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Toss that retro recipe that calls for grape jelly and chili sauce—these homemade cocktail meatballs are so much better.
Cocktail meatballs were a popular appetizer in the 1960s and 1970s. My mother and grandmother used to make them from a well-known recipe that called for frozen meatballs, grape jelly, and Heinz chili sauce. It seemed like everyone made them that way back then! This recipe offers a modern twist on the classic dish by using homemade meatballs and a sweet and tangy sauce that can be prepared in just 15 minutes. The meatballs are not only delicious as an appetizer, but they can also be served over rice for a satisfying dinner. Plus, kids love them! Using an electric mixer to make the meatballs results in a tender texture with a satisfying snap, perfect for spearing with toothpicks. That said, if you don’t have an electric mixer, it’s fine to mix the meatballs by hand.
There are many delicious meatball recipes that can be served as appetizers, including Swedish meatballs, chicken meatballs, and Vietnamese-style meatballs. Simply make them bite-sized and offer toothpicks for easy nibbling.
What you’ll need to make Cocktail Meatballs
Begin by combining the eggs, cream and bread cubes in a small bowl.
Mash with a fork until the bread is mostly dissolved.
Combine the ground pork, garlic, baking powder and seasoning in an electric mixer and whip until the mixture is smooth and pale. Add the egg mixture and beat until smooth, then the ground beef.
Mix again until just combined.
Using moistened hands, form the meat mixture into balls 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 25 minutes, or until cooked through.
Meanwhile, make the sauce by combining the ketchup, brown sugar, cider vinegar, 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 simmer until the meatballs are warmed through.
Transfer to a serving platter, garnish with finely chopped parsley if desired, and spear with pretty toothpicks.
Notes: The technique for mixing the meatball ingredients, for the most part, comes from Cook’s Illustrated. The bamboo forks shown in the photo are available on Amazon.
You may also like
- Swedish Meatballs
- Chicken Meatballs with Tomato-Balsamic Glaze
- Vietnamese-Style Meatballs with Chili Sauce
Toss that retro recipe that calls for grape jelly and chili sauce—these homemade cocktail meatballs are so much better.
- 2 large eggs
- ½ cup heavy cream or milk
- 1½ cups cubed white sandwich bread, crusts removed
- 1 pound ground pork
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 pound ground beef (85% lean)
For The Sauce
- 1 cup ketchup
- 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
- ¼ cup water
- 3 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 1½ tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons finely minced shallot, from one shallot
- 2 small cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- Finely chopped parsley (optional)
- Make the Meatballs: Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil for easy clean-up and place an ovenproof rack over top; spray the rack generously with nonstick cooking spray.
- Whisk the egg and cream together in a medium bowl. Stir in the bread and mash with a fork until the bread is broken down. Set aside.
- In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the pork, garlic, 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.
- Using wet hands, form the mixture into 1½-inch round meatballs and place on the prepared rack. (The mixture is very sticky; wet hands help, so keep wetting your hands as you go). Bake for about 25 minutes, until just done. (Note: You'll notice that the rack will leave little marks on the bottom of the meatballs but they will not be too noticeable once the meatballs are covered with sauce.)
- Make the Sauce: Meanwhile, in a large skillet, whisk together the ketchup, brown sugar, water, cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, shallot, garlic, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until thickened, 10 to 12 minutes.
- Add the baked meatballs to the sauce and simmer until warmed through. Transfer the meatballs to a serving platter, spear with toothpicks, and spoon the sauce over top. Garnish with parsley, if using. Serve warm.
- Freezer-Friendly Instructions: The meatballs and sauce can be frozen in separate containers for up to 3 months. When ready to serve, reheat the meatballs in their sauce on the stovetop over medium heat until hot in the center.
- Serving size: 1 meatball
- Calories: 85
- Fat: 5g
- Saturated fat: 2g
- Carbohydrates: 8g
- Sugar: 6g
- Fiber: 0g
- Protein: 4g
- Sodium: 214mg
- Cholesterol: 24mg
This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.
Great appetizer! I substituted ground venison for the beef and everyone raved about them. The meatballs are really tender with perfect garlicy sweet flavor.
Can I use breadcrumbs instead of white bread?
Hi Barbara, I wouldn’t recommend panko or bread crumbs, here, but you could use a different type of bread if you prefer. You just want something somewhat soft.
Hi Jenn. I am curious as to the baking powder in the meatballs. What is its purpose? Thank you!
