Easy Cocktail Meatballs

published Aug 28, 2021
Cocktail Meatballs Recipe

Perfect for parties, these meatballs are drenched in a sweet and sour sauce made with cranberry and chili sauce.

Serves6 to 8

Makes24 meatballs

Prep20 minutes

Cook40 minutes to 50 minutes

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cocktail meatballs in a white, porcelain serving platter, with a green garnish. A red and white striped napkin is next to it.
Credit: Marta Rivera

When it comes to party recipes, meatballs are iconic. This recipe is simple to prepare and make-ahead-friendly, which means serving a crowd can be way less stressful. Leave the meatballs to simmer away in a sweet and sour sauce made with cranberry and chili sauce while you attend to other things, or enjoy them right away. And don’t limit them to just party food: Serve these homemade meatballs over steamed rice with a garden salad on the side for a unique weeknight dinner

What’s the Secret to Making Good Cocktail Meatballs?

To make meatballs that keep your guests coming back for more, pack them full of flavor and ensure they’re tender. The grated onion and garlic not only make meatballs taste delicious, but they also help add moisture to the meat.

How Do I Keep My Meatballs from Falling Apart?

  • Use egg or breadcrumbs (or both!) in your meatball mix; both act as binders, which hold the meatballs together.
  • Be sure to mix your meat mixture thoroughly; the mixing helps emulsify the meat mixture, which also contributes to sturdy meatballs.
Credit: Marta Rivera

Can You Leave Meatballs in the Sauce Overnight?

Yes! In fact, the meatballs taste better the longer they sit in the sauce mixture. If you plan to make them ahead, leave them in the sauce and store them in a covered container in the fridge.

Cocktail Meatballs Recipe

Perfect for parties, these meatballs are drenched in a sweet and sour sauce made with cranberry and chili sauce.

Prep time 20 minutes

Cook time 40 minutes to 50 minutes

Makes 24 meatballs

Serves 6 to 8

Nutritional Info


Make the meatballs:

  • Cooking spray

  • 1/2

    medium yellow onion

  • 2 cloves


  • 1

    large egg

  • 1 pound

    ground chuck (80% lean)

  • 1/2 cup

    plain breadcrumbs

  • 2 1/2 teaspoons

    Worcestershire sauce

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • Pinch ground nutmeg

For the sauce:

  • 1 (14-ounce) can

    jellied (smooth) cranberry sauce

  • 1 (12-ounce) bottle

    chili sauce, preferably Heinz

  • 2 tablespoons

    packed brown sugar

  • 1 tablespoon

    Dijon mustard

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    freshly squeezed lemon juice

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 8 sprigs

    fresh parsley


Make the meatballs:

  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 375°F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil, then lightly coat the foil with cooking spray.

  2. Prepare the following, adding each to a large bowl as you complete it: Grate 1/2 large yellow onion on the large holes of a box grater (about 1/3 cup) and finely grate 2 garlic cloves. Lightly beat 1 large egg in a small bowl.

  3. Add 1 pound ground chuck, 1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs, 2 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, and a pinch of ground nutmeg. Mix until combined.

  4. Using wet hands, divide and roll the mixture into 24 (1-ounce) balls. (Alternatively, you can scoop the mixture with a 1-ounce portion scoop, then roll them into balls.) Place on the baking sheet, spacing them evenly apart, 6 across and 4 down.

  5. Bake until slightly caramelized and cooked through, flipping the meatballs halfway through, about 20 minutes total. Meanwhile, make the sauce.

Make the sauce:

  1. Place 1 (14-ounce) can jellied cranberry sauce in a 12-inch skillet, preferably one with a lid. Heat over medium heat, whisking until smooth, about 5 minutes. Add 1 (12-ounce bottle) chili sauce, 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Whisk to combine.

  2. Bring the cranberry mixture up to a gentle simmer, whisking frequently. Continue simmering until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and keep warm until the meatballs are ready.

  3. Transfer the meatballs to the sauce and spoon some of the sauce over the meatballs. Cover and increase the heat to medium-low. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring gently twice during heating. Meanwhile, strip the leaves from 8 fresh parsley sprigs and finely chop.

  4. Transfer the meatballs to a serving dish. Garnish with the parsley.

Recipe Notes

Ingredients: Nutmeg adds a unique flavor to the meatballs, but it can be omitted if you don’t like it. Don’t use whole cranberry sauce for this recipe — you want the cranberry to melt down into a smooth sauce. Chili sauce can be found in the same grocery store aisle as ketchup and looks like cocktail sauce. (It is not the same as Thai chili sauce.)

Storage: Refrigerate leftover meatballs in their sauce in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop on medium heat until warmed through.