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

Ingredients
  

  • 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

Instructions
 

  • 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.

Notes

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. 

Nutrition

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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Comments

  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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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?

  8. 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!!!

  9. 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 ?

  10. 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! 🙂

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

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

  13. 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.

    1. 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. 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!

  14. 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!

  15. 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..

  16. 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.

  17. 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. 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!

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

    1. 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!!!!

  18. 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.

  19. 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. 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. 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. 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.

  20. 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. 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.

  21. 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!!!!!????

  22. 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!)

  23. 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!

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