Cranberry Meatball Recipe (2024)

Cranberry meatballs are the perfect appetizer!

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!

Cranberry meatball recipe video

Cranberry Meatball Recipe (1)

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Why I love cranberry meatballs

I love meatballs. I would request them as my birthday dinner for every single one of my birthday growing upso I’m thrilled to share this holiday worthy Cranberry Meatball recipejust in time forThanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Eve because these meatballs are the perfect make ahead appetizer that everyone will be begging you for – just like I used to beg my mom to make her famous meatballs growing up.

Cranberry meatball recipe ingredients

  • ground beef: use lean ground beef so the meatballs will be tender but not greasy. I have not tried these Cranberry Meatballs with ground turkey or chicken but I am sure they would be delicious, just a little less juicy. Whenever I substitute turkey for beef, I like to add some beef bouillon, you can also add a splash of oil as well.
  • crackers: 22 saltine crackers add a fabulous flavor in place of panko or breadcrumbs. I’m sure Ritz crackers would also work well but I haven’t personally tried them.
  • dried minced onion: I love using dried minced onion because they deliver concentrated flavor. You can find dried minced onions with all the other 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 in this Cranberry Meatball recipe.
  • seasonings: ginger, garlic powder, salt and pepper add an oomph of flavor without being overpowering.
Cranberry Meatball Recipe (2)

Sweet and spicy meatballs sauce

A meatball recipe is only as good as the sauce. And this Cranberry Sauce is crazy delicious. The sweet and spicy Cranberry Sauce is inspired by my blackberry hoisin ginger pork tenderloin sauce.

It’s sweet from the cranberry sauce and brown sugar, tangy from the ketchup, complex from the hoisin, grounded by the soy, and spicy from the Buffalo Hot Wings Sauce. Basically, you’ll want to put it on everything!

Sweet and spicy meatballs sauce ingredients

  • whole cranberry sauce: you can use store-bought or homemade cranberry sauce, but go for the whole cranberry sauce vs cranberry jelly as the jelly contains more pectin and is less fluid.
  • hoisin sauce: is like an Asian BBQ Sauce and can be found in the Asian section of any grocery store. I use it in tons of my Asian recipes, so I promise it will not go to waste! Please use only Kikkoman or Lee Kum Kee brands hoisin sauce because they taste 1000X better!
  • ketchup: your favorite will work great. Don’t substitute with other tomato substitutes because they are not as sweet.
  • red wine vinegar: adds a subtle tang.
  • soy sauce: use less sodium soy sauce so the sauce isn’t too salty.
  • brown sugar: enhances the sweetness.
  • seasonings: garlic powder and ground ginger add complex flavor.
Cranberry Meatball Recipe (3)

How to make cranberry meatball recipe

STEP 1: COMBINE MEATBALL INGREDIENTS

These Cranberry Meatballs mega tender and super easy! I used my mom’s perfect moist meatball recipe that usescrushed saltinesinstead of breadcrumbs as well as dried minced onion for maximum flavor. Simply add all of the meatball ingredients to a large bowl and mix with your hands until evenly combined.

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STEP 2: ROLL MEATBALLS

  • Next, roll the meat mixture into balls and place on foil lined baking sheet for easy cleanup.
  • I suggest using a cookie scoop to roll your cranberry meatballs so they are a uniform size and cook evenly.
Cranberry Meatball Recipe (5)
  • The size of the meatballs is totally personal preference. The recipe will make approximately 75 meatballs using 1″/1 tablespoon cookie scoop; 35-40 meatballs using 2″/2 tablespoon cookie scoop.
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STEP 3: BAKE MEATBALLS

  • Bake for 8 minutes, or until lightly browned.
  • Baking the meatballs ensures they don’t fall apart in the slow cooker and seals in the juices for more tender meatballs. Baking is also much easier in a mass batch to cook instead of frying (and healthier too!).

STEP 4: Combine Sauce Ingredients

  • The Cranberry Meatball Sauce is super easy to make, simply whisk all of the ingredients together in a medium bowl.
  • I suggest starting with 1 tablespoon hot wings sauce and then adding more hot sauce to taste at the end of cooking. Of course, if you know you like spicy, then feel free to add the full 2 tablespoons.

STEP 5: Layer sauce with meatballs

  • The sweet and spicy sauce gets layered between rows of our lightly browned meatballs in the slow cooker so every meatball can be enveloped by their glory.

How long do cranberry meatballs cook?

Cook Cranberry Meatballs on LOW for 2-4 hours. gently stirring one hour into cooking. The meatballs will cook and seep in the zesty, sweet, tangy, savory, spicy sauce.

You can keep the crock pot on the WARM setting until you’re ready to serve.

Cranberry Meatball Recipe (9)

Cooking sweet and spicy meatballs

Making cranberry meatball recipe in the oven

I would still brown the meatballs in the oven first 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.

