Cranberry Meatballs

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Slow Cooker Cranberry Meatballs are a delightful, easy-to-prepare dish that’s perfect for a hearty dinner or as a crowd-pleasing appetizer.

meatballs in a slow cooker in cranberry sauce

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meatballs in cranberry sauce on a plate with toothpicks

Slow Cooker Cranberry Meatballs

The recipe involves simmering pre-cooked frozen meatballs in a tangy and sweet cranberry sauce, which is effortlessly prepared in a slow cooker. The slow cooking process allows the flavors of the sauce to deeply penetrate the meatballs, resulting in a savory, tender, and flavorful dish with almost no effort – just add to the crock pot, simmer for a few hours, and serve!

The cranberry provides a unique, fruity twist that cuts through the richness of the meatballs, making this dish a wonderful balance of flavors that is perfect to serve for holiday parties, or as an easy appetizer for Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas dinner.

cranberry meatball on a toothpick

How to Make Cranberry Meatballs

To make this recipe, we will use the following ingredients:

  • Pre-cooked Meatballs: These are the base of your dish. Using pre-cooked meatballs can save time, and they will absorb the flavors of the sauce while heating through. Meatballs can be frozen and added directly into slow cooker!
  • Chili Sauce: This adds a spicy kick to your dish, enhancing its overall flavor.
  • BBQ Sauce: This contributes a smoky and sweet flavor profile, which complements the tangy cranberry and orange ingredients.
  • Jellied Cranberry Sauce: This brings a tangy, sweet, and fruity element to the sauce, balancing the richness of the meatballs and the heat from the chili sauce.
  • Orange Juice and Orange Zest: These add a fresh, citrusy note to the dish. The zest, in particular, brings a concentrated orange flavor that helps cut through the sweetness of the other ingredients.
  • Honey: This enhances the overall sweetness of the dish, complementing the tartness of the cranberry sauce and orange juice.
  • Chopped Parsley: This adds a hint of freshness and vibrant color, serving as a garnish that complements the rich, sweet, and tangy flavors of the dish.

Once you’ve gathered your ingredients, we will use the following process:

  • Mix. In the slow cooker, combine the meatballs, chili sauce, BBQ sauce, jellied cranberry sauce, orange juice, orange zest, and honey. Stir everything together.
  • Simmer. Place the lid on your slow cooker and cook on low heat for 4 to 5 hours. 
  • Serve! Once the cooking time is up. Sprinkle the chopped parsley over the top. Serve these slow cooker cranberry meatballs as an appetizer or as a main dish with a side of rice or mashed potatoes. 
meatballs in a slow cooker in cranberry sauce

Tips and Tricks for Perfect Cranberry Meatballs

Meatball Choices: You can use homemade meatballs if you prefer, but pre-cooked frozen meatballs are a great time-saver. If you want to try a lighter version, consider using turkey meatballs.

Sauce Consistency: If you prefer a thicker sauce, you can mix a tablespoon of cornstarch with two tablespoons of cold water and stir it into the slow cooker about 30 minutes before serving. This will help to thicken up the sauce.

Flavor Enhancements: For a deeper flavor, consider adding a splash of Worcestershire sauce or a sprinkle of red pepper flakes for heat. Some minced garlic or grated fresh ginger could add a nice touch as well.

Stir Occasionally: While one of the advantages of slow cookers is the “set-it-and-forget-it” approach, stirring occasionally (if you’re around) can help distribute the heat and flavors more evenly.

Cooking Time: Most slow cooker meatball recipes will be ready in about 2-3 hours on high or 4-5 hours on low. However, remember that each slow cooker can vary slightly in temperature, so keep an eye on your meatballs the first time you make them.

Garnishing: Garnish your meatballs with additional chopped parsley or even some orange zest right before serving to enhance the visual appeal and add a fresh flavor.

Serving: These meatballs make a fantastic appetizer, but you can also serve them as a main course over rice or mashed potatoes to soak up the delicious sauce.

Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days, or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Just reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop until heated through.


What type of meatballs should I use?

