These Cranberry Meatballs are super easy and delicious! They make the perfect holiday party appetizers. This recipe includes slow cooker instructions, Instant Pot instructions, and Ninja Foodi instructions
This recipe was first posted on November 27, 2017. It has been updated as of December 2, 2021 with new photos, step-by-step cooking instructions and photos for the Instant Pot, and more helpful cooking tips.
Throwing a holiday party this season? This Cranberry Meatballs recipe makes one of my FAVORITE party appetizers!
I actually make these meatballs year round, but it's during the fall and winter when cranberries are in season that this appetizer really shines. It's such a fun and festive addition to any Christmas menu!
Perfect party appetizer
- The recipe is easy to make ahead of time. You can keep them warm in a slow cooker, or in an Instant Pot or Ninja Foodi on Keep Warm mode.
- It calls for ingredients that are easy to find at any grocery store. In fact, since we started making these, we always have the ingredients on hand! It's easy, thanks to frozen meatballs and frozen cranberries.
- And, it's also easy for people to eat while mingling. No forks or knives required! I serve these either with toothpicks or food picks to make it convenient for guests to pick up and mingle while eating.
Kitchen Tools and Equipment
You can make this recipe either in an electric pressure cooker, a slow cooker, or on the stovetop!
Slow Cooker - I love my CrockPot MyTime Slow Cooker, and have used it to make this cranberry meatballs recipe with much success!
Ingredients to make this recipe
Cranberries - You can use fresh or frozen. The timing is the same as long as you use the same amount.
Sugar + water - Use granulated sugar with water to mix with the cranberries as the berries cook up and soften.
Lemon Juice - a bit of acidity helps balance the flavors of this recipe.
Brown Sugar - You'll add light brown sugar to the barbecue sauce before pressure cooking.
Barbecue Sauce - start with a half cup of your favorite BBQ sauce or your own homemade BBQ sauce. If you find the meatballs need more sauce, go ahead and add more and mix with the other ingredients to combine well.
Pre-cooked Frozen Meatballs - I always have a stash of pre-cooked frozen meatballs in my freezer. These make for fast and easy dinners or snacks for last-minute guests!
Step-by-Step instructions for making cranberry meatballs in a pressure cooker.
Be sure to read through these helpful instructions before you start. Then print out the printable recipe card with full ingredient measurements and instructions below.
Then add the cranberries and lemon juice. Sauté for 3 to 4 minutes, just until the cranberries "pop" and the sauce is slightly thickened. Turn off the Sauté mode.
Stir in the barbecue sauce and brown sugar until fully combined. Pour in the frozen meatballs and stir to coat in the sauce.
Secure the lid (use the Pressure Lid if using a Ninja Foodi) and make sure the pressure valve is in the SEAL position. Select Pressure Cook/Manual, and set the time to 5 minutes.
The Instant Pot or Ninja Foodi will take a few minutes (anywhere from 6 to 15 minutes) to come to pressure. Once it starts pressure cooking it will count down from 5 minutes.
When pressure cooking is complete, use a wooden spoon to safely and carefully move the pressure release valve over to VENT for a Quick Release.
When the pressure release valve pin has gone down indicating that all pressure has been released, carefully open the lid, stir the meatballs, and serve.
How to make this cranberry meatballs in a slow cooker
In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine cranberries, water, sugar, and lemon juice. Bring to a low boil, lower heat to medium, and cook until the cranberries have "popped" and create a beautiful sauce. This takes about 5 to 7 minutes.
Once the cranberry sauce is ready, stir in the brown sugar. Add the meatballs to the slow cooker, and pour the sauce over the meatballs.
Slow cook on low for 4-5 hours, or high for 2 hours.
Cranberry meatball recipe FAQs
Yes! In fact, the recipe is written specifically for using frozen meatballs that do not need to be thawed before cooking.
Absolutely. Once you've made the meatballs, simply add them in as you would frozen meatballs. The pressure cooking time should remain about the same, but you may need to add on a few minutes depending on the size and ingredients of your homemade meatballs.
