Cocktail Meatballs

5 stars based on 20 votes


Throw away those old kitschy cocktail meatball recipes that call for grape jelly and frozen meatballs — these are easy-to-make and so much better. You’ll love that the meatballs are baked, not fried, and the sweet and tangy sauce is ready in under 15 minutes. What’s more, you don’t need to wait for a party or special occasion to make them: they’re delicious over white rice for dinner and kids absolutely love them. 


Begin by combining the egg, cream and bread cubes in a small bowl.


Mash with a fork until the bread is mostly dissolved.


Next, combine the ground pork, garlic, baking powder and spices in an electric mixer and whip until the mixture is smooth and pale. (I know it seems odd to make meatballs in an electric mixer, but the technique makes tender meatballs with a nice snap, which is what we’re going for.)


Add the egg mixture and beat until smooth.


Add the ground beef and mix again until just combined.


Using moistened hands, form the meat mixture into meatballs and place on a rack over a foil-lined baking sheet. The rack is useful because any fat from the meatballs drips down but if you don’t have one, don’t worry about it. It’s fine to just place the meatballs directly on the baking sheet.


Bake the meatballs for about twenty minutes.


Meanwhile, make the sauce by combining the ketchup, brown sugar, cider vinegar, grated shallot, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, water, salt and pepper in a sauté pan large enough to hold all the meatballs. Simmer the sauce for about ten minutes, until slightly thickened.


Add the baked meatballs to the sauce and stir to coat evenly.


Transfer to a serving platter, garnish with finely chopped parsley if desired, and spear with pretty toothpicks.


Note: The technique for mixing the meatballs and the meatball ingredients, for the most part, come from Cook’s Illustrated’s Swedish Meatball recipe. 

You can find these bamboo forks on Amazon — Norpro 190 72-Pack Bamboo Party Forks, Brown

Cocktail Meatballs

Servings: About 25 mini meatballs
Total Time: 40 Minutes


  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream or milk
  • 3/4 cup cubed white sandwich bread, crusts removed
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 pound ground beef (85% lean)

For The Sauce

  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated shallot, from one shallot
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

For Serving

  • Finely chopped parsley, if desired


  1. Preheat the oven to 325. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil for easy clean-up and place an ovenproof baking/cooling rack over top; spray rack generously with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Whisk the egg and cream together in a medium bowl. Stir in the bread and mash until no large bread chunks remain. Set aside.
  3. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the pork, garlic, allspice, pepper, salt, and baking powder on high speed until smooth and pale, about 2 minutes, scraping bowl as necessary. Add the bread mixture to the mixing bowl and beat on high speed until smooth and homogeneous, about 1 minute, scraping the bowl as necessary. Add the beef and mix on medium-low speed until just incorporated, about 20 seconds, scraping the bowl as necessary.
  4. Using moistened hands (it's sticky and wet hands help; keep wetting them as you go), form the meat mixture into tablespoon-size round meatballs and place on the prepared rack. Bake for about 20 minutes, until just done.
  5. Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan, mix together all of the ingredients for the sauce. Bring to a simmer and cook gently until thickened, about 10 minutes.
  6. Add the baked meatballs to the sauce and stir to coat evenly. Transfer the meatballs to a serving platter, spear with toothpicks and spoon the sauce over top. Garnish with parsley if desired. Serve warm.

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Serving size: 1 meatball
  • Calories: 85
  • Fat: 5g
  • Saturated fat: 2g
  • Carbohydrates: 8g
  • Sugar: 6g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Protein: 4g
  • Sodium: 214mg
  • Cholesterol: 24mg

Reviews & Comments

  • 5 stars

    I have shared this recipe and your website many times. These little meatballs were worth the extra effort and I would not use any other recipe again. Amazingly delicious!!

    - Debbie on March 27, 2015 Reply
  • I added two tablespoons of Makers Mark whiskey to the sauce. It was delicious!

    - Chip on March 21, 2015 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Very good, from what I tasted. My family had them gone before I could get to them

    - Lori on March 19, 2015 Reply
  • 5 stars

    EVERYBODY loves these and they disappear at parties. Use those cute toothpicks with the frills and they are irresistible to kids!

    - coco kaminsen on March 19, 2015 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I made these yesterday for an Oscar party. They were the perfect combination of savory and sweet and sour. Everyone loved them! As someone who enjoys cooking, it’s so fun and a huge relief to have a resource where the recipes have all been tested and perfected. Thank you, Jen!!

    - Michelle on February 23, 2015 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I made these gluten free for my family and also for a work luncheon. They were enjoyed by all. The sauce is great. I have searched many years for a great meatball recipe. This will be my go to recipe from now on. I have also made the Swedish version… so good.

