This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure policy.
These delicious cranberry meatballs are a holiday must-make! Tender meatballs are slow-cooked in a flavorful homemade cranberry sauce. It's an easy appetizer or dinner that's ready in just 35 minutes!
If you're looking for a festive appetizer or light meal for the holidays, this cranberry meatballs recipe is always a hit. It comes together quickly on the stovetop or in a crockpot, it's high in protein, and it says Christmas all the way!
- Frozen meatballs: Any type of frozen meatball will work as long as it's not overly seasoned. You can also use homemade meatballs. Just be sure they're fully cooked before adding them to the slow cooker.
- Fresh cranberries: Fresh cranberries are the star ingredient in the tangy sweet sauce, and they make this dish perfectly festive. No cranberry jelly sauce here!
- Honey: Honey adds natural sweetness to the sauce to balance out the tartness from the cranberries. You can also use maple syrup.
- Tomato paste: Tomato paste offers bold tomato flavor and gives the sauce a rich red color.
- BBQ sauce: BBQ sauce adds sweetness, acidity, and a robust smoky flavor.
- Hot sauce: Hot sauce is optional but it does add a nice bit of heat. Omit it for a kid-friendly version.
- Sea salt: A touch of sea salt enhances all the wonderful flavors.
- Water: Only use water if you're cooking these in the slow cooker as the longer cook time needs a bit of extra liquid.
How to make cranberry sauce meatballs
Heads up if you're hosting! This quick and easy recipe for crockpot cranberry meatballs is a crowdpleaser. With a short list of ingredients and minimal prep time, it's easy to make by following a few simple steps:
- Bake the meatballs. Start by baking your meatballs in the oven.
- Make the sauce. Blend the cranberries, honey, tomato paste, BBQ sauce, hot sauce, and sea salt together in your blender until smooth.
- Simmer the sauce in a pot for a few minutes.
- To make them on the stovetop, stir the sauce and meatballs together in a large pot and warm through.
- To make them in the slow cooker, pour in the sauce, meatballs, and water, and cook on low or high.
Cranberry meatball variations
This recipe for meatballs with cranberry sauce is really versatile and there are lots of ways to add flavor and flair. Here are some of our favorite ideas to get you started:
- Cranberry jalapeño meatballs – add some jalapeño pepper to the cranberry sauce and make it spicy (just be sure to taste your jalapeño first for spiciness so you know how much to put in). Note: you may wish to omit the hot sauce called for in the recipe if you're using jalapeño.
- Add some ginger – turn up the festive flavors by adding ginger to the cranberry sauce. Use about a 1″ knob of ginger (and there's no need to peel it if you're using organic ginger).
- Use herbs – thyme, rosemary, and sage all work well with cranberry and add wonderful herbaceous notes.
Can I use my favorite meatball recipe?
Yes! If you have a meatball recipe that you love, go ahead and use that instead of the frozen meatballs. You can use any meat like ground beef, pork, or chicken meatballs. Just make sure they're cooked before adding them to your pot or slow cooker.
Are cranberry meatballs healthy?
We think so! Most cranberry meatball recipes are made using jellied cranberry sauce which can be loaded with sugar, preservatives, and artificial ingredients.
In this recipe, we use whole foods and fresh cranberries which are high in antioxidants and fiber. We also use honey as a natural sweetener. We recommend using a quality meatball as a healthy source of protein.
Can I freeze cranberry meatballs?
Yes, you can absolutely freeze these crockpot meatballs. Just allow them to cool before transferring them to a freezer-safe airtight container. They'll keep in your freezer for up to 6 months.
What to serve with cranberry meatballs
These cranberry meatballs are a versatile party appetizer or side dish that you can serve alongside other easy Christmas appetizers (or everyone's favorite pomegranate baked brie). They also make an easy festive dinner served over a bed of garlic butter rice with a vegetable side like sautéed green beans.
What type of BBQ sauce is best?
BBQ sauces vary quite a bit in their flavor from sweet, to tart, tangy, smoky, or even spicy. The one you use will add its own unique taste.
Can I use frozen cranberries?
Yes! Just be sure to thaw them before blending them into the sauce.
Can I make them ahead of time?
You can definitely get a head start by making the cranberry sauce in the blender ahead of time and storing it in the fridge. For the best results, we recommend waiting to cook the meatballs in the sauce until right before serving.
How long do leftovers keep?
Store any leftover meatballs in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
How do I reheat leftover meatballs?
Add the leftover meatballs and sauce to a pot with a splash of water. Heat on low until warmed through.
- 2 lb frozen meatballs
- 2 ½ cups cranberries (fresh or frozen and thawed )
- ¾ cup honey
- ¼ cup tomato paste
- ¼ cup bbq sauce
- 1 tablespoon hot sauce
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ½ cup water (for slow cooker method)
- Bake the meatballs according to the package directions.2 lb frozen meatballs
- While the meatballs are baking, make the sauce. Add the cranberries, honey, tomato paste, bbq sauce, hot sauce, and salt to your blender and blend on high speed until smooth.2 ½ cups cranberries, ¾ cup honey, ¼ cup tomato paste, ¼ cup bbq sauce, 1 tablespoon hot sauce, ½ teaspoon sea salt
- Transfer the cranberry sauce to a small pot and bring it to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower the heat, cover with a lid halfway to prevent splatters, and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Place the cooked meatballs into a large pot and pour the cranberry sauce over the top. Cook them over medium until they're hot.
Slow Cooker Method
- Place the cooked meatballs into your crockpot and pour the cranberry sauce and water over the top. Mix them around and then let them cook for 2-3 hours on high or for 6-7 hours on low heat.½ cup water
We have thoroughly tested this recipe for accuracy. However, individual results may vary. See our full recipe disclosure here.