Whether it’s game-day, party time, or a family gathering, I love making this tender and juicy Crockpot BBQ Meatballs recipe. The ingredients are fresh and savory with just a hint of smoky sweetness that makes it stand out.
Party meatballs are a fantastic staple for any gathering. They can be a quick addition to a pot-luck meal or served as a main course.
Any way you choose to enjoy them, the homemade bbq sauce, combined with the perfect meatballs, make this a great dish to have in your rotation.
The best part is they literally take twenty minutes to prep. If you already have cooked and frozen meatballs, it takes ten minutes. Simply combine, bake, and then allow your slow cooker to do the rest of the work for you!
This recipe starts with homemade meatballs that you’ll bake in the oven first. From there we'll move on to the Crockpot BBQ portion. See the "Expert Tips" section for substitutions/shortcuts.
Why You'll Love This Recipe
- Fast prep time with set-it and forget it cook time
- Healthy real food ingredients with easy substitutions for Keto/low carb
- Phenomenal sauce that's homemade. You'll never buy jarred again!
- Meatballs can be used or frozen and reused with any meatball recipe
For the Meatballs:
- Ground Beef - We use 80% lean ground beef. This makes the most tender meatball.
- Bread Crumbs - Plain breadcrumbs keep the flavor neutral, for a low carb option, use almond flour.
- Milk - Any percentage of milk is fine. For a non-dairy option, use a nut milk. It works just as well, I do it all the time.
- Eggs- The eggs work with the milk and breadcrumbs to act as a binding agent which keeps everything holding together well.
- Parsley- Fresh is best! However if you are in a pinch, you can substitute dried parsley or skip it.
For The Sauce:
- Tomato Paste- I like one with no added sugar or preservative.
- Apple Cider Vinegar- Adds the perfect zing to your bbq sauce.
- Molasses- This sugar cane reduction will sweeten your sauce slightly and add depth.
- Brown Sugar-Makes it sweet. I substitute Swerve Brown (a stevia based no calorie sweetner) all the time. You can't tell the difference.
- Liquid Smoke- To get that smokey bbq flavor. Liquid smoke is actual smoke from burned wood that has been condensed into a liquid.
How To Make Crockpot BBQ Meatballs
This is an overview of the recipe, please see the recipe card for complete details.
Before you begin, preheat the oven to 425° and line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Make the sauce: Combine all the sauce ingredients together in a large measuring cup or small bowl, whisk to combine, set aside.
- Make the meat mixture: Combine the beef, breadcrumbs, milk, eggs, spices and parsley together in a large bowl, mix until everything is evenly distributed, but don't overmix.
- Shape the meatballs: roll about a tablespoon size portion of meat into the shape of a ball and place on the prepared pan.
- Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 160°. This is HANDS DOWN the best meat thermometer I've ever used!
At this point, you could cool the meatballs thoroughly and freeze them for later use (hint: make a double batch and you'll be ahead of the game next time).
5. Transfer the meatballs: Carefully transfer the meatballs into the slow cooker.
6. Add the sauce: Pour the sauce over the meatballs.
7. Toss: Gently stir the meatballs around in the sauce so they are all covered.
8. Cook: Cook the meatballs on low for 2 hours. Then turn the slow cooker to warm. They can stay on the warm setting for up to 8 hours.
- Use a stand mixer. I like to use the bowl of a stand mixer and combine with the paddle attachment. If you don’t have one, your hands are your best tool for mixing the meat.
- GENTLY mix. Overworking the meat directly impacts the texture of the meatballs. For tender meatballs, mix the ingredients just until everything is combined.
- Use your favorite sauce. These meatballs are a great all-around version and could be mixed with any type of sauce. Think Asian, Marinara, Swedish, etc.
- Substitute with store bought. I think homemade is best because you can really control your ingredients and fresh has amazing flavor. However, your favorite store-bought sauce or store bought meatballs can certainly be substituted.
- If you're starting with frozen cooked meatballs, or cold meatballs then your cook time will be longer. For frozen, cook on high for 2 hours, or low for 4 hours before going to the warm setting.
- Use a cookie scoop. For uniform meatballs, use a one-tablespoon size cookie scoop. This makes shaping the meatballs go quickly, no guess work and they will all be the same size.
Make Ahead Instructions
There are a couple of options if you'd like to save time on cooking day and prepare these ahead of time.
