Not Your Mother's Meatballs -- slow cooker recipe

This is an "advanced" slow cooker recipe. I wouldn't suggest attempting it unless you have used your crockpot quite a bit and are comfortable playing around with it. 

 Oh they're just so pretty! I've got a meatball recipe for you today that will  become a new family favorite. 

I'm not going to lie -- you're going to have to dirty up your hands a bit, but you won't have to wash a frying pan.

Those beautiful meatballs pictured up above? They held their form and browned beautifully all on their own in the crockpot --- no pre-browning required.


The Ingredients.
makes 24 golfball-sized meatballs

1/4 cup chopped Italian Parsley
1.5 pounds lean ground beef
4 slices smoked bacon, diced (raw; don't cook it)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup Panko-style breadcrumbs (I used Kinnikinnick Gluten Free Bread Crumbs)
2 eggs (the eggs pictured are duck eggs! thanks, Grandpa John!)
2 tablespoons dried minced onion flakes
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

additional ingredients:
1 cup flour (I used rice flour)
2 cups chicken broth (can use beef)
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste

The Directions.

Use a 6-quart slow cooker. Spray the inside of your cooker with cooking spray, or rub it down with a bit of olive oil (don't go crazy, just a little glisten) and set aside. 

In a good-sized mixing bowl, combine the chopped parsley, ground beef, and diced bacon. 

Add in Parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs, eggs, and the dried spices. 

Combine well--- I'd use your hands (remove rings, wash appropriately, and all that good stuff that if I had a legal team they'd tell me to include).

After the meat is mixed, line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or non-stick foil.

Pour 1 cup of flour (I used rice flour) into a shallow dish (pie pan works great).

Roll meat into golfball-sized balls and then lightly dust each meat ball with flour before placing  onto the lined cookie sheet. 

When all the meat is gone, put the whole cookie sheet into the freezer for 1 hour, or until completely frozen. 

It's okay to freeze overnight, if you'd like to break this into two days (put in sealed dish/tupperware if freezing for longer).

Once your meatballs are frozen, place them one-by-one (this means don't dump!) into your lightly greased slow cooker.

 It's okay to stagger-stack them. In a  small mixing bowl, whisk together the broth and tomato paste to create a gravy. 

Pour this evenly over the meatballs. Cover, and cook on low for 5 hours, or until the meatballs have browned and are fully cooked. 

I cooked the meatballs pictured above on low for 5 hours, then let them sit on warm for another 3 1/2 hours before dinner was served.

Serve alongside pasta or rice, or all on their own. These are filling!

The Verdict.

You will love these. I couldn't stop taste-testing these throughout the afternoon and kept texting Adam to come home quick because dinner was going to rock.

and it did. 

I shared the leftovers with my dad who is somewhat of a meatball connoisseur and he *really* liked them. 

I learned about the flour-and-freezing trick from Pinterest--- it worked great, and is such a fantastic technique to keep the meat together. 

I already knew meatballs didn't need to be browned in the slow cooker beforehand but dredging them in flour first gives a bit more of a "crusty" texture and thickens the tomato gravy beautifully.

The internet is so much fun!

Great technique here for making homemade meatballs in the crockpot. To keep them from sticking all together, you roll each one individually in flour and then freeze on a cookie sheet. Genius! The sauce is nice and thick and like a marinara gravy. YUM.

more meatballs in the crockpot:
two little smokie appetizer recipes (but you can use meatballs!)

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Posted by: Stephanie O'Dea | A Year of Slow Cooking at June 15, 2017

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What they say about this article

  1. Yup yup, we'll have to try this one!

  2. have you ever used a beef gravy instead of the tomato?

  3. @Amie, enjoy! :-)
    @mrs.missalaineus (LOL, love the name) no, I haven't. If you give it a try, I'd love to hear your results.

  4. Am definitely going to try this! Thanks!

  5. This looks wonderful! Have you ever done a porcupine meatball recipe, gluten free, in the crockpot?

  6. What exactly is Panko style vs regular old bread crumbs? I just wondered because these crumbs have egg in them and we need to be egg-free as well as GF but I would love to give this a try because it seems so simple and easy (something I need!).

  7. @Linda, I haven't but my mom did and they fell apart on her. I'd like to try her recipe with the flour/freezing method---I bet we'd have good results.

    @Nicole, you're right, these Kinnikinnick have egg powder in them. In this recipe, the regular breadcrumbs will work just fine. Panko crumbs are larger, and flakier and make a nice crispy coating for chicken nuggets, etc. But they certainly aren't a must. Here's more info for you on panko vs. regular breadcrumbs.


