Graphic: Karl Gustafson

I love Crock-Pots. I love appetizers. I love parties. So, I am no stranger to the slow-cooker meatballs often served at gatherings celebrating everything from ugly holiday sweaters to the year’s biggest game, always accompanied by festive, brightly colored sword-shaped plastic toothpicks. When pondering my own contribution to this year’s Super Bowl gathering, I decided to tackle this dish I’d long admired. Imagine my surprise when I found out that that particular sauce, according to the Welch’s website, contains all of two ingredients: grape jelly and barbecue sauce.

The key is to start with a solid meatball. Leave those frozen ones in the bag for now, please. To make sure I was working with proper source material, I used the Classic Beef Meatball from the classic The Meatball Shop Cookbook, from popular New York meatball chain The Meatball Shop. [Editor’s note: Get this book just for the turkey meatball recipe. We make it once a month.] It’s a pretty basic recipe with some important ingredients, like ricotta cheese and red pepper flakes, which added a nice heat, especially in the sweet-sour sauce (which leans on the sweet side more than the sour).

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The sauce itself is deceptively simple. I needed a whisk to break up all the jelly, but the heat quickly combined the mixture into a familiar-looking, crowd-pleasing sauce. Let someone else wrestle with that seven-layer dip; this way, your Super Bowl contribution is already set when you arrive, Crock-Pot in hand. Just find an electrical outlet.

Welch’s says that you can also add some Sriracha to the sauce for more heat if you like, but it’s kind of nice to just stick with this excellent version of a traditional recipe. Some combos—like grape jelly and barbecue sauce, apparently—are classics for a reason. Just don’t forget the fancy toothpicks.


Grape-Jelly Crock-Pot Meatballs

Photo: Gwen Ihnat

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  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 lbs. ground beef (80 percent lean)
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh oregano or 1 tsp. dried
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp. ground fennel

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Drizzle the olive oil into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and use your hand to evenly coat the entire surface. Set aside.

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Combine the ground beef, ricotta, eggs, breadcrumbs, parsley, oregano, salt, red pepper flakes, and fennel in a large mixing bowl and mix by hand until thoroughly incorporated.

Roll the mixture into small (about one inch across) meatballs, making sure to pack the meat firmly. Place the balls in the prepared baking dish, being careful to line them up snugly and in even rows vertically and horizontally to form a grid. The meatballs should be touching one another.

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Roast for 20 minutes, or until the meatballs are firm and cooked through. A meat thermometer inserted into the center of a meatball should read 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

While the meatballs are firm and fully cooked, remove them from the oven and drain the excess grease from the pan.

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In a separate sauce pan, combine one jar of grape jelly with one bottle of barbecue sauce, and heat over medium-low heat, stirring constantly. Once well combined and heated through, pour atop meatballs in Crock-Pot. Serve with festive toothpicks from warm Crock-Pot.


Meatball recipe reprinted with permission from The Meatball Shop Cookbook by Daniel Holzman, Michael Chernow, and Lauren Deen. Published 2011 by Ballantine Books. All rights reserved.

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