Growing up, one of the things I love most about the holiday season was our annual Christmas cookie party. We would have friends over, make cookies, and eat all of the best holiday party apps, including my mom’s slow cooker barbecue meatballs.
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love a good party meatball and my mom’s sweet and sour meatball recipe was always a hit. It involved flavorful beef meatballs and a ketchup and brown sugar sauce so you know it was delicious.
These slow cooker cranberry barbecue meatballs are an easier twist on her classic recipe and a great way to use the abundance of fresh cranberries available during the season. They are the perfect, flavorful appetizer or party food that everyone will love!
Ground Turkey: my mom’s recipe uses ground beef but we’re switching things up and going with leaner ground turkey. I prefer to use ground dark meat turkey for these meatballs as it has just a little more fat content and gives you an even more flavorful meatball.
Egg: we’ll use one egg to help bind the meatballs together.
Almond Flour: traditionally, breadcrumbs are used in meatballs to keep them tender and moist. To keep this recipe gluten free, this recipes uses a little finely ground almond flour instead.
Spices and Aromatics: we’re using a combination of onion powder, paprika, ground mustard, fresh minced garlic (don’t skip this one!), salt and pepper to keep these meatballs flavorful.
Barbecue Sauce: just use your favorite barbecue sauce in this recipe. Growing up we always used this one!
Cranberry Sauce: I love to use a batch of my homemade cranberry sauce for this recipe. You can make a batch the day before and then pull it out of the fridge when you are ready to make your meatballs.
Worcestershire sauce: this adds a delicious deep flavor to the sauce and helps to cut through some of the sweetness of the sauce.
Ingredient Swaps and FAQs
Almond Flour – if you need to keep this recipe nut free, you can swap the almond flour for breadcrumbs or gluten free breadcrumbs.
Barbecue Sauce – if you have an allergy and need to keep this recipe dairy free or gluten free, be sure to use a gluten free or dairy free barbecue sauce to meet your dietary needs.
Worcestershire Sauce – don’t have Worcestershire sauce on hand? you can swap it for coconut aminos or balsamic vinegar.
Cranberry Sauce – if you are short on time, feel free to use a store-bought cranberry sauce or instead of homemade. Just be sure you grab one that you love the flavor of!
How to Make Slow Cooker Meatballs
Step One: First, preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line a large sheet pan with parchment paper.
Step Two: Next, add the ground turkey, whisked egg, almond flour, onion powder, paprika, salt, pepper, and minced garlic to a mixing bowl and use your hands to gently mix together until well combined. Use a tablespoon measure to scoop and roll the ground turkey mixture into meatballs. You should be able to get 20 meatballs.
Step Three: Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the lined sheet pan and then place the meatballs on the sheet pan. Bake them at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until an instant read thermometer reads 165 degrees.
Step Four: While the meatballs are cooking make the cranberry barbecue sauce. Whisk together the cranberry sauce, barbecue sauce, ground mustard, and Worcestershire sauce. Set aside.
Step Five: Once the meatballs are done cooking transfer them to the base of your slow cooker. Pour the barbecue cranberry sauce over the meatballs and gently toss them until covered. Cook the meatballs on low for 4-6 hours or on high for 2-3 hours.
Step Six: Serve warm, garnished with thinly sliced green onion and toothpicks for serving.
Make Ahead Tips
This meatball recipe is a great one to prep in advance!
For the cranberry sauce: Make a batch of the homemade cranberry sauce up to 2-3 days in advance and store it in the fridge in an air-tight container until you are ready to use.
For the meatballs: You can also bake the meatballs in advance! You can store the meatballs in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 2-3 days or you can freeze them. When you are ready, add the meatballs to the slow cooker, pour over the sauce, and then cook on high until the meatballs are completely warmed through.
Meatball Recipe Variations
Switch up the barbecue sauce – you can use your favorite spicy barbecue sauce for a little extra heat or a sweeter honey barbecue sauce for a bit of extra sweetness.
Use ground chicken or beef – this recipe will work just as well with ground chicken or ground beef so feel free to switch up the protein based on what you have or prefer. If you use ground beef, I’d recommend using a lean ground beef and being sure to drain off excess fat before adding the meatballs to the slow cooker.
Make smaller meatballs – if you want to make the meatballs on the smaller side, I’d recommend using a half a tablespoon size scoop to measure the meatballs and cook them for just 10-15 minutes.
How to Store and Reheat
Store: You can store the meatballs right in the slow cooker or transfer them to an airtight container for 3-4 days.
Reheat: I like to reheat the meatballs in the microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute at a time until warmed through. Be sure to cover them to prevent the sauce from splattering in the microwave.
I hope you give these Slow Cooker Barbecue Meatballs a try! They are full of flavor and the perfect holiday party food. If you do give this recipe a try, I want to know!
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Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a large sheet pan with parchment paper.
Make the meatballs: Add the ground turkey, whisked egg, almond flour, onion powder, paprika, salt, pepper, and minced garlic to a mixing bowl and use your hands to gently mix together until well combined. Use a tablespoon measure to scoop and roll the ground turkey into meatballs. You should be able to make 20 meatballs.
Drizzle the olive oil over the lined sheet pan and then place the meatballs on the sheet pan. Bake the meatballs at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until an instant read thermometer reads 165 degrees.
Make the Sauce: Whisk together the cranberry sauce, bbq sauce, ground mustard, and Worcestershire sauce. Set aside.
Once the meatballs are done cooking transfer them to the base of your slow cooker. Pour over the sauce and gently toss the meatballs to ensure they are covered. Cook the meatballs on low for 4-6 hours or on high for 2-3 hours.
Serve warm, garnished with thinly sliced green onion and toothpicks for serving.
Keywords: cranberry bbq meatballs, meatballs with cranberry sauce and bbq sauce, cranberry and bbq sauce meatballs, crockpot cranberry bbq meatballs, meatball recipe
Recipe by: Ashlea Carver / All the Healthy Things | Photography by:THE MINDFUL HAPA
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These meatballs were really great! They were full of flavor, and easy to make! I made them for lunch and we gobbled them up. I will definitely be making this again! Thank you.
What canned cranberry sauce would your recommend for those that wish to cheat? I know you state to use one that we like the taste of… but honestly I don’t ever eat cranberry sauce itself! This recipe sounds delicious however and would like to try it.
I made these yesterday for New Years Eve! So delicious! Everyone loved them!!
So easy and a great way to use leftover cranberry sauce!!! I just served it with leftover mashed potatoes and roasted some Brussels sprouts for an easy delicious dinner!
Hi! Cooking this for the first time today. Didn’t read the notes; just jumped to the recipe and printed. Now that I’m reading the method, I see that Worcestershire sauce is not on the ingredient list in the recipe! Just wanted to let you know in case you’d like to update and add it! I guess I’ll be cooking without since I didn’t read carefully 🤣 so excited to try this!
Hi, Rileigh! Worchestshire sauce is listed in the recipe card under the sauce ingredients. Hope that helps!
Question: if you cooked the meatballs in the oven, why do we need to cook them again in the crockpot? Why not just put in with the sauce on warm?
Hi, Gretchen! The goal is too cook and reduce the sauce which is why you heat the sauce along with the meatballs on low or high in the crockpot. Also, the meatballs get to gently simmer in the sauce which helps all the flavors to mesh and taste great! I hope you love the recipe!
The perfect holiday appetizer! such an easy and tasty idea!