    - Renee Harris on February 12, 2015 Reply
  • Hi Jenn,
    2 questions: I only keep fat free milk in the house, can I substitute this for the heavy cream. Also, can I substitute light brown sugar for the dark brown?

    - Emily on February 8, 2015 Reply
    • Hi Emily, Yes and yes :)

      - Jenn on February 8, 2015 Reply
  • Hi Jen, I love your recipes. For this one, is there anything I can use instead of pork? Thanks, Patricia

    - Patricia on January 30, 2015 Reply
    • Thanks, Patricia! It’s fine to replace the pork with more beef.

      - Jenn on January 30, 2015 Reply
  • Hi Jenn. I was wondering if you had ever frozen the cocktail meatballs? If so, do you bake them first or freeze them raw?

    - Kelly on January 30, 2015 Reply
    • Hi Kelly, Yes, freezing works well. I would freeze them after baking (without the sauce).

      - Jenn on February 1, 2015 Reply
  • 5 stars

    My husband loves junk food, however he’s fussy about it, if you can imagine! He loves the grape jelly/cocktail sauce, repulsive meatball concoction that you put in the crockpot. I cringe every time he wants them and I get embarrassed putting the ingredients in my cart at the store!! I’ve tried a few other scratch recipes that went into the garbage because nothing compared to the prepackaged ones, cringe! So, when I saw this recipe I had to try it! When I heard the words these words “these are the best meatballs you’ve made”, I thought victory is mine! Lol!
    They are delicious, the sauce is perfect!
    They are a bit tough to roll, the mixture is very sticky and you really need to keep your hands wet as the recipe suggests, but they are worth it!

    - Lana on January 6, 2015 Reply
  • 5 stars

    My family doesn’t like most frozen, pre-made meatballs, but love the sauce (cranberry sauce & chili sauce), so I decided to try making your recipe for the Bowl Games yesterday. Wow! So tasty! I loved the texture of the meatballs & the flavor, too. The sauce was so delicious. I may cut back just a tad on the brown sugar next time, but leave all else as is. I haven’t tried one recipe that isn’t fantastic on your site yet. Thanks, Jenn!

    - Geo's Mom on January 2, 2015 Reply
  • I was thinking of making these for a New Year’s Eve party. They need to be gluten free but I cannot use traditional gluten free bread due to other allergies. Any ideas? I will also be using almond milk and all beef. Lastly, I was thinking of putting them on warm in a crock pot so they can stay warm throughout the evening. Can’t wait to try them!

    - Jacky on December 29, 2014 Reply
    • Hi Jacky, Re. the bread, you’ll need something to bind the mixture together, otherwise it will be way too wet to form into balls. What do you typically use for this type of thing? The crock pot will work fine.

      - Jenn on December 29, 2014 Reply
  • Hi, I have a ceramic chaffing dish I’d like to serve these meatballs in with lots of the sauce, so I’m planning on quadrupling the recipe (it’s for a big Open House) and making quite a lot of the sauce. Will the meatballs be Ok and not fall apart while being in the sauce for several hours? I’m not putting them in all at once, of course, just adding more meatballs to the dish as necessary. Thanks!

    - Nancy McCarthy on December 11, 2014 Reply
    • Hi Nancy, They aren’t delicate so I think they will be fine.

      - Jenn on December 11, 2014 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I made these for my nieces first birthday and they were a hit. For time saving on the day of-I made them two days before and the day of I warmed them up in my crock pot on low for a couple of hours. They were awesome! I’m not surprised since everything on this blog is incredible. Thanks, Jenn!

    - Sam on December 4, 2014 Reply
  • I am going to make these for a holiday party this weekend. If I make them ahead and refrigerate, could I finish them with sauce and refrigerate them prior to reheating? What would you recommend for temperature and timing to reheat? Thank you, these look delicious and so much more appetizing than crock pot meatballs!

    - Jill on December 4, 2014 Reply
    • Hi Jill, Yes, that’s fine — just re-warm the meatballs in the sauce on the stovetop over medium heat until hot. Shouldn’t take long since they are small. Hope everyone enjoys them.

      - Jenn on December 4, 2014 Reply
  • Could you make these in a slow cooker?

    - Meg on November 28, 2014 Reply
    • Hi Meg, They cook very quickly so not sure a slow cooker would be necessary.

      - Jenn on November 29, 2014 Reply
  • If I use frozen meatballs, should I bake the meatballs first, then heat them in the sauce or can I mix the meatballs with the sauce and bake all together?

