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
3 hours 25 minutes
tomato-based chili sauce (like Heinz brand) or barbecue sauce
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.
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.)
Place meatballs on the prepared sheet pan and bake, shaking the pan halfway through, until browned, 10 minutes.
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.
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.