Grape Jelly Meatballs

May 15, 2020
Photo by James Ransom
Author Notes

These sheet-pan meatballs are a delightful one- or two-bite appetizer on their own, with a bowl of sweet chili sauce or warm marinara on the side for dipping. All this said—don’t sleep on the slow-cooker grape jelly sauce in the recipe. It may sound strange, but fruit and meat are actually a classic combination (think: pork and apple or turkey and cranberry). Here, the sweet jelly is blended with tomato-based chili sauce (the Heinz variety is a solid bet) or barbecue sauce to replicate a recipe that’s been a favorite American appetizer since the 1960s. —Rebecca Firkser

  • Prep time 25 minutes
  • Cook time 3 hours 25 minutes
  • Makes 20 meatballs
  • 12 ounces tomato-based chili sauce (like Heinz brand) or barbecue sauce
  • 10 ounces grape jelly
  • 1 tablespoon to 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound ground beef (15 to 20 percent fat)
  • 2 large shallots, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, grated
  • 1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more if needed
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
In This Recipe
  1. In the bowl of a slow-cooker (at least 5 quarts) whisk together chili or barbecue sauce and grape jelly. Place the lid on the slow-cooker and cook on high for 15 minutes. Remove the lid and whisk until smooth. Stir in 1 tablespoon lemon juice.
  2. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit and drizzle olive oil over a sheet pan. In a large bowl, combine beef, onion, garlic, Panko, egg, salt and red pepper flakes until just combined. Form into 20 to 22 scant 1-inch meatballs. (If you have a little over 1 pound meat, make meatballs ever so slightly smaller and make another one or two; the idea is that these are one- or two-bite meatballs so smaller is okay.)
  3. Place meatballs on the prepared sheet pan and bake, shaking the pan halfway through, until browned, 10 minutes.
  4. Transfer warm meatballs to the slow-cooker with the sauce. Gently toss meatballs in sauce to coat. Place the lid on the slow-cooker and cook, tossing halfway through, on high for 1 to 2 hours, or low for 3 to 4 hours. Taste, and stir in another tablespoon lemon juice mixed with a pinch of kosher salt if you find the sauce a bit too sweet. Serve warm with toothpicks.

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Rebecca Firkser is a freelance food writer and recipe developer. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, among them Food52, TASTE, Edible Manhattan, Extra Crispy, The Strategist, and Bon Appetit's Healthyish. She contributed recipes and words to the book "Breakfast: The Most Important Book About the Best Meal of the Day." Once upon a time, she studied theatre design and art history at Smith College, so if you need a last-minute avocado costume or want to talk about Wayne Thiebaud's cakes, she's your girl.