This recipe for Sticky BBQ Slow Cooker Meatballs is one of my favorites for whenever I need a quick and easy appetizer. I use barbecue sauce to make a delicious glaze on my homemade meatballs, but feel free to use storebought meatballs if you prefer. I fully appreciate how easy these are easy to make thanks to the slow cooker doing most of the work. I serve them on their own or as mini subs (or over mashed potatoes for dinner!) - they are going to be a big hit either way!I updated this old favorite here on the blog on 12/25/2019 (yes that is, in fact, Christmas - nap time is my best friend ;-) ) to make the instructions easier and to add a few notes for tweaks I started making since first posting this in 2014, but the recipe is essentially the same and just as delicious as it has always been.
1/4teaspoondried garlic powderoptional for more flavor
Salt & pepperto taste
OR use ready-made meatballs to make the recipe even easier!
To Make the Sauce
1teaspoonpaprikaI like using smoked, but regular is fine, too
1/2teaspoonSaltor less to taste
Shape meatballs: To make the meatballs, mix all ingredients in a large bowl (I use a hand mixer with the dough hook attachements for easy and mess-free work) and shape into small meatballs. I use 1 teaspoon meat mix per meatball for a good appetizer size; make sure to firmly shape the meatballs or they disintegrate in the sauce.
Cook meatballs: Heat a non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat and add some oil. Cook the meatballs until browned on the outside and entirely cooked through. OR bake the meatballs at 425°F for 10-12 minutes.
Slow cook with sauce: Once the meatballs are cooked, mix all sauce ingredients together in a 3-4 quart slow cooker. Add the meatballs and cook on low for 3-4 hours. The meatballs keep in the slow cooker for another 1-2 hours.
Read the ingredients: I don’t know about you, but I want my meatballs to actually contain meat. Read the ingredients on the back of the bag and look for a brand that uses mainly ground meat, breadcrumbs, egg and seasoning. Too many additives and fillers aren’t necessary.
Buy a large bag: If you have the freezer space, it’s more economical to buy a large bag – even if you don’t need all of the meatballs right now. They will keep for some time in your freezer and might just save you on a busy day.
Make sure they’re fully cooked: You’ll want fully cooked meatballs for this recipe, or you’ll have to defrost and cook them first. Otherwise they could fall apart in the sauce and you’ll end up with BBQ spaghetti sauce.
Looking for a healthier option? You can also make this recipe with turkey meatballs, or choose a lower sodium brand.
Defrosting: If you’re using fully cooked, frozen meatballs (either homemade or store-bought), it’s easier to use them frozen. THAT BEING SAID, do so at your own risk because using frozen foods in crockpots isn’t generally recommended. Since the frozen meatballs are fully cooked, I myself do it. I check the internal temperature of the meatballs before serving with a thermometer to make sure it has reached 160°F (see more about safe meat temperatures here).
There’s no need to stir! You should actually never open your crockpot while it’s on (unless the recipe says so), because the heat in there decreases super fast. And stirring the meatballs too much will make them scraggly and will eventually break them up too much – not a nice result!
Use the appropriate crockpot size: If you want to make a larger batch, use a larger crockpot, too. You don’t want to stuff your crockpot to the brim with meatballs and sauce. They will have a harder time heating through and the sauce won’t get as nice and sticky.
LOOKING FOR SIDE DISH IDEAS TO TURN THESE INTO DINNER?
Serve them with mashed potatoes or rice as a simple dinner for families. Or see more ideas: