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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 on 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 festive appetizers like Baked Brie with Jam, Sausage Rolls, Fried Ravioli, and Loaded Cream Cheese Dip.

Cranberry Barbecue Meatballs in a skillet, wooden spoon
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Why We Love This Cranberry Meatball 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 bake them in the oven. You could even heat them up in the microwave!


Meatballs – Frozen meatballs keep things super easy. Or you can make your own beef meatballs or turkey meatballs. For homemade meatball ingredients, you will need ground beef, milk, breadcrumbs, and an egg, plus seasonings.

Cranberry Sauce – This is really easy to make from scratch by following the instructions on the package of cranberries. Or grab a can of ready-made whole cranberry sauce (not a jellied cranberry 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. The sauce is so simple – a can of sweet and tart cranberry sauce 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 in a large saucepan 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.
  2. Add frozen or fresh-cooked meatballs to the pan and stir them around to coat them with the sauce.
  3. 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 Crock Pot?

I like cooking them on the stovetop 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 easier, 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.

Serving Suggestions

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.

To make them really pretty, sprinkle on some sliced green onions.

meatballs in a skillet in cranberry bbq sauce, wooden spoon


Leftover meatballs 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 refrigerator 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

  • The sauce is too thin 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.
  • Use the right cranberry sauce – Make sure you are using whole cranberry sauce and not the cranberry jelly 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.
  • BBQ sauce substitutions – Instead of BBQ Sauce you could add a sweet and spicy chili sauce. Or, skip the BBQ sauce altogether and just use cranberry sauce. It will be sweeter but still delicious.
Cranberry Barbecue Meatballs in a white bowl, cranberries, white and red napkin

More Meatball Recipes


Spicy Cranberry BBQ Meatballs

4.87 from 79 votes
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 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 8


  • 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
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  • 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. 
Keyword bbq meatballs, cranberry meatballs, crockpot bbq meatballs


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

Nutritional Disclaimer Kristin Maxwell of “Yellow Bliss Road” is not a dietician or nutritionist, and any nutritional information shared is an estimate. For accurate calorie counts and other nutritional values, we recommend running the ingredients through your preferred online nutritional calculator. Calories and other nutritional values can vary depending on which brands were used.

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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4.87 from 79 votes (76 ratings without comment)

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  1. Kaitlin says:

    I made these last year for a holiday appetizer and everyone loved them so much they each begged me to take home some of the leftovers (which were barely any since everyone scarfed them down 😂). I’m bringing them again this weekend! Sooooo delicious and just the right amount of spicy! Perfect for the holidays and for big crowds

    1. Kristin says:

      Nice! Absolutely love the comment Kaitlin! Thanks for stopping by.

      1. Anita Mohney says:

        Do you have a special homemade meatball recipe you like to use?

        1. Kristin Maxwell says:

          Yes! This is the recipe I linked to in the post: Homemade Meatballs.

  2. Lu says:

    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!

  3. adam says:

    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

    1. Kristin says:

      Nice! Thanks for stopping by Adam.

  4. Luanne says:

    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….

    1. Kristin says:

      Nice! Thanks for stopping by Luanne. (Love the feedback)

  5. Glacira says:

    I made it! And it was amazing! Everyone loved it

    1. Kristin says:

      Nice! Thanks for stopping by Glacira.

  6. Mitzie says:

    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!

    1. Kristin says:

      Nice! Thanks for the awesome feedback Mitzie.

  7. Eric James says:

    looking Very delicious

    1. Kristin says:

      Thanks for stopping by Eric!

  8. Lisa says:

    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. Kristin Maxwell says:

      Actually you could do them frozen or thawed. Three hours should still be fine.

  9. Bianca Ebeling says:

    Just curious, what kind of meatball meat do you use? Beef? Chicken?

    1. Kristin Maxwell says:

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

  10. Nina Watters says:

    How many bags of fresh cranberries would I have to use to substitute for the can ones??

    1. Kristin Maxwell says:

      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.

  11. Kristin says:

    Thank you Charles for sharing your experience.

  12. ann says:

    Hi Kristen, can you recommend what brand BBQ sauce and frozen meatballs you use. Thank you. I appreciate it.

    1. Kristin Maxwell says:

      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. M.Poland says:

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

        1. Kristin Maxwell says:

          I’ve used them be for, it doesn’t alter the taste too much.

  13. BCA says:

    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.

  14. Jamē says:

    Just have to tell you, made these for Christmas and New Years made a dbl batch each time. Totally gone!! Everyone loved them! Not too spicy not too sweet. So easy to make too!! Thank you! Will use this often!

    1. Kristin says:

      Thank you! So glad you enjoyed it!

  15. Amanda says:

    I made these for a Friendsgiving party in November, and have been making them for every get together since! They are such a hit. Thanks so much!

  16. Nicki Crain says:

    Hey there Kristin!
    Just tried out your recipe today at home and my husband just loved them! Take lots of love and best wishes from us! They just tasted awesome.

    1. Kristin says:

      Thank you Nicki! glad your family loved it.