    - Kathy Bosco on November 26, 2014 Reply
    • Hi Kathy, I’d bake the meatballs first, then warm them with the sauce.

      - Jenn on November 26, 2014 Reply
  • Hi, what other things would the sauce go good with?

    - monique on November 18, 2014 Reply
    • Hi Monique, It would be delicious over grilled chicken or pork.

      - Jenn on November 19, 2014 Reply
  • Can I make these ahead of time? I am doing a big christmas cocktail party– would like to make the day before. Any thoughts?

    - June Wendler on November 16, 2014 Reply
    • Hi June, That will be absolutely fine to make ahead and reheat. Hope you enjoy!

      - Jenn on November 16, 2014 Reply
  • 5 stars

    The best recipe for cocktail meatballs I have ever come across! BIG hit at the party! Great recipe to make ahead of time!

    - Patty on November 12, 2014 Reply
  • Hi, this recipe looks amazing. The presentation is wonderful. Here is a question though: we are not big fans of ground beef. So can I use ground turkey to make these. If I did would I have to use the veal and pork. I have never used veal. What would you recommend… thanks

    P.s. All the recipes on the blog for 10 recipes for picky eaters look absolutely delicious. My goal is to make all of them this month. I am making the Tilapia and Garlic Mayo tonight. I can’t wait to try them all.. sooo ok excited!!!

    - Monique on October 26, 2014 Reply
    • Hi Monique, It’s fine to replace the beef with turkey; just don’t use extra lean or the meatballs will be dry. I would definitely keep the pork (there’s no veal in the recipe) as it adds a lot of flavor.

      - Jenn on October 27, 2014 Reply
  • For a Christmas Holiday potluck, I need to make recipe without pork. Using one lb. ground beef, will the meatballs be dry and not tasty?
    Have followed your website since I found it!!

    - Maggie on October 23, 2014 Reply
    • Hi Maggie, Use 80-20 or 85-15 ground beef and it will be just fine.

      - Jenn on October 24, 2014 Reply
  • 5 stars

    This is a great recipe. I have the meatloaf mix: veal, pork and beef. Is it OK to put this combination in the mixer?
    Thanks so much.

    - Margaret on October 19, 2014 Reply
    • Hi Margaret, Yes that will work fine.

      - Jenn on October 19, 2014 Reply
      • 5 stars

        Thank you so much. I was hesitant; I always hear not to mix too aggressively. Best, Margaret

        - Margaret on October 19, 2014 Reply
  • What could I use for a substitution for All spice?

    - Suzanne on October 18, 2014 Reply
    • Hi Suzanne, You can just leave it out.

      - Jenn on October 18, 2014 Reply
  • I don’t have all spice. Will the recipe be okay without it or should I go back to the store?

    Thank you!

    - Sam on October 16, 2014 Reply
    • Hi Sam, Don’t go back to the store — it will be fine!

      - Jenn on October 16, 2014 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I make cocktail meatballs every year for our large family gathering using frozen meatballs and bottled ingredients for the sauce– never again. These were the most tender meatballs I have ever made and the difference was obvious to all.
    Also, because I like tender meatballs, I am going to try using the mixer technique and baking powder for other types of meatballs. Never would have figured it out on my own. Thanks.

    - Judi on October 12, 2014 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Looks delicious! I will have to try to make for my youngest, who is a picky eater. I think he will love these! Cheers, Blake

    - Blake Holman on October 8, 2014 Reply
  • 5 stars

    So, LOVE the pics! Very easy to follow but looks like you got a pretty fancy mixer going on there… Do I need one like that or can I use an electric egg beater? Also, what type of mixer is that and where can I get one? Can’t wait to make these meatballs. They sound DeLish! Please let me know so I can make them ASAP! Thanks so much!!! -Christina

    - Christina on October 2, 2014 Reply
    • Hi Christina, I have made this recipe with a hand held electric mixer, so I think the electric egg beater will work! The mixer in the photos is a KitchenAid 5-Quart Stand Mixer; you can find them at Target, Williams Sonoma or online. They are very pricey but last forever. I use mine all the time.

      - Jenn on October 5, 2014 Reply
      • 5 stars

        Wow thanks Jenn! It’s so nice to actually get a reply from a REAL person now-a-days… I really love how involved you are. Thanks for getting back to me. Just put my meatballs in the oven and the sauce is almost ready to go! Delicious! I’m sure the end result will be even better! Egg beater worked great! Now my favorite site for recipes! Simply better than all the rest! 5 STARS all the way!!!

        - Christina on October 6, 2014 Reply
        • 5 stars

          I never thought I could make something that tastes this good! (And I never thought I’d convince my husband that I can cook!) WOW! Thanks Jenn!

