Grape Jam & BBQ Sauce Slow Cooker Meatballs

I think the majority of us enjoy throwing ingredients into a slow cooker, turning it on, and walking away! It just makes life so much easier if the slow cooker does the cooking. I’ve had many a meatball from a slow cooker. It seems like slow cooker meatballs would be a perfect idea, I mean, how many meatball recipes say to cook in sauce for hours?? Well, it is sad to say, but in my experience, slow cooker meatballs end up being dry and tough.

Anytime I’m perplexed in the kitchen I head over to Serious Eats to figure out what is going wrong. Sure enough, I’m not the only one that has experienced this issue when cooking meatballs in a slow cooker. Being a test kitchen, they figured out how to make incredible sauce, tender meatballs, and managed to avoid adding a bunch of extra steps in the process because when it comes to slow cooker recipes, we are looking for minimal fuss!

Without going into the food science of it all, I’ll just give you the Cliff’s Notes version of how this all works. You can either par-broil the meatballs or keep them raw and add them in the last half hour of cooking to the sauce that has been in the slow cooker for 6-10 hours. And, before adding the sauce to the slow cooker, you want to brown some of the reserved meatball meat with some onions and add it to the sauce. What you get, my friend, is perfectly tender meatballs in a thick and flavorful sauce! Yasss, that is exactly what we are looking for!

So for this recipe, I used my friend (and coworker) Teenie’s Homemade Italian Meatballs (with a slight alteration), added them to a grape jam and BBQ sauce recipe from Julie (another friend and coworker), and used the technique suggested by Serious Eats to come up with a moist and tender slow cooker meatball in a sweet and spicy sauce. These are perfect game day food!


Turn on broiler. Line a sheet pan or two with parchment and set aside.

In a large bowl, tear bread into small pieces. Add milk and let it absorb for about 5 minutes. Add the ground meat, eggs, grated cheese, salt and pepper to the bread. Mix well. (I like to use my hands!)

Set aside ½ cup of the meatball meat to use for the sauce. Shape the meatballs into ping-pong size meatballs (1 heaping tablespoon; should make approximately 32 meatballs). Arrange on the sheet pans and broil for 6 or 7 minutes or until the meatballs are browned on top. Transfer to a plate, let cool, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use. I par-broiled my meatballs the night before.

In a large Dutch oven or soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat and add the onions. Sauté for a couple minutes until they become translucent. Add the reserved meatball meat and brown it with the onions. Spoon out the jam and pour in the BBQ sauce, stirring. Bring to a boil then turn off heat and add to a slow cooker on low heat and cook for 6 to 10 hours. (You can make the sauce on the stove top the night before and add it to the slow cooker the next day.)

Gently add the meatballs into the sauce for the last 30 minutes of cooking. Enjoy!

Recipe Credit

Beth Blessing (Organic Beth) has a Masters in Nutrition and is the co-founder of Green Bean Delivery. She is a mother of three that loves supporting family farms and searching for unique, artisanal products. Her goal is to help others eat better and live a more natural, holistic life through healthy recipes and practical tips. Follow her on Facebook: @OrganicBeth