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This easy BBQ meatballs recipe guarantees juicy, tender hand-rolled meatballs covered in a homemade smokey barbeque sauce and then simmered in a slow cooker. Perfect for easy entertaining or an easy home-cooked weeknight dinner.

bbq meatballs on plate with bowl of sauce and bbq brush

If you are a fan of meatballs, then be sure to browse through my other meatball recipes. Buffalo Air Fryer Turkey MeatballsEggplant and Beef Meatballs, and 35+ Easy Appetizer Meatballs Ideas For A Party

Why Take The Time To Make Homemade Meatballs?

  • Versital: Homemade meatballs can be a scrumptious main dish or an easy appetizer. They also freeze well for easy meal prep.
  • Great Quality: One of the main advantages of making homemade meatballs is using higher-quality meat and fresh ingredients instead of relying on pre-packaged, frozen options from the store. This ensures a superior flavor and allows you to customize the depth of flavor to your liking by controlling the fresh ingredients used.
  • Fun Activity: Mixing and shaping meatballs can be a fun and engaging activity, perfect for involving family or friends in the kitchen. I give you great tips for effortlessly rolling the perfect meatball. 
  • Easy Preparation: The recipe is simple, and the result is always impressive.
  • Cost-Effective: Creating your own meatballs at home is a cost-effective option compared to purchasing pre-made fresh or frozen ones, which can help you save on your grocery expenses.

If you want to make eggless meatballs for these BBQ meatballs, then go print my How To Make Soft Meatballs Recipe Without Eggs.

Best BBQ Meatballs Ingredients

There are two recipe ingredient groups for these easy slow-cooker meatballs. First, learn what you will need to make the best homemade meatballs, and then learn how to make homemade, not from a bottle, smoky BBQ sauce.

What is the best meat type for slow cooker BBQ meatballs?

When shopping for ground beef to make slow cooker BBQ meatballs, it’s best to select high-quality lean ground beef with a good meat-to-fat ratio, preferably 80/20. This ratio ensures a balance of meat and fat, resulting in juicy and flavorful meatballs that will hold their shape well during the slow cooking process.

mixing ground meat with latex gloves

Homemade Meatball Ingredients

bbq meatball ingredients,
  • Soft, fresh bread crumbs: Choose fresh plain white or whole wheat bread with a soft texture. 
  • Whipping Cream: Whipping cream adds a creamy and rich consistency to the meatball mixture.
  • Large egg: Opt for a fresh and large-sized egg, lightly beaten, to help bind the meatball mixture together.
  • Salt: Use fine-grain salt to distribute the seasoning throughout the meatball mixture evenly.
  • Garlic powder: Look for a high-quality garlic powder free from additives or fillers to enhance the savory taste of the meatballs. Be sure the powder is fresh and not outdated for the best flavor. 
  • Chili powder: Select a chili powder with the desired heat and flavor intensity level to add a subtle kick to the meatball mixture. I like to use LINK TO MY FAV. 
  • Onion: Use a mild yellow or white onion. A pungent onion will overpower the meatball mixture. 

Ingredients For Smoky Homemade BBQ Sauce

brown sugar, vinegar, liquid smoke, ketchup and onions
  • Brown sugar: Brown sugar adds a rich, caramel-like sweetness that complements the savory and tangy flavors, resulting in a well-balanced and flavorful sauce.
  • Onion: Choose a firm and fresh yellow or white onion, and ensure it is finely chopped for a balanced flavor in the sauce.
  • White vinegar: Opt for a clear and mild white vinegar, ensuring it is free from strong or overpowering aromas.
  • Liquid smoke: Colgin Liquid Smoke adds a smoky flavor without artificial additives or overpowering characteristics.

How To Make The Meatballs

  1. In a large bowl, combine the bread crumbs and milk.
  2. Allow the breadcrumbs to sit and absorb the milk for a minute or two. 
  3. Add the ground beef, lightly beaten egg, salt, pepper, garlic powder, chili powder, and finely chopped onion to the bowl.
  4. Mix the ingredients until they are evenly incorporated. It is best to use your hands. Tip: I like to use latex disposable gloves for easy cleanup. 
  5. Chill the meat mixture for 30 minutes in the refrigerator. This will make it easier to form meatballs that stay together. 

Shaping and Browning The Meatballs

1.Preheat a large cast iron skillet.

