeter by adding honey or sugar, tangier by adding more red wine vinegar, spicier by adding more buffalo wings sauce, or amp up any of the seasonings.
  • Use a different jelly:  Pepper jelly (reduce hot sauce if using), apricot, raspberry, strawberry, blackberry, apple, etc. can all be used.  Each jelly has a different flavor profile, so adjust the sauce ingredient ratios as needed.
  • Make the sauce spicier: Add additional buffalo wings sauce to taste.
up close of serving grape jelly meatball recipe with toothpicks showing how tender and juicy they are

These Crockpot Meatballs with Grape Jelly can be served as a main course with garlic mashed potatoes, apple salad or roasted veggies such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, etc. or they can be served as an appetizer.  This recipe pairs well with other favorite appetizers such as:

showing how to serve meatballs with grape jelly

Grape Jelly Meatball FAQS

How do I make sure meatballs don’t fall apart?

Meatballs require both eggs and breadcrumbs (or in this case crushed crackers) to bind the ingredients together.  If you don’ have enough of either ingredient compared to the ratio of meat and liquid, the meatballs can fall apart.  My general rule of thumb for no-fail meatballs is 1 large egg + ½ cup bread or cracker crumbs + 2 tablespoons milk/or other liquid per 1 pound of ground meat. Works like a charm every time!  If your meatballs are too loose to roll, then add additional breadcrumbs. If the mixture is too dry, add a splash of milk.

Why are my meatballs tough?

Meatballs can be tough and dense instead of light and juicy because of three reasons: 1) too little liquid, 2) overworking the meatball mixture, or 3) over-rolling/compacting the meatballs. To prevent tough meatballs, add all of the meatball ingredients to the bowl except the ground meat, stir to combine and then mix the ground meat in with your hands. This method allows you to handle the meat as little as possible. You don’t want to over-mix the meat into a paste, instead, pieces of ground meat should still be visible. Also, take care when rolling the meatballs to use a light touch by not squeezing them too much or rolling them too much.  Leave them airy instead of compact.

Can I use a food processor to blend the meatballs?

I do NOT recommend using a food processor or mixer to blend the meatballs because you end up with a mixture that is denser.  The goal is to just combine the ingredients together so they are evenly dispersed but not to over mix which can be easy to do with equipment.  Over-mixed meatballs = tougher meatballs.

What does adding an egg to meatballs do?

Contrary to popular belief, eggs do not add moisture to meatballs. Instead, their role is to help bind the ground meat and crackers together. As the meatballs cook, the eggs cook which helps all the ingredients stick together instead of crumble apart. Typically, you don’t want more than 1 egg per pound of meat, otherwise the meatballs can be dense instead of soft.

How long do raw meatballs last in the fridge?

Cook them within 24 hours for optimal freshness and juiciness. Make sure to bring them to room temperature by sitting on the counter for 30 minutes before baking. Cooked meatballs are good for up to five days stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. 

How large should I roll meatballs?

When deciding how large to make your meatballs, take into consideration how you will be serving them and that, in general, larger meatballs are juicier. For appetizer meatballs, like in this recipe, about 1 ½ tablespoon inches in diameter is appropriate so they are bite size but still juicy. 

HOW SPICY ARE THESE MEATBALLS?

These Grape Jelly Meatballs boast an enjoyable kick. It’s the perfect enlivening compliment to the sweet and tangy sauce otherwise they would taste too sweet. If you are worried about the recipe being too spicy, or if you are using a different brand of hot sauce, then start with less and add more to taste.

How do you keep meatballs warm for a party?

Keep the meatballs on the “warm” setting in the crockpot until ready to serve, stirring occasionally. 

showing how to serve crockpot grape jelly meatballs by spooning over mashed potatoes

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serving meatballs with grape jelly as an appetizer with toothpicks

Grape Jelly Meatballs

Grape Jelly Meatballs are juicy, crave worthy, and always a runaway hit!  What elevates this recipe are the tender homemade meatballs (may use frozen) and spectacular sauce – it’s simple, sublime, sticky, sweet and tangy with a subtle kick. It's made with grape jelly, barbecue sauce, red wine vinegar, soy sauce and buffalo wings sauce whipped up in 5 minutes!  You can make these meatballs with grape jelly on the stovetop or in the crockpot, ahead of time or freeze for an easy, stress-free appetizer or dinner served over a bed of mashed potatoes and veggies – SO GOOD.  But no matter how you serve this favorite Grape Jelly Meatball recipe, it's guaranteed to disappear in a flash!
Servings: 40 meatballs (approx)
Total Time: 2 hrs 40 mins
Prep Time: 40 mins
Cook Time: 2 hrs

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Ingredients

MEATBALLS

  • 2 pounds lean ground beef (see notes for turkey)
  • 2 eggs
  • 24 Ritz or Saltine crackers, crushed (or 1 cup panko breadcrumbs)
  • 1/3 cup dried minced onion
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 tsp EACH salt, garlic powder, onion powder, ginger powder, chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

SAUCE

  • 1 cup grape jelly
  • 3/4 cup barbecue sauce (I use Sweet Baby Rays)
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
  • 1-2 tablespoons Franks Buffalo Hot WINGS Sauce
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp EACH salt, ginger powder, garlic powder

