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Sweet and Spicy Cranberry Meatballs (Slow Cooker)

Everyone needs a fabulous Cranberry Meatball recipe - and this is it with TONS of rave reviews! These party meatballs are perfect for Christmas Eve, New Years Eve or any Eve! The cranberry meatballs are so easy, tender and seeping with flavor from the crock pot and INCREDIBLE sweet and spicy sauce! The sauce is made with cranberry sauce, hoisin, ketchup and spiked with hot wings sauce for a tantalizing, lick the crock pot appetizer. You can make the meatballs early in the day and cook right before serving, or keep warm in the crock pot (yay for stress free entertaining) and even freeze - all instructions included!
Course Appetizer
Cuisine American
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
Total Time 2 hours 25 minutes
Servings 6 -8



  • 2 pounds lean ground beef
  • 22 saltine crackers, crushed
  • 1/3 cup dry minced onion
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Sweet and Spicy Cranberry Sauce

  • 1 14 oz. can whole cranberry sauce
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup quality hoisin sauce (like Kikkoman or Lee Kum Kee)
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Franks Buffalo Hot WINGS Sauce, or more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger


  • Preheat oven to 400F degrees. Place a baking rack on top of a baking sheet. Set aside. If you don't have a baking rack, line baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.
  • In a large bowl, combine all of the meatball ingredients, mix until well combined. Roll meat mixture into desired meatball size**. Place meatballs onto prepared baking sheet and bake for 8 minutes, or until lightly browned.
  • Meanwhile, whisk all of the Sweet and Spicy Cranberry Sauce ingredients together in a bowl starting with just 1 tablespoon hot wings sauce if you're not sure how spicy you want them. You can add more hot sauce to taste at the end of cooking.
  • Line the bottom of your slow cooker with meatballs, then a layer of Sweet and Spicy Cranberry Sauce, then the remaining meatballs followed by the remaining. Sauce. Gently stir meatballs an hour after cooking.
  • Cover and cook on low heat for 2-4 hours (depending on size of meatballs) or until cooked through. Taste and stir in additional hot wings sauce (I use a total of 2 tablespoons which is moderately spicy). Keep warm until serving.



Don't miss the "how to make" recipe video at the top of the post!
*No other hot sauce will taste as good!!! But if you have to substitute, you may need to use quite a bit more as Franks Hot Wings Sauce (not their regular hot sauce) is quite spicy.
**Makes approximately 70 meatballs using 1" cookie scoop; 35 meatballs using 2" cookie scoop

STOVE TOP Cranberry Meatballs 

  • Brown the meatballs in the oven first per recipe instructions so they don't fall apart when cooked.
  • Add sauce and browned/baked meatballs to a large pot and gently simmer over medium low heat for 20-25 minutes or until cooked through, stirring occasionally.

BAKED Cranberry Meatballs 

Yes! Increase the baking time to 15-20 minutes for small meatballs and 20-25 minutes for larger meatballs or until the meatballs are cooked through. Either add the cooked meatballs to the cranberry sauce in the crockpot and keep on the warm setting or add them to a large pot over low heat.

Cranberry Meatballs with store bought frozen meatballs

Part of the deliciousness of this Cranberry Meatball Recipe are the homemade meatballs, but you are welcome to use your favorite store-bought meatballs as well.  To make Cranberry Meatballs with store-bought meatballs, you will need one 32 oz. frozen fully cooked home style meatballs.
  • SLOW COOKER: 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.
  • STOVE TOP: Add sauce and meatballs to a large pot and gently simmer over medium low heat for 15-20 minutes for THAWED meatballs and 30-35 minutes for FROZEN meatballs, stirring occasionally.

Prep Ahead Cranberry Meatballs

  • Assemble and bake the meatballs for 5 minutes.
  • Let meatballs cool completely.
  • Gently layer meatballs in slow cooker in between layer of sauce per recipe directions.
  • Remove crockpot ceramic insert with meatballs/sauce and refrigerate, covered.
  • Add an additional 30 minutes to cooking time when ready to make OR cook until meatballs are completely cooked through and sauce is hot.
  • Alternatively, you can bake the meatballs for approximately 20 minutes or until cooked through, then just reheat in the sauce.

Can I freeze Cranberry Meatballs?

You can either freeze your Cranberry Meatballs after baking but before cooking in the slow cooker or once fully cooked in the sauce.


  • Let Cranberry Meatballs and Sauce cool completely in the refrigerator before freezing.
  • Transfer to an airtight, freezer safe container.
  • Freeze for up to 3 months.
  • When ready to use, let meatballs thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
  • Transfer to a large pot and gently simmer until heated through.


  1. Bake Cranberry Meatballs according to directions.
  2. Let meatballs cool to room temperature.
  3. 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 and freeze in batches.  Freeze for 1-2 hours.
  4. When your meatballs are frozen enough that they won’t stick together, then transfer meatballs to freezer safe bags or containers.
  5. Label meatballs and store meatballs in the freezer for up to 3 months.
  6. You can also make the sauce, store in an airtight container and freeze separately from the meatballs.

How to Defrost Frozen Cranberry Meatballs

When ready to make, cook Cranberry Meatballs either on the stove, crockpot or oven/crockpot:
  1. STOVE: Add frozen meatballs and sauce to a large pot and simmer for 30 minutes or until cooked through, taking care not to stir the first 10 minutes so you don't break the meatballs.
  2. CROCKPOT: Add frozen meatballs and sauce to crockpot and cook on low 6-8 hours or until cooked through and hot.
  3. OVEN/CROCKPOT: Defrost meatballs in the oven by baking at 350 degrees F  for 10 to 12 minutes. Meanwhile, defrost sauce in the microwave or stove, stirring often. Transfer meatballs and sauce to crockpot and cook on LOW for 2-4 hours or until completely cooked through.