          - Christina on October 6, 2014 Reply
          • Yay! So glad it turned out well :)

            - Jenn on October 6, 2014
  • 5 stars

    These Meatballs are ABSOLUTE PERFECTION!
    Thank you for sharing!

    - Jennifer on September 28, 2014 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I tried these last week, and my boyfriend loved it, i loved it. I send some to my mom who is very picky about food, and she loved it and want the recipe.

    - Gina on July 17, 2014 Reply
  • 5 stars

    These were phenomenal! I have always stayed away from meatball recipes, until this one. Thanks for a simple, delicious dish! I may double it next time, as I had NO leftovers! ;)

    - Penny on July 10, 2014 Reply
  • 5 stars

    These are fabulous!

    - Lynne on May 23, 2014 Reply
  • I made this recipe and have to say that I thought the sauce was too sweet for me. I wonder if you could substitute soy sauce or teryaki to the recipe to give it a little more zing.

    - Mary on February 11, 2014 Reply
    • Hi Mary, You could add a little soy sauce or just cut back on the sugar.

      - Jenn on February 12, 2014 Reply
  • Have made these twice in one week already! Once for dinner (and yes my family loved them) and then again for our Super Bowl party. Everyone asked me for the recipe and I shared your site with them. Please keep the wonderful recipes coming!

    - Karen on February 3, 2014 Reply
  • Made these meatballs for dinner for my daughter and I. We ate them over rice as suggested and they were so good and so easy to make.

    - Linda on February 3, 2014 Reply
  • Made these for dinner using almond milk, all ground beef, and mixed by hand. They were still delicious and a real 30-40 minute meal that my kids devoured! Thanks for the recipe!

    - Amanda on February 1, 2014 Reply
  • Sounds great. Around how many meatballs does this recipe make? Plus, will this work doing it ahead of time and reheating or will it take away from the taste? Or possibly, prepare the meatballs ahead of time and do the sauce before serving?

    - Jean on February 1, 2014 Reply
    • Hi Jean, The recipe makes about 25 small (bite-sized) meatballs. It is absolutely fine to make the entire recipe ahead of time and reheat.

      - Jenn on February 1, 2014 Reply
  • Sounds wonderful ! I’ve heard of using baking powder to get a crisper crust on fried chicken, but who knew that it was ” Mother’s Little Helper” for meatballs too ?

    Thanks so much for sharing your recipes and expertise – I always look forward to seeing what you’re up to in the kitchen ;-)

    - Rochelle on January 31, 2014 Reply
  • I wish you included a calorie count….also, I use sugar free jelly

    - Penny on January 31, 2014 Reply
  • Hi Jenn! You can poo-poo the frozen meatball/grape jelly recipe all you want & yours sound great, but for those of us not lucky enough to have a Kitchenaid mixer our friends like them & they will have to do!

    - Leslie W on January 30, 2014 Reply
    • Hi Leslie, You could also use a hand held electric mixer for this recipe.

      - Jenn on January 31, 2014 Reply
  • Jen, What would you substitute for pork–turkey, veal, or chicken? Thanks!

    - Marlene on January 30, 2014 Reply
    • Hi Marlene, Veal or more ground beef would work best.

      - Jenn on January 31, 2014 Reply
  • I will be making dairy free by replacing the cream with unsweetened almond milk.

    - Amanda on January 30, 2014 Reply
  • Can ground chicken or turkey replace the pork? Also, can coconut or soy milk replace cream? Trying to make it Kosher : ) Sounds yummy!

    - Alison on January 30, 2014 Reply
    • Hi Allison, You can replace the pork with more ground beef or veal, and just use water to replace the cream. They’ll still be great.

      - Jenn on January 31, 2014 Reply
  • Oops. . .I just re-read the recipe and got the baking powder

    - Greg Vernicek on January 30, 2014 Reply
  • Where does the baking powder come in with the recipe?

    - Greg Vernicek on January 30, 2014 Reply
    • Hi Greg, The baking powder is added along with the pork and spices, and helps add a little lightness and lift.

      - Jenn on January 30, 2014 Reply
  • How would you recommend modifying this recipe to be dairy free?

    - Eliana G on January 30, 2014 Reply
    • Hi Eliana, You can replace the cream with water.

      - Jenn on January 30, 2014 Reply
  • Looks great Jen! I’m all for spending a bit more time in order to get a superior product!

    - Heather Lampman on January 30, 2014 Reply

Add a Review or Question

Hungry for More?

Subscribe to my free weekly newsletter — where I share new recipes and seasonal menus for every occasion.

Your email address will never be used for any other purpose.
Curious? See a sample newsletter.