Instructions

CROCKPOT VERSION

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil for easy cleanup. Top with a baking rack and spray with cooking spray; set aside.
  • Add all of the meatball ingredients to a large mixing bowl except the beef and whisk to thoroughly combine. Add the beef and mix with your hands just until combined.
  • Use a small cookie scoop (1 ½ tablespoon capacity) to roll into meatballs. Place meatballs onto prepared baking sheet without touching.
  • Bake at 400 degrees F for 8 minutes to sear the meatballs – they will not be cooked through.
  • Meanwhile, whisk all of the Sauce ingredients together in large bowl; set aside.
  • Lightly grease a 6qt slow cooker. Add a layer of meatballs followed by a layer of sauce; repeat. Do NOT stir the meatballs yet or they will fall apart.
  • Cook on LOW for 2-4 hours, until the meatballs reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees F on an instant read thermometer, gently stirring one hour into cooking. You can keep the crock pot on the WARM setting until you’re ready to serve.

STOVETOP VERSION

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil for easy cleanup. Top with a baking rack and spray with cooking spray; set aside.
  • Add all of the meatball ingredients to a large mixing bowl except the beef and whisk to thoroughly combine. Add the beef and mix with your hands just until combined.
  • Use a small cookie scoop (1 ½ tablespoon capacity) to roll into meatballs. Place meatballs onto prepared baking sheet without touching.
  • Bake at 400 degrees F until the meatballs reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees F on an instant read thermometer, about 20 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, whisk all of the Sauce ingredients together in a braiser, Dutch oven or very large saucepan off heat. Once combined, bring to a gentle simmer, stirring constantly, until warmed through.
  • Add the baked meatballs to the sauce and stir to evenly coat. Serve warm or transfer to the crockpot and keep on the “warm” setting until ready to serve.

Video

Notes

  • Ground chicken or turkey: Ground poultry contains less fat than ground beef, so you may want to add a little oil to the meatball mixture or for the JUICIEST turkey meatballs, swap the milk for ¼ cup sour cream or plain Greek yogurt. I also recommend adding 1 tablespoon granulated beef bouillon, or 3 crushed cubes to infuse the meatballs with bold beefy flavor. Reduce the salt to ½ teaspoon in the meatballs if using bouillon.
  • Hot wings sauce: I use Frank’s RedHot BUFFALO Wings Sauce– NOT Frank’s original sauce.  Buffalo wings sauce is a spicy hot sauce with the addition of melted butter, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and garlic. It is spicier, smoother, richer, rounder and less of a pure cayenne punch than original hot sauce – it is just plain more delicious in my opinion. 
  • Frozen Meatballs:  Part of the deliciousness of this recipe are the homemade meatballs, but you are welcome to use your favorite store-bought meatballs if needed, you will need one 32 oz. package.  Either cook meatballs according to package directions until completely warmed through in the oven and combined with the warmed sauce, or transfer meatballs and sauce to a 6-qt. slow cooker and cook on low for 2-3 hours for THAWED meatballs or 6-8 hours for FROZEN meatballs, or according to package directions.
  • Gluten free:  As written, this Grape Jelly Meatball recipe is not gluten free. To make it gluten free, use gluten free soy sauce or tamari and gluten free crackers or panko or your favorite gluten free salty cracker.  You will also want to double check that your barbecue sauce and hot sauce is gluten free.  The rest of the ingredients are gluten free.
  • Storage:  Let meatballs cool to room temperature. Transfer to an airtight container or remove the entire crockpot ceramic insert and
    refrigerate for up to 5 days.   

Make Ahead

  • 100% Make Ahead:  You can make the meatball recipe in its entirety, refrigerate and simply reheat on the stove or crockpot or in stages.
  • Stage 1 Option:  Roll the meatballs up to 24 hours ahead of time, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate, then proceed with the recipe when ready, adding a couple extra minutes to the meatball searing time. You can also whisk the sauce together and refrigerate in an airtight container.
  • Stage 2 Option:  Go one step further and sear the meatballs, cool, then refrigerate in the crockpot with the sauce.  The next day, cook the meatballs in the crockpot. 

How to Freeze

You may freeze the Grape Jelly Meatball recipe before or after cooking in the sauce. 

TO FREEZE SEARED MEATBALLS:
1.     Place the entire baking tray with the seared and cooled meatballs in the freezer. If your freezer can’t accommodate your baking sheet, then use a small tray and freeze in batches. Freeze for 1-2 hours, until solid.
2.     Transfer meatballs to a freezer-safe bag or container and squeeze out excess air to prevent freezer burn.
4.     Label meatballs and store in the freezer for 3-4 months.
5.     When ready to enjoy, thaw the meatballs in the refrigerator overnight then continue with the recipe or cook from frozen, add a couple hours to the cooking time.
TO FREEZE COOKED MEATBALLS
1.     Transfer meatballs with grape jelly to a freezer safe container.
3.     Label and store in the freezer for 2-3 months.
4.     When ready to use, thaw overnight in the refrigerator. Reheat per any of the outlined methods.

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