You can use any type of pre-cooked meatballs for this recipe, including beef, pork, chicken, or turkey. Frozen meatballs are a convenient option, but homemade meatballs can also be used if preferred.

Can I use another type of meatball?

Absolutely, if you have a recipe for cranberry sauce that you love, feel free to use it. Just ensure you have a similar amount to what the recipe calls for.

Can I make this dish in advance?

Yes, this dish can be made in advance and reheated before serving. It can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

What can I serve with cranberry meatballs?

Cranberry meatballs can be served as an appetizer on their own or as a main course over rice, mashed potatoes, or noodles. They also pair well with a side of vegetables or a fresh salad.

Can I cook the meatballs in the stove instead of a slow cooker?

Yes, if you don’t have a slow cooker, the meatballs and sauce can be simmered together in a covered pot on the stovetop over low heat. Check and stir occasionally to prevent sticking.

Can I use fresh cranberries instead of canned?

Fresh cranberries are much more tart and less sweet than cranberry sauce, so if you want to use fresh cranberries, you’ll need to cook them down into a sauce with sugar first.

Can I use this recipe with other types of meat?

Certainly, you could use this cranberry sauce to glaze other types of meat such as chicken breasts or pork chops. The cooking time will vary though, depending on the type and size of the meat used.

How long do slow cooker meatballs last?

This recipe can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to four days.

meatballs on a spoon in cranberry sauce

What to Serve With Slow Cooker Cranberry Meatballs

Starchy Sides: Since cranberry meatballs come with their own sauce, they pair well with starchy sides that can soak up all that goodness. Consider white or brown rice, mashed potatoes, or egg noodles. A crusty loaf of bread would also work well.

Vegetable Sides: A green vegetable side can provide a nice contrast to the rich meatballs. Consider steamed green beans, roasted Brussels sprouts, or a simple side salad.

Cranberry Theme Sides: If you want to carry the cranberry theme throughout the meal, consider serving a cranberry salad, cranberry coleslaw, or cranberry muffins on the side.

Sweet Sides: If you want to contrast the tanginess of the cranberries, consider a sweeter side dish. Roasted sweet potatoes, butternut squash, or cornbread could be good options.

For Appetizers: If you’re serving the cranberry meatballs as an appetizer, consider other finger foods that complement their flavors. Cheese and crackers, veggie sticks with dip, or mini quiches could all work well.

For more of our favorite appetizers to pair with these meatballs, check out some of our favorites below:

cranberry sauce meatballs with a toothpick in them

Cranberry Meatball Recipe

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meatballs in a slow cooker in cranberry sauce

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a spoon with meatballs in cranberry sauce

Cranberry Meatballs

Yield: 8 servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 4 hours
Total Time: 4 hours 5 minutes

Hearty meatballs slow simmered in a slow cooker in a tangy, tart cranberry sauce that are a perfect meaty appetizer!


  • 2 lbs frozen pre-cooked meatballs
  • ½ cup chili sauce
  • ½ cup BBQ Sauce
  • 14 oz jellied cranberry sauce
  • ¼ cup orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley


  1. In the slow cooker, combine the meatballs, chili sauce, BBQ sauce, jellied cranberry sauce, orange juice, orange zest, and honey. Stir everything together.
  2. Place the lid on your slow cooker and cook on low heat for 4 to 5 hours. 
  3. Once the cooking time is up. Sprinkle the chopped parsley over the top.
  4. Serve these slow cooker cranberry meatballs as an appetizer or as a main dish with a side of rice or mashed potatoes. 
Nutrition Information
Yield 8 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 435Total Fat 25gSaturated Fat 9gTrans Fat 1gUnsaturated Fat 14gCholesterol 75mgSodium 1167mgCarbohydrates 36gFiber 4gSugar 25gProtein 17g

Nutrition is automatically calculated by Nutritionix - please verify all nutrition information independently and consult with a doctor or nutritionist for any and all medical and diet advice.

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About Courtney

Courtney loves to share great wine, good food, and loves to explore far flung places- all while masting an everyday elegant and easy style at lifestyle blog Sweet C’s Designs. Sweet C's devoted to finding the best food and drinks you'll want to make or find, around the world!

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