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The easiest party appetizer on the planet is also the most delicious. Crockpot Meatballs with Grape Jelly Sauce is a lifesaver for hungry crowds and cocktail parties, so make a double batch!
To those who’ve never tasted the miracle of crockpot meatballs, the ingredients might sound unusual, but trust the recipe and the generations of hostesses who adore it. Plain old-fashioned grape jelly and Heinz chili sauce is the secret to tangy, smoky, unstoppable meatballs.
All you have to do is throw everything together and turn on the slow cooker. If you’re using frozen meatballs, add them to the crockpot right out of the freezer. And if you’re making your own, (bless you) there’s a great recipe down below for you to follow.
The all important sauce:
The two ingredients for this genius meatball sauce are super easy to find in most grocery stores.
- Chili sauce. Heinz chili sauce is what you want for this recipe. It’s not spicy, and in fact there’s not much difference between ketchup and chili sauce. You can also use sweet chili sauce, in a pinch.
If you don’t have it or can’t find chili sauce, use ketchup with a little chili powder, or use your favorite tomato-based barbecue sauce for meatballs.
- Grape jelly. Smuckers, Welch’s, or generic jam or jelly is ideal. If you’re in a country where grape jelly isn’t readily available, look for some kind of fruit jam that has a smooth consistency that will melt down and sweeten the meatballs.
Let’s talk meatballs:
The real truth of the matter is this: frozen meatballs work just as fabulously as from scratch in this recipe. No judgement. However, making homemade meatballs is a great option, especially if you’re trying to avoid processed food. You can also keep things lean and try this recipe with turkey meatballs.
If you’re looking for the best frozen meatball to buy, well, maybe it’s time to do some taste testing. Costco, Farm Rich, Pineland Farms, or Trader Joe’s sells bags of frozen meatballs that taste pretty darn good, according to the reviews. Stow a couple extra bags in the freezer when you’re short on dinner ideas; meatballs always come in handy.
How to make homemade meatballs:
- In a large bowl, mix together the ground beef, ground pork, bread crumbs, onion, milk, Worcestershire, and egg. Then add the salt and pepper. A big wooden spoon or spatula does the trick, but you can use your hands, too.
- Then roll the meatballs by hand into 1-inch balls. The goal is to make them bite-sized, but they will shrink a little when they cook.
- You need to cook the meatballs before adding them to the crockpot. You can do this by pan frying them or baking them in the oven.
To fry the meatballs, heat some vegetable shortening in a large shallow skillet over medium-high heat.
Fry the meatballs in batches, being careful not to crowd them. This should take about 5 to 7 minutes per batch; they should be browned on all sides. Double check their internal temperature before removing them from the pan; they should be 155 degrees on the inside when a food thermometer is inserted inside the meatball.
Baking meatballs is easy and requires less stove time. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
First, line a rimmed baking sheet with foil or parchment. Set a baking rack over the sheet pan and arrange the meatballs on the rack.
Bake the meatballs until they’re browned and have crispy edges—about 20 minutes. Use a thermometer to double check their internal temperature before removing them from the pan; the thermometer should read 155 degrees for 15 seconds.
To make meatballs from scratch and freeze for later, let the cooked meatballs cool completely before putting them in the freezer.
Once cool, arrange the meatballs on a sheet tray and pop the tray in the freezer. When the meatballs are frozen solid in a few hours, you can transfer the meatballs to a freezer-safe bag and store them.
How to make Crockpot Meatballs with Grape Jelly:
- Once you browned all the meatballs you made, add them to the crockpot with a jar of chili sauce and a jar of grape jelly. Give everything a gentle stir. If you’re using frozen meatballs, just add the frozen meatballs directly to the crockpot. There is no need to thaw them out beforehand. That’s it!
- Cover the crockpot and cook on LOW for 4 to 6 hours, or HIGH for 2 to 3 hours. The sauce should be hot.
How to make meatballs with grape jelly on the stove:
Cooking up some stove top meatballs is easy, too! Add the meatballs to a saucepan that’s large enough to accommodate everything. Stir in the chili sauce and grape jelly. Cover the pot and simmer over medium heat until the sauce is hot, about 10 minutes.
Make ahead crockpot meatballs:
If you just want to make the meatballs the night before, you can make these easy Crockpot Meatballs ahead, too! Just reheat them in the slow cooker, or on the stove if you’re in a rush (and transfer to the slow cooker to keep warm).
Slow Cooker Meatball Variations:
- Cranberry sauce. Some meatball devotées use canned cranberry sauce (yes, the smooth type!) in their party meatballs. It ups the tangy factor a little and tastes just as good.
- Grape jelly and BBQ sauce. Barbecue sauce is a great substitute for chili sauce. Instead of chili sauce, your favorite tomato based barbecue sauce gives a little extra smoky taste to every bite.
- Meatballs with grape jelly and mustard. Basic yellow mustard and grape jelly, what some people use as baked ham sauce, is pretty wonderful on crockpot meatballs.
- Swedish meatballs. The Best Swedish Meatballs recipe is right here, creamy sauce and all.
- Other fruit jelly for meatballs. Some cooks like using apple jelly or even elderberry jelly as a grape jelly substitute. That’s fine! They will be delicious with either.
Crockpot Meatballs with Grape Jelly Sauce
To sauce the meatballs in a slow cooker:
- Add frozen meatballs to crockpot. Add chili sauce and grape jelly. Cover and cook for 2 to 3 hours on HIGH or 4 to 6 hours on LOW, until the sauce is hot. Serve directly from the crockpot with a serving spoon or toothpicks, or transfer to a serving dish.
To sauce the meatballs on the stovetop:
- Add meatballs to saucepan. Add chili sauce and grape jelly. Cover and simmer over medium heat until the sauce is hot, about 10 minutes.
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 pound ground pork
- 1 cup bread crumbs
- 2/3 cup finely minced onion
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 eggs
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup vegetable shortening (for frying the meatballs)
- In a large bowl, combine beef, pork, bread crumbs, onion, milk, egg, Worcestershire sauce, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper.
- Using a strong spatula or your hands (I like to wear latex gloves), mix well. Shape the mixture into 1-inch balls (you should have around 48 total).
- Heat vegetable shortening in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Fry the meatballs in batches until browned on all sides and the meatballs are cooked, about 5 to 7 minutes per batch (an internal thermometer should read 155 degrees for 15 seconds). Add more shortening between batches if the skillet looks dry.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and set a rack on top. Arrange meatballs on rack and bake until browned with crispy edges, about 20 minutes (an internal thermometer should read 155 degrees for 15 seconds).
- Sweet chili sauce may be substituted for regular chili sauce. The flavor will be a little different but still delicious!
- Adapted from "Appetizer Meat Balls" in the Calico Capers Go To Cookbook.
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Meggan Hill is the Executive Chef and CEO of Culinary Hill, a popular digital publication in the food space. She loves to combine her Midwestern food memories with her culinary school education to create her own delicious take on modern family fare. Millions of readers visit Culinary Hill each month for meticulously-tested recipes as well as skills and tricks for ingredient prep, cooking ahead, menu planning, and entertaining. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the iCUE Culinary Arts program at College of the Canyons.