  8. Great recipe. Will definitely have to try this week.

  9. Rowansslavegirl12/18/2011

    This sounds so yummy. What can I substitute for the Parmesan (we are dairy free too!)?

  10. @Rowansslavegirl, I'd just omit it. there's plenty of flavor.

  11. Just wanted to let you know that your blog has been a lifesaver since I started working full time. I keep kosher, so I can't make a lot of your recipes (such as this one), but you've inspired me to be creative with the crock pot. I'm going to try this method with the meatballs with my regular recipe tomorrow. Hope it comes out good...

  12. Yum! My husband will love these. Thanks.

  13. This looks great, definitely going to try it, as I love meatballs but find it's easy to make them tough when browning them in a frying pan the usual way.

    One thing I'm slightly concerned about is putting the frozen meatballs straight into the empty crock. The manual for my CrockPot says that if you're putting frozen food in it, to put a bit of liquid in the bottom first - is there any reason you can't put the gravy in first so as to ease the thermal shock and prevent the crock cracking?

  14. Hi @Catt, you should absolutely follow the manufacturer's instructions--always. Putting a bit of gravy down is a good idea.

    On Crock-Pot's website, and in their manuals, they suggest using room-temp liquid or slightly warmed when cooking with frozen food. That's what I do when I use a frozen roast, etc.

    The concern is "shocking the crock" (could cause cracking) and the worry that the frozen food won't come up to a safe temp soon enough. These newer pots get up to speed really quick, but the older ones took quite a while.

  15. Can you freeze them once they're cooked and use them as needed?

  16. Thanks for this recipe! I can't wait to try it!

  17. i only have a 4qt. how do i convert this size and time wise? i really want to make it!!

  18. Hi - I was wondering if I could put all of the ingredients, including the stock/gravy parts, into a freezer bag with the frozen meatballs and just throw everything into the crockpot at once. Or do I need to add them separately at the time of cooking?

  19. @Jessica, good question. Yes, sort of. :-) If you go this route, thaw the bag overnight in the fridge before putting the ingredients into the cooker. You're not supposed to just start cooking a big block of frozen food. If you're using frozen meat, the rest of the ingredients should be room-temp or slightly warmed.
    This is for food safety, and to not "shock the crock" which could crack.

    hope this helps a bit, steph

  20. OK - so I tried my regular meatball recipe with your method, and it came out HEAVENLY. They stuck together perfectly - probably the first time I ever made meatballs that stayed real balls. Thanks for your inspiration! I will definitely be making them this way again.

  21. Just a tip on getting meatballs to hold their shape; I put my meatballs on a cookie sheet and bake them for 15 minutes (at 350). They brown nicely and stay together well. I can get 3 pounds worth onto a cookie sheet, then I freeze the extra for later.

    I like the sound of your method too, and want to try it and see the difference!

  22. I love the no browning method! I am eager to try these, thanks!

  23. Oh my goodness. Had them for lunch, loved them and I am not even a meatball lover!!. I put a few more bread crumbs in b/c I only had a approx a lb of meat and they were a real hit with my meatball loving husband. Made them last night, popped them in the freezer overnight and into the slow cooker early this morning. Used my some beef stock from a roast I cooked a few days ago mixed with the tomato paste. Delicious. I will definitely try them again.

  24. Awesome meatballs!! Definitely a keeper!!

  25. Jenny C.12/28/2011

    I made these for Christmas Eve supper with my family and they were amazing! My GF hubby was really happy that he could have some :) I used ground chuck (it was on sale) and I think next time I will try a leaner cut because the gravy was a little greasy. They still tasted great though!

  26. I'm just wondering if these meatballs need to be cooked in
    this type of sauce (tomato paste and broth) or if one could
    add more, like more veg and tomatoes etc. and still have it work..

    Any ideas or input would be appreciated - one recipe I saw lately
    was on Nate Berkus:


    In a large bowl combine ground beef, ground veal, ground pork and ground chicken. Set aside.

    In a food processor mix 2 oz. each, fontina cheese, Reggiano parmiagano cheese, sharp provolone and Asiago cheese chopped very fine in a food processor and add this to the meat mixture.

    In a food processor start vegetable mixture - one medium size carrot, one large onion, six cloves garlic, one large handful each basil and flat leaf parsley.

    Heat three tablespoons of olive oil in a medium size pan over medium/high heat. Add vegetable mixture - the carrot, onion, garlic, basil, and parsley - and add one teaspoon salt, one teaspoon pepper and one tablespoon of crushed red pepper flakes. Sauté for about 7-8 minutes or until very tender.

    Add half of the sautéed vegetable mixture to the meat mixture and place in the refrigerator covered, the other half set aside.

