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.


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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

How to Make Awesome Slow Cooker Italian Meatball Appetizers


  2. Gather your ingredients.
  3. Add the oil to a saucepan over medium heat.
  4. When the oil begins to shimmer, then add the onions, and garlic.
  5. Sauté until the onions begin to soften, about 3 to 5 minutes.
  6. Add the shredded carrots, and continue to sauté for 3 to 5 minutes.
  7. Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, lemon zest, and beef stock, and then allow the ingredients to lightly simmer for 15 minutes.
  8. Chef’s Tip: At this time, season with the cayenne, kosher salt, and black pepper.
  9. Chef’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.
  10. After 15 minutes of simmering, remove from the heat, cover, and reserve.
  11. Chef’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.
  12. Chef’s Note: As the sauce is simmering, you can get a head start on the meatballs.
  14. Chef’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.
  15. Gather your ingredients.
  16. Add all the dry ingredients to a bowl, and mix thoroughly.
  17. Add the remainder of the ingredients.
  18. Use your hands to combine the ingredients.
  19. Make meatballs using 1 ounce of mixture, and place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
  20. Chef’s Tip: 1 ounce of mixture is equal to a slightly rounded tablespoon.
  21. Chef’s Note: They should measure about 1 inch/2.5cm in diameter.
  22. Place a rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 420f (215c).
  23. Place the meatballs in the oven, and cook for 12 minutes.
  24. Chef’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.
  25. When they are cool enough to handle place them on the bottom of a slow cooker.
  26. Pour the marinara sauce over the top; making sure that they are completely covered.
  27. Cook on low for 4 hours.
  28. Remove the meatballs from the slow cooker and reserve in a bowl.
  29. Add the lemon juice to the marinara sauce and stir to combine.
  30. Place some marinara in a small serving dish and add a meatball.
  31. Chef's Note: Repeat for the others.
  32. Serve while still nice and warm. Enjoy.
  33. Keep the faith, and keep cooking.

Printable Recipe Card

About Awesome Slow Cooker Italian Meatball Appetizers

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

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