Store leftover meatballs in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Or, store in freezer-safe airtight containers in the freezer for up to two months.
In addition to cranberry meatballs, the cranberry sauce in this recipe is awesome on its own. You could serve it over turkey breast, use it in turkey and cream cheese sandwiches, or pour it over baked brie in puff pastry.
What to serve with cranberry meatballs
This cranberry meatballs recipe is perfect for make for parties, but it's also great to serve as a main course for any family dinner.
For parties, consider serving it alongside other yummy party appetizers:
For a family dinner, make this to go along with:
- Instant Pot Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese
- Crockpot Turkey Tetrazzini
- Garlic Parmesan Knots
- Simple Fruit Salad
- Avocado Pasta Salad with Tomatoes and Corn
Wine pairings for meatballs
These delectable party appetizers pair well with a bright, light red wine that can balance the richness with some acidity. Go for a Gamay or a Pinot Noir when pairing wine with meatballs.
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Instant Pot Instructions
- Turn your Instant Pot to Sauté. Add the water and sugar and gently stir until the sugar has dissolved. Then add the cranberries and lemon juice. Sauté for 3 to 4 minutes, just until the cranberries "pop" and the sauce is slightly thickened. Turn off the Sauté mode.
- Stir in the barbecue sauce and brown sugar until fully combined. Pour in the frozen meatballs and stir to coat in the sauce.Secure the lid and make sure the pressure valve is in Seal.
- Select Pressure Cook/Manual, and set the time to 5 minutes.The Instant Pot will take a few minutes to come to pressure. Once it starts cooking it will count down from 5 minutes. Quick release the valve (use a wooden spoon to safely switch the valve over). Once the pin has gone down, carefully open the lid, stir the meatballs, and serve.
Ninja Foodi Instructions
- Using your Ninja Foodi, select Sauté, set to HI, and select Start/Stop to begin. Pour in the water and sugar and gently stir until the sugar has dissolved. Then add the cranberries and lemon juice. Sauté for 3 to 4 minutes, just until the cranberries "pop" and the sauce is slightly thickened. Select Start/Stop to end the Sauté mode.
- Stir in the barbecue sauce and brown sugar until fully combined. Pour in the frozen meatballs and stir to coat in the sauce.
- Assemble the pressure lid and make sure the pressure release valve is in the Seal position. Select Pressure Cook and set the time to 5 minutes. Select Start/Stop to beginThe Ninja Foodi will take approximately 10 minutes to come to pressure. Once it starts cooking it will count down from 5 minutes. Once it's done, quick release the pressure release valve (use a wooden spoon to safely switch the valve over). Once the pin has gone down, carefully open the lid, stir the meatballs, and serve.
Slow Cooker Instructions
- In a small saucepan, bring water and sugar to a low boil. When sugar dissolved, slowly add cranberries and lemon juice. Boil until cranberries "pop" and become soft. Lower heat and simmer about 5-7 minutes, until most of the cranberries have popped and the sauce thickens slightly. Remove from heat and add barbecue sauce and brown sugar. Stir well to combine.
- Add entire package of frozen meatballs to a slow cooker (no need to thaw). Pour cranberry sauce over meatballs.
- Slow cook on high for 2 hours or low for 4-5 hours.
Nutrition information is a general estimate. Actual nutrition details may vary depending on the exact foods & brands you use to make this recipe. It does not take into account any substitutions, toppings, or optional ingredients.
More Holiday Recipes
- Christmas Tree Pull-Apart Bread
- 33 Freezer Friendly Holiday Cookies
- Gingerbread Loaf with Peppermint Cream Cheese Frosting
- Easy Cranberry Peppermint Holiday Bark
- Gingerbread Cake Roll with Cream Cheese Filling
This post was originally published November 27, 2017. It was updated December 2, 2021 with new photos, step-by-step instructions and photos, and more helpful cooking tips.