Spicy Cranberry Barbecue Meatballs

These Cranberry Barbecue Meatballs are incredibly easy recipe to make. They require just three simple ingredients and 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.

Cranberry Barbecue Meatballs in a skillet, wooden spoon

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 Fried Ravioli and Loaded Cream Cheese Dip.

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.

  1. Start by combining the spicy BBQ sauce with a can of cranberry sauce on the stove over a medium flame. 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.
  2. Add frozen or fresh cooked meatballs to the pan and stir them around to coat them with the sauce.
  3. Cover the pan with it’s lid 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.
  4. 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 and you have a complete meal!

meatballs in a skillet in cranberry bbq sauce, wooden spoon

How to Make Crockpot BBQ Meatballs

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. You could also use your slow cooker. It all depends on how you are serving them and how much time you have. For appetizers, crockpot meatballs are probably easiest but for a quick meal, I like the stovetop.

  1. 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.
  2. Add the frozen or fresh cooked meatballs, put the lid on and set the slow cooker to low.
  3. 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.

Cranberry Barbecue Meatballs in a white bowl, cranberries, white and red napkin

Can You Freeze BBQ Meatballs?

These cranberry 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 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.
  • Leftover cranberry meatballs are delicious! Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4-5 days. Reheat on the stovetop.

More Holiday Appetizers to Love:

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A close up of Cranberry Meatballs

Spicy Cranberry BBQ Meatballs

An easy 3-ingredient appetizer recipe for cranberry bbq meatballs made with cranberry sauce, spicy bbq sauce, and fresh or frozen meatballs.
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 25 mins
Total Time 30 mins
Course Appetizer, Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 8
Calories 446kcal


  • 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.


If sauce is too thin, add a little bit of a cornstarch slurry and cook to thicken. (slurry=1 tablespoon cornstarch and 2 tablespoons water).
Store leftovers in an airtight container for up to 4-5 days. Reheat on the stovetop. 
Can be frozen for up to 6 months in the sauce. 


Calories: 446kcalCarbohydrates: 45gProtein: 17gFat: 22gSaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 71mgSodium: 725mgPotassium: 446mgFiber: 1gSugar: 40gVitamin A: 171IUVitamin C: 2mgCalcium: 37mgIron: 1mg
Keyword bbq meatballs, cranberry meatballs, crockpot bbq meatballs

Kristin Maxwell

Kristin Maxwell is the creator and main recipe developer, writer, and photographer of Yellow Bliss Road. A self-taught cook and self-appointed foodie, she specializes in easy, flavorful and approachable recipes for any home cook.

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  1. 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?

    1. I usually just use beef meatballs. They seem to have the best flavor. But you could use any that you mentioned.

    1. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. Will using Italian style meatballs be unacceptable? I just made my sauce and realize I have the Italian ones

  2. 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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