Hi Coral, the baking powder helps to add a little lightness and lift to the meatballs. Hope you enjoy!
Can you do these in a slow cooker?
Hi Christine, These cook quite quickly, so I don’t think a slow cooker would be necessary.
I made these (2 batches) for a get-together last night as well as your crab cake recipe (2 x as well). There were no leftovers! Everyone commented on them and asked for the recipe. Thank you, I have utilized so many of your recipes and they have never disappointed me. I am so grateful that you share your outstanding
I used the recipe and what a waste of produce! I usually play around with quantities according to my fridge but this time I followed the recipe to the gram and soda flavour is simply terrible.
I know you see my comments quite often, but I’m just showing gratitude. We had close friends for early New Year’s Eve meal. (We are in our 70’s so we must start early and end early🤣). Because we all had so many holiday meals and sweets, I wanted a more simple meal. These are your recipes I used…. Appetizers…your cocktail meatballs and party magnet cheese ball
My specialty salad with your candied pecans.
Your pasta e fagioli soup with focaccia bread
A light dessert
I was told I “hit it out of the park”! Thank you for helping me with a fantastic “happy New Years meal “
I have made these meatballs many times before and my family loves them! Your original recipe included allspice as an ingredient and I prefer that version of your recipe. Can you remind me what amount of allspice was in the original recipe?
Hi Yvette, It’s 1/4 tsp.
The allspice is that in the meatballs or the sauce
It was in the meatballs (but I used so little that you really couldn’t taste it).
The instructions say to add allspice to the beef/pork mixture, but the ingredients do not list an amount. How much allspice would we use? Thank you!
Hi Heather – it was a typo. Sorry about that! It’s fixed. 🙂
I love making meatballs and was really excited to try this recipe, so I doubled it—huge mistake. The meatballs are not good at all, I agree with the other commenter about there being entirely too much pork. This is actually the first time I’ve commented on a recipe, because I’m so disappointed in the outcome and waste of ingredients, ugh.
I want to bring this on a family road trip, but only have a microwave and refrigerator in my cabin. Do you think if I bring these frozen, I could microwave them?
Hi Pam, I think a microwave will work to reheat them. Have fun on your trip!
Thanks! I will try it.
Can I bake these ahead of time and reheat prior to serving?
These were the best meatballs I’ve ever had! I like spicy, so I added cayenne and my meat rub to the meat mixture — and sriracha to the sauce. Fantastic!
Used frozen meatballs but whipped up this sauce for a quick lunch for the kids and they said it was the most delicious thing they’ve ever eaten. Will try to make with the meatballs next time!
OMG – I just made these for a dinner party last night….they were delicious!! Everyone was raving about them. The only thing that I did differently….I omitted the mixer and just mixed the meat up with my hands until just mixed together (I just couldn’t bring myself to use a mixer – thought the meat would be too tough). They were so good!!
(Disclaimer- I used frozen meatballs for this. 5 stars for the sauce)
Used this sauce recipe because the thought of doing the ol’ chili sauce and grape jelly trick was disgusting. This is so much better!! Super easy to make and ready quickly. I will absolutely make it again.
Thanks. Very tasty and easy to make recipe. A hit with the family. For sure, my go to meatball recipe.
I made the recipe for a holiday women’s gift exchange and it was very good! I doubled the recipe and it worked. I made the meatballs a bit too large. A few notes: our local supermarket (Publix) had ground pork but it had quite a bit of grizzle in it. It hung off the mixer blades (ugh) so I knew there was more that “got away”. The next time, I might put it through my kitchenaid meat grinder. (I would buy 30% more, knowing that I would lose about this much to the grizzle that accumulates on the grinder parts.) Or get the ground meat from a good butcher. I also added 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes to the sauce – for the doubled recipe. A few women asked me for the recipe!
I have a son who can only eat beef (odd, I know). If I make these with all beef instead of the beef/ pork combination, should I make any other adjustments? Thank you!
Hi Courtney, You can get away with using all beef here with no other modifications. Enjoy!
Hi! How does ground beef work as a substitute? Or maybe pork and beef?
Hi Liz, it actually calls for both pork and beef. 🙂
My 9 year old daughter approves! We had some frozen meatballs, so we used what we had on hand. Even though the meatballs weren’t made from scratch, these turned out great. The sauce has great flavor, and is the perfect consistency.
Made this for potluck last summer and it was hit! Making it again this weekend. Can I make the meatballs the night before and cook it in the morning?
