Cocktail Meatballs

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Toss that retro recipe that calls for grape jelly and chili sauce—these homemade cocktail meatballs are so much better.

Plate of cocktail meatballs.

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

ingredients for cocktail meatballs

Step-by-Step Instructions

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

eggs, cream and bread cubes in bowl

Mash with a fork until the bread is mostly dissolved.

mashed bread and cream mixture

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.

process of making meat mixture in mixing bowlMix again until just combined.

finished meatball mixture in mixing bowl

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.

meatballs on rack over baking sheet

Bake the meatballs for about 25 minutes, or until cooked through.

Cooked meatballs on a wire rack.

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.

sauce ingredients in skilletSimmer the sauce for about ten minutes, until slightly thickened.

Pan of simmering sauce.


Add the baked meatballs to the sauce and simmer until the meatballs are warmed through.

baked cocktail meatballs simmering in the sauce

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

Plate of cocktail meatballs.

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. 

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Cocktail Meatballs

Toss that retro recipe that calls for grape jelly and chili sauce—these homemade cocktail meatballs are so much better.

Servings: About 50 mini meatballs
Total Time: 40 Minutes


  • 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

For Serving

  • Finely chopped parsley (optional)


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.)
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  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, 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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  • 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! 💓

  • Made these for my Halloween party this past weekend. Instead of using the sauce in this recipe, I used your honey, lime and sriracha sauce recipe (which I am madly in love with). Turned out GREAT and was a complete hit! My friend recently turned me onto your website and everything I’ve made so far has been absolutely wonderful. You have great flavors and I am starting to feel a kinship of sorts at this point. :O) THANK you for all the fabulous recipes. You are now my go to gal for creating happiness in my kitchen. Cheers!

    • — Juli Siegfried
    • Reply
    • So glad you’re enjoying the recipes, Juli! xoxo

  • Help!!! I wanted to make these for tonight however, I don’t have a paddle attachment, only a regular beater. How do I proceed?

    • — Estelle Crawford
    • Reply
    • Hi Estelle, regular beaters will work here too. Hope you enjoy!

  • Jenn, I hope I haven’t ruined my meatballs. I mistakenly put the ground beef in with the pork and beat it the entire time. Should I start over?

    • No worries, Glinda – it will be fine!

      • They turned out great – love the sauce! Thank you!

  • Can these be made with beef and veal as i am allergic to pork

    • Sure, Barbara – that’s fine.

  • Hey Jenn, I love your recipes and would love to try this but I can’t eat dairy. Do you think they would still be good without the heavy whipping cream or should I substitute with coconut cream?

    • Hi, You can substitute either almond milk or water to replace the cream. The sauce will still be good. 🙂

  • I have made this recipe many times. It is amazing! If you are in a hurry, you could spruce up frozen meatballs by making just the sauce. It is my go-to pot luck appetizer.

    • — Bobbi Jo LaForce
    • Reply
  • My guys cannot get enough of these. Holidays approaching I will be making these cocktail meatballs many times. Using the blender adds such ease to prep, the sauce is spot on. Highly recommend.

  • Great recipe! I’ve served these as appetizers over the holidays, and at Potlucks- they are always a hit wherever I bring them!

  • I’ve made homemade meatballs numerous times with all being wonderful recipes. This meatball recipe is the worst tasting meatball I’ve ever eaten, way too much pork! VERY GROSS

    • Meatballs were ok, but wasted over a gallon of sauce. Threw it away, was just awful. Made almost 400 meatballs for a wedding reception. I’m gonna make the grape jelly and chili sauce recipe instead. Glad I didn’t serve at the wedding. Oh well, I cook from scratch everyday but this just didn’t have a good taste! 4 taste testers. But, meatballs tasted good.

  • Hi. Can you use a slow cooker to keep these warm while serving buffet style?

    FYI: I love all your recipes that I’ve tried.

    • Glad you like the recipes! And, yes, you could keep these warm in a slow cooker for a buffet.

      • Hi. I don’t have a stand mixer. Can I use my hand mixer instead?

        • — Baishakhi Hazarika
        • Reply
  • Love these meatballs!

  • Can you serve these as a main dish (Ie for Easter)? And would you have to adjust their size and cooking length?

    • Hi Sandy, you can definitely serve these as a main dish; no need to make them larger – people will just eat more of them! These would pair nicely with steamed rice and this springy vegetable dish.

  • Up until this recipe, I’ve loved every one of your dishes Jenn. While the sauce is very good, the meatballs are a bit bland for my taste. Next time I’ll add some pepper and perhaps an herb.

    • — Gillian Andries
    • Reply
  • I made these for my book club Christmas party and wow were they a hit! I followed the recipe as written except that I didn’t have a stand mixer. They were absolutely wonderful. The sauce is fantastic. I just love your recipes and am looking forward to my cookbook.

