Slow Cooker BBQ Chicken Meatballs
Slow Cooker BBQ Chicken Meatballs are lighter than your typical cocktail meatballs but so delicious. An easy grape jelly sauce caramelizes in a Crock-Pot or Instant Pot. Make ahead tips included!
This cocktail meatball recipe originally comes from my mom’s Betty Crocker cookbook. The simple 2 ingredient sauce is the popular grape jelly sauce. When the sauce is cooked low and slow in a slow cooker or Instant Pot, it caramelizes into a thick delicious sauce reminiscent of BBQ sauce.
The original recipe calls for ground beef. Since I don’t eat beef, years ago I started making these with ground turkey. I would just label them “cocktail meatballs” and hope the guests at our annual Christmas Eve party didn’t notice. This recipe has been buried in my old 10 Best NYE Party Snack Ideas post, so I thought it finally deserved a dedicated entry.
This year, I decided to switch it up and use ground chicken. The girls love my Italian chicken meatballs (recipe coming soon!), so I knew they would enjoy these as well. I include make ahead instructions that can be useful when preparing multiple appetizers for a single event.
Looking for a drink to go with your party? Check out my favorite Pink Citrus Punch!
All of the ingredients except for the ground chicken are mixed in a bowl, then the ground chicken is added. Once combined, the meatballs can be scooped out onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet.
Ground chicken and turkey tend to be stickier than ground beef, so here’s an easy tip to help with that. Coat your hands with olive oil or olive oil spray before you roll the meatballs. This will help them stay in a nice “ball” shape and prevent them from sticking to your hands. Reapply the olive oil as needed. I use this same method when making Triple Chocolate Biscotti to prevent the dough from sticking to my hands.
The meatballs are baked until cooked through. I made my meatballs larger than your typical cocktail meatballs, which are usually bite sized. You can make them smaller than mine, which will serve more people. They will just bake for a shorter amount of time.
After the meatballs are baked, they can be immediately placed into the sauce or frozen for later (see the Make Ahead section below).
Sauce for the Meatballs
These cocktail meatballs have a super simple sauce of grape jelly and chili sauce.
There’s a few ways to make this sauce. The easiest way is to use an Instant Pot. The jelly and chili sauce can be added to the Instant Pot and cooked on saute until the jelly dissolves. Then, the meatballs are added. The Instant Pot can be changed to the slow cook setting on low. The meatballs can cook for a few hours or longer. The longer you cook them, the more the sauce caramelizes.
To make the meatballs in a slow cooker, you can combine the sauce ingredients in a small saucepan on the stove and cook until the jelly has dissolved. Add the meatballs to the slow cooker and pour the heated sauce on top. Then cook on low for several hours.
This is how the meatballs look after simmering for a bit in the sauce. They are absolutely delicious at this point, but the sauce hasn’t quite caramelized.
In the picture below, you can see how much darker the sauce gets after cooking for a few hours. The sauce gets thicker and sweeter. If you have the time to let them go longer, I recommend it.
If you don’t have the time to let these meatballs cook in a slow cooker, you can simply toss them in the warm sauce in a large saucepan or pot and simmer them uncovered for about 30 minutes. The sauce may not get as caramelized as it does in the slow cooker, but the meatballs will still be delicious!
Make Ahead Chicken Meatballs
To make these ahead of time, follow the recipe through baking the meatballs. Then, place the meatballs in a single layer in a resealable gallon sized freezer bag and freeze until the day you plan to serve the meatballs.
Place the frozen meatballs in the warm sauce in the slow cooker or Instant Pot. For the slower cooker, cook them on high until heated through, then reduce to low. For the Instant Pot, saute the meatballs in the sauce until warm and then reduce to low slow cooker setting and cook for additional time.
Gluten Free Chicken Meatballs
Use gluten free bread crumbs in place of traditional bread crumbs for gluten free meatballs.
Looking for More Party Appetizers?
I round up my favorite NYE Appetizers here, but a more exhaustive list, check out these recipes:
Baked Southwestern Egg Rolls
Whole Foods Copycat Spinach Artichoke Dip
Double Tomato Bruschetta
Layered Taco Dip
Spicy Buffalo Chicken Meatballs
Buffalo Chicken Dip
Restaurant Style Hummus
Jalapeno Popper Dip
Restaurant Style Salsa
The Best Corn and Tomato Salsa
Fresh Homemade Salsa
Pan Fried Onion Dip
Simple Tomato Tart
Chicken and Pumpkin Tart Appetizers
Prosciutto and Melon Appetizer Bites
Bacon Stuffed Cherry Tomato Appetizers
For the Meatballs:
- 1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
- 1/2 cup minced onion
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon snipped parsley (or 1 teaspoon dried parsley)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 pound ground chicken (or ground beef or turkey)
- extra-virgin olive oil
For the Sauce:
- 12 ounces jarred chili sauce (like Heinz)
- 10 ounces grape jelly
To Make the Meatballs:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Combine first 8 ingredients of the meatballs and mix well. Add meat and mix until evenly incorporated.
- Form 1-inch meatballs, using olive oil on your hands to keep the mixture from sticking. Place formed meatballs on parchment lined baking sheet.
- Bake meatballs until cooked through 15 – 25 minutes, depending on size.
- If making ahead, freeze meatballs in a single layer in a gallon sized freezer bag. If making immediately, proceed to make the sauce.
To Make the Sauce:
- In a saucepan over medium-high heat, combine chili sauce and grape jelly, and stir frequently until jelly has melted completely. Place meatballs in a slow cooker and pour the heated sauce on top.
- To make in an Instant Pot, add the sauce ingredients to the Instant Pot bowl and cook on the saute setting until the jelly has dissolved. Add the meatballs to the sauce and stir to coat.
- Cook on slow cook setting on low for 3 to 4 hours or longer, stirring occasionally.
For Quicker Meatballs:
- Add the meatballs to the sauce in the saucepan, stir to coat, and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes.