Warm and wintery, tender and tasty, my cranberry meatballs recipe screams holiday get-together!
Meatballs make the perfect appetizer for holiday gatherings! You’re probably more familiar with grape jelly meatballs or Italian meatballs — or even the meal-worthy porcupine meatballs!
This cranberry meatballs recipe brings together all the best parts of your favorite meatball dishes while adding a festive twist with everyone’s favorite winter berry: cranberries!
This dish is both upscale and rustic. Nestle these delicacies next to a sprig of holly or evergreen for a starter that is swank yet homey!
What I Love About Cranberry Meatballs Recipe
My cranberry meatballs recipe is sweet, savory, delicate, hearty — everything all at once!
- Perfect for the holidays
- The BEST sweet and savory sauce
- Perfect winter appetizer
- Everyone loves them!
Cranberry Meatballs Recipe Notes
- Spiciness: You can make extra spicy cranberry meatballs by adding four teaspoons of diced hot chilies and cayenne pepper to the meat mixture, or by adding your hot sauce of choice to the sauce mixture.
- This one adds the perfect amount of heat without adding the flavor of Chilis. It’s really delicious.
- Cranberry Sauce: If you can’t grab store-bought, make cranberry sauce yourself! It’s super easy and gives you that extra depth of homemade flavor.
- Meat: Ground chuck is the ideal meat for this cranberry meatballs recipe – the relatively high-fat content helps the meatballs hold together and keeps them tender and moist. 80/20 Ground beef will also work.
- Bread Crumbs: If you don’t have store-bought bread crumbs, or if you want to keep the homemade theme going, you can make your own!
- Process some leftover bread in the food processor. I prefer a hearty sourdough variety, but any bread will work.
- This recipe calls for 1/3 cup of breadcrumbs, so one slice of bread is all you need!
- And if you don’t have a food processor, fear not. Just toast or bake your leftover bread until it’s slightly crunchy but not crisp, and crumble it using your hands. Don’t worry about adding any additional seasoning – these zesty meatballs can hold their own!
- Mixing and Shaping: Your fingers will do a much more gentle job of mixing the meatballs than any spoon, and your fluffy meatball-eating diners will thank you!
- When it’s time to compress the meat mixture into balls, don’t overdo it. You don’t need to mash the ingredients into a compact sphere for them to hold together – just gently roll the balls between your hands.
- Browning: You may be tempted to skip this step if you are in a hurry, but don’t! Browning the outsides of your meatballs before you move them to the pan with your cranberry sauce mixture brings out so much more depth.
- The caramelized surface and slight crust really seal the deal by creating complex layers of flavor. Don’t just take it from me: check out this Reactions video on why the Maillard Reaction — named after the French scientist who studied it in 1912 — makes everything a little more awesome.
- Testing the Center: This is often the trickiest part of meatball recipes.
- How do you check to see if the center is still pink without destroying your meatballs? Cliff Taylor gives a nice answer on Quora: use an instant read thermometer (this one is great!). His answer covers some other dos and don’ts in the fine art of meatball makin’.
How Long Can You Keep This In The Fridge?
Once cooked and stored in sealed containers, the leftovers from this cranberry meatballs recipe will last in your fridge for up to three days. Any longer, and you risk bacteria growth.
Can You Freeze These Cranberry Meatballs?
Yes! Cool your meatballs and transfer to sealable containers, then freeze for up to four months.
I prefer to freeze the meatballs alone, without the sauce, for texture reasons. The reason I do it this way is that the sauce can separate when freezing, and of course, we want a lovely presentation when we serve them!
Remember to thaw in the refrigerator, not on the counter or in the microwave! The counter method’s safety is dubious, and thawing in the microwave could damage the meat with uneven heating.
Make Ahead Tips
The best way to speed along this cranberry meatballs recipe is to make the meatballs and sauce ahead of time, store them in the fridge (for up to two days), and then assemble and bake when you need them!
The best way to serve the delicacies from this cranberry meatballs recipe? As part of an appetizer spread, of course!
Layout your veggies and dip, my bacon wrapped smokies, some crackers with cheese — oh, and don’t forget the steamy, creamy spinach artichoke dip.
Who needs a main meal when you’ve got appetizers like these?
More Meatballs Recipes
Looking for more meatball recipes that’ll make your holiday guests swoon? Here are some must-make dishes!
- Sicilian Meatballs
- Spaghetti and Meatballs Recipe
- Instant Pot spaghetti and meatballs
- Bisquick Sausage Balls
- Ham Balls
- 2 pounds ground chuck
- 2 large eggs lightly beaten
- 1/4 cup onion finely minced
- 1/3 cup soft bread crumbs
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
- 1 (16-ounce) can cranberry sauce
- 1 (12-ounce) jar chili sauce
- 1/4 cup sweet orange marmalade
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the meatball ingredients until evenly combined.
- Shape mixture into a 1-inch meatball, you'll have about 54.
- In a large skillet, brown meatballs in batches, over medium-high heat. Remove browned meatballs to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside.
- In a pan (large enough to accommodate and mix the meatballs-later) mix together all the sauce ingredients until combined. Over medium heat, cook the sauce, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is smooth, about 5 minutes.
- Add the meatballs, reducing heat to low, and cook, gently stirring, for 15-20 minutes or until the center of meatballs are no longer pink. Serve
Fans Also Made:
- Don't skip browning the meatballs.
- When it's time to compress the meat mixture into balls, don’t overdo it. Just gently roll the balls between your hands.
Grace G. says
Yum! I love this!
I’m not a HUGE fan of meatballs, but did find a recipe recently that I liked. However, I make my own cranberry sauce (Thanks Bobby) that is well loved by all my family and friends and will be trying this recipe with it. Homemade cranberry sauce is a breeze to make. I may make the sauce a day ahead of time, and since I hate fooling with actually ‘making’ the meatballs, I will probably buy the store brand.
Thanks for the recipe!
I’m cooking these now but down here in the Deep South (Louisiana) our meatballs are bigger lol so maybe add extra sauce to accommodate. Will let you know how they turn out.
Thank you, Melissa. I’ll look forward to hearing about them
Can you buy and use the frozen premade meatballs? Thanks!
Sabrina B says
these look wonderfully different and very winter-ry with the cranberry flavor, thank you for sharing this recipe!
Kathleen Smith says
Hi Sabrina. You’re so welcome. Hope you try them soon 🙂
Kathleen Smith says
Youre so welcome 🙂