Cocktail Meatballs Recipe

30 servings
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 4 hours
Total Time 4 hours 5 minutes

Easy Cocktail Meatballs are the perfect appetizer made with meatballs, grape jelly, and chili sauce – only 3 ingredients! Give them a try!

Indulge in the simplicity and deliciousness of Easy Cocktail Meatballs, also known as Grape Jelly Meatballs. With just three ingredients – grape jelly, Heinz chili sauce, and frozen meatballs – you’ll whip up a flavorful appetizer that’s perfect for family gatherings and parties. The secret of crockpot meatballs lies in the sweet grape jelly melding with zesty chili sauce, creating an irresistible glaze that coats the meatballs. Cooking these juicy meatballs is a breeze; it’s a recipe suited for chefs of all levels. Whether you’re hosting a barbecue or a cozy family dinner, these meatballs will be a hit. Appetizers are an important part of any party, and our kitchen has been busy perfecting our Spicy Louisiana Shrimp Dip, P.F. Chang’s Lettuce Wraps (copycat), and Sausage Balls!

Cooked meatballs made with simple ingredients are perfect for your next holiday party. Imagine the smiles as you serve these bite-sized flavor bombs. Kids adore the sweetness, and adults appreciate the balance of flavors. It’s a dish that bridges generations. In a world of complex recipes, Easy Cocktail Meatballs stand out for their simplicity and incredible taste. So, go ahead, give them a try, and let the good times roll.

Grape Jelly Meatballs

Sabrina’s Cocktail Meatballs Recipe

Of all the Cocktail Meatball recipes, this one is probably the easiest and a top crowd favorite! Sabrina’s “Cocktail Meatballs Recipe” is a delightful appetizer that stands out for its sweet flavor and savory flavor combination. This unique version of the classic dish features a delectable glaze crafted from grape jelly and Heinz chili sauce, enveloping frozen meatballs to create a fabulous flavor profile.

Originating in the United States, this recipe is a beloved staple at gatherings and celebrations. What sets Sabrina’s version apart is its exceptional balance of flavors, blending the accessible simplicity of primary ingredients with a harmonious taste experience. This rendition can seamlessly fit into casual family dinners or elevate the spread at festive occasions. 

Can Cocktail Meatballs be Made Ahead of Time?

Absolutely! One of the great advantages of this recipe is its make-ahead convenience. You can prepare the meatball mixture with grape jelly and chili sauce ingredients a day or two in advance and store it in the refrigerator. When you’re ready to serve, simply transfer the mixture to your slow cooker and cook on low for 3-4 hours. This allows you to save time on the day of your gathering while still ensuring a fresh and flavorful appetizer for your guests.

Ingredients

  • 16 ounces Grape Jelly: Adds sweetness and smooth texture to the glaze, complementing the chili sauce’s zestiness. Can be substituted with other fruit jellies like apricot or raspberry for a variation in flavor. Cranberry sauce is also popular. 
  • 16 ounces Heinz Chili Sauce: Provides tangy and spicy notes, enhancing the depth of the glaze. If Heinz chili sauce is unavailable, you can opt for other chili sauces or create a similar effect by combining ketchup and hot sauce.
  • 32 ounces Frozen Meatballs: Convenient and absorbent, these meatballs save time and absorb the flavorful glaze, resulting in a delectable appetizer. Alternatively, you can use homemade meatballs made with lean ground beef, but ensure they are pre-cooked before adding them to the glaze.

Kitchen Tools & Equipment

  • Mixing Bowl: A mixing bowl is necessary to combine the grape jelly and Heinz chili sauce with ease. There’s no specific size requirement, but choose one that accommodates the ingredients without spilling.
  • Slow Cooker: You’ll require a slow cooker for the cooking process. Any standard slow cooker will work; sizes can vary, so use what you have available.
  • Stirring Spoon: A sturdy stirring spoon is needed to thoroughly coat the frozen meatballs with the grape jelly and chili sauce. 

How to Make Cocktail Meatballs

Time needed: 4 hours and 5 minutes.

  1. Step 1: Mix the Glaze

    In a medium bowl, combine grape jelly and Heinz chili sauce.

  2. Step 2: Coat the Meatballs

    Stir in the frozen meatballs. 

  3. Step 3: Slow Cook

    Transfer the mixture to a slow cooker. Cook on low (not medium heat) for 3-4 hours.

  4. Step 4: Enjoy!

    Serve your party meatballs with sauce – it’s the perfect appetizer! 