    • — Laurel Crawford
    • Reply
  • Let me start out by saying that I just love all your recipes. I participated in helping with the cookbook like many others by making your recipes and submitting the questions once completed. These were not on there but I have made these meatballs for so many occasions and I seriously can’t make enough it’s what people love. All your recipes are easy to follow and easy to find the ingredients, which I think any home cook can appreciate. I have made at least a dozen of your recipes, choose this one to review because it’s great whether you are having a party or not.

    • — Jeanette Colon
    • Reply
  • Hi, this looks like a great recipe but I was wondering why it calls for baking powder.
    Thank you

    • Hi Julie, the baking powder helps to add a little lightness and lift to the meatballs. Hope you enjoy!

  • can meatball be made in 24 hrs in advance?

    • Sure, Mary, that will work! Just reheat the meatballs in their sauce on the stovetop over medium heat until hot. It shouldn’t take long since they are small. Enjoy!

  • What is the equation between 1 meatball and 25 mini meatballs
    Am confused on the carb count, which shows 8 carbs per serving, and serving size shows 1 meatball
    Does this mean there are 8 carbs in every mini meatball, or a total of 8 carbs for the entire 25 mini meatballs

    • Hi Martha, sorry for any confusion — there are 8 carbs per mini meatball.

  • Made these recently for the college national champ games along with a few more snacks. They were excellent. I made a double recipe because that was the quantity of meat I had and hoped they were good. Also made the sauce which was excellent. The sauce is far better than others I tasted. I froze the extras and will make more sauce for Super Bowl. They were such a hit I plan to do this use/freeze double recipe every time.

  • I used the sauce recipe for Costco frozen meatballs as an appetizer at a baby shower and these were definitely the star! People were raving about them and I was so glad there were a couple left at the end so I could enjoy some on the couch later that night 😊 I imagine the meatball recipe is equally as tasty, and may have to try them out when I don’t have 8 other dishes to prepare. Thanks!

    • Hi! There are no dates on these comments, so hope it wasn’t 5 years ago! I have Costco meatballs too that I’m planning to use. I’m planning on baking them, then mixing with the sauce. Is that what you did? Thanks!

      • — Carrie M on December 23, 2023
      • Reply
  • The meatballs were really good (Cook’s Illustrated is always good), but the sauce tasted just like a very very basic store bought BBQ sauce. If you’re making this for an event to impress, don’t bother with this sauce and find another one.

  • They day I was going to serve these meatballs I woke up at 4 a.m. and decided to go ahead and make them in case they didn’t work out. I made a double batch and followed the instructions completely. (I was quite surprised that the pork needed to be beaten until smooth in the Kitchen Aid mixer.) Also, I reheated the meatballs in the sauce prior to serving them. These are the best meatballs I have ever eaten and the guests were saying the same thing. Fabulous recipe!

  • Can I make these only with ground beef instead of pork?

    • Sure, Edna – that’s fine. Enjoy!

  • Zingy but not too much, one of the favoritie snacks of the appetizer table. Great recipe, thanks!

  • Unfortunately, I did not care for the taste of these.

  • Do the meatballs and the sauce both freeze well separately?

  • I would like to reheat the meatballs in the oven, the sauce on top of stove then serve sauce over them on a platter. I’m thinking they will become very strong in the sauce flavor if i reheat all in a pot. the meatballs are scrumptious, thanks for the recipe!!! Hopefully the oven won’t dry out the meatballs? Im diabetic also so try to cut down on the sugar on the holidays so not soaking the meatballs in the sauce will help.

    • Hi Marilyn, I suppose you could reheat them in the oven covered with foil, but I do think the meatballs may become a bit dry if put back in the oven afer being fully cooked. For best results, I would heat them in the sauce on the stove. Sorry!

      • What about reheating the meatballs in beef broth?

        • I think that would be fine, Cece.

  • I made this recipe (and doubled) for a Christmas party I am going to tonight. I didn’t have any ground pork on hand so used all beef. After completing them, however, I decided I wanted more of the sauce, so I went ahead and made another batch. (I like them swimming in it!). I think everyone will be pleased; I think they tasted great! A nice change to the other recipe I have been using for over 50 years! LOL Note: I don’t have a stand mixer so used my Kitchenaide hand mixer. When I was done, the meat mixture was all caught up inside where the beaters get attached – very difficult to clean out!!

  • Just a question. I apologize if it’s a repeat, I didn’t read through ALL the reviews/comments. Is the brown sugar for the sauce packed? Would make a big sweetness difference if it’s not. Thanks!

