See my guide on how to use an Instant Pot.
In this Crockpot Meatballs recipe, juicy and flavorful Italian meatballs simmer in marinara sauce in the slow cooker until you’re ready to serve them.
Crockpot recipes are some of my favorites for getting dinner on the table on busy days. With only 20 minutes of active prep time, these crockpot meatballs are quick and easy to make. These Italian-style homemade meatballs are a variation of my go-to meatball recipe, and they cook up so tender and flavorful. The meatballs cook in a simple homemade marinara sauce, or use store-bought sauce to make the prep time even faster.
Why You’ll Love these Crockpot Meatballs
- The meatballs are extra moist and juicy on the inside with nicely browned outsides. Baking them at a high temperature before adding them to the crockpot is a simple step that makes these the best crockpot meatballs.
- Simmering meatballs all day in your slow cooker gives both the meatballs and marinara sauce the best flavor.
- You can slow cook the meatballs and sauce right away or make them into a freezer meal to cook later.
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Ingredients You’ll Need
For the meatballs, you’ll need:
- Egg: Helps to bind the meatballs together.
- Garlic: For flavor. You’ll also need fresh garlic for the sauce, so prep it once to save time.
- Panko Bread Crumbs: Bread crumbs help to bind the meatballs together.
- Parmesan Cheese: For flavor!
- Fresh Parsley: Chop it up finely before adding to the meatballs. If you don’t have fresh parsley on hand you can substitute 1 teaspoon of dried parsley or Italian seasoning.
- Salt and Pepper
- Ground Beef: I like to use 80% or 85% lean ground beef when making meatballs for the best flavor. You can also use ground turkey.
For the sauce, you’ll need:
- Onion & Garlic: Creates a flavorful marinara sauce.
- Crushed Tomatoes, Tomato Sauce and Tomato Paste: These combine to make a rich and hearty tomato sauce with just the right texture.
- Seasonings: Dried oregano, dried basil, Italian seasoning, bay leaves, salt and pepper give the sauce incredible flavor.
If you’re short on time, you can use two jars of store-bought marinara sauce instead of the homemade sauce ingredients.
How to Make Crockpot Meatballs
- To make this crockpot meatballs recipe, start by making the meatballs. Mix together all of the meatball ingredients except for the meat in a bowl. Once you add the meat to the mixture, you want to mix it until it’s just combined. This will ensure that your meatballs turn out soft and tender.
- Use your hands to shape the meat mixture into 1 1/2-inch meatballs. Place the meatballs on a lightly oiled baking sheet and bake at 450 degrees F for 10-12 minutes, until cooked through.
- While the meatballs bake, add all of the marinara sauce ingredients to the slow cooker and stir to combine.
- Gently stir the baked meatballs into the sauce in the crockpot.
- Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.
Thank you for sharing! This reminds me of my childhood, when my mom made her sauce from scratch. YUM!Jennifer
Make it a Freezer Meal
These crockpot meatballs are an excellent freezer to crock pot meal. After baking the meatballs, let them cool and then place them in a freezer bag with the marinara sauce ingredients. Store the frozen meatballs and sauce for up to 3 months in the freezer.
When you need an easy weeknight dinner, thaw the bag of meatballs in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning all you’ll have to do is transfer the bag contents to your slow cooker and turn it on. Seriously, having these crockpot meatballs in your freezer is the best thing ever when you are craving spaghetti and meatballs mid-week!
- Here’s the handy freezer bag holder that I used in the photo above. It’s not necessary, but it makes it really easy to fill the freezer bag without spilling.
- Looking for more freezer to crockpot meals? Try this Slow Cooker White Chicken Chili, Slow Cooker Honey Garlic Chicken, Slow Cooker Vegetarian Chili Mac and Easy Slow Cooker Chicken Taco Soup.
- When you haven’t planned ahead and are craving meatballs, try these quick and easy meatball recipes instead: Instant Pot meatballs or turkey meatballs.
Do you have to bake meatballs before adding them to your slow cooker?
For best results, bake the meatballs in the oven before adding them to the slow cooker. Baking the meatballs in the oven allows them to brown on the outside and makes for more flavorful meatballs. It also keeps the sauce from being too oily since the meatballs can release some fat as they cook on the baking sheet. The baking step doesn’t add any extra time to the recipe prep since you can mix up the sauce ingredients while the meatballs are in the oven.
If you really want to skip the baking step and add the raw meatballs to the slow cooker, you can and they will cook through. Cook the meatballs and sauce on high (not low) for 3-4 hours, or until cooked through. Be sure to use lean ground beef since all of the extra fat will end up in the sauce.
