July 22, 2024


Simply The Best Food

Cocktail Meatballs – Once Upon a Chef

5 min read
Cocktail Meatballs – Once Upon a Chef

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Toss that retro recipe that calls for grape jelly and chili sauce—these homemade cocktail meatballs are so much better.

Cocktail meatballs were a popular appetizer in the 1960s and 1970s. My mother and grandmother used to make them from a well-known recipe that called for frozen meatballs, grape jelly, and Heinz chili sauce. It seemed like everyone made them that way back then! This recipe offers a modern twist on the classic dish by using homemade meatballs and a sweet and tangy sauce that can be prepared in just 15 minutes. The meatballs are not only delicious as an appetizer, but they can also be served over rice for a satisfying dinner. Plus, kids love them! Using an electric mixer to make the meatballs results in a tender texture with a satisfying snap, perfect for spearing with toothpicks. That said, if you don’t have an electric mixer, it’s fine to mix the meatballs by hand.

There are many delicious meatball recipes that can be served as appetizers, including Swedish meatballs, chicken meatballs, and Vietnamese-style meatballs. Simply make them bite-sized and offer toothpicks for easy nibbling.

What you’ll need to make Cocktail Meatballs

ingredients for cocktail meatballs

Step-by-Step Instructions

Begin by combining the eggs, cream and bread cubes in a small bowl.

eggs, cream and bread cubes in bowl

Mash with a fork until the bread is mostly dissolved.

mashed bread and cream mixture

Combine the ground pork, garlic, baking powder and seasoning in an electric mixer and whip until the mixture is smooth and pale. Add the egg mixture and beat until smooth, then the ground beef.

process of making meat mixture in mixing bowlMix again until just combined.

finished meatball mixture in mixing bowl

Using moistened hands, form the meat mixture into balls and place on a rack over a foil-lined baking sheet. The rack is useful because any fat from the meatballs drips down, but if you don’t have one, don’t worry about it. It’s fine to just place the meatballs directly on the baking sheet.

meatballs on rack over baking sheet

Bake the meatballs for about 25 minutes, or until cooked through.

cooked meatballs

Meanwhile, make the sauce by combining the ketchup, brown sugar, cider vinegar, shallot, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, water, salt and pepper in a sauté pan large enough to hold all the meatballs.

sauce ingredients in skilletSimmer the sauce for about ten minutes, until slightly thickened.

simmering sauce


Add the baked meatballs to the sauce and simmer until the meatballs are warmed through.

baked cocktail meatballs simmering in the sauce

Transfer to a serving platter, garnish with finely chopped parsley if desired, and spear with pretty toothpicks.

Notes: The technique for mixing the meatball ingredients, for the most part, comes from Cook’s Illustrated. The bamboo forks shown in the photo are available on Amazon. 

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Cocktail Meatballs

Toss that retro recipe that calls for grape jelly and chili sauce—these homemade cocktail meatballs are so much better.


  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ cup heavy cream or milk
  • 1½ cups cubed white sandwich bread, crusts removed
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 pound ground beef (85% lean)

For The Sauce

  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 3 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1½ tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced shallot, from one shallot
  • 2 small cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

For Serving

  • Finely chopped parsley (optional)


  1. Make the Meatballs: Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil for easy clean-up and place an ovenproof rack over top; spray the rack generously with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Whisk the egg and cream together in a medium bowl. Stir in the bread and mash with a fork until the bread is broken down. Set aside.
  3. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the pork, garlic, pepper, salt, and baking powder on high speed until smooth and pale, about 2 minutes, scraping bowl as necessary. Add the bread mixture to the mixing bowl and beat on high speed until smooth and homogeneous, about 1 minute, scraping the bowl as necessary. Add the beef and mix on medium-low speed until just incorporated, about 20 seconds, scraping the bowl as necessary.
  4. Using wet hands, form the mixture into 1½-inch round meatballs and place on the prepared rack. (The mixture is very sticky; wet hands help, so keep wetting your hands as you go). Bake for about 25 minutes, until just done. (Note: You’ll notice that the rack will leave little marks on the bottom of the meatballs but they will not be too noticeable once the meatballs are covered with sauce.)
  5. Make the Sauce: Meanwhile, in a large skillet, whisk together the ketchup, brown sugar, water, cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, shallot, garlic, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until thickened, 10 to 12 minutes.
  6. Add the baked meatballs to the sauce and simmer until warmed through. Transfer the meatballs to a serving platter, spear with toothpicks, and spoon the sauce over top. Garnish with parsley, if using. Serve warm.
  7. Freezer-Friendly Instructions: The meatballs and sauce can be frozen in separate containers for up to 3 months. When ready to serve, reheat the meatballs in their sauce on the stovetop over medium heat until hot in the center.

Pair with

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Serving size: 1 meatball
  • Calories: 85
  • Fat: 5g
  • Saturated fat: 2g
  • Carbohydrates: 8g
  • Sugar: 6g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Protein: 4g
  • Sodium: 214mg
  • Cholesterol: 24mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

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