Buh-bye boring meatballs! Cranberry meatballs are sweet and tangy and bursting with flavor. It’s easier than ever to make these sweet and zesty meatballs in the slow cooker, with a sauce that takes them to the next level. 

cranberry meatballs in a crockpot.

Crockpot Cranberry Sauce Meatballs

If you’re looking for a recipe that you can make for a party full of people, you just found it! It’s surprisingly easy to make especially when you consider the depth of flavors it has to it. And the best part about this, is that it’s a dump-and-set recipe and the Crock Pot does all the work. 

When you use a slow cooker for appetizers, you don’t have to worry about leaving them out during the party. When using the WARM setting, the meatballs will be safe to eat the entire time, but I guarantee they’ll be gone way before you need to worry about that!

Crockpot cranberry meatballs are a great way to serve the perfect holiday appetizer for all your holiday parties, including Christmas, a New Years Eve party, and the rest of your family gatherings throughout the holiday season. Of course, they’re one of our favorite appetizers as part of a game day spread.

While you’re at is, whip up some other appetizers, too. Bacon wrapped little smokies and Cajun ranch Chex Mix are both different, yet classic choices!

Why you’ll love Slow Cooker Cranberry Meatballs

Amazing Flavor  – The combination of cranberry sauce, chili sauce, brown sugar, and orange juice makes these crock pot cranberry meatballs a crowd-pleaser.    

Perfect Make-Ahead Appetizer  – Make the meatballs up to two days ahead of time and then reheat them in the slow cooker. 

Easy – With just a few minutes of prep time, all you do is make the sauce, pour it over the meatballs, and let them cook in the slow cooker. It’s so easy!  

hand holding meatballs on a skewer.

Equipment you’ll need

Ingredients

Below is a list of the ingredients you’ll need to gather to make this recipe, why you need them, and possible substitutions. Scroll all the way down for the full recipe card with measurements.

  • Olive Oil – For cooking the onions and garlic before making the sauce for an aromatic flavor.
  • Green Onions These add earthy sweetness. You’ll need to slice the entire onion and separate the green and white parts. 
  • Garlic – Use fresh garlic for the freshest flavor.
  • Frozen Meatballs – Use homestyle meatballs, either turkey or beef. Frozen meatballs are generally my go-to for crockpot meatballs, as pre-cooked meatballs are a great shortcut when I need an easy appetizer.
  • Chili Sauce – A jar of chili sauce adds extra sweetness and tang. This stuff is addicting!  
  • Jellied Cranberry Sauce – This balances out the sweetness with some iconic tartness. Of course, you can use leftover cranberry sauce from yesterday’s holiday party if you want!
  • Brown Sugar – This sweetens the sauce while giving it a molasses flavor. 
  • Orange Zest and Orange Juice – Fresh orange zest helps that citrus flavor stand out and a bit of fresh-squeeze orange juice makes it both sweet and zesty.
overhead shot of labeled ingredients laid out to make cranberry meatballs.

How to make Cranberry Meatballs in the Slow Cooker

This section shows you how to make this recipe, with process photos showing the steps to help you visualize it. For full instructions, including amounts and temperatures, see the recipe card below.

  1. Step OneHeat the oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook the whites of the onion along with the garlic until soft and tender.
  1. Step TwoPour in the chili sauce, cranberry sauce, brown sugar, orange zest, and orange juice. Whisk together until smooth and heated through. 
  2. Step Three: Dump the frozen meatballs into the basin of your slow cooker. Pour the sauce over top. Give it a good stir to ensure everything is evenly distributed and each of the cocktail meatballs is well coated. 
  3. Step Four: Cover and cook on LOW for 4-6 hours. Once done, serve with the green parts of the onion and enjoy!
overhead shot of meatballs in a crockpot covered in sauce.

Every slow cooker runs differently. Times given are a general recommendation and should be tested in your own slow cooker and adjusted as needed.

What to serve with Cranberry Meatballs

These tangy meatballs are the perfect party appetizer. You can either pull them out of the slow cooker and serve them individually with a toothpick. Or, leave them in the slow cooker and let guests use a slotted spoon to serve themselves. 

Serve with any of your other favorite appetizers including air fryer Buffalo chicken wings and baked green bean fries. Both of them are crispy and have complementary flavors.  

Any leftovers, feel free to enjoy them as part of a main course in a meatball sub, overtop a green salad, or as a pizza topping! 

Tips & Suggestions

  • Use fresh garlic and green onions. They give the meatballs an extra depth of homemade flavor. 
  • Use a fresh orange for the zest and juice. It adds a unique twist and tastes amazing with the cranberries!
  • Use frozen meatballs without thawing them first. Thawing them beforehand may alter the cooking time and result in a different texture.
  • Try it with fresh cranberries or homemade cranberry sauce. You may need to adjust the sweetness and consistency of the sauce. Consider adding a sweetener, like sugar, to taste and blend the fresh cranberries for a smoother texture.
  • Substitute brown sugar with honey, maple syrup, or even granulated sugar depending on your preference. Adjust the quantity to achieve the desired level of sweetness.

