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Spicy Cranberry Meatballs are easy to make with just three simple ingredients and they can be made right on the stovetop, or for convenience, in your slow cooker. Serve these BBQ Meatballs their own as a hearty appetizer for Thanksgiving or Christmas, or serve with rice for a simple weeknight meal.
I don’t think I’ve ever had a more tried and true appetizer than these cranberry meatballs. They are always a part of my holiday spread, and definitely can hold their own alongside other favorites like Baked Brie with Jam, Sausage Rolls, Fried Ravioli and Loaded Cream Cheese Dip.
Table of Contents
Why We Love This Recipe
They’re Fast and Easy – Cranberry Meatballs take about 5 minutes to prep and less than 20 minutes to cook.
Simple Ingredients – You just need meatballs, cranberry sauce, and BBQ sauce.
Sweet and Spicy – Go with a spicy BBQ sauce for a delicious contrast.
Versatile – I like to cook these on the stovetop and let the sauce reduce a bit while the meatballs heat through. That’s how you get that yummy, sticky glaze. But you can make them in the slow cooker, or even in the oven. You could even heat them up in the microwave!
Ingredients For Cranberry Meatballs
Meatballs – Frozen meatballs keep things super easy. Or you can make your own beef meatballs or turkey meatballs.
Cranberry sauce – This is really easy to make from scratch by following the instructions on the package. Or grab a can of ready-made sauce.
BBQ sauce – You can use any flavor you like. I love Sweet Baby Ray’s brand but go with what you love.
How To Make Cranberry BBQ Meatballs
This dish not only looks beautiful but it’s one of the most simple things you can make. A can of sweet and tart cranberry sauce is mixed with a spicy barbecue sauce…and that’s it! If you have the time, you can make your own homemade meatballs, but for simplicity, I often use frozen meatballs.
- Start by combining the spicy BBQ sauce with a can of cranberry sauce on the stove over medium heat. Because of the sugars in the sauces you’ll want to watch it closely to make sure it doesn’t overheat and burn. Stirring it often will also help to prevent burning. Let it come to a simmer.
- Add frozen or fresh cooked meatballs to the pan and stir them around to coat them with the sauce.
- Cover the pan and let the meatballs simmer in the sauce for about 10-20 minutes. For thawed meatballs, simmer just until heated through; it will take longer for frozen.
Can You Make Cranberry BBQ Meatballs in the Crockpot?
But you can also use your slow cooker. It all depends on how you’re serving them and how much time you have. For appetizers, crockpot meatballs are probably easiest but for a quick meal, I like the stovetop.
- Pour the sauces into the slow cooker and stir them together. Because they are both thick, you may want to use a whisk to really mix them.
- Add the frozen or fresh cooked meatballs, put the lid on, and set the slow cooker to low.
- Let cook on low for a couple of hours or until meatballs are heated through. BBQ Meatballs should be kept at the warm or low setting until ready to serve; up to 8 hours.
We love these Cranberry BBQ Meatballs as an appetizer, but also just for dinner! The sauce pairs deliciously with white rice; just add a green salad or some steamed veggies and you have a complete meal! Coconut Rice would be amazing.
Leftovers are delicious! Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4-5 days. Reheat in a saucepan on the stovetop or in the microwave.
Can You Freeze BBQ Meatballs?
These meatballs freeze beautifully. Store them in an airtight container for up to 6 months. To use, thaw in the fridge overnight and reheat on the stovetop until warmed through. If sauce seems thin, let simmer, uncovered and on low heat, until sauce is reduced and thick.
Recipe Notes and Tips
- If you make these BBQ meatballs in the crockpot using frozen, you may end up with a little extra liquid in the sauce. If the sauce is too thin, make a cornstarch slurry with 1 tablespoon of cornstarch and 2 tablespoons of water, and stir it in. Cover and let cook for 30 minutes.
- Make sure you are using whole cranberry sauce and not the jellied kind which will just melt and make your sauce too thin. Homemade cranberry sauce works too.
- Choose your favorite BBQ sauce. I recommend a nice, spicy sauce but any style/flavor will work.
More Meatball Recipes
- Spicy Barbecue Grape Jelly Meatballs
- Spicy Honey Garlic Meatballs
- Sausage Balls
- Meatball Marinara Poppers
- Crockpot Meatballs with Peach BBQ Sauce
- Sweet and Sour Meatballs
Spicy Cranberry BBQ Meatballs
- 28 ounces frozen meatballs if using homemade, about 50 small or 30 medium size
- 14 ounces whole cranberry sauce
- 18 ounces spicy barbecue sauce 18-20 ounce bottle, about 2 -3 cups
- Combine sauces over medium heat in a large deep skillet and cook until bubbly.
- Add meatballs in a single layer and stir to coat completely. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook until meatballs are heated through; about 15 -20 minutes for frozen, 10 minutes for fresh.
- Remove cover and continue to cook for several minutes, stirring occasionally, until sauce is reduced and completely coating the meatballs.
- Serve on their own as an appetizer, or as a main dish over rice.
- For slow cooker method, stir sauces together in the pot, then add meatballs and stir to coat. Cover and cook on low for 2-3 hours or until heated through and ready to serve. Stir again just before serving.
Nutrition information provided is an estimate and will vary based on cooking methods and brands of ingredients used.
Have made these for many years with the exception of using chili sauce instead of BBQ sauce. Will have to give the BBQ sauce a go!
I make these at every big gathering they are great and also they are great cold right from the refrigerator when you want a few to nibble on that night or the next day try them
Nice! Thanks for stopping by Adam.
Made this for a church gathering and it was a smash hit. They liked it so much they even ate the sauce after the meatballs were gone. Will definitely be making this again and again and again….
Nice! Thanks for stopping by Luanne. (Love the feedback)
I made it! And it was amazing! Everyone loved it
Nice! Thanks for stopping by Glacira.
This is so good and so easy! I’ve been making these for both Thanksgiving and Christmas appetizers for several years now. My family loves them!
Nice! Thanks for the awesome feedback Mitzie.
looking Very delicious
Thanks for stopping by Eric!
Hi Kristen. Do you put the frozen meatballs in the slow cooker? Or thawed? Do the frozen meatballs cook over the stated 3 hours in low in the slow cooker?
Actually you could do them frozen or thawed. Three hours should still be fine.
Just curious, what kind of meatball meat do you use? Beef? Chicken?
I usually just use beef meatballs. They seem to have the best flavor. But you could use any that you mentioned.
How many bags of fresh cranberries would I have to use to substitute for the can ones??
Hi Nina, If you’d like to make your own cranberry sauce, you can follow the directions on the package. I’ve also got a recipe for Cranberry Orange Sauce that’s delicious. A bag of cranberries make about as much as would be in a can, maybe a little bit more.
Thank you Charles for sharing your experience.
Hi Kristen, can you recommend what brand BBQ sauce and frozen meatballs you use. Thank you. I appreciate it.
I don’t use a specific brand of meatballs, but I prefer (for this recipe anyway) the ones that ARE NOT Italian. My favorite BBQ sauce is anything by Sweet Baby Ray’s. They have a really nice spicy BBQ.
Will using Italian style meatballs be unacceptable? I just made my sauce and realize I have the Italian ones
I’ve used them be for, it doesn’t alter the taste too much.
Hello KRISTIN thanks for such a quick recipe i will make it at upcoming Sunday for my family and we will use it for whole week.
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