    Heat 1/4 C olive oil over medium/high heat and add the remaining half of the sautéed vegetable mixture to that add 4-24oz cans crushed tomatoes, and 2-24 oz. whole peeled tomatoes with juice.

    Let the sauce cook for at least 20 minutes.


    This type of sauce - what do you all think - any input would be appreciated!

  27. Meatballs in the crockpot are amazing! I have some German meatballs and sauerkraut in mine right now. I've never tried popping them in the freezer first though. Great idea. Mine sometimes fall apart a bit. I'll have to try that next time.

  28. Christy1/03/2012

    We are trying to avoid beef for ground chicken or turkey. Any ideas whether they would stay together? Would you go with an extra egg or a little olive oil?

    Thanks, love using the crockpot for things like this since my husband is of the "food can't touch" school of thought so soups and stews are just for me.

  29. Oh yeah ... I am going to make these with the ground turkey in have defrosting...yippee!! Thanks for continuing to share these cool recipes!

  30. We tried and it tastes even better than it looks

  31. Angela1/07/2012

    I have the same question as Jackie-will this keep in the freezer longer than overnight? Maybe a couple months? Sounds like something I could make a couple batches of and have in freezer bags. (I'm not sure where I get a user name name is Angela).

  32. Hi @Angela and @Jackie--

    I don't see why not! I haven't tried to do so myself, but if you plop the frozen meatballs into a freezer bag, they should be just fine for 4 months or so in the freezer. Make sure to label the bag so you know the meat is raw! :-)


    I gave you a shout out on my blog! :)

  34. Angela1/08/2012

    Thanks! I'm going to make a double batch today and freeze them. I wasn't sure if the bread crumbs/flour would get soggy long-term. I'm newish to freezing stuff like this.

  35. i've got these in the freezer right now. i'm thinking of breaking them into smaller groups and throwing them in my mini-crock with some marinara sauce! i'm thick into writing my stupid master's thesis, and stuff like this i can throw in and ignore for a while until my stomach makes enough noise for me to surface is awesome.

  36. We loved these. I mixed up a double batch and froze in small groups to add to various recipes on busy nights. We have already had them as sandwiches and in spaghetti. I particularly like the flavor the fresh parsley adds.

  37. Since this makes a ton of meatballs, do you think you could just freeze (and then bag in the freezer) all but the few you'll want for the night's dinner?

  38. I am late in responding to this post, but I wanted you to know that I love this recipe! I changed it based on what I had on hand, but it still came out wonderfully rich and tasty. I didn't have fresh parsley but had cilantro and that was good to use. I also used regular bread crumbs (from homemade bread I dried) and that was good. What was the real kicker for us was that I used the frozen chicken stock (from your recipe a few years ago) only this batch was made from the bones of smoked chickens. The smokiness of the stock enhanced the bacon (inspired idea to add chopped bacon to this recipe!)flavor and everything was just fantastic.

    We ate leftovers for a few days, and with each day came even nicer flavor blendings. I will definitely make this again and again.

  39. Peg McCarthy1/19/2012

    Can I flour after freezing, before they go in the crock? I forgot that part and they are already frozen.

  40. Hi Peg,
    I haven't done what you describe myself, but if I was in your situation I'd give it a try-- you can be our guinea pig! :-)
    Most crockpot recipes are pretty adaptable and leave a lot of wiggle room, which I appreciate!

  41. Made these yesterday and added a little red wine to the sauce - SO yummy! We all - including 2 year old - loved them. Next time I'll mix up an extra batch and leave them in the freezer.

  42. I'm not sure how I missed this one but I'm glad I found it now. These look fantastic! I am going to be going to the store tomorrow to pick up those items that I am currently missing - ie hamburger for one so that I can put these on!
    I'm thinking these will be great for the crazy days coming up soon (the ever fun tax season) I hope they freeze well - if so I could be making this more than once (or going out to get another crockpot!)
    Thanks for sharing.

  43. Never ever thought about browning in the crock pot.... love a new idea! :)

  44. I Feel so safe to cook that meat balls, you always sharing an easy recipe to cook.

  45. SparkBunny6/05/2012

    When i decided to make this, i had to clean out and organize the freezer because i rarely ever really use ground beef regularly. After finding a pound of ground round from the farmer's market, i found an unmarked bag of approximately half a pound of mystery meat, so i decided to go ahead and throw it in. I mean, it's meat, right? Once i defrosted it, it turned out to be some leftover breakfast sausage from the thanksgiving stuffing. From over 6 months ago. Oops. So i threw it into the meatball mix. Otherwise, i followed the recipe to the letter. I cooked 10 of the meatballs and put the rest in a freezer container for storage. I try to cook only serving sizes of food, because leftovers rarely get eaten in our house. And it keeps us from overeating, most of the time. These turned out great, and the bacon gave it this amazing flavor! I was really worried that the sausage would make the meatballs too greasy and fall apart, but they held together really well. I do wish they'd browned a little more than they did, so maybe next time i'll prop open the lid for the last hour? Otherwise, phenomenal recipe!