How to reheat and store Slow Cooker Cranberry Meatballs

How to store leftovers

Store the leftover meatballs in an airtight container in the refrigerator. 

How long will cranberry meatballs last in the fridge?

This easy meatball recipe will stay fresh in the refrigerator for about 3-4 days.

Can I freeze them?

Yes, you can freeze the saucy meatballs. I like to flash-freeze them first to make sure they’re solid. Then transfer them to a freezer-safe bag so they don’t freeze in a solid clump. They’ll keep for up to 3 months in the freezer.  

How to reheat cranberry sauce meatballs

It’s best to reheat the cranberry meatballs in your slow cooker over low heat. You can also use the microwave if you don’t have many to reheat. 

wooden spoon lifting meatballs from a slow cooker.

FAQs

Can I use fresh meatballs instead of frozen ones?

Absolutely. Fresh, homemade meatballs are always a great idea if you have the time. Just make sure to cook them all the way through before adding them to the crockpot.

What do I do if the sauce is too thick or too thin? 

If the sauce is too thick, you can add a little water or chicken broth to thin it out as much as you’d like. On the other hand, if it’s too thin, simmer it uncovered for a bit to allow it to thicken.

Can I cook these Cranberry Meatballs in the oven instead of a slow cooker?

Yes, you can! Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C), place the meatballs in a baking dish, pour the sauce over them, cover with foil, and bake for approximately 30-40 minutes or until the meatballs are heated through

Can I cook these meatballs on high heat for a shorter time?

While the recipe recommends low heat for 4-6 hours for optimal tenderness, you can cook them on high for a shorter duration, but keep a close eye to prevent overcooking. Adjustments may be needed based on your specific slow cooker model. 

Need more crock pot meatball recipes? Try these:

Sweet and Spicy Slow Cooker Meatballs 

Crockpot Cheese Stuffed Turkey Meatballs 

Slow Cooker Honey Garlic Meatballs 

Slow Cooker Meatball Stroganoff

Teriyaki Meatballs 

Click here for my entire collection of slow cooker recipes.

bowl of meatballs with a fork of rice.
cranberry meatballs in a crockpot.
5 from 1 vote

Slow Cooker Cranberry Meatballs

Servings: 8 Servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 4 hours
Total Time: 4 hours 10 minutes
Cranberry meatballs are sweet and tangy and bursting with flavor. It’s easier than ever to make these sweet and zesty meatballs in the slow cooker, with a sauce that takes them to the next level.

Equipment

Ingredients
 

  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 green onions sliced with white and green parts separated
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • 2 pound bag frozen homestyle meatballs turkey or beef
  • 12 ounces chili sauce
  • 14 ounces jellied cranberry sauce 1 can
  • 2 Tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon orange zest
  • 1 Tablespoon orange juice

Instructions

  • In a small saucepan over medium heat, add the oil. Once hot, add the white parts of the green onion and the minced garlic, cooking for a few minutes until fragrant and tender.
  • Add the chili sauce, cranberry sauce, brown sugar, orange zest and orange juice to the pan, whisking together until heated through and smooth.
  • Pour the frozen meatballs into a 2-4 quart slow cooker and pour the sauce on top. Stir to evenly distribute.
  • Cover and cook on LOW for 4-6 hours.
  • Top with the green parts of the green onions and serve.

Notes

  • Use fresh garlic and green onions. They give the meatballs an extra depth of homemade flavor. 
  • Use frozen meatballs without thawing them first. 
  • If using fresh meatballs, make sure they are cooked through.
  • Store leftovers covered in the fridge for up to 3 days.
  • Substitute brown sugar with honey, maple syrup, or even granulated sugar depending on your preference. 
  • Cooking on LOW gives the optimal tenderness. If cooking on HIGH, you may need to adjust for your slow cooker to prevent overcooking.
  • Bell peppers, onions, or pineapple can be added for flavor and texture.
  • If making in the oven, preheat the oven to 350°F, place the meatballs in a baking dish, pour the sauce over them, cover with foil, and bake for approximately 30-40 minutes or until the meatballs are heated through.
Every slow cooker runs differently. Times given are a general recommendation and should be tested in your own slow cooker and adjusted as needed.

Nutrition

Serving: 1g | Calories: 446kcal | Carbohydrates: 32g | Protein: 21g | Fat: 26g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 12g | Cholesterol: 82mg | Sodium: 637mg | Potassium: 516mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 25g | Vitamin A: 355IU | Vitamin C: 11mg | Calcium: 33mg | Iron: 2mg

Nutritional information is an estimate and provided to you as a courtesy. You should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe using your preferred nutrition calculator.

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5 from 1 vote

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One Comment

  1. 5 stars
    We made these yesterday. They were absolutely incredible. I grated some fresh ginger into the sauce (1/4 tsp) and it was absolutely wonderful. We loved everything about this recipe.
    We used a Reynolds plastic bag in the crock pot which made clean-up a breeze. Going to have the left overs today using homemade ramen noodles with a side of wonton/egg drop soup for a side.
    Thanks for posting.