These Crock Pot BBQ Meatballs are tasty, convenient, and can be timed perfectly to be ready when you are. Tender homemade meatballs in a sweet tangy sauce make this the perfect plus-one for parties and potlucks!
Party Meatballs for a Crowd
Looking forward to that party coming up, but not sure what dish to bring? We’ve got the perfect crowd-pleasing meatball recipe for you. Slow cooker BBQ meatballs are a delicious addition to just about any event.
Super bowl party? Check. Holiday gift exchange? Yep. Kid's birthday party? That too!
You’ve probably heard of the famous BBQ sauce + grape jelly meatballs. They’re super popular, but I’ve always found the sauce to be a little too sweet for my liking. This version makes both the meatballs and the sauce from scratch, and while it requires a tad more time, I think the results are WELL worth it.
Here’s why we love them:
- They’re make ahead friendly! These can be prepared in advance, so you’ll have time to get yourself ready for the event instead of rushing to get the cooking done.
- It makes a large batch! Whether you’re cooking for a crowd, sharing with a friend, or want to stash some in the freezer, this big batch meatball recipe is perfect.
- They’re super versatile! These meatballs are a great appetizer for parties, but they're also a convenient and family friendly dinner main dish!
We love serving these meatballs for dinner with a side of Cheesy Potatoes, but they also pair well with lots of other party and traditional sides, like the Creamiest Mac and Cheese, Air Fryer Potatoes, Garlic Green Beans, and Spinach Dip.
Ingredients in BBQ Meatballs
I prefer to make the meatballs from scratch, so I can make them gluten free for my mom to enjoy as well. This recipe relies on quick oats rather than bread to hold it together. It works great!
Here's what you'll need for the meatballs:
- Ground beef - Ground beef with an 80 to 85% lean ratio is ideal for the juiciest meatballs.
- Quick oats. Oats is the binder that holds the meatballs together. If you have Celiac disease, make sure you buy certified gluten free oats.
- Evaporated milk. We add this for moisture and flavor. This keeps them from drying out while they cook.
- Yellow onion. You’ll see diced onions in so many of our ground beef recipes, and for good reason! They greatly enhance the flavor of the meat, and also add moisture to things like meatballs and the best easy meatloaf.
- Eggs. Another essential for binding + moisture.
- Spices - You’ll need chili powder, salt, and pepper to round out the crock pot bbq meatballs.
For the homemade BBQ sauce:
While you can certainly use a store bought BBQ sauce for this recipe, this homemade version is quick, easy to make, and very flavorful.
- Ketchup. This is the base of your BBQ sauce. Use gourmet or organic versions if you want to get fancy, but any store-bought ketchup will do.
- Brown sugar. The sugar’s sweetness pairs well with the savory flavors in the sauce.
- Worcestershire sauce. An essential ingredient in all things BBQ!
- More spices. Garlic powder, because garlic makes (almost) everything better, and smoked paprika to lend it that classic smoky BBQ flavor.
How to make Crock Pot BBQ Meatballs
- Mix it up! Bring all the meatball ingredients together, and mix them gently with your hands (this is the fun part!). Or if you’d rather keep yourself clean, you can gently combine them with a spatula.
- Preheat and prepare. Start your broiler and line two sheet pans with parchment paper.
- Scoop and shape the meatballs. Using your hands (for fun!) or a cookie scoop (slightly more dignified), create 1 inch sized balls from the meat mixture, and place them ½ inch apart on one of the prepared baking sheets.
- Broil ‘em! Place a tray of meatballs under the broiler for 7-9 minutes or until a light brown crust is formed. While the first tray is broiling, scoop out the second tray, then broil them up too.
- Make the BBQ sauce! Combine all the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and whisk together.
- Cook. Toss the meatballs in the crock pot, and cover them with the sauce. Cook on high for 2 hours, or on low for 4. If you still need more time, they’ll stay happy for an extra hour on the warm setting.
Tips & FAQs for making Slow Cooker BBQ Meatballs
Do you have to cook meatballs before you put them in the crock pot?
They don't have to be fully cooked, but the broiling step is necessary. Broiling the meatballs helps quickly brown them so they stay together in the slow cooker and don’t become one mass of BBQ ground beef.
Can you use frozen pre-cooked meatballs?
Yes! Feel free to substitute store bought meatballs if you prefer. If you need them to be gluten free, make sure that’s clearly listed on the label.
Can you freeze meatballs?
These meatballs can be frozen before adding the BBQ sauce. After broiling them, let them cool, then place them on a baking sheet in the freezer to flash freeze for 1 hour. Transfer to a freezer safe bag and freeze for up to 6 months. Frozen meatballs can go directly into the crock pot. Just add sauce!
Can you cut the recipe in half?
Absolutely. I recommend making the full recipe and freezing any extras, but feel free to halve it if you prefer.
Can you make crock pot BBQ meatballs ahead of time?
The slow cooker already makes these a make ahead recipe, but you can also mix and shape the meatballs up to 24 hours in advance. Keep them covered in the refrigerator, then broil and slow cook or bake.
What's the best temperature for cooking meatballs?
In the crock pot, I prefer to cook meatballs on low for four hours or on high for two. This recipe doesn't require a full day of slow cooking.
If you're baking them in the oven, go with 375 degrees.
Oven Baked BBQ Meatballs
Don’t have time to wait on the crock pot? No worries! These can also be baked at 375 degrees for 30-35 minutes. You can serve them right away or put them in the crock pot on the warm setting until ready to serve.
More Meatballs for a Party (or For Dinner!)
Try our Slow Cooker Swedish Meatballs for another great crock pot recipe, or these Gluten Free Meatballs without Breadcrumbs for another GF option.
Craving some heat? These Spicy Chipotle Meatballs will make your mouth water!
If you’re looking for a traditional meatball recipe, look no further than this Spaghetti and Meatballs with Homemade Tomato Sauce. We also love making these Giant Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs for a date night in.
Crock Pot BBQ Meatballs for a Party
For the meatballs:
- 3 lbs. ground beef
- 2 cups quick oats
- 12 oz. can evaporated milk
- 1 small yellow onion (finely diced)
- 2 eggs (beaten)
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 3 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
For the BBQ sauce:
- 3 ½ cups ketchup
- 1 ½ cups brown sugar
- 3 Tablespoons worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 ½ teaspoons smoked paprika
- ¼ cup water (crock pot version only)
- Combine. Add the beef, oats, milk, onion, eggs, chili powder, salt, and black pepper to a large bowl. Use your hands or a spatula to gently bring the ingredients together, stirring until just combined.
- Preheat. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper and preheat the oven to broil.
- Scoop. Use a cookie scoop to scoop out 1 inch size balls of the meat mixture, using your hands to round out the shape if desired. Place them ½ inch apart on one of the prepared baking sheets.
- Broil. Place a tray of meatballs under the broiler for 7-9 minutes or until a light brown crust is formed. While the first tray is broiling, scoop out the second tray of meatballs.
- Make the sauce. While the meatballs, broil, mix up the BBQ sauce. In a large measuring cup, whisk all of the ingredients together. Omit the water if you're oven baking.
- Cook. Transfer all the meatballs to a large crock pot and cover with the BBQ sauce. Set on low for 4 hours or on high for 2. Meatballs can be kept on the warm setting for another hour or so.