Cocktail Meatballs
These Cocktail Meatballs are the perfect party appetizer simmered in the most irresistible sauce ever. They’re tender, juicy, flavorful, easy, addictive and always a runaway hit! They will have you throwing away your recipes using frozen meatballs and grape jelly because this homemade cocktail meatball recipe is 1000X better. The meatballs are super easy made in the oven, wonderfully juicy, seeping with flavor – and that is without the sauce! The cocktail meatball sauce is UNREAL – you are going to want to put it on everything. It’s sticky, sweet and tangy with a subtle kick made with pepper jelly, pineapple juice, soy sauce, ketchup and sugar. It’s simple, sublime, and ready in 5 minutes! You can make these cocktail meatballs ahead of time and keep them warm in the crockpot or you can freeze them for an easy, stress free appetizer or dinner. Yes, dinner; we love them so much, we serve them all the time with rice and veggies for dinner – SO GOOD. But no matter how you serve these favorite cocktail meatballs, they are guaranteed to disappear in a flash!
Servings Prep Time
48meatballs (approx) 35minutes
Cook Time
20minutes
Servings Prep Time
48meatballs (approx) 35minutes
Cook Time
20minutes
Cocktail Meatballs
Ingredients
Meatballs
  • 2pounds lean ground beef
  • 2 eggs
  • 22 Ritz or saltine crackerscrushed (approx. 1 cup)
  • 1/3cup dried minced onion
  • 1/3cup milk
  • 1tsp EACH EACH salt, garlic powder, onion powder, ginger powder, chili powder
  • 1/4teaspoon pepper
Cocktail Sauce
  • 1/2cup pepper jelly*
  • 1/2cup ketchup
  • 1/2cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2cup pineapple juice
  • 2tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1/2teaspoon salt
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400F degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper for easy cleanup. Top with a baking rack and spray with cooking spray; set aside.
  2. Add eggs to a large mixing bowl and gently whisk. Add all remaining meatball ingredients then mix until well combined. Use a small cookie scoop (1 1/2 tablespoon capacity) to roll into meatballs. Place meatballs onto prepared baking sheet without touching. Bake at 400 degrees F for 20 minutes or until cooked through.
  3. Meanwhile, whisk all of the Cocktail Sauce ingredients together in a very large skillet off heat. Once combined, bring to a simmer, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 3-5 minutes.
  4. Add the baked meatballs to the sauce and stir to evenly coat. Transfer meatballs to a serving platter or bowl with either cocktail picks or toothpicks nearby or you can pierce the meatballs. Serve warm. Alternatively, transfer to the crockpot and keep on the “warm” setting until ready to serve.
Recipe Notes

How Spicy are these meatballs?

These cocktail meatballs boast an enjoyable kick. It’s the perfect enlivening compliment to the sweet and sour sauce otherwise they would taste too sweet. I used Tabasco’s Pepper Jelly for this recipe and found them moderately spicy – meaning they do have a kick but should be enjoyed by most everyone, especially because they are eaten just one at a time.

If you are worried about the cocktail meatballs being too spicy, or if you are using a different brand of pepper jelly, then you can start with less pepper jelly and add more to taste.

TIPS AND TRICKS

  • *Pepper jelly is located with the other jams and jellies at your grocery store.  There is sometimes jalapeno pepper jelly or red pepper jelly – when given the option, you will want the jalapeno pepper jelly.
  • You may substitute the crackers for 1 cup panko breadcrumbs and a pinch of salt, but you’ll be missing out on some flavor.  
  • You can roll your meatballs up to 24 hours ahead of time, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate, then bake when it’s party time.
  • Don’t overmix your meatball ingredients – overmixing results in tougher meatballs.
  • If you choose to use store-bought frozen meatballs, don’t use Italian seasoned meatballs or the seasonings may clash with the sauce.
  • Cook the meatballs on a baking rack to prevent them from baking in a puddle of their own grease.  The elevated rack also promotes even cooking.  If you don’t have a baking rack, then be sure to wipe the bottom of each meatball with a paper towel before adding to the sauce.  
  • DON’T try and cook your meatballs in a skillet because they are so tender, they will fall apart. By baking them, they stay intact because you don’t touch them until they have baked into a tighter meatball.

Can
I use frozen meatballs?