Nutritional Facts

Nutrition Facts
Cocktail Meatballs (Grape Jelly Meatballs)
Amount Per Serving
Calories 137 Calories from Fat 54
% Daily Value*
Fat 6g9%
Saturated Fat 2g13%
Cholesterol 21mg7%
Sodium 224mg10%
Potassium 154mg4%
Carbohydrates 13g4%
Fiber 1g4%
Sugar 8g9%
Protein 5g10%
Vitamin A 105IU2%
Vitamin C 4mg5%
Calcium 10mg1%
Iron 0.5mg3%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

Tips and Tricks

Check out our pro tips! And feel free to share your tips and tricks in the comments so we can make these Cocktail Meatballs even more delicious together!

  • Taste and Adjust: Before adding the glaze to the meatballs, taste the mixture of grape jelly and Heinz chili sauce. Adjust the sweetness or spiciness by adding more jelly or chili sauce to match your preferences.
    • If you don’t have Heinz chili sauce, you can use equal parts regular ketchup in this recipe.
    • If it’s not salty enough, just add a teaspoon salt and serve. Kosher salt is perfect for this. 
  • Thaw Frozen Meatballs: If using frozen meatballs, allow them to thaw slightly before adding them to the glaze. This helps them absorb the flavors better and ensures even cooking. Besides, nobody likes eating frozen Cocktail Meatballs. 
  • Garnish Creatively: Add a sprinkle of chopped fresh herbs or sesame seeds before serving for an extra burst of flavor and an appealing presentation.
  • Serving Ideas: Cocktail Meatballs can be served as appetizers with toothpicks or as a main dish with rice or noodles. Get creative with your presentation!
  • Common Mistake to Avoid: Overcooking can result in tough meatballs. Be mindful of the cooking time to keep them tender and flavorful.
  • Lighter Meatballs: Lighten this recipe up by making homemade meatballs out of ground turkey and using sugar free grape jelly. Homemade meatball ingredients will vary. 
  • Darker Meatballs: Add ¼ cup of dark brown sugar, whisked together with the jelly, to give the meatballs a richer more molasses flavor.

How to Store Leftovers

  • Storing Leftovers: After enjoying your meatballs, refrigerate them in an airtight container for up to three days to maintain their flavor and texture. Avoid extended storage as the glaze can break down.
  • Reheating Tips: To reheat, gently simmer the meatballs on the stovetop, adding a bit of water if needed. Microwave briefly, or use an oven at low heat to maintain their deliciousness.
  • Freezing Meatballs: For long-term storage (2-3 months), freeze the meatballs in an airtight container. Ensure they’re completely cooled to preserve quality.

Best Ways to Serve Cocktail Meatballs

Explore these serving ideas to impress your guests and elevate your cocktail meatball experience. Share your own tips and tricks in the comments below!

  • Classic Appetizer Style: Create an elegant appetizer platter by arranging the cocktail meatballs on toothpicks. Serve them alongside a dipping sauce for a delightful finger food experience.
  • Meatball Sliders: Transform your cocktail meatballs into sliders. Place them in small buns, add a slice of cheese, and top with lettuce or coleslaw. These mini sandwiches are perfect for casual gatherings or game-day snacks.
  • Meatball Skewers Thread cocktail meatballs onto skewers alternating with colorful bell peppers and onions. Grill or broil them for a smoky flavor. The vibrant presentation and grill marks make this a visually appealing dish.
  • Meatball Bowl: Serve cocktail meatballs over a bed of cooked rice or noodles, drizzle with glaze, and garnish with green onions and sesame seeds. This bowl offers a balanced and filling meal.

Alternative Cooking Techniques

How to Make Air-Fried Meatballs

If you desire a crispier texture, opt for air frying. The hot circulating air in the air fryer results in a deliciously crispy exterior while preserving the tender meatball interior. Preheat your air fryer to 350°F (175°C), arrange the meatballs in a single layer, and cook for approximately 12-15 minutes, flipping them halfway through for even browning.

How to Make Cocktail Meatballs in the Instant Pot

If you want something a little faster than the oven or the crock pot, you can make these meatballs in the instant pot.

  • Place your frozen meatballs in the Instant Pot.
  • Whisk together ½ tablespoon cornstarch, grape jelly, and chili sauce. Pour it over the meatballs.
  • With manual setting, set the temperature to high for 10 minutes, and natural release.

How to Make Cocktail Meatballs in the Oven

If you don’t have a free crockpot, you can also make these meatballs in the oven. Just grease a large baking dish and add the frozen meatballs. Whisk together the grape jelly and chili sauce and pour it over the meatballs, then place the coated meatballs on a lined baking sheet and bake uncovered for 20-25 minutes and up to 30 minutes (or until the meatballs are heated through).

You can also make Oven-Baked Meatballs to speed up the process, then just use the crock pot to keep meatballs warm while you’re serving appetizers.

If you’re using an uncooked meatball recipe, you may have to increase the time until the meatballs reach 165 degrees F in the middle.