Sure (and glad you like them)!
Took these to an appetizer dinner party and they were a big hit! I add just a dash of scotch bonnet pepper powder at the end so just a hint of spice at the end.
For the sauce, can I’ll substitute tomato sauce for the ketchup?
Hi Sol, the sauce will have a slightly different flavor, but it should work. Please LMK how it turns out if you try it!
I wanted to love this so much, because the chili sauce and grape jelly was so last year, but this is so sweet and gave us the worst heartburn. Make the sauce separately and try it before you put the meatballs in. Im so glad I did that. I was making this for a large party, I wouldnt have served it, so that would be my advice, make the sauce and taste first
Me and my wife just made these meatballs and wow, they were delicious. My wife was quite skeptical about the meat mixture but they came out great. Sauce was great too. Might have to try it on some bbq chicken next time. I do have a question about the meatballs. We would like to know what the internal temperature should be so we don’t overcook them. Thanks for the recipe.
Glad you both enjoyed them! They should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees.
The meatballs work wonderfully with rolled oats in place of bread. I measured first and then lightly pulsed them in a spice grinder. The meatballs themselves were so tender and delicious that my family devoured a few plain right out of the oven before putting the sauce on. Oh, and I used full fat coconut milk instead of dairy. YUM.
Can I freeze them
Sure – see the bottom of the recipe for freezer-friendly instructions.
This recipe was far too sweet for my family. For me, they were barely edible so my partner will have to eat them for lunch this week! They might be good served over rice to dilute some of that sweetness. The meatballs were also very tender, so make sure to bake them as the recipe instructs (versus pan sear them like I did…thinking it’d make the sauce delicious). I would cut the sugar by at least 50% if I were to make these again. I’d also add some heat.
I’ve tried these twice now and the flavor is great! BUT…I don’t however love the texture. To me, the use of the stand mixer makes the meat ball tough and not as tender as they could be so I’m going to try next time to do everything the same except do the mixing by hand as with a regular meatball or hamburger patty.
Me again! I should also say that for the sauce, I finely chopped the garlic and shallot in a mini food prep processor. I don’t think I would have liked bigger chunks.
Amazing!!! I wanted an easy recipe for cocktail meatballs (I loathe the frozen kind) and loved that I could use the mixer instead of hand mixing (ew.) They were easy and amazing! I was skeptical of the sauce but decided to make it to see… It was so great that my husband said, “only this sauce from now on!” We go back and forth between the typical chili sauce/jellied cranberry sauce and a brown gravy/sour cream stroganoff sauce. Hands down, this one wins! I’m not sure what went wrong with the other reviewers… I will say I was nervous about the smell and thought maybe the vinegar would be too much but nope. I also put everything in a slow cooker on warm for several hours. Everyone loved – kids too.
Love. Made 2 nights in a row for holiday apps.
I do not understand how the sauce for these meatballs got even one good review. It was horrible. It literally just tastes like insanely sugary ketchup. I’m sure the meatball recipe itself is fine but I didn’t try.
Perhaps you didn’t simmer long enough?
I totally agree!
I took one look at the amount of sugar in this recipe and thought no way! This is way too much, plus ketchup has sugar in it too and I don’t eat it.
As always, delicious recipe. Family loves it. Thank you .
so… can i do it with just beef? or just pork? if so, which one would you recommend?
Sure – I’d go with all beef. Enjoy!
Yum!! Easy to make with ingredients readily available in the pantry!Thanks!
These were very easy and tasty. Gobbled down in minutes at my party. Great recipe. Thank you!
I made cocktail meatballs for 40 for a church gathering. They were delish, as evidenced by a little boy who told his mom, “Mrs. L makes the BEST meatballs!” Thanks for enhancing my reputation. I absolutely love learning little tricks like beating the pork till it’s sticky. It sounds so weird but it really did make for a fabulous texture!
How do I make this kosher? All beef but what can I substitute for the cream?
Hi Hannah, A few readers have commented that in place of the heavy cream, they’ve used Rich’s non-dairy coffee creamer (frozen) and another mentioned she was going to try it with Trader Joe’s unflavored non-dairy creamer. Hope that helps!
I made these for New Year’s party and they were huge hit! The sauce is out of this world…
can these be made ahead of time and reheated?
Yep, that’s fine!
I made this recipe last night for a group event because I couldn’t find the ok’ standby of barbecue sauce. The feedback from everyone was Unanimous, it was great! Thanks for sharing this recipe! 🙂