  46. I love meatballs (so much so that I used to squeal out a little yay when I discovered they had meatballs on the menu at work). Just ordered my first crockpot which should arrive tomorrow so am looking forward to trying these and have a feeling that I'll be returning to your blog for some inspiration :-)

  47. Can this same technique be used for porcupine meatballs? Would I need to cook the rice first or leave it uncooked like I do the stovetop version?

  48. These were simply amazing!!!

  49. Anonymous8/01/2012

    LOVE this recipe. Made them yesterday for dinner... first time using a crock pot, and they were perfect! Thank you for the recipe and easy follow along instructions!


  50. Anonymous8/10/2012

    I made these tonight and ate them on toasted subs. They were to die for!

  51. These got rave reviews from my family, yum! Thanks for the recipe, your site is a lifesaver.

  52. If I cook for longer than 5 hours will they still stay together? I am at work for 8 hrs, plus and hr drive on each end, so it would be for ten hours. I do have a timer my crock pot, but then it would either be defrosting on the morning end or sitting out ion the afternoon end. What do you think?

  53. Hi Beth,
    You know, I wouldn't chance it. The pots that have the timers built in will flip over to warm and I'd think that would be okay, but the lamp timers just don't work the same way.
    I'm sorry. I'm worried you'll either come home to mush or overly dry and burnt meatballs.

  54. Would ground turkey stay together, do you think? Thank you for this recipe and cooking method!!

  55. These are the best meatballs ever! I previously made them for a dinner party and made them to serve alongside vegetarian pesto lasagna for Christmas dinner this year! We ate the leftovers for a couple days after and they were still delicious. I like that I can prep these the night before and leave in the freezer overnight so there's less prep the day you cook them. These would also be perfect as the star ingredient in meatball sandwiches.

  56. Darlin Stephanie...1st LOVE THE SHOCK COMMENT! Haha! You definitely dont want to shock your crack mind make it crock! Haha. Im trying to follow your guidance on freezing prepped food for future use. Am becoming little more disabled and need easy things to do. This meatball recipe would be perfect. I know this sounds like a ridiculously easy thing to know but once I do the freezing to get them to set up, can I throw them in a ziplock for future use? I tried to do this before and put them all in at same time and ended up with a giant meatballish looking slab. Would this make it so they would be more like they come in the store? What would you recommend to store long term in? Also do you have a good crockpot sauce that isnt sweet that I could can and store on shelve? Store bought is convenient but soo full of sugar and garbage. I like a more... Unsweet.. Whats the word... Savory? IDK. Im getting into that too. Would love a good slow long cooking sauce that I dont have to chug insulin after eating. Nuttin but love my crock lovin sistah!

  57. Oh good gravy! Got it backwards! Sorry! You dont want to shock your CROCK and make it CRACK! Although I cant imagine shocking your crack could be anymore enjoyable or thrilling. :)

  58. LOL, Jody!! yes! you can freeze them separate on the cookie sheet and then store them in a ziplock to cook in the crock in the future. PLEASE label the bag clearly so you know there are raw meatballs in there!

    as for the sauce; I don't have a recipe off hand to recommend. I'm sorry. I'd probably take a few tablespoons of plain tomato sauce from a can and add some brown sugar and ginger and maybe some soy sauce and then taste my way through it....

    I'll keep thinking, though!!

  59. Hi, I just made them....DELICIOUS!!! soft flavor, so easy, I changed the tomato paste for a Hunts Parmesan and garlic sauce. Greetings from Mexico!!!!

  60. Anonymous4/03/2014

    I've been trying for ages to create a good meatball recipe for the slow cooker. I was determined not to brown them first as I am a fan of plop and go methods. This may be my lifesaver. Just a note to readers though; I saw in a few comments that people were defrosting meat and then using this method. It is a big no-no to refreeze defrosted raw meat! Sorry, but I had to mention it. Thanks again for a great recipe!

  61. I've done this a few times now and it always comes out amazing!

  62. I just made these up tonight and looking forward to cooking tomorrow.

  63. Anonymous6/14/2017

    I have made these many, many times. They are fantastic!! I sometimes use venison instead of beef and usually use 1/2 pound of bulk Italian sausage to replace 1/2 pound of the beef or venison. Thank you so much for sharing this recipe!!

  64. So tasty your meatballs are. Can i make another version of this dish by using pulled pork instead of smoked bacon?