2. Using a two-inch cookie scoop, scoop out portions of the meat mixture to form uniform-sized meatballs. Roll each portion between your hands to shape it into a firm ball.

raw meatballs being made with cookie scoop

3. Place the meatballs in a single layer in the preheated skillet. Brown on each side for 2 minutes.

frying in skillet bbq meatballs so they are browned before putting in slow cooker

3. Use tongs to remove the meatballs from the skillet and place them into the crock pot liner. 

Make The BBQ Sauce

homemade bbq sauce in a bowl
  1. In a small mixing bowl, combine the brown sugar, finely chopped yellow onion, white vinegar, and liquid smoke.

2. Mix the ingredients until you have a smooth and well-combined sauce.

Slow Cooker Instructions

  1. Pour the homemade barbecue sauce evenly over the meatballs in the slow cooker. Stir gently to toss the meatballs in the sauce.
bbq meatballs in crock pot ready to cook with sauce on top

2. Cook the meatballs, covered, in the slow cooker on low for 4 hours or high for 2 hours.

Note: It’s important to check the internal temperature of the meatballs to ensure they are cooked thoroughly. Ground meat should reach a minimum internal temperature of 160°F (71°C) for safe consumption.

Tips For Rolling Meatballs

Rolling perfect meatballs is easy when you follow a few helpful tips:

  1. Latex gloves with olive oil: Wearing latex gloves while rolling meatballs can prevent the mixture from sticking to your hands and make the process less messy. To further facilitate rolling, lightly coat the latex gloves with olive oil. Creating a smooth surface will make shaping the meat mixture into balls easier.
  2. Chilling the meat mixture: Before rolling the meatballs, consider chilling the meat mixture in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes. This helps firm up the mixture, making it easier to handle and shape into uniform balls. It also helps the meatballs retain their shape during cooking.
  3. Use a cookie scoop or ice cream scoop: Using a cookie scoop or ice cream scoop with a release mechanism can ensure that each meatball is of consistent size. This helps with even cooking, saves time, and makes the rolling process more efficient.
  4. Wet hands: If you prefer not to use gloves, wetting your hands with water can prevent the meat mixture from sticking excessively. Dampen your hands with water before rolling each meatball. Re-wet your hands as needed during the process.
  5. Keep a bowl of water nearby: Keep a small bowl of water nearby to dip your hands or scoop into occasionally. This can help prevent sticking and make the rolling process smoother.

What other meat options besides ground beef could be used for making meatballs?

This is a flexible recipe to make simple meatballs using a variety of meats. Be sure to choose good quality meat. This will help make your meatballs tender and less greasy. 

  • Ground Pork: Ground pork is a popular choice for meatballs, especially in Asian and Italian cuisines. It has a slightly fattier texture, which can result in moist and flavorful meatballs.
  • Ground Chicken: Ground chicken is a leaner option for making meatballs.
  • Ground Turkey: Similar to ground chicken, ground turkey is a lean alternative to beef.
  • Ground Lamb: Ground lamb can add a distinct and rich flavor to your meatballs. It pairs well with Mediterranean flavors and herbs like mint, oregano, and rosemary.
  • Ground Veal: Ground veal has a delicate and tender texture, resulting in delicate meatballs. It is often used in traditional Italian recipes.
  • Mixed Meats: Combining different types of ground meat can create unique flavor profiles and textures. For example, a combination of ground beef and pork is a classic choice that balances flavor and moisture.

How To Make Gluten-Free Meatballs

To make this original recipe gluten-free, replace regular breadcrumbs with gluten-free breadcrumbs or gluten-free panko crumbs. These can be found in a local grocery store or made at home by processing gluten-free bread in a food processor and drying it in the oven.

​Can I use a different bbq sauce?

Feel free to substitute your favorite barbecue sauce in this recipe. Replace the homemade BBQ sauce with an equal amount of your preferred store-bought sauce, ensuring it complements the flavors of the meatballs.

 Experiment with different brands and flavors to find the perfect combination that suits your taste buds. Enjoy the flexibility and convenience of customizing this recipe to your liking! 

Questions and Tips For Making This Best BBQ Meatball Recipe

Making meatballs for a weeknight dinner or a party of 25 is easy when you follow a few simple tips and suggestions.

How many frozen meatballs do I need for a crowd?

chart for how many frozen meatball

Be sure to pin for later or download your copy of this handy How Many Meatballs For A Party Chart.

Should you brown meatballs before cooking them in a slow cooker?

While browning meatballs before cooking in a slow cooker is not necessary, it can enhance the flavor and texture of the meatballs. Browning the meatballs in a skillet or oven before transferring them to the slow cooker can create a nice crust and add depth to the overall taste.

However, if you prefer a more tender and juicy texture without the added step of browning, you can place the raw meatballs directly into the slow cooker. They will still cook thoroughly and absorb the flavors of the sauce during the slow cooking process. Ultimately, browning the meatballs is a personal preference, and both methods can result in delicious meatballs.