Can I make Cranberry Meatballs in the Oven?

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.

How long do cranberry jalapeño meatballs cook?

The meatballs should first be seared in the oven, then placed on a baking rack placed on top of a baking sheet. Transfer the meatballs to the slow cooker and cook on low heat for 2-4 hours depending on size of meatballs of the meatballs.

Variations for spicy meatball recipe

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.
Cranberry Meatball Recipe (10)

Prepping cranberry meatballs in advance

  • Assemble and bake the meatballs for 8 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.

Freezing & defrosting this cranberry meatball recipe

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

Freezing sweet and spicy meatballs after they are cooked

  • 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.

Freezing spicy meatball recipe before they have been cooked

  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.
Cranberry Meatball Recipe (11)

Defrosting 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 for10 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.

Cranberry meatball recipe FAQs

What is the secret of a tender meatball?

The secret to tender meatballs threefold. First, don’t overmix the meatball ingredients or the meat will become tough. Second, use milk and panko breadcrumbs; the breadcrumbs soak up and retain the moisture when baked because panko keeps its structure, unlike traditional breadcrumbs. Lastly, don’t overbake or the meatballs will be dry and tough.

What’s the difference between meatballs and Swedish meatballs?

Swedish meatballs are atypeof meatball. Swedish meatballs are smaller, typically made from a mixture of ground beef and pork, and are traditionally seasoned with spices like allspice and nutmeg. They are served with a creamy gravy and lingonberry sauce. In contrast, meatballs are more generic and can vary widely in size and ingredients. Italian meatballs, for example, often feature a combination of beef and pork with garlic, herbs, and are frequently served with tomato sauce and pasta. The main difference is in the seasoning, size, and the specific cultural influences that define the flavors and accompaniments of each type of meatball.

How do you make frozen meatballs taste like homemade?

To make frozen meatballs taste more like homemade, you can enhance their flavor and texture with a few simple steps:
Sear or Bake: Instead of microwaving, sear the meatballs in a hot skillet with a bit of oil or bake them in the oven before cooking in the slow cooker to create a crispy exterior and a more flavorful crust.
Sauce: Simmer the meatballs in a dynamite sauce like the one in this recipe. As the meatballs thaw/cook, they will soak up the flavor and moisture.
Fresh Herbs: Garnish with fresh herbs like basil or parsley for a burst of freshness and an extra layer of flavor.

What to eat with sweet and sour meatballs?

These meatballs can be served as an appetizer or part of a delicious and satisfying meal. Here are some ideas for side dishes:
Mashed Potatoes:Creamy mashed potatoes are a classic and hearty side to complement the robust meatballs.
Roasted Vegetables:Serve roasted vegetables like carrots, Brussels sprouts, or butternut squash for a healthy and colorful addition.
Rice: White or brown rice can be a simple and neutral base to soak up the flavorful cranberry sauce or try this flavorfulCranberry Ricerecipe.
Quinoa: Quinoa is a protein-rich alternative to rice and pairs well with cranberry meatballs.
Green Salad: A fresh green salad with a vinaigrette dressing can provide a refreshing contrast to the meatballs. For the holidays, tryapple salad,fall saladorpear salad.
Bread or Rolls:Serve dinner rollsor a loaf of crusty bread to soak up the cranberry sauce.

Looking for more Meatball Recipes?

  • Honey Buffalo Meatballs
  • Cheesy Italian Meatball Sliders
  • Italian Meatballs
  • Korean Meatballs
  • Parmesan Meatballs
  • Swedish Meatballs
Cranberry Meatball Recipe (12)

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Cranberry Meatball Recipe (19)

Cranberry Meatball Recipe

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!

Servings: 6 -8

Total Time: 2 hours hrs 25 minutes mins

Prep Time: 25 minutes mins

Cook Time: 2 hours hrs

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Ingredients

Meatballs

  • 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

Instructions

  • 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.

Video

Notes

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.

TO FREEZE CRANBERRY MEATBALLS AFTER COOKING:

  • 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.

TO FREEZE CRANBERRY MEATBALLS BEFORE COOKING:

  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.

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Sweet and spicy meatball comments and reviews

I just made these for a holiday party this weekend. Wanted to leave feedback…because they were a HUGE HIT! – Niki

I have made this recipe so many times for my family and it is a huge hit in our house. It is one of my favorite recipes for the slow cooker. The sauce is amazing!!… – Julia

Thank you for this INSANELY delicious recipe! I made these meatballs for New Years and they were gone so fast! – Audrey

My mother made these for my 10 y/o son tonight (but w ground chicken) & he loved them so much, he ate about 15 of them (!!!) then got up, hugged her & said thanks for dinner Nani & asked me to make them for him lol… -Audra

Cranberry Meatball Recipe (2024)
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