  17. Linda says:

    This sounds REAL GOOD……!

    1. Kristin says:

      Thank you Linda!

  18. Leslie Glenn says:

    I got the meatballs from Costco but they are Italian flavored with spices and cheese. Would that work?

    1. Kristin says:

      They will probably be fine; the sauce is pretty sweet and will cover the other flavors.

  19. DELVA BARNEY says:

    Can’t wait to try these as they contain only ingredients that I love.
    Thanks for sharing your recipe!!

    1. Kristin says:

      Thank you DELVA!

  20. Ellie. Neufeld says:

    I will definitely make these for an appetizer thanks for the recipe

  21. Doris Lindenmuth says:

    Would you use this cranberry bbq sauce on chicken as well as meatballs?

    1. Kristin says:

      I think it would be delicious on chicken!

  22. Dianne Doxsee says:

    My Mother made the Cranberry and BBQ meatballs for years. I still make them to this day. Very few people can guess the recipe. Perfect for a Pot Luck in my Crock Pot.

  23. Jimbo says:

    I suggest buying the large bag of meatballs at a Sams Club. We just had a family party for 25 and that was plenty. I think the meatballs may have cost about 10-$12. Same basic recipe. You can use grape jelly instead as well – I also use Famous Dave’s sauce as it’s the best and the difference between a bottle for $3.75 and one on sale for $1.50 – who cares?

    1. Jeanne says:

      @Jimbo : The sauce to be used in order for you to get Kristen’s intended experience is definitely important. Grape jelly vs Cranberry Sauce – in my experience that would make a huge difference to the overall taste. I’m trying these for two fussy toddlers tonight (sans the spicy version) and hope they lick the plates afterwards !!!

  24. peggy says:

    i love cranberry family doesn,t is the recipe predominitely cranberry flavor?

  25. charolette says:

    I tried this at the Christmas Mingle and Jingle at work, I made two huge crockpots full! and they were the first to go, handed out the recipe, and now still have some of the employees begging for me just to bring in a crockpot and make them some “just because”. The best pot luck recipe!!! I actually used Walmart Italian meatballs, cranberry sauce, and sweet baby ray’s bbq sauce and that was it!!! I highly recommend this!!!

  26. David says:

    If I were to double the recipe , should I double all of the ingredients or should I back off on the BBQ or the Cranberry sauce ?

    1. Kristin says:

      Doubling should be fine.

  27. Karen Ogle says:

    You know, I’ve made meatballs like this for several years but I always just bought regular BBQ sauce. After seeing your recipe I bought the spicy kind and…. YUM! The spicy kick was the perfect contrast to the sweetness of the cranberry sauce, really delicious! Thank you! 🙂

  28. Jennilyn says:

    What is the best meatball brand to use for this recipe?

  29. Dawn says:

    Hi, just wondering if you can make this recipe the day before and still end up with a great sauce.

    1. Kristin says:

      Yes I think that would be fine.

  30. Lisa says:

    Thanks for sharing. I made these for a game night gathering. In the crockpot of course. This was a big hit.

  31. Sabrina says:

    wow! never would have put cranberry and barbecue sauce together before I saw this recipe, now I’ll have to, thank you sharing this!

  32. Brenda Kirkland says:

    Made this recipe for New Years eve. Delicious. Thank you for sharing. Next time will add the orange zest.

  33. Kalina says:

    Hi making these tonight. For homemade meatballs to you precook them before adding them to the sauce to simmer?

    1. Kristin says:

      Yes you would use fully cooked meatballs.

  34. Kim says:

    Do you think this sauce would work with cooked pulled pork for sandwiches?

    1. Kristin says:

      I think that would be delicious!

  35. joy says:

    I made this for Christmas Day.They were a big hit. I definitely will use my own cranberry sauce next time. And less Barbecue sauce.

  36. Emily says:

    What are the instructions for the slow cooker?

    1. Charles Leigh says:

      Fozen or cooked meatballs in first, then pour combined sauces over the top (combine them well). Cover and cook on HIGH; the sauce will not reduce as much as on the stove, so you may want to partially uncover them after 2 hours and cook an additional hour to reduce the sauce to glaze them, You can take them to an event in the slow cooker and reheat on LOW if necessary.

      1. MP says:

        Her directions say to cook on low for a few hours in crock pot, but you are saying high? Which is it? I want to make these for Christmas Eve. Thanks!

  37. Jana Read says:

    Do you defrost the meat balls before putting them in a crock pot?

    1. Kristin says:

      No, you can just put everything in together. However it could possibly create a little more liquid.

  38. Marge Schrader says:

    I’ve made BBQ’d meatballs before and they were a big hit. I’d always made this using grape jelly and BBQ sauce, but now i can’t wait to try it with cranberry sauce instead for our Christmas party Thank you!

  39. Dee Freeland says:

    Can this be made using a crockpot?

    1. Kristin says:

      I’m sure that I could!

  40. mary says:

    now i have acid reflux bad ,plus a elderly person will be eating these will the sauce be too heated for me and him? i made it differently one year different ingredients but never tried the spicy and carnberry way but want to try it out i just dont know if it would be too strong or heated..