Can I make BBQ meatballs ahead of time?

Yes, you can make BBQ meatballs ahead of time to save time on the day of serving. Here’s how you can do it:

  1. Prepare and shape the meatballs: Follow the recipe instructions to prepare and shape the meatballs. Once shaped, place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a lightly greased dish.
  2. Cook the meatballs partially: Instead of thoroughly cooking the meatballs, you’ll partially cook them in a skillet so they retain their shape and texture. 
  3. Cool and store the meatballs: Once partially cooked, allow the meatballs to cool completely. Place them in an airtight container or a freezer-safe bag. Make sure to label and date the container.
  4. Freeze or refrigerate: If you plan to use the meatballs within a day or two, refrigerate them. They can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. If you want to make them ahead longer, freeze the meatballs. They can be stored in the freezer for up to 3 months.
  5. Thaw: When you’re ready to serve the BBQ meatballs, thaw them in the refrigerator overnight if frozen. Once thawed, you have two options to finish cooking them.
  6. Cook: Place the thawed meatballs in a slow cooker and cover them with homemade barbecue sauce. Cook on low for the recommended cooking time mentioned in the recipe or until the meatballs reach the safe internal temperature of 160°F (71°C) for safe consumption.

​How long can meatballs be kept on warm in a slow cooker?

Juicy meatballs can typically be kept on the “warm” setting in a slow cooker for up to 2-4 hours. The exact duration may vary depending on the specific slow cooker model and its settings. It’s important to note that while the “warm” setting helps maintain the temperature of the meatballs, it is not designed to continue cooking them.

After the recommended cooking time, it’s advisable to either serve the meatballs or switch the slow cooker to the “off” setting for 15 minutes to cool down and prevent overcooking or drying out. Then turn the slow cooker back on to warm.

Always exercise caution and monitor the food’s temperature and quality to ensure it remains safe and enjoyable.

How do I prevent the meatballs from falling apart in the slow cooker?

With a few simple tips and techniques, you can make slow cooker meatballs that never fall apart.

  1. Use a binding agent: Incorporate ingredients that help bind the meatballs together, such as eggs, breadcrumbs, or a combination of both. These ingredients act as binders and help hold the meatball mixture together during the cooking process.
  2. Do not overmix the meat mixture: When combining the ingredients, avoid overmixing the meat mixture. Overmixing can result in a dense and compact texture, making the meatballs more prone to falling apart. Mix the ingredients until they are just combined.
  3. Opt for a meat-to-fat ratio: Choosing ground meat with a slightly higher fat content, such as an 80/20 ratio (80% lean meat and 20% fat), can help keep the meatballs moist and prevent them from becoming too dry and crumbly.
  4. Chill the meat mixture: Before shaping the meatballs, consider chilling the mixture in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes. This helps firm up the mixture and makes it easier to handle and shape into balls. Chilled meatballs are less likely to fall apart during cooking.
  5. Use proper cooking techniques: When placing the meatballs in the slow cooker, arrange them in a single layer and avoid overcrowding the pot. This allows for even cooking and minimizes the risk of meatballs sticking together or falling apart.

What To Do With Leftover Meatballs

Leftover meatballs can be transformed into delicious easy meals. Make meatball subs, spaghetti, and meatballs, use as a topping on pizza, or crumble them for tacos.

Refrigeration:

  1. Allow the BBQ meatballs to cool down to room temperature before storing.
  2. Transfer the meatballs to an airtight container or place them in a resealable plastic bag.
  3. Seal the container or bag tightly to prevent air exposure.
  4. Label the container with the date to track freshness.
  5. Place the container or bag in the refrigerator.
  6. BBQ meatballs can be stored in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.

Freezing:

  1. If you want to freeze the BBQ meatballs for more extended storage, it’s best to freeze them separately from the sauce.
  2. Allow the meatballs to cool completely before freezing.
  3. Place the meatballs in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil.
  4. Place the baking sheet in the freezer and let the meatballs freeze until firm. This process, known as flash freezing, prevents them from sticking together.
  5. Once the meatballs are firm, transfer them to a freezer-safe container or airtight freezer bag.
  6. Remove any excess air from the bag or container and seal it tightly.
  7. Label the bag or container with the date and contents.
  8. Frozen BBQ meatballs can be stored in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Reheating Meatballs

  1. For refrigerated meatballs, reheat them in the microwave or on the stovetop until heated through. You might need to add some extra BBQ sauce to prevent burning. 
  2. For frozen meatballs, thaw them in the refrigerator overnight before reheating them using your preferred method.