Part of the deliciousness of this Cocktail Meatball recipe is the homemade meatballs, but you are welcome to use your favorite store-bought meatballs as well. To make cocktail meatballs with store-bought meatballs, you will need one 32 oz. frozen package meatballs.

  • OVEN: Cook meatballs according to package directions until completely warmed throughTransfer to sauce and stir to combine.
  • SLOW COOKER:  Prepare sauce according to recipe directions on the stove top.  Add sauce and meatballs to a 6-qt. slow cooker and cook on low 2-3 hours for THAWED meatballs and 6-8 hours for FROZEN meatballs.

Can I make Crockpot Cocktail Meatballs?

You can warm the cocktail meatballs in the crockpot, but I prefer to make them on the stove/oven because you will need to thicken the sauce on the stove either way and oven sear the meatballs before adding to the crockpot.

If you still want to make crockpot
cocktail meatballs, here’s how:

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper for easy cleanup.  Top with a baking rack and spray with cooking spray; set aside.
  • Add eggs to a large mixing bowl and gently whisk.  Add all remaining meatball ingredients then mix until well combined. Use a small cookie scoop (1 1/2 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 Cocktail Sauce ingredients together in a very large skillet off heat. Once combined, bring to a simmer, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 3-5 minutes. 
  • Lightly grease a 6qt slow cooker.  Add a layer of meatballs followed by a layer of sauce; repeat.  Do NOT stir 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.  You can keep the crock pot on the WARM setting until you’re ready to serve.

How to make in advance

You can make the cocktail meatball recipe in its entirety, refrigerate and simply reheat on the stove or crockpot (see instructions below) or you can roll the meatballs up to 24 hours ahead of time, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate, then bake when it’s party time.  While the meatballs are baking you can either reheat or make the sauce. 

STOVETOP:

  • Let combined cocktail meatballs and sauce cool to room temperature.
  • Transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator.
  • When ready to serve, reheat in a skillet over medium-low heat, stirring often until warmed through.  You may need to add additional water to thin the sauce.

CROCKPOT

  • Combine baked meatballs and sauce according to recipe directions.
  • Transfer to lightly greased crockpot and let cool completely.
  • Remove crockpot ceramic insert with meatballs/sauce and refrigerate, covered.
  • When ready to serve, return insert to slow cooker and reheat over LOW for 1-2 hours, or until completely warmed through, stirring 1-2 times.

TO FREEZE UNCOOKED MEATBALLS:

  1. Line meatballs on a parchment paper lined baking sheet so they aren’t touching. 
  2. Place entire baking tray with the meatballs in the freezer. If your freezer can’t accommodate your baking tray then use a small tray and freeze in batches.  Freeze for 1-2 hours, until solid.
  3. Transfer meatballs to freezer safe bags or containers and squeeze out excess air to prevent freezer burn.
  4. Label meatballs and store meatballs in the freezer for 3-4 months.
  5. You can also make the sauce, store in an airtight container and freeze separately from the meatballs.
  6. When ready to serve, defrost meatballs in the refrigerator overnight then continue to bake per recipe instructions.

TO FREEZE COOKED MEATBALLS:

Once your meatballs are baked, you can either freeze the meatballs or freeze them with the sauce. To freeze them while still on the baking sheet:

  1. Bake cocktail meatballs according to directions; let cool to room temperature.
  2. Place entire baking tray with the meatballs in the freezer. You will want to make sure the meatballs are not touching so they don’t freezer together.  If your freezer can’t accommodate your baking tray then use a small tray lined with parchment paper and freeze in batches.  Freeze for 1-2 hours.
  3. When your meatballs are frozen enough that they won’t stick together, transfer meatballs to freezer safe bags or containers.
  4. Label meatballs and store in the freezer for 2-3 months.
  5. You can also make the sauce, store in an airtight container and freeze separately from the meatballs.
  6. When ready to use, let meatballs and sauce thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
  7. Transfer to a large pot and gently simmer until heated through or warm in the crockpot over LOW for 1-2 hours.

TO FREEZE COOKED MEATBALLS IN SAUCE:

  • Combine cooked meatballs and sauce according to recipe directions.
  • Let cool completely.
  • Transfer to an airtight container or freezer bag and squeeze out excess air.
  • Label and freeze for 2-3 months.
  • When ready to use, let meatballs and sauce thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
  • Transfer to a large pot and gently simmer until heated through or warm in the crockpot over LOW for 1-2 hours.