Cocktail Meatballs

How to Thicken Cocktail Meatballs

If your meatballs end up in too thin of a sauce, you can easily thicken it in the slow cooker. Mix a tablespoon of corn starch with ¼ cup cold water. Pour into the slow cooker and stir into the sauce. Close the lid on the slow cooker and let it cook until the sauce thickens up.

Frequent Questions

Can I use fresh meatballs instead of frozen ones?

Yes, you can use fresh meatballs if you prefer. However, ensure they are fully cooked before adding the glaze.

Can I make the glaze ahead of time?

Absolutely! You can prepare the glaze in advance and store it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it.

Can I use a different type of jelly for the glaze?

Certainly, you can experiment with different fruit jellies like apricot or raspberry to vary the flavor.

Are there any vegetarian meatball alternatives for this recipe?

Yes, you can find vegetarian or vegan meatball options at many grocery stores. Just make sure they are fully cooked before coating them in the glaze.

Can I use Swedish meatballs? 

Yes. You can use Swedish meatballs. They are great served with lingonberry as the jelly used. You can also use Italian meatballs. Any seasoned meatballs should work. 

Can you put raw meatballs into a slow cooker?

If you want to make your own meatballs, you can put them in the slow cooker raw and let them cook in the grape jelly sauce until they reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. This temperature goes for ground beef, turkey, or ground pork meatballs.

Why are my homemade meatballs falling apart?

If your meatballs are falling apart, your recipe may call for too much or too little bread crumbs or eggs. You can also try frying or baking the meatballs before adding them to the slow cooker to help them hold their shape better. Try our Easy Homemade Meatballs for a tried-and-true recipe (and another favorite meatball recipe!).

Cocktail Meatballs (Grape Jelly Meatballs)

Easy Cocktail Meatballs are the perfect appetizer made with meatballs, grape jelly, and chili sauce – only 3 ingredients! Give them a try!
Yield 30 servings
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 4 hours
Total Time 4 hours 5 minutes
Course Appetizer
Cuisine American
Author Sabrina Snyder

Ingredients
 

Instructions

  • Mix grape jelly and chili sauce in mixing bowl until well combined, then stir in frozen meatballs until well coated.
  • Add to slow cooker and cook on low for 3-4 hours.

Notes

Note: click on times in the instructions to start a kitchen timer while cooking.

Nutrition

Calories: 137kcal | Carbohydrates: 13g | Protein: 5g | Fat: 6g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Cholesterol: 21mg | Sodium: 224mg | Potassium: 154mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 8g | Vitamin A: 105IU | Vitamin C: 4mg | Calcium: 10mg | Iron: 0.5mg

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Variations on Cocktail Meatballs

  • Spicy Kick: To add some heat to your meatballs, substitute Heinz chili sauce with a spicier hot sauce like Sriracha, and maybe some black pepper. This will give your meatballs a fiery kick, perfect for those who enjoy a bit of heat.
  • Sweet and Tangy Flavor: Experiment with the glaze by using different fruit jellies such as apricot or raspberry instead of grape jelly. This variation introduces a delightful sweetness and tanginess that pairs beautifully with the meatballs. You can also add an extra ½ cup grape jelly for more sweetness. 
  • Healthier Option: For a healthier twist, opt for turkey or chicken meatballs instead of beef. You can also reduce the sugar content by using a sugar-free fruit spread.
  • Vegetarian Delight: Create vegetarian meatballs by using plant-based meat alternatives. Coat them with the same glaze for a delicious veggie-friendly option.
  • Asian Fusion: For an Asian-inspired twist, replace the grape jelly with sweet and sour sauce and add some ginger and soy sauce to the mix. These seasonings will transform your meatballs into an exotic appetizer.
  • Italian Flair: Infuse your meatballs with Italian flavors by adding dried oregano, basil, and grated Parmesan cheese to the mix. Serve them with marinara sauce for an Italian-inspired twist.

More Yummy Party Appetizers

Cocktail Meatballs Pin

About the Author: Sabrina Snyder

Sabrina is a professionally trained Private Chef of over 10 years with ServSafe Manager certification in food safety. She creates all the recipes here on Dinner, then Dessert, fueled in no small part by her love for bacon.

Sabrina Snyder is a professionally trained personal and private chef of over 10 years who is the creator and developer of all the recipes on Dinner, then Dessert.

She is also the author of the cookbook Dinner, then Dessert – Satisfying Meals Using Only 3, 5 or 7 Ingredients, published by Harper Collins.

She started Dinner, then Dessert as a business in her office as a lunch service for her coworkers who admired her lunches before going to culinary school and becoming a full time personal chef and private chef.

As a personal chef Sabrina would cook for families one day a week and cook their entire week of dinners. All grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning was done along with instructions on reheating. As a private chef she cooked for private parties and cooked in family homes in the evenings for families on a nightly basis after working as a personal chef during the day.