Option one: Prepare the meatballs through step 3. Instead of baking them, place them on the baking sheets in the freezer and leave them for a few hours until they are frozen (a.k.a. flash freezing). Then transfer them to a zip lock bag, or air-tight container to store them in the freezer.
To cook them, place them back on a baking sheet, let them thaw, and then bake in the oven as directed.
Option two: Prepare the meatballs as directed through the baking process. Let them cool completely, and place the tray in the freezer. Once they are frozen, transfer to an airtight container and store in the freezer.
To continue with the Crockpot BBQ recipe, you can put the frozen meatballs in the slow cooker, add the sauce, and cook on high for 2-3 hours, or low for 4-6 hours.
Frequently Asked Questions
Frozen meatballs are generally pre-cooked and safe to consume when warmed. However, if they are uncooked, then as long as the meat is in the crockpot for more than two hours, they will be safe for consumption.
For uncooked meatballs, it is best practice to either flash fry them or oven bake them before adding them to a crockpot. This method ensures they won’t break apart in the crockpot.
Meatballs can generally cook for 2-6 hours in a crockpot. However, it is not recommended to exceed 6 hours. Like any food, it can overcook. The sauce that the meat is cooking in can also dry out and harden.
There are many options to pair BBQ meatballs with. Popular sides include: white rice, mashed potatoes, coleslaw, baked beans, Italian or crusted bread, salad, mac and cheese, fries, sauerkraut, noodles, and grits.
Leftover meatballs stored in the refrigerator will last for 3-4 days. Seal them in an airtight container and reheat on the stove or in the microwave.
BBQ meatball leftovers can be frozen. If you have leftovers that you’d rather save for much later, simply put them in a ziplock bag or airtight container and freeze for up to 4 months. When you are ready to eat, thaw and then reheat on the stove or in the crockpot. Add extra sauce as needed.
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Crockpot BBQ Meatballs
- 2 Half size rimmed sheet pan
- parchment paper
- Slow Cooker
For the Meatballs
- 2 pounds ground beef
- ⅔ cup breadcrumbs almond flour can be substituted for low carb
- ⅓ cup milk nut milks work fine
- 2 eggs
- ⅓ cup fresh parsley chopped
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
FOR THE SAUCE:
- 1 6 ounce can tomato paste
- ½ cup water
- ⅓ cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons molasses
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground mustard
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon liquid smoke
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- ½ teaspoon Allspice
- Preheat the oven to 425° and line 2 rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Place ground beef, breadcrumbs, milk, eggs, parsley, salt, pepper, and garlic powder in a large bowl. I like to use the bowl of a stand mixer and combine with the paddle attachment. If you don’t have one, your hands are your best tool for mixing the meat.
- Using a 1 tablespoon size cookie scoop, scoop the meat mixture, one scoop at a time, into your hands, roll it into the shape of a ball, place on the baking sheet.
- Continue until all the meatballs are made.
- Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the internal temperature is 160°.
- While the meatballs are baking, add all the sauce ingredients to a small bowl or measuring cup and whisk to combine well.
- Add the cooked meatballs to the Crockpot, pour the sauce on top, and gently stir so the meatballs are coated in the sauce.
- Cook on low for 2 hours.
Make Ahead Instructions
- Follow the instructions through cooking the meatballs (step 5). Allow the meatballs to cool completely, then place on a rimmed baking sheet lined with wax paper or clean parchment paper (not the one you cooked on). Put the trays in the freezer for 2-3 hours or until the meatballs are frozen. Then transfer the meatballs in a zip lock type freezer bag, and freeze for up to 6 months.
- To use in this recipe, simply put the meatballs in the crockpot, make and add the sauce, and cook on high for 2-3 hours, or low for 4-6 hours.
- GENTLY mix the meat mixture. Overworking the meat directly impacts the texture of the meatballs. For tender meatballs, mix the ingredients just until everything is combined.
- These meatballs are a great all-around version and could be mixed with any type of sauce.
- This recipe starts with homemade meatballs that you’ll bake in the oven first. Store-bought frozen meatballs OR sauce can be substituted.
- See "make-ahead instructions" to save time on cooking day.
- Makes about 45 1-tablespoon sized meatballs. This will serve about 15 people as an appetizer or 6 people as a main meal.
- The sauce makes 1 ½ cups.
- Cost and nutrition information is an estimate.
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