Awesome Slow Cooker Italian Meatball Appetizers

Andy Anderson !


With the holidays coming up; and all the entertaining, I’m always on the lookout for cool ways to present food. I call this a “starter” recipe (I’ll explain that in a bit) because they are easy to prepare, and are versatile to work with.

The prep is easy, and most of the work is done in the slow cooker.

These babies are a total crowd pleaser. No matter how many that I make, I never seem to have any left at the end of the day.

So, you ready… Let’s get into the kitchen.

Featured Pinch Tips Video

☆☆☆☆☆ 0 votes
30 Min
4 Hr
Slow Cooker Crock Pot



1/4 c
olive oil, extra virgin
1/2 medium
onion, shredded, about 2 ounces
2 clove
garlic, minced
1 medium
carrot, shredded, about 2 ounces
3 medium
fresh garden tomatoes, blanched, peeled, seeded, and crushed
8 oz
fresh tomato sauce
8 oz
fresh beef broth, not stock
1 pinch
cayenne pepper
salt, kosher variety, to taste
black pepper, freshly ground, to taste.
1/2 medium
lemon, juice, and zest


1 lb
ground chuck 80% lean
1 lb
mild or hot italian sausage
1 c
ricotta cheese, full fat
2 large
1/2 c
panko breadcrumbs
1 Tbsp
chopped fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
1 tsp
salt, or to taste
1/4 tsp
crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp
fennel seeds


Step 1 Direction Photo


Step 2 Direction Photo

2Gather your ingredients.

Step 3 Direction Photo

3Add the oil to a saucepan over medium heat.

Step 4 Direction Photo

4When the oil begins to shimmer, then add the onions, and garlic.

Step 5 Direction Photo

5Sauté until the onions begin to soften, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Step 6 Direction Photo

6Add the shredded carrots, and continue to sauté for 3 to 5 minutes.

Step 7 Direction Photo

7Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, lemon zest, and beef stock, and then allow the ingredients to lightly simmer for 15 minutes.

Step 8 Direction Photo

8Chef’s Tip: At this time, season with the cayenne, kosher salt, and black pepper.

Step 9 Direction Photo

9Chef’s Note: This type of sauce typically requires a good amount of salt to bring out the flavors of the tomatoes; however, go carefully. This sauce will be in a slow cooker for 4 hours, and things have a tendency to get a bit concentrated over that long of a cooking time. Repeat after me: Season and Taste… Season and Taste.

Step 10 Direction Photo

10After 15 minutes of simmering, remove from the heat, cover, and reserve.

Step 11 Direction Photo

11Chef’s Note: To puree or not to puree… that is the question. By definition a typical marinara sauce is smooth; however, I like the levels of flavor you get when you leave the carrots, and onions as they are… So, for this particular recipe, I don’t puree the sauce.

Step 12 Direction Photo

12Chef’s Note: As the sauce is simmering, you can get a head start on the meatballs.

Step 13 Direction Photo


Step 14 Direction Photo

14Chef’s Note: I call this a meatball starter recipe. From this base you can come up with all kinds of ideas.
1. Make them a bit larger (1.5 inches/3.8cm), and serve them over pasta, and you have Spaghetti and Meatballs.
2. Make them the same size as the recipe calls for, place them on a small bun, and you have Meatball Sliders.
3. Make them a bit larger (1.5 inches/3.8cm), and place them and the sauce in a sliced hoagie, and you have a Classic Italian Meatball Sub.

Step 15 Direction Photo

15Gather your ingredients.

Step 16 Direction Photo

16Add all the dry ingredients to a bowl, and mix thoroughly.

Step 17 Direction Photo

17Add the remainder of the ingredients.

Step 18 Direction Photo

18Use your hands to combine the ingredients.

Step 19 Direction Photo

19Make meatballs using 1 ounce of mixture, and place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Step 20 Direction Photo

20Chef’s Tip: 1 ounce of mixture is equal to a slightly rounded tablespoon.

Step 21 Direction Photo

21Chef’s Note: They should measure about 1 inch/2.5cm in diameter.

Step 22 Direction Photo

22Place a rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 420f (215c).

Step 23 Direction Photo

23Place the meatballs in the oven, and cook for 12 minutes.

Step 24 Direction Photo

24Chef’s Note: They won’t be fully cooked, but baking in the oven helped to firm them up a bit, and we rendered out some of that nasty fat.

Step 25 Direction Photo

25When they are cool enough to handle place them on the bottom of a slow cooker.

Step 26 Direction Photo

26Pour the marinara sauce over the top; making sure that they are completely covered.

Step 27 Direction Photo

27Cook on low for 4 hours.

Step 28 Direction Photo

28Remove the meatballs from the slow cooker and reserve in a bowl.

Step 29 Direction Photo

29Add the lemon juice to the marinara sauce and stir to combine.

Step 30 Direction Photo

30Place some marinara in a small serving dish and add a meatball.

Step 31 Direction Photo

31Chef's Note: Repeat for the others.

Step 32 Direction Photo

32Serve while still nice and warm. Enjoy.

Step 33 Direction Photo

33Keep the faith, and keep cooking.

About this Recipe

Course/Dish: Meat Appetizers
Main Ingredient: Beef
Regional Style: American
Dietary Needs: Dairy Free, Soy Free
Other Tag: Heirloom