Table of Contents
  1. The ingredients that make these meatballs so special:
  2. Watch how to make these cocktail meatballs
  3. Cocktail Meatballs with Cranberry Sauce Recipe

Appetizers are what I want for every meal. I like to snack, pick, and choose small bite-size items. When someone asks me to bring an appetizer, or I need to make one at home… I freeze. All of a sudden, I feel like I have absolutely zero ideas of what to make. Appetizers really are best when someone else makes them.

Enter these meatballs! First, who doesn’t love a bite-sized meatball? Second, if you are going to have a meatball, it better have a lot of flavor and be utterly memorable. And let me tell you: these meatballs deliver.

This is the appetizer I always crave and can easily transform into an entire meal. Plus, the cranberry flavors are perfect for the holiday season!

Hand holding wood toothpick speared with small meatball covered in cranberry sauce with skillet filled with more meatballs below all on white countertop

The ingredients that make these meatballs so special:

  • Bread. This is an essential ingredient that no one will ever taste. Bread is the secret ingredient that, when mixed with milk, becomes the glue that provides a perfect texture and keeps the meatballs juicy.
  • Milk. In these meatballs, I prefer to use whole milk. The flavor from whole milk will always give more richness to any dish and that holds true with this recipe.
  • Onion. Grating the onion into the meat mixture allows the flavor to evenly distribute throughout the meatballs and melt into the meat.
  • Garlic. A little garlic goes a long way, but is needed to round out the flavors.
  • Worcestershire sauce. This is the ingredient that no one can ever place, but is needed to bring a dish’s flavor to stardom territory.
  • Egg. The egg binds everything together and gives a lightness to the meatball.
  • Ground beef. Lean ground beef offers both great flavor and texture.
  • Ground pork. Pork offsets the beef to provide a lighter meat flavor along with a slight sweetness.
  • Barbecue sauce. Your favorite jarred barbecue sauce will work great. If you love it already, this recipe will only make it better.
  • Orange marmelade. This has a sweet and sour dicotomy going on and lends a welcome citrus undertone to the sauce.
  • Cranberries. Fresh or frozen cranberries are the perfect festive ingredient. As they cook, their sour juice melds with the sweet marmelade and barbecue sauce to create a sweet, tangy, and sticky sauce that coats the meatballs.
Top down close up view of cranberry sauce covered meatballs sitting in dark maroon sauce in skillet

These meatballs go together quickly, can be made a few days ahead, and stored in the refrigerator. I’m now making these often and find they are great added to a salad or just made into a meal. Really, these are the best meatballs that also happen to be a great holiday appetizer!

Watch how to make these cocktail meatballs

YouTube video
Red skillet sitting on white countertop filled with cranberry sauce covered meatballs

Cocktail Meatballs with Cranberry Sauce

4.54 from 50 votes
When it's the holidays, there is something so festive about a meatball as an appetizer. These cocktail meatballs are slathered in a cranberry sauce that is slightly sweet with a citrus undertone!
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 20 meatballs


For the meatballs

  • 2 slices bread (approx. 3 oz)
  • ¼ cup whole milk
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 2 tbsp grated onion
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 large egg beaten
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 lb ground pork

For the sauce

  • 12 oz bottled barbeque sauce
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 1 cup orange marmalade


For the meatballs

  • Preheat oven to 375°F.
  • In a large bowl, tear up the bread into pieces and add the milk. Mash the milk and bread together to form a paste. Add in the salt, pepper, grated onion, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, and egg. Mix to combine. Add in the ground beef and pork.
    2 slices bread (approx. 3 oz), ¼ cup whole milk, 1 ½ tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper, 2 tbsp grated onion, 1 clove garlic, 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce, 1 large egg, 1 lb ground beef, 1 lb ground pork
  • Use hands or an electric mixer to combine until all the ingredients are completely combined and smooth. Use a scoop or spoon to make 20 1-ounce size balls.
  • Heat a 12-inch skillet over medium heat with 1 tbsp olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the meatballs. Allow the meatballs to brown on two sides, about 3-5 minutes. Once browned, place the meatballs on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven until they reach 160°F, 15-20 minutes. While the meatballs are roasting, prepare the sauce.

For the sauce

  • In the same skillet in which the meats were browned, add the barbeque sauce, marmalade, and cranberries. Over low heat, bring to a simmer. Continue to cook over a low simmer until the cranberries begin to burst and are softened, 12-15 minutes.
    12 oz bottled barbeque sauce, 1 cup orange marmalade, 1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
  • Once the meatballs are baked and fully cooked, remove them from the oven and add them to the prepared sauce. Spoon the sauce over the meatballs coating them completely. Serve directly from the skillet or set on a platter.


Serving: 1meatballCalories: 139kcalCarbohydrates: 11.4gProtein: 9.6gFat: 6gSaturated Fat: 2.3gPolyunsaturated Fat: 0.6gMonounsaturated Fat: 2.5gTrans Fat: 0gCholesterol: 39.5mgSodium: 296.3mgPotassium: 190.1mgFiber: 0.4gSugar: 8.6gVitamin A: 8.3IUVitamin C: 1.2mgCalcium: 19.9mgIron: 1mg
Course Appetizer
Cuisine American
Difficulty Easy
Method Baking

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I’m Kaleb! I'm not a chef, professional baker, landscaper, or designer, but I like to play each on Knollgate Farm. Come join me on my journey and let's learn together!

