These slow cooker meatballs don’t need any precooking – just mix, roll, and drop them in the slow cooker with the sauce. The tomato sauce is also easy to make although you can substitute your favorite store-bought marinara sauce to make it even easier. These soft and juicy meatballs are freezer-friendly and great for sub sandwiches or served with pasta.
Slow Cooker Meatballs
Homemade meatballs are a tough sell this time of the year because just the idea of a splattering pan filled with meatballs is enough for me to say “no thanks” and reach for something more hot weather dinner appropriate like a bowl of ice cream. And if I can’t sell myself on homemade meatballs what chance do I have in selling you, dear reader, on the idea? So, because some cravings know no season, when a serious hankering for a meatball sub hit a couple weeks ago I knew I needed to change up my summertime meatball game to meet the need because when a meatball sub craving hits there’s pretty much nothing else I can think about.
And so I turned to my trusty slow cooker which tends to see more action this time of year. It’s a summer cook’s best friend and answers the call when you want to cook something low and slow without cranking up the stove or oven (along with your air conditioning bill). And I’m pretty sure I haven’t shared a slow cooker meatball recipe although I didn’t take the time to check because who says you can’t have more than one slow cooker meatball recipe? Someone who doesn’t get it, that’s who.
And it’s not even the slow cooker that’s the game changer with these meatballs. Until recently I swore up and down and all around that I would never serve meatballs that weren’t browned in a pan first. “You have to brown the meatballs” was my mantra. So, here I am walking back what I thought was the only way to make meatballs. I admit I was skeptical at first. I approached the meatball making project assuming non-browned meatballs – ones that are mixed, rolled, and dropped directly into the sauce – would fall apart and I would end up with slow cooker bolognese instead. Long story, short: I was wrong. Also, never say never. It always gets you in trouble.
It’s true browning the meatballs in a pan first does develop flavor but I think the low and slow cooking method makes up for the shortcut. The meatballs simmer in the sauce for about four hours which is plenty of time for the beefy sausage savoriness to mingle with the bright and acidic tomatoes. When you uncover them at the end the slow cooker meatballs are tender and juicy and beg to be piled in a toