Slow Cooked Meatballs

by Andie Mitchell on November 11, 2010

I have often wondered whether the slow cooker is the answer to nearly every food-related question I have in life.

How can I walk in the door from work and have dinner waiting patiently to be plated?

How on Earth can I transform an inexpensive cut meat into something fall-apart-tender and juicy?

How can I avoid twelve dirty pans, pots, and mixing bowls? Who can I pay to clean them?

Can chocolate be slow cooked?

Why don’t all meals cook themselves?

No, really, can we slow cook chocolate?

And…well…I was mostly right. The slow cooker is the answer to nearly every food-related question I have, though, I have yet to work out the logistics on slow-cooked chocolate.

My most recent questions have been related to one of my top ten favorite foods: The Meatball.

Admittedly, I don’t think meatballs require too much tender loving care. They’re fairly self-sufficient. They’re dependable enough that just about any recipe, any variation, any ol’ thang will make my heart sing. Because I believe it’s the sauce that matters most. No meatball that’s worth a damn is without a marinara to match. (And the absolute best sauce, the far-and-wide find of my entire existence, the only sauce I can say is perfect with one hundred percent certainty and without batting one eye at all of my months spent living in Italy, is the sauce made by my stepfather, my dad, Paul.)

What I crave, at least once a week, are those rich, vibrant Italian flavors. The intoxicating smell of garlic and onions when they spit and sputter in a hot pan with olive oil. Basil and oregano. Sharp and salty parmesan. Sweet, sweet, sauced tomatoes.

It’s understood that the longer your sauce simmers, the more robust its flavor. The better and stronger the marriage of spices to tomatoes. And since we both know that the slow cooker is sure-fire succulence when it comes to meat, well…meatballs in the slow cooker just make sense.

Slowly simmered and cooked directly in your favorite marinara, these meatballs are simple. They’re perfectly moist and tender, while still holding on dearly to their cute round figure.

So friends, it’s not going to get much easier than this. It might not even get any better (until we figure out those logistics on slow cooking chocolate).

Slow Cooked Meatballs

This time, I used ground turkey because it was on sale at the market. Ground beef works just as well, if not better flavor-wise. Combine the meat with fresh bread crumbs, parmesan, oregano, basil, salt, pepper, and milk. Use your hands to mix everything well. Be careful not to overwork your meat though, as that can lead to really tough, firm meatballs.

Form the mix into balls that are roughly 1 1/2″ in diameter. Any size will do.

Scatter your onion over the base of your slow cooker. These will soften and enhance the sauce as they cook.

Place the meatballs over the onions. Then pour two cups of your favorite homemade or store-bought marinara sauce evenly over everything. Cook on low for 6-8 hours, until the meatballs are tender and cooked through.

Slow Cooked Meatballs

(serves 4)

For the meatballs:

1 lb lean ground beef or turkey
½ cup fresh bread crumbs (1 slice of your favorite bread ground in a food processor)
1 tablespoon dried oregano

2 teaspoons fresh minced basil
¼ cup finely grated parmesan cheese
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
¼ cup milk

Remaining Ingredients:

½ large onion, chopped

16 oz (2 cups) of your favorite homemade or store-bought marinara sauce


Combine all meatball ingredients in a large bowl using your hands. Do not overmix. Roll the mixture into balls roughly 1 1/2″ in diameter.

Scatter the onion over the base of your slow cooker, followed by the meatballs. Pour the sauce evenly over the top, making sure to coat everything.

Cook on low for 6-8 hours.

{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

Carbzilla November 11, 2010 at 9:02 am

These look delicious! I’ll have to make them when I’m home because my husband’s nervous about leaving an appliance plugged in all day.

Would still love to grab a cup of coffee sometime!


ihearteggs November 11, 2010 at 9:11 am

To answer your question… yes, you can cook chocolate in a slow cooker. :)


chelsea November 11, 2010 at 10:44 am

This is so funny that you posted this today because I was just looking for more slow cooker recipes. However, I would so love if you started doing nothing but Thanksgiving recipes, cooking for the mother-in-law and I’m very nervous! I don’t know if I can trust some of the recipes out there!! But I trust you!! I have made quite a few of your recipes and they have all turned out delish!!