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  1. Been making meatballs for years, but always used bread crumbs and never used whole cranberries. I will definitely make your recipe for Christmas Eve. I will have to double the recipe for our crowd and keep them warmed in the slow cooker. They look absolutely delicious and I’m sure my family will love them. Thank you for all your recipes, videos and ideas. Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones !!!

  2. These look delicious! Making them next week for a potluck! My husband wants to make your recipe without the sauce to put in pasta too. My question is, can we make all the meatballs and then freeze them afterward so that I can use half of them next week in your recipe and the other half now for the hubby’s pasta dish? Do they keep well if frozen, any idea? Love watching your cooking and decorating BTW!

    1. 5 stars
      I made these meatballs ahead of time and froze them for our family Christmas party. The night before I took them out of the freezer to thaw in the frig. Made the sauce and stored in frig. For the party I assembled in a crockpot and turned on low. It was a huge hit. People loved them.

  3. 5 stars
    Hi. I just stumbled across your page. I hate cooking but this meatball recipe inspired me. I made them tonight and they were delicious. So easy too!!! Thank you and happy holidays!

  4. 5 stars
    One question for you. Why don’t you have a food network show? You are truly a male version of Martha Stewart.
    Merry Christmas!

    1. Actually, I think he is better than Martha Stewart… He is genuine! Recipe sounds delicious. I am curious about freezing also.

      1. I agree!!!! HE IS AWESOME!!! I watch him every day!!! I make so many things, he tests recipes till perfect and I can’t get over his awesome collections of stuff, his home design, his gardening ,everything 🥰🥰

  5. Hello! I’m making up a sheet pan of these meatballs now. They smell wonderful! I’m going to use half of them for spaghetti and sauce I made yesterday. The other half of the meatballs I’m putting back for Christmas to make your cranberry sauce and enjoy them for my hubby and I. Thanks for your recipes and tips. Merry Christmas!

  6. 5 stars
    I’ve followed Kaleb for a few years now and his recipes are amazing! This one is no exception—it’s the perfect savory sweet hors d’oeuvre! I couldn’t find ground pork, so I substituted pork sausage. I also used sugar free barbeque sauce and sugar free marmalade. I think they turned out excellent! This will be a staple on my holiday menu going forward!

  7. I’m making these now and have a question. The instructions say to make 20- 1 oz meatballs, but there is 2 lbs of meat in the recipe, which is way more than 20 ounces. Am I missing something?

  8. 5 stars
    These look absolutely amazing and how festive!
    I’m going to make these ahead of time since I will need 4 or 5 times the recipe for a crowd.
    How will the sauce hold up with the cranberries if frozen?

  9. 3 stars
    I’m making these meatballs now. I’m rolling mine in breadcrumbs as they seem more stable that way. Browning in pan first. Is that necessary as they brown quite a bit in the oven. Can I freeze them for this weekend as I want to make the sauce later for a crockpot?

    1. Hello, browning them in the skillet is what gives them they the correct texture and crust. Since you rolled them in breadcrumbs that crumb will most like burn before the crust would develop on the meat. In that case would I would roast them in the oven. Either way yes, you can freeze the raw meatballs.

  10. 4 stars
    I’m making this now for a party tomorrow. Can is reheat all in a crockpot? I froze the meatballs and now making the sauce.

  11. What would you suggest as a substitute for the cranberries, as my husband is allergic to them. Thank you and Merry Christmas!

  12. 5 stars
    Thank you so much for this recipe. It is terrific and now the one everyone asks me to bring to potlucks. It’s a bonus that it’s easy to make

  13. 5 stars
    These were the best meatballs I’ve ever made. Delish! I’m trying to determine what other sauce I’d like them with. I can’t imagine them with traditional marinara. What else have you served them with?

  14. 5 stars
    Kaleb, I made these for my family at Christmas time and THEY WERE A HIT! So delicious! I’m making my grocery list tonight for the upcoming week and I’ve decided its time for these meatballs again. No party, just good eatin!
    Thank you! I LOVE your videos, and website. Thank you, thank you!!!

  15. 5 stars
    I’ve made Kaleb’s cocktail meatballs twice now, once for a New Year’s Eve party and again yesterday for a Super Bowl party. Both times they were a big hit. The first time I made the recipe exactly as written and both the meatballs and the sauce were delicious! For yesterday’s party I had to slightly alter the recipe because my husband, who is presently going through cancer treatment, cannot eat sausage or orange marmalade. For the meat mixture I used 2 lbs of 85% grass-fed ground beef and 1/2 cup whole milk, and for the sauce I used 12 oz chili sauce and 10 oz organic Concord grape jelly. I made everything on Saturday and then put it in a slow cooker yesterday to heat through. Even with using all beef, the meatballs were so tender and the sauce turned out great, too! Thank you, Kaleb!!

  16. 5 stars
    i notice in the recipe it says to brown first on the stove top than add to oven but you only bowned in oven which is best.