Safety Tip: Remember to discard any meatballs left at room temperature for more than 2 hours to ensure food safety.

Can I double or adjust the recipe for a larger crowd in the slow cooker?

BBQ Meatballs are a perfect appetizer to serve at a large party. You can easily adjust the recipe before printing to make a large batch. 

Need a big batch to feed a crowd? You can easily change the number of servings in the recipe card below by tapping 2x or 3x. The ingredient measurements will automatically double or triple. You can then tap print and there you have it, a recipe for a crowd.

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bbq meatballs on plate with bowl of sauce and bbq brush
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Homemade BBQ Meatballs Recipe Easy Slow Cooker

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 4 hours
Total Time: 4 hours 20 minutes
Servings: 30 meatballs
This easy BBQ meatballs recipe guarantees juicy, tender hand-rolled meatballs covered in a homemade smokey barbeque sauce and then simmered in a slow cooker. Perfect for easy entertaining or an easy home-cooked weeknight dinner.

Note: Be sure to read through the recipe’s post for tips and details about this recipe.

hand showing you to tap on the ingredient to add to your walmart and target list.

Ingredients
 

Meatballs

  • 2 cups soft, fresh bread crumbs torn into dime size pieces
  • 1/4 cup whipping cream
  • 2 pounds ground beef 80/20
  • 1 egg, large, lightly beaten first
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 cup onion, finely chopped , yellow or white

BBQ Sauce

Instructions
 

Peparing Meatballs

  • In a large bowl, combine the bread crumbs and milk.
  • Allow the breadcrumbs to sit and absorb the milk for a minute or two.
  • Add the ground beef, lightly beaten egg, salt, pepper, garlic powder, chili powder, and finely chopped onion to the bowl.
  • Mix the ingredients until they are evenly incorporated. It is best to use your hands. Tip: I like to use latex disposable gloves for easy cleanup.

Shaping and Brownining Meatballs

  • Preheat a large cast iron skillet.
  • Using a two-inch cookie scoop, scoop out portions of the meat mixture to form uniform-sized meatballs. Roll each portion between your hands to shape it into a firm ball.
  • Place the meatballs in a single layer in the preheated skillet. Brown on each side for 2 minutes.
  • Remove the meatballs from the large skillet and place them into the crock pot liner.

Preparing BBQ Sauce

  • In a small mixing bowl, combine the brown sugar, finely chopped yellow onion, white vinegar, and liquid smoke.
  • Mix the ingredients together until you have a smooth and well-combined sauce.

Saucing Meatballs and Cooking

  • Pour the homemade barbecue sauce evenly over the top of the meatballs in the slow cooker.
  • Cook the meatballs, covered, in the slow cooker on low for 4 hours or high for 2 hours.
  • Note: It’s important to check the internal temperature of the meatballs to ensure they are cooked thoroughly. Ground meat should reach a minimum internal temperature of 160°F (71°C) for safe consumption.

Notes

Tips For Rolling Meatballs
Rolling perfect meatballs is easy when you follow a few helpful tips:
  1. Latex gloves with olive oil: Wearing latex gloves while rolling meatballs can prevent the mixture from sticking to your hands and make the process less messy. To further facilitate rolling, lightly coat the latex gloves with olive oil. Creating a smooth surface will make shaping the meat mixture into balls easier.
  2. Chilling the meat mixture: Before rolling the meatballs, consider chilling the meat mixture in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes. This helps firm up the mixture, making it easier to handle and shape into uniform balls. It also helps the meatballs retain their shape during cooking.
  3. Use a cookie scoop or ice cream scoop: Using a cookie scoop or ice cream scoop with a release mechanism can ensure that each meatball is of consistent size. This helps with even cooking, saves time, and makes the rolling process more efficient.
  4. Wet hands: If you prefer not to use gloves, wetting your hands with water can prevent the meat mixture from sticking excessively. Dampen your hands with water before rolling each meatball. Re-wet your hands as needed during the process.
  5. Keep a bowl of water nearby: Keep a small bowl of water nearby to dip your hands or scoop into occasionally. This can help prevent sticking and make the rolling process smoother.
Serving: 1g, Calories: 169kcal, Carbohydrates: 9g, Protein: 6g, Fat: 12g, Saturated Fat: 6g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.4g, Monounsaturated Fat: 4g, Trans Fat: 0.4g, Cholesterol: 44mg, Sodium: 191mg, Potassium: 125mg, Fiber: 0.1g, Sugar: 8g, Vitamin A: 270IU, Vitamin C: 0.3mg, Calcium: 30mg, Iron: 1mg
Cuisine: American Classic
Course: Appetizer
Author: Gina Dickson

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