Can You Stay for Dinner November 11, 2010 at 10:55 am

YAY!!! Chelsea, you read my mind! Starting on Monday, I’m posting nothing but Thanksgiving recipes- the whole shebang- everything from turkey to cranberry sauce to pie! Thanks for the fabulous support!!



Leah @ Why Deprive? November 11, 2010 at 11:06 am

These look phenomenal. I dont know how you do it, but you always manage to make the things I dont normally like look fantastic. Right now, I desperately want a meatball!! :)


Can You Stay for Dinner November 11, 2010 at 11:08 am

Leah, if you come to my house and eat meatballs you get a two for one deal: Dinner and me singing, “On top of spppaaaagghhheeeetttiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii, all covered in cheeeeeeese….I lost my poor meatball….when..” You get the idea.


NanaBread (Jeanne) November 11, 2010 at 11:24 am

Holy guacamole! That’s the best looking plate of meatballs I’ve ever seen, and I can’t believe they’re that easy to make. I’ve always baked my meatballs, and now you come up with this. Amazing! This is on my short list now. Thanks for sharing them. I feel like you just gave me the winning lottery numbers!


Can You Stay for Dinner November 11, 2010 at 11:48 am

Thanks Jeanne!!


Marna November 11, 2010 at 11:26 am

Meatballs look great and I printed out the Passion Cookie recipe from yesterday. My husband will LOVE those.

If you want chocolate in the CP, check out recipes for Triple Chocolate Mess (yes, that’s really the name.) To say that it’s amazing is an understatement.


Can You Stay for Dinner November 11, 2010 at 11:48 am

Oh wow, Marna…Triple chocolate mess…unbelievable!


biz319 November 11, 2010 at 11:30 am

Yum, yum and yum. I’ve never thought to do them in the crock pot! I usually sear them so they are nice and crunchy on the outside, then nestle them in my sauce to finish cooking.

Can you believe my Italian husband doesn’t like meatballs that much? WTF?!


Can You Stay for Dinner November 11, 2010 at 11:47 am

WHAT?! He doesn’t like meatballs?! I love the idea of searing them and then letting them finish by simmering in the sauce!!


Peggy Hogan November 11, 2010 at 1:03 pm

This looks so easy. I will definitely try it. My boys will be all over it.


M.J. Jacobsen November 11, 2010 at 4:41 pm

What lovely smells to come home to! (by the way, my bird Baby sings on Top of Spaghetti!!)


Can You Stay for Dinner November 11, 2010 at 4:45 pm

How fabulous is that song, M.J.?!


Kristy November 12, 2010 at 4:33 am

I live for slow cooker recipes! I’ve never done slowcooker MEATBALLS, def must try this!


ann November 12, 2010 at 6:14 am

I never thought of making meatballs in the slow cooker. What a great idea!


Judy November 21, 2010 at 7:06 am

I’ve never tried to slow cook my meatballs.. I shall. Thank you. I also combine meats.. ground turkey or chicken or beef. A little of each, a lot of one, etc… great flavors. Thanks for all your humor too.. love it!


Can You Stay for Dinner November 21, 2010 at 7:51 am

Hi Judy! You know, I’d never combined the meats before, but recently, I had some meatballs with pork and I could totally tell what a delicious difference the meat made. I’ll have to start adding it! Thanks!


Katherine April 28, 2011 at 3:12 pm

1. I love the way you write, it is so intimate and entertaining.
2. You always have the best tips hidden in these posts that non-cooks like me juuusssttt don’t know.
3. there never is a 3.
Thank you!


Ashley February 25, 2012 at 2:04 pm

These look super yummy! I’ve been looking for a meatball recipe (never made them before! stage fright) and more slow cooker recipes, so this is the best of both worlds! Thank you for sharing – I hope mine turn out yummy.


Caroline February 27, 2012 at 7:50 am

Looks yummy – wondering what the conversion would be if you were to cook these on high instead of low?


BusyWorkingMama March 16, 2012 at 9:23 am

Yum, making these soon! My little sister tried this recipe and liked them.