    • Hi Lauren – Yes, it’s packed. Thanks for catching that; I’ll update the recipe. 🙂

  • Hi jennifer, i wrote to you before but cant find your response. I want to make these for a wedding hors d’oeurve table. Can I make these a couple days ahead of the wedding Also, do you think that they will be ok over a sterno tray to keep warm? Was thinking of doubling the sauce. What are your thoughts? Thank you

    • Sure, you can make these a day or two ahead. If you make them even more in advance, I’d cook and then freeze them (without the sauce). And They would be fine with the sauce doubled and kept warm over sterno. Enjoy!

  • Can you preform the meatballs and bake the next day? We are doing these for my daughters birthday!

    • Definitely!

  • Reviews are great. I will try for a Christmas gathering.
    Question- I don’t see how many meatballs the original recipe makes, tried counting on the rack? 25?

    • You’re an accurate counter – the recipe makes about 25 mini meatballs. 🙂 Hope you enjoy!

      • lol, off to buy the ingredients now for a test run, prior to Christmas…

  • This is an amazing recipe! Followed recipe exactly and they were a huge hit! A must try and they freeze beautifully!

  • If I made these a day ahead and stored in the refrigerator – how do u suggest I heat them up to serve for a cocktail party? Thx!

    • Hi Caroline, you can just reheat the meatballs in their sauce on the stovetop over medium heat until hot. It shouldn’t take long since they are small. Enjoy!

      • Can you put this sauce over vegan meatballs? Also can sauce be made ahead of time & put in fridge until later?

        • Yes and yes 🙂

  • Amazing flavor and texture. Usually meatballs are meatballs, but these delicious treats are so tasty! So excited to have found this website

  • Can you make these with ground turkey?

    • Hi Pat, It’s fine to replace the beef with ground turkey– just avoid the extra lean variety or the meatballs will be dry.

      • If you only have lean ground turkey, what do you recommend adding to avoid making dry meatballs?

        • — Cindy on November 30, 2022
        • Reply
        • Hi Cindy, it’s not the best choice here, but you could try adding a little oil to the turkey to increase the fat content a bit.

          • — Jenn on December 1, 2022
          • Reply
  • My guest has a tomato allergy. So I can’t use ketchup. Any ideas? Thanks in advance.

    • Hmmm…. that’s a tough one. I’d suggest either using a different recipe like these Swedish Meatballs or looking online for a Hoisin-based sauce (which will give them more of an Asian bent). Hope that helps!

  • Hi, was going to make these cocktail meatballs for a wedding reception horderves table. What’s your thoughts on using a sterno buffet server to keep warm? Maybe double or triple sauce, thanks, Phyllis

    • I think it’d work nicely, Phyllis. Hope everyone enjoys!

  • I have an old family recipe that is very similar except it includes 1 tsp of curry powder in the sauce. I highly recommend this. So happy to find this version as I much prefer the texture of the meatballs done this way.

  • I don’t have a rack, would baking them on the sheet still work?

    • Yes, Karina, that would work. Some of the juices that drip from the meatballs will form a bit of a pool around them, but that won’t affect the end result.

  • Tangy and Sweet. The meatballs are the perfect texture. Delicious!!!!

    • — Chandra Q. Hinchen
    • Reply
  • Recipe sounds wonderful! Is there anything else that you can use instead of white bread.? Hate to throw almost a whole loaf out because no one will eat it! Panko maybe?

    • Hi Carol, 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. Enjoy!

  • I have a question. I recently made the sauce for some meatballs that were already cooked and the sauce was amazing. I need to make the sauce for a baby shower this weekend for about 300 meatballs and I want to make sauce ahead of time. My question is how do I need to store the sauce once I have cooked it and how many days ahead of time would you recommend for me to make the sauce.

    • Hi Kenyatta, You can make the sauce up to 3 days ahead and store it in the fridge. Have fun at the shower!

  • Hello, I am allergic to pork can I just use beef for this recipe?
    ( or will that throw off the taste)

    • Hi Chandni, They’ll still be good with just ground beef- enjoy!

  • I used this recipe to make cocktail meatballs for a party. The meatballs “flew” off the platter. The homemade sauce is delicious and the baked meatballs are easy to make and very tender as advertised. Thank you!

  • Hi, can I substitute light brown sugar for the dark?

  • Absolutely loved these! Made triple the recipe ahead and froze til needed.Just added the sauce to defrosted meatballs.I made the mistake of offering leftovers to my guests as they all said “yes” and I only had a few for myself lolThese are the only meatballs I will make from now on!

  • how far in advance can i make these

    • Hi Emma, you could get away with making them up to 2 days ahead and refrigerating, or you can freeze them (without the sauce) for up to 3 months.

  • I found the meatballs themselves to be very bland. The sauce is okay, but I also had a hard time getting the sauce to stick to the meatballs. I’m thinking of adding more seasoning to the meatball mixture and less milk.

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