Grape Jelly Meatballs Recipe

Looking for the ultimate party appetizer? I’m not sure there has ever been one more fitting than Grape Jelly Meatballs.

grape jelly meatballs recipe with text overlay


Cocktail Meatballs are a childhood favorite!

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 meatballs in a white speckled serving bowl

Really, anything on a toothpick was considered to be a fancy appetizer! Pigs in a blanket, Sweet and Sour Meatballs, Caprese Stacks, anyone?

Meatballs with 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!

close up meatball on a toothpick

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.

bowl of meatballs

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.

What you’ll need for Cocktail Meatballs with Grape Jelly

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.

close up of a wood toothpick in a meatball

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.

  • Meatballs- This recipe uses small, cocktail sized meatballs about the size of a golf ball. You are welcome to make homemade meatballs or buy frozen. They are commonly called “homestyle”, these are made without additional spices and seasonings that might not align with grape and ketchup.
  • Grape Jelly- Hence the name, grape jelly adds the needed sugar to balance acidity from ketchup or another tomato-based sauce.
  • Ketchup- Ketchup, a sweetened tomato sauce, is the most traditional and basic way to make these cocktail meatballs. However, BBQ sauce or chili sauce can also be used for more pizazz.

How to Make Grape Jelly Meatballs

Let’s get to the important part- how do you make grape jelly meatballs? It is crazy easy.

  1. Gather your ingredients including ketchup, grape jelly and meatballs.
  2. Place them in a heavy bottom saucepan over low heat and stir for 2 hours, or until the sauce has combined and thickened. Do not heat over hotter heat or the sauce will scald.
  3. Enjoy!
grape jelly meatballs in a pot

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.
angle close up of grape jelly meatballs in a pot

Grape Jelly Meatball Recipe variations

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

Serving Cocktail Meatballs

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

What do you eat grape jelly meatballs with?

These little meatballs are easily paired with nearly anything. You can serve them alone or on small slider rolls for sweet and tangy two-bite sandwiches.

Here are a few other items I usually pair them with in an appetizer spread.

angle close up of grape jelly meatballs with parsley

How many cocktail meatballs per person?

This largely depends on the crowd you are feeding and how many other appetizers will be gracing the table. I suggest planning for 4-8 per person. A serving size is considered to be 4 meatballs.

How to store and reheat this Grape Jelly Meatballs Recipe

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.

long pin of cocktail meatballs

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Mexican Shrimp Cocktail

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overhead of cocktail meatballs in a white bowl
wooden toothpick in a cocktail meatball

Cocktail Meatballs with Grape Jelly

4.21 from 127 votes
Grape Jelly Meatballs are easy to make with only THREE ingredients! Perfect for throwing into the crockpot as a party appetizer! 
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
Servings: 12


  • 2 pounds small meatballs cooked, frozen or fresh
  • 12 ounces grape jelly
  • 12 ounces ketchup or BBQ sauce


  • Place the 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.



To serve Grape Jelly Meatballs as an entree, serve over mashed potatoes!

Instant Pot Grape Jelly Meatballs

Use the same ingredients, drop everything (including frozen meatballs) into the inner pot of the Instant Pot and set for manual pressure, high or 6 minutes. Use quick release function, stir well and serve! 


Calories: 309 kcal, Carbohydrates: 26 g, Protein: 13 g, Fat: 16 g, Saturated Fat: 5 g, Cholesterol: 54 mg, Sodium: 308 mg, Potassium: 328 mg, Sugar: 19 g, Vitamin A: 150 IU, Vitamin C: 4.2 mg, Calcium: 21 mg, Iron: 0.9 mg
Author: Jessica Formicola
Calories: 309
Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: American
Keyword: cocktail meatballs, grape jelly meatballs
Did you make this recipe?I’d love to see your recipes – snap a picture and mention @savoryexperiments or tag #savoryexperiments!
Jessica Formicola in her ktichen

About the Author

Jessica Formicola

Jessica the mom, wife and food lover behind Savory Experiments. She is obsessed with butter, salt and bacon and spends all her time in the kitchen and behind a camera. Jessica is a contributor to PopKitchen by Parade, Better Homes & Gardens, The Daily Meal Food + Travel and more!

Read More About Jessica

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Recipe Rating

Questions and Reviews

  1. 5 stars
    We tried this with chili sauce instead of the ketchup for a bit of a sweet and spicy flavour and it was delicious! So easy to make too. Thank you!

  2. 5 stars
    Enjoyed these with dinner last night and they do not disappoint! So easy and flavorful; the whole family loved them!

  3. When using an instant pot, how long would you cook raw meatballs? Also would you add the jelly and BBQ sauce at the beginning? I need to know this for tonight’s dinner!
    Thank you,

    1. Hi Marsha! I would still add the jelly and sauce, but you will reduce the cooking time to around 5 minutes for raw meatballs. However, please note I have not tried this personally, this is just where I would start if I were you. I would also add about 1/2 cup water since you won’t have the liquid thawing from frozen meatballs. The time will also depend on how large your meatballs are- bigger meatballs might need the whole 7 minutes. Cocktail size should only need about 5.

    1. Hi Kelly, I’m a little jealous you are making this recipe with homemade meatballs! LOL. I would say to add an extra hour for raw frozen meatballs, but this is vary depending on the size of your meatballs and your slow cooker. Even though they all have a high and low setting, these temperatures vary also. Add an hour and check them. Enjoy!

  4. 5 stars
    Those do look quite tempting. Wishing I could grab one of those toothpicks. 😉 Super cool to whip them up with only three ingredients. Crowd pleaser for sure!

  5. 5 stars
    I’ve never heard of this fantastic appetizer. Seems to be so easy to prepare and yet very attractive on any party buffet.

  6. 5 stars
    These look so delicious! Love that you can do it in the Instant Pot, and the grape jelly addition sounds yummy.

    1. I’ve seen them made that way too. Always SO good and SO simple! Thanks for taking the time to write us a note!