Amanda March 19, 2012 at 12:02 pm

These look SO good! I had a quick question. If I doubled this recipe, would the cooking time be the same? I have 4 children. I double EVERY recipe! :)


Andie March 19, 2012 at 12:12 pm

Hey! No, the cooking time remains the same :)

Hope you like them!



Mel B June 28, 2012 at 3:48 pm

This recipe is delicious! I wasn’t sure about the milk at first, but it works so well, I’ce added it to my list of go-to meals that the family love, and I’m just about to make a batch now for tonight’s dinner. Thanks :)


Chelsea July 17, 2012 at 12:11 pm

This recipe looks perfect to christen my new crock pot! If I wanted to do them faster though, say in two hours instead of four could I set it to high, maybe with more sauce? Or would that burn them? Thanks!


Veronike July 19, 2012 at 5:36 pm

SOO good. I just made these the other night and my boyfriend loved them. I added some peppers and more onions and it was just delicious. Keep the good recipes coming!


Birttany August 12, 2012 at 5:23 pm

I have been searching for a slow cooker meatball recipe! I usually put in ground Italian pork sausage too, it adds SO much flavor :)

Thank you!


Autumn August 14, 2012 at 11:56 am

OMG I am so glad I found this recipe!!! I have been wanting to make meatballs and was planning to on Saturday!! So what a better way than to put them in a slow cooker!!! I can’t wait!

Thanks and I look forward to telling you how the turned out!


Jessie September 16, 2012 at 5:52 pm

I have made these awesome meatballs twice now and they seriously taste like restaurant quality or better! I have been searching for this meatball recipe for 13 years now and I finally found it!! Thank you!


Melissa H. October 4, 2012 at 11:27 pm

I doubled this recipe and made it for my Grandmothers 95th birthday party and it was a huge hit! Thank You!


Chad October 15, 2012 at 1:41 pm

Great simple recipe. I went with a beef/pork blend, italian seasoning instead of only oregano, and substituted cilantro for basil.


Kristie December 11, 2012 at 10:06 am

Andie, thank you for posting this recipe. My meatballs are cooking in the Crock Pot as we speak!! Can’t wait til they’re done!!


Ronnie May 19, 2013 at 1:26 am

Hi there, thanks for your recipe. I’m just making this in country Western Australia! It’s a Perfect cold weather/busy farming people recipe. I’ve made an Italian sugo sauce with tinned tomato, capers, fresh parsley & basil, teaspoon chopped anchovies, tablespoon white sugar and a good splash of white wine. Thank you so much. It smells delish in my kitchen. Regards from Australia!


Rebecca Copeland September 10, 2013 at 12:09 am

What is the calorie count for this? It was delish! Have you ever encountered a lot of grease? I think it’s grease. What would you do if that happened? Try to spoon it out?


Heather December 29, 2013 at 3:32 pm

Grease happened to me 1st time I cooked them too. I just heated the meatballs in oven to rid some of the grease before putting in crockpot. Worked great! (375° for 10 min)


Dawn October 3, 2013 at 4:47 pm

I love this recipe! When you started talking about warming chocolate, you made me think of the new fondue warmers from Velata. I am going to try sauce in them now…check out my website to see the Velata.. You made me think about something great to use the system for!


Andie Mitchell October 3, 2013 at 5:01 pm

I need that, Dawn! Thanks for sharing :)



Gigi January 4, 2014 at 12:43 am

This picture was the standout of all the images! Started too late to have them today, but all is ready for my husband (!) to assemble first thing in the morning for a late lunch. (We have dinner at lunch, and appies for dinner.). The one thing I am totally upset about, and can’t believe, is that you rave about your dad’s marinara as the best you’ve had in the whole wide world, but you don’t give us the recipe! Gyp! It’s the brightness of the sauce that attracted me, and then you say to use a jar of marinara? That’s just wrong to tease like that!


Andie Mitchell January 4, 2014 at 10:31 am

Gigi, thanks for your comment! I hope the meatballs are a hit today!!
Here’s a link to the sauce:

Have a great weekend :)



Elizabeth September 30, 2014 at 2:04 pm

I’ve made these meatballs several times and they’re WONDERFUL. I don’t think I’d ever make meatballs another way again! Thank you so much Andie.


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