Ways to Serve Crockpot Meatballs
Serve these Italian meatballs with spaghetti or your favorite pasta shape, spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles. On the side, we like to serve garlic bread and an Italian salad for a tasty, comforting meal any night of the week. These slow cooker meatballs also make delicious meatball subs.
You might also enjoy my easy slow cooker pot roast and slow cooker beef stew recipes.
For the meatballs:
- 1 egg
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ⅓ cup Panko breadcrumbs
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 1 pound ground beef, or ground turkey
For the marinara sauce:
- 1 cup chopped yellow onion
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 15 ounce can tomato sauce
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
- ¼ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
- ¼ teaspoon pepper, plus more to taste
- To make the meatballs, preheat oven to 450° F. Lightly grease a baking sheet with olive oil.
- Combine egg, 2 cloves garlic, Panko, Parmesan, parsley, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl. Stir with a fork until well combined.
- Add the ground beef and mix until just combined. Do not over mix the meat mixture.
- Use your hands to shape into 1 1/2-inch meatballs and place on the greased baking sheet.
- Bake meatballs for 10-12 minutes, until they are cooked through (they should register at least 160 degrees F on an instant read thermometer).
- Meanwhile, add all of the marinara sauce ingredients to the slow cooker. Stir to combine.
- Transfer meatballs to the slow cooker and gently stir them into the sauce.
- Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.
- Remove the bay leaves and serve meatballs and sauce with pasta, spaghetti squash or veggie noodles.
- Make and bake the meatballs as directed above. Cool completely.
- Label a heavy-duty zip-top freezer bag with the recipe name, date, and slow cooking instructions.
- Combine all marinara sauce ingredients in the freezer bag. Add the cooled meatballs to the bag. Squeeze out as much air as possible and seal the bag.
- Freeze flat for up to 3 months.
- Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and then cook in your slow cooker as directed above.
I LOVE slow cooker meatballs so much! They’re seriously 1000x more tender and moist to me than regular oven-baked meatballs. I definitely wouldn’t complain about this being on my dinner menu every week!
They really are so good!! Thanks, Sarah!
Meatballs you say? GIVE ME ALL OF THEM!
That really looks delicious.
Thank you, Brenda! Meatballs are a favorite here too!
Im Maz From Malaysia…I love so much your healthy Ingredients in all of your recipe
Thank you, Maz!
Thank you for sharing! This reminds me of my childhood, when my mom made her sauce from scratch. YUM!
Thanks, Jennifer! Homemade is always better. 🙂
Can this recipe be made without eggs? My daughter has an egg allergy.
The eggs help bind the meatballs together, but there are other ways to bind the meatballs. You can soak the Panko breadcrumbs in this recipe in 1/4 cup milk to thicken and this will act as a binder. You could also use 1/4 cup ricotta cheese or 2 tablespoons tomato paste in place of the egg.
I sautéed my onions in a little olive oil before adding them to my crockpot. Really kicked up the flavor! I also added a little bit of sugar to counter some of the acidity in the tomatoes. Delicious! This will be on my Christmas buffet table!
Hi, this recipe looks delicious! I am hoping to make this for a lunch get together. Can I put the crockpot on High for 4 hours instead of low 6-8 hours so that it would be ready in time?
Yes, that will work well. Enjoy!
Great easy to make dinner for my husband and daughter. I used ground turkey because that was what my grocery store had. I mixed the sauce ingredients in the slow cooker before adding the meatballs, so I wouldn’t break the meatballs by mixing it after. I also added a parmesan rind that I had stashed in my freezer for extra flavour. Thanks for a great recipe!
I’m glad you enjoyed these! Adding a leftover Parmesan rind is a great idea.
I’m planning on trying this, but could I just do the same steps the day ahead but instead of freezing just put the bag in the fridge overnight and then cook them in the slow cooker the next day?
Yes, that will work well. I hope you enjoy this recipe!
Hi Kristine! What are your thoughts on the Instant Pot slow cooker function for this recipe and other slow cook recipes?
I would not recommend it over a slow cooker for that function because it does not cook as evenly since it heats from the bottom only versus a slow cooker with a stoneware insert. In my experience the low setting is too low, use medium or high and check meat with a thermometer for a safe temperature. You may need to add additional cook time.
Hiya from England Kristine. My first time using a slow cooker and I am using your recipe. I only have a small slow cooker for 2….by how much do I adjust the cooking time please…kind regards jo-ann
For this recipe you can keep the cook time the same in a smaller slow cooker, but you will probably want to reduce the quantity of ingredients, maybe by half.
Is the nutritional information for just the meatballs, or does it include the sauce, as well?
It’s for the meatballs and sauce.
Will this crockpot recipe work in an instant pot? I do not have a crockpot.
Hi! I’d recommend my Instant Pot meatballs recipe instead. 🙂