Sabrina has been certified as a ServSafe Manager since 2007 and was a longstanding member of the USPCA Personal Chef Association including being on the board of the Washington DC Chapter of Chefs in the US Personal Chef Association when they won Chapter of the year.

As a member of the community of food website creators Sabrina Snyder has spoken at many conferences regarding her experiences as a food writer including the Indulge Food Conference, Everything Food Conference, Haven Food Conference and IACP Annual Food Professionals Conference.

Sabrina lives with her family in sunny California.

Dinner, then Dessert, Inc. owns the copyright on all images and text and does not allow for its original recipes and pictures to be reproduced anywhere other than at this site unless authorization is given. If you enjoyed the recipe and would like to publish it on your own site, please re-write it in your own words, and link back to my site and recipe page. Read my disclosure and copyright policy. This post may contain affiliate links.

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Comments

  1. I thought these were kinda on the sweet side. I will make again, but would cut the jelly down to 10-12 oz. and kick up the chili sauce to 18-20 oz. Thinking that’s a better mix.

  2. I make homemade meatballs. I always make ahead, freeze then defrost before baking. I’ve used a crock pot to keep them warm during party. Can frozen raw meatballs be cooked in slow cooker?

    1. Yes but keep in mind frozen meat gives off liquid and you may need to heat the last few minutes without the lid to allow extra liquid to dissipate. You don’t want your sauce to be diluted.

  3. Can you use instapot to slow cook the meatballs? Should you use low medium or high setting for slow ccoking?

    1. I’m guessing yes but I haven’t tested it the kitchen. Did you try it in your instapot and if so, how did they turn out?!

  4. I use cranberry sauce instead of grape jelly and add 1/4 cup brown sugar and dash of Worcestershire sauce. I use frozen meatballs, smokies, and some sliced kielbasa.

    1. I haven’t tested this recipe using seafood sauce but yes, it would be spicier! How did the Cocktail Meatballs turn out for you with seafood sauce?

  5. I used this recipe many times. One day I decided to add a table spoon of horseradish to the the pot. It was great, my friends loved it. Both ways are great.

    Barbara Hausmann

  6. Can this recipe be made with freshly made meatballs? Or meatballs not made in a slow cooker?

    Thank you,

    1. I was wondering the same thing.
      I think I have some of the ingredients to make fresh meatballs.
      The frozen ones in our local Walmart are crazy expensive!

  7. Can you make these from scratch with raw meatballs? If so, at what temperature and for how long? Mel Heinrichs

    1. Yes, if you want to make your own meatballs, you can put them in the slow cooker raw and let them cook in the grape jelly sauce until they reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. This temperature goes for ground beef, turkey, or pork meatballs. Good luck!

    1. Using a manual setting, set the temperature to high for 10 minutes and then complete a natural release. Enjoy!

  8. What kind of frozen meatballs do you use, plain or Italian? I’ve made this many times before but haven’t for a while and don’t remember what I used.

  9. Great recipe. As is, everyone loved it. After a bit, I added some little smokies to add a little bit of a textural difference and I remembered that my mom did something similar when I was a kid with smoke sausage. Both ways, we loved it. Thanks for the recipe.

    1. No, the slow cooker will become overcrowded and won’t cook thoroughly. You’ll need to use at least a 3 qt slow cooker for this recipe unless you want to cut the recipe in half.

  10. I have had this “dish” at parties, and thought it was quite GOOD! So glad I was able to find your recipe! QUESTION: Do you think it would be OK to double the recipe?

  11. I have a work potluck to go to, can I make them the day before and then reheat them in the crockpot at work the next day?

    1. Certainly! Or you can always put assemble them first thing in the morning at work and put them on high and they will be ready by lunch.

  12. I’d like to try these using some home made strawberry jalapeño fig jelly. How would you recommend adjusting the recipe? Do is still need chili sauce/ketchup?

    1. I haven’t tried this with a jelly with that kind of unique flavor, but I say play around with it and let me know how it turns out!

        1. You can but they might be a bit mushy and the sauce may be thicker. Instead, I would switch it to warm after 4 hours if your slow cooker doesn’t automatically switch over.

  13. You say that: “If you don’t have Heinz chili sauce, you can use equal parts regular ketchup in this recipe.” Equal parts regular ketchup and what??

    1. Sorry for the confusion. I just meant that you can substitute with the same amount of regular ketchup as the chili sauce. It will adjust the flavor though. Hope this helps.

  14. iv’e never thought about using jelly to get that sweet savory flavor, great idea! Thanks for the pointers! I cant wait to try it!

          1. Can you use regular sized Italian meatballs and if so do you need to adjust the amounts of ingredients?

          2. I’m not sure what you mean by regular sized. These were standard frozen meatballs. If you are using larger sized meatballs, you would adjust the ingredients depending how many and how large. Hope this helps.