    1. ginny monsma says:

      Using the honey bbq sauce instead of spicy might be nice.

  41. pat says:

    I’ve made these and they are wonderful. Any not eaten at the party can make a good supper with some mac-n-cheese or corn and a few tomatoes. Our local chef suggested a chipotle catsup, and it was fantastic. The cranberry cut the “heat” of the chipotle and everyone liked them.

    1. Kristin says:

      That sounds amazing!

  42. Michelle says:

    I made these for the first time for a holiday party at work today. There wasn’t one meatball left, I got great reviews from my co-worker. I used frozen turkey meatballs. The barbecue sauce I used was Heinz Bold and Spicy. This will be my go to meatball recipe!

    1. Kristin says:

      So glad you enjoyed it!

      1. Jamie says:

        Kristin, can you use regular barbecue sauce instead of spicey? TY

        1. Kristin says:

          Absolutely! Just pick your favorite.

    2. Cassandra says:

      I also used heinz bold and spicy (found it at target) and have made them twice with the costco meatballs. It is so easy and delicious!!! Perfect for the holidays!

  43. Cindy Gwinner says:

    Anyone ever try this with ground chicken or ground turkey meat balls??

    1. Kristin says:

      I haven’t, but I bet it would be delicious!

    2. Michelle says:

      Cindy, I used frozen turkey meatballs, and they were delicious.

      1. mary says:

        i would use turkey instead.even would bring flavor out i would think .im using turkey..good idea thanks.

        1. Kristin says:

          Turkey would be delicious Mary! And you could definitely just use regular BBQ sauce instead the spicy if you’re concerned.

    3. florance says:

      All he time. I have been making this family favorite for 25 years or more. My recipe varies somewhat. I use Chili Sauce, small can of tomato sauce and whole cranberries (can). I am going to try it next time with Barbecue sauce. Might like it even more!!!!

  44. dutch says:

    This is great with polska keilbasa also. Just cut into 1 inch slices, put in the crockpot with the whole berry cranberry sauce and the bbq sauce, turn it on high for 1 hour then low for 2 or 3 hours. And Bob’s your uncle! You have a great appitizer.

  45. Sandy says:

    I have a can of the jellied cranberry, you know the one that takes the shape of the can? Would this work do you think?

    1. Kristin says:

      Hi Sandy, I haven’t tried it with just the jellied so I can’t say it would work or it wouldn’t. I think it would melt so th sauce might be runnier.

    2. Priss Daniel says:

      I use a can of jellies, like you described, a jar of Heinz Chili Sauce 1 Tblsp of brown sugar and one Tblsp lemon juice! I have been making these for our family Christmas Party for at least 30 years!! They tell me that is all I should bring!!

      1. Bernadette says:

        Priss, I’ve been using that recipe for cocktail Frank’s for about 40 years now, it’s great but never
        Used it for meatballs, but will definitely try this.

  46. George says:

    Always looking for differnt things to cook up and these sound very good

  47. Tammy says:

    What’s your thoughts about using fresh whole cranberries? Seems as though it would be easy enough to substitute for canned. Maybe add a little Grand Marnier. Thanks.

    1. Kristin says:

      You could use a homemade cranberry sauce…you’d need the sweetness to counterbalance the heat of the bbq sauce.

    2. C chandler says:

      Definitely! Easy.. one rinsed pkg of fresh cranberries 1C. Sugar.. I use a little less….grate one half orange peel and save the orange to squeeze the juice at the end of cooking. .. 1pkg cranberries usually about 4-5 C. Water.. Boil, and keep stirring.. add sugar.. keep stirring.. whole process takes about 10 minutes ..and voila. Don’t forget to add the orange zest and juice from the orange.

  48. Shelley Carpenter says:

    I have made this sauce before, but I paired it with mini (hotdog-like) sausages. I couldn’t imagine how the cranberries would taste in a traditionally savory appetizer, but it was AMAZING!! Make EXTRA SAUCE, because you will find yourself “test-tasting” it a LOT!! I can’t wait to use it with MEATBALL this weekend when family is coming in for a big football game!! Thanks for your post!!!!!????

  49. Michelle says:

    What kind of BBQ sauce do you prefer to use? On my meal plan this month for sure!!!

    1. Kristin says:

      Honestly? I buy what’s on sale or what I have a coupon for!

  50. Will C says:

    This sounds interesting. I’ve never considered using cranberry for anything other than serving with chicken / turkey etc. I will definitely have to try this out. (Awesome pictures btw!)

  51. Liz says:

    We always have leftover cranberry sauce—and this may be the only way I’ll ever get my hubby to eat any! Your meatballs look terrific!

  52. Brenda @ a farmgirl's dabbles says:

    This looks so super tasty – love the cranberry sauce addition!

  53. Autumn says:

    Theses look amazing!

    1. Chantal Derouin Barbosa says:

      Super easy. served this appetizer TWICE during the 2016 holidays ! A HIT. Thanks for sharing

    2. Felipa Cablitas says: