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Cocktail Meatballs

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Throw away that recipe that calls for frozen meatballs and grape jelly – these homemade cocktail meatballs are so much better.

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 they’re 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.

What you’ll need to make Cocktail Meatballs


Step-by-Step Instructions

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 the texture tender 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 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 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 meatball ingredients, for the most part, comes from Cook’s Illustrated’s Swedish Meatball recipe. 

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Cocktail Meatballs

Throw away that recipe that calls for frozen meatballs and grape jelly – these homemade cocktail meatballs are so much better.

Servings: About 25 mini meatballs
Total Time: 40 Minutes


  • 1 large egg
  • ¼ cup heavy cream or milk
  • ¾ cup cubed white sandwich bread, crusts removed
  • ½ pound ground pork
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ pound ground beef (85% lean)

For The Sauce

  • ½ cup ketchup
  • ½ cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1½ tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated shallot, from one shallot
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ 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 them to a serving platter, spear with toothpicks and spoon the sauce over top. Garnish with parsley if desired. Serve warm.
  7. 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.

Pair with

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

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.

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  • 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.

    • — Janet on August 7, 2022
    • Reply
  • 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?

    • — Pam on June 19, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Pam, I think a microwave will work to reheat them. Have fun on your trip!

      • — Jenn on June 20, 2022
      • Reply
      • Thanks! I will try it.

        • — Pam on June 20, 2022
        • Reply
  • Can I bake these ahead of time and reheat prior to serving?

    • — Mindy on May 6, 2022
    • Reply
    • Yep 👍

      • — Jenn on May 6, 2022
      • Reply
  • 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!

    • — Jill Willis on February 14, 2022
    • Reply
  • 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!

    • — Carmen on January 10, 2022
    • Reply
  • 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!!

    • — Martin98 on January 9, 2022
    • Reply
  • (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.

    • — TracyB on December 25, 2021
    • Reply
  • Thanks. Very tasty and easy to make recipe. A hit with the family. For sure, my go to meatball recipe.

    • — Jem on December 15, 2021
    • Reply
  • 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!

    • — Cloched on December 14, 2021
    • Reply
  • 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!

    • — Courtney Roberts on December 13, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Courtney, You can get away with using all beef here with no other modifications. Enjoy!

      • — Jenn on December 13, 2021
      • Reply
  • Hi! How does ground beef work as a substitute? Or maybe pork and beef?

    • — Liz on December 11, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Liz, it actually calls for both pork and beef. 🙂

      • — Jenn on December 13, 2021
      • Reply
  • 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.

    • — MJackson on December 8, 2021
    • Reply
  • 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?

    • — Mia on December 2, 2021
    • Reply
    • Sure (and glad you like them)!

      • — Jenn on December 2, 2021
      • Reply
  • 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.

    • — Beverly on November 17, 2021
    • Reply
  • For the sauce, can I’ll substitute tomato sauce for the ketchup?

    • — Sol on November 13, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Sol, the sauce will have a slightly different flavor, but it should work. Please LMK how it turns out if you try it!

      • — Jenn on November 15, 2021
      • Reply
  • 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

    • — Marylynn on October 25, 2021
    • Reply
  • 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.

    • — Jerry k on June 6, 2021
    • Reply
    • Glad you both enjoyed them! They should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees.

      • — Jenn on June 7, 2021
      • Reply
      • 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.

        • — Rebecca on January 11, 2022
        • Reply
  • Can I freeze them

    • — Pip Brown on March 15, 2021
    • Reply
    • Sure – see the bottom of the recipe for freezer-friendly instructions.

      • — Jenn on March 15, 2021
      • Reply
  • 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.

    • — Amy on February 8, 2021
    • Reply
  • 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.

    • — Carey Duncan on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • 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.

    • — Amanda on January 2, 2021
    • Reply
  • 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.

    • — Amanda on January 2, 2021
    • Reply
  • Love. Made 2 nights in a row for holiday apps.

    • — Katie B on December 31, 2020
    • Reply
  • 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.

    • — Rebecca on December 2, 2020
    • Reply
    • Perhaps you didn’t simmer long enough?

      • — Dana on December 14, 2020
      • Reply
    • I totally agree!

      • — Amy on February 8, 2021
      • Reply
  • As always, delicious recipe. Family loves it. Thank you .

    • — Jane on October 18, 2020
    • Reply
  • 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! 🙂

    • — Satisfied chef
    • Reply
  • These are the most amazing meatballs. I have served fresh and frozen-then-served. PERFECT. These are what I consider adult meatballs but my nieces and nephews also inhale them. I am asked for the recipe every time. I am now making a triple batch because the meatballs and sauce freeze so great that if you are going to go through the effort it is wonderful to have these as back-ups for that last minute rock star moment. Follow the recipe exactly. I did not the first time and they were very good (didn’t follow the adding bread instructions as I should have) but when I added the soft bread as instructed OMG juicy yet held together and just the best with the sauce which you could slather on a shoe and eat it. Jenn, I’m a huge fan, have your book and rarely write reviews but so many of your creations have become mine I promise to share more reviews in the future.

    • So glad you like these! 💓

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