Looking for the ultimate party appetizer? I’m not sure there has ever been one more fitting than Grape Jelly Meatballs.
Grape Jelly Meatballs, or sometimes simply known as cocktail meatballs, are one of my favorite childhood recipes.
Long before the days of slow cookers or crock pots, grape jelly meatballs were simmered on the stove’s of 1950’s housewives and served as gourmet hors d’oeuvres.
Grape Jelly Sauce
I watched the stove like a hawk. I was a slightly type A child. Imagine the day I learned how my favorite cocktail meatballs were made. Grape jelly and ketchup? Say what? GROSS!
Now it makes perfect sense, the perfect balance of sweet and acidic. When married, the ultimate sticky sauce for meatballs. And so incredibly verstile, keep reading below for the wide range of variations.
How do you thicken grape jelly sauce?
The sauce will go through several phases. The first will be a little lumpy, but will thin and smooth as the jelly melts.
The second is a thinner sauce that seems nearly soupy, but as the sauce reduces and the water from your meatballs also evaporates out, it will thicken. The sauce also thickens as it cools.
What I do warn against is not cooking them on too high of a heat. Because both grape jelly and ketchup have sugar, it will burn and scald if not kept on low.
But if your sauce is still too thin for your liking, combine 1 tablespoons of cornstarch or arrowroot with 1 tablespoon of water to make a thick paste, then whisk into the sauce. It should thicken in minutes.
Let’s be honest here, most people making grape jelly meatballs are doing so because they are looking for an easy party appetizer. Therefore, making homemade meatballs might not be on the to-do list and there is no judgement here for that.
Just grab a bag of frozen meatballs and call it a day. Italian style, homestyle, turkey meatballs, chicken meatballs, heck, even veggie meatballs are all acceptable. The sauce will season them to perfection and make even the plainest of store bought meatballs taste divine.
How to Make Grape Jelly Meatballs
Let’s get to the important part- how do you make grape jelly meatballs? It is crazy easy.
- Gather your ingredients including ketchup, grape jelly and meatballs.
- Place them in a heavy bottom saucepan over low heat and stir for 2-3 hours, or until the sauce has combined and thickened. Do not heat over hotter heat or the sauce will scald.
Some folks prefer to make them in the Instant Pot or Slow Cooker.
- Slow Cooker Grape Jelly Meatballs– Combine the same ingredients into your slow cooker and set to low for 3-4 hours.
- Instant Pot Grape Jelly Meatballs- Save some times using your electric pressure cooker! Place all of the ingredients into the pressure cooker pot with 3/4 cup of water. Stir as best you can, then lock and seal the lid and set to manual high pressure for 6 minutes. Do a quick release and stir. You have to add water to build pressure, so the sauce has the tendency to be thinner. Follow the instructions above to thicken the sauce.
When I tell you this grape jelly meatball recipe is so flexible, I’m not kidding. No need to worry about the exact measurements of nearly anything. It also has several easy variations.
- For the Ketchup: Chili Sauce (such as Heinz) or BBQ Sauce
- For the Grape Jelly: Apricot preserves, cranberry sauce, hot pepper jelly
- For the Meatballs: Little smokies (mini hot dogs), turkey meatballs, chicken meatballs, plant based meatballs, cauliflower florets
- Sauce Elevation: Add a dash of Worcestershire sauce, crushed red pepper flakes, or brown sugar
Make it a Meal!
While grape jelly meatballs are perfect as a snack or appetizer, they can also be easily transformed into a whole meal.
- Make them into sliders
- Build a meatball sub, add provolone cheese and banana peppers
- Serve them over white rice with sauteed bell peppers and onions
- Serve them over mashed potatoes like my Grandma’s BBQ Meatballs
Make Ahead & Freezing
Can I freeze grape jelly meatballs? Of course! In fact, I encourage you to make a double batch and freeze half for easy cooking the next time around.
Can I make cocktail meatballs ahead of time? In fact, they are better if you make them ahead. The meatballs flavor the sauce and the sauce flavors the meatballs.
More easy party appetizers:
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Grape Jelly Meatballs
- 2 pounds small meatballs cooked, frozen or fresh
- 12 ounces grape jelly
- 12 ounces ketchup or BBQ sauce
- Place meatballs, ketchup and grape jelly in a large saucepan.
- Cook over low heat for 1 hour, stirring occasionally to mix the sauces. Continue to heat until hot the whole way through and sauce has reduced and darkened in color.
- If you've tried this recipe, come back and let us know how they were in the comments or ratings.