These cranberry meatballs are made with moist homemade turkey meatballs coated in a deliciously sweet and tangy cranberry glaze. These tasty meatballs are the perfect crowd-pleasing Thanksgiving or Christmas appetizer!
Meatballs are one of my top go-to appetizer recipes during the holidays and are always a crowd favorite. I love to serve platters of these cranberry meatballs with toothpicks for guests to easily grab or I'll set up a crockpot for guests to scoop meatballs onto their plates.
The meatballs for this recipe are made from scratch but feel free to use your favorite frozen meatballs to save time. For more tasty appetizers, check out our New Orleans BBQ Shrimp and Southern Deviled Eggs recipes next!
Table of Contents
Why You Will Love This Recipe
- Perfect holiday appetizer. Meatballs make the perfect holiday appetizer because they're easy to make in bulk and can be served in a crockpot to keep them warm.
- Delicious sweet and tangy flavors. Jellied cranberry sauce, BBQ sauce, brown sugar, and molasses create a sauce for these cranberry meatballs that is simply irresistible!
- Great for large gatherings. This recipe can be easily doubled to serve the largest of crowds.
Important Ingredient Notes
- Ground turkey. I recommend 85% lean, 15% fat ground turkey for these meatballs so they turn out tender and moist.
- Panko breadcrumbs. Breadcrumbs keep the meatballs from drying out since they absorb the liquid produced as the meat cooks. You may also use regular breadcrumbs.
- Eggs. Eggs are necessary to bind the ingredients and keep the meatballs from falling apart.
- Buttermilk. I love the subtle tang and added moisture buttermilk adds to the meatballs but you can also use regular whole milk.
- Worcestershire sauce. This ingredient adds delicious umami flavor to the meatballs. I recommend Lea and Perrins for the best flavor.
- Cranberry sauce. This recipe calls for canned jellied cranberry sauce but you may also use canned whole berry cranberry sauce or leftover homemade cranberry sauce.
- BBQ sauce. Your favorite brand of bottled barbecue sauce will work great for this recipe. Kinder's Roasted Garlic BBQ Sauce is one of my favorites.
- Molasses. This ingredient adds rich, caramel-like sweetness and depth to the sauce. Grandma's molasses is my go-to brand.
- Hot sauce. I love the touch of heat hot sauce adds to these meatballs but you may omit this ingredient if you are sensitive to heat. I recommend a vinegar-based hot sauce such as Frank's or Crystal.
A complete list of ingredients, measurements, and detailed printable recipe instructions can be found in the recipe card located at the bottom of this post.
Variations and Substitutions
- Make these meatballs with ground beef, pork, or chicken instead of turkey.
- Fry the meatballs on the stovetop in a little bit of oil instead of baking them to brown the outsides more.
- Instead of cranberry meatballs, switch up the sauce and try making other variations such as grape jelly meatballs, BBQ meatballs, or Swedish meatballs.
How To Make This Recipe
- Make the meatballs. In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground turkey, breadcrumbs, eggs, onion, buttermilk, Worcestershire sauce, and spices with gloved hands until well combined. Use a 1 tablespoon-sized cookie scoop to portion out the meatballs and form them into neat balls with your hands.
- Cook the meatballs. Place the meatballs on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake them at 350°F for 20-25 minutes until they reach an internal temperature of 160°F.
- Make the sauce. Add the cranberry sauce, brown sugar, molasses, hot sauce, salt, and pepper to a large saucepan and heat the sauce over medium heat until the cranberry sauce melts. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer the sauce for 10 more minutes until thickened.
- Sauce the meatballs. Add the meatballs to the pan with the sauce and gently toss them with a wooden spoon to coat them in the sauce. Serve cranberry meatballs warm.
Absolutely! Frozen meatballs work just as well as fresh for this recipe. Just combine the frozen meatballs with the sauce and simmer on medium-low until the meatballs are heated through.
This meatball recipe works great in a slow cooker! Make the meatballs per the recipe instructions (or skip if using frozen) and combine them with the sauce ingredients in the crockpot. Cook on high for 2 to 3 hours until heated through.
I recommend serving at least 2-3 meatballs per guest. If I am expecting 20 guests, I typically make about 50 meatballs.
Make-Ahead and Storing Instructions
Cranberry meatballs are an excellent make-ahead recipe and can be prepared up to 2 days in advance. Store the meatballs in an airtight container in the refrigerator and heat them on the stovetop or in a crockpot when ready to serve.
Leftover cranberry meatballs can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
More Thanksgiving Recipes You Will Love!
- Southern Chicken and Dressing
- Southern Candied Yams
- Southern Sweet Potato Casserole
- Southern Baked Mac and Cheese
- The Best Homemade Creamed Corn
- Southern Squash Casserole
- Soul Food Collard Greens
- Sweet Potato Cornbread
- Southern Spoon Bread
- Classic Southern Buttermilk Cornbread
- Southern Fried Apples
- Pumpkin Bread Pudding
- Chocolate Chess Pie
- Chocolate Gravy
- Southern Sweet Potato Pie
Cranberry BBQ Sauce
- Preheat your oven to 350°F. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil and set it aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground turkey, breadcrumbs, eggs, onion, buttermilk, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, and garlic powder with gloved hands until well combined. Use a 1 tablespoon-sized cookie scoop to portion out 40 meatballs, forming them into neat balls with your hands.
- Place the meatballs on the prepared baking sheet and bake them for 20 to 25 minutes until they reach an internal temperature of 160°F.
- Meanwhile, add the cranberry sauce, brown sugar, molasses, hot sauce, salt, and pepper to a large saucepan. Heat the sauce over medium heat until the cranberry sauce melts, stirring frequently. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer the sauce for 10 more minutes until thickened.
- Add the meatballs to the pan with the sauce and gently toss them with a wooden spoon to coat them in the sauce. Serve cranberry meatballs warm.
- Feel free to substitute ground beef, pork, or chicken for the ground turkey.
- Make this recipe with frozen meatballs by them cooking them with the sauce on medium-low until heated through.
- Make this recipe in a slow cooker by making the meatballs per the recipe instructions (skip if using frozen meatballs), combine them with the sauce in the crockpot, and cook on high for 2 to 3 hours until heated through.
- Leftover cranberry meatballs can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.