Kicked-Up Classic Cocktail Meatballs

These Kicked-Up Classic Cocktail Meatballs are the perfect balance of sweet, spice and heat. Everyone will be reaching for seconds and thirds. Can be made on the stove-top or in the slow cooker.

 Kicked Up Cocktail Meatballs a twist on the classic
Remember a couple of weeks ago when we were talking about cocktail meatballs and what brand to buy? It seems everyone is really picky about their meatballs, when it comes to the cocktailing kind I received so many emails asking me which ones I liked. It really surprised me how many people have trouble finding a brand they want to purchase again and again. But hey, we are here to solve problems so here we go.

Ironically, in between that post and this one, a brand I do a lot of work for contacted me and said they are now making meatballs...and could I try them. Timely don't you think? I jumped at it because it was obvious all of you are looking for some you can love. So I took one for the team and tested them out. You're welcome. And as a little aside, I love to serve this appetizer alongside these Kicked-Up Classic Cocktail Meatballs, they just go together well.

Okay best part of these meatballs...they are pork. Which means they are super, super flavorful and a whole different animal in the taste department. Obviously you can use your favorite meatball, but I have to say I really enjoyed these.

Kicked Up Cocktail Meatballs new Johnsonville Pork Meatballs
So, here are the ingredients for the classic recipe with new meatballs. I mean home cooks have been pouring these two ingredients together and serving them with their meatballs for years and years. It's a holiday tradition and I'm sure many get-togethers wouldn't be the same without it.

But, I had to change it. Tweak it a little and take it up a notch for several reasons.

Kicked Up Cocktail Meatballs in the pan
The classic recipe is very tangy. It has a bite to it, not in a negative way, the bite is just there. And here is where my sensory training as a winemaker comes in...stay with me. 


During the holidays wine is definitely served at parties. Any food too acidic, makes it difficult to enjoy with wine. The magical food-wine pairing is lost when you have acidic wine and acidic food together in the same bite. You need mouthfeel. I also want food that hits all of my taste buds, not just one. The short story is, you need fat. Fat (food) + Acid (wine) = perfection. The acid in wine and fat in the food come together and make the perfect pairing.

And while the meat has fat, it still doesn't compensate enough to get the right balance. I wanted this recipe to have "front-end" along with the "back-end" it already dishes out.

Kicked-Up Classic Cocktail Meatballs

So, first I added some heat. I used only the sauce from a can of chipotle chili peppers in adobo. Therefore, the recipe is not spicy, but the sauce added complexity and balanced the sweetness. Next, I introduced beef bouillon to highlight the meaty flavor and bring salt into play, another balancing act. Butter calmed everything down and brought in the fat.

OMG, perfection. Complete perfection. And a whole different "wow" flavor. Try this recipe and taste it each time after adding and mixing in each ingredient. You too will see how it builds. 

Kicked-Up Classic Cocktail Meatballs

When sprinkled with Parm-Reg and fresh parsley, they are ridiculous (don't skip that). 

Guests will rave about this one! I've never steered y'all wrong.

There are so many fun appetizers to serve during a holiday party. This Pigs in a Blanket Wreath is sure to make everyone happy. These Cranberry and Feta Pinwheels are very festive and delicious. And let's not forget 17 Appetizer Bites Starring Bacon for your next gathering. A Christmas Antipasto Wreath will look great on your buffet table. And this Easy Snowman Veggie Tray is a great party starter.

One year ago I made this Sinfully Decadent Spaghetti Squash that goes together so nicely with a holiday ham. Five years ago this Bourbon-Walnut Sweet Potato Mash convinced me that all holiday recipes need bourbon. Amen.

Print Recipe

Kicked-Up Classic Cocktail Meatballs

Recipe from: Created by Cathy Pollak for | Serves: 28 meatballs


  • 1 (12-ounce) bottle Chili Sauce
  • 1 (14-ounce) can Jellied or Whole Cranberry Sauce
  • 1 (7 oz) can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, using sauce only (no chilis)
  • 2 beef bouillon cubes, crumbled (smash with a fork)
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 (24-ounce) package frozen, fully cooked Johnsonville Homestyle Meatballs or any frozen meatballs you prefer
  • 1/2 cup finely shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano, for garnish
  • 2 Tablespoons minced fresh parsley, for garnish


On the stove top:

  • Combine chili sauce, cranberry sauce adobo sauce, bouillon cubes and butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, paying special attention to making sure the bouillon is dissolved. Add meatballs, cover and cook for 30 minutes on med-low, stirring
  • Garnish meatballs with Parmigiano-Reggiano and parsley.

Slow Cooker:

  • Place frozen meatballs in slow cooker. Combine all other ingredients and pour over meatballs. Cover and cook on HIGH for 3-4 hours. Garnish meatballs.

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Post a Comment

4 Comments and 2 Replies

  1. Shelby 1

    Um, YUM. I have a hard time myself with frozen meatballs. They just have that frozen taste to them. However, I do love Johnsonville products so I will definitely be looking for these to try out!

    • Cathy 2

      Yeah, I was surprised at how many emails I have received about what brand to buy. And Johnsonville does make quality stuff, never been unhappy with anything. So give them a try.

  2. Karly 3

    I was just telling my husband about these cocktail meatballs. Somehow he has never tried them! I always make them with grape jelly instead of cranberries, though. Must try this recipe!

  3. Cathy, these look so inviting! I love the pop of fruity flavor. :)

  4. I’m pretty picky about my purchased meatballs … these sound like I need to give them a try. And I’ve been on a meatball binge lately, so must try this recipe. Wanted to stop in and wish you and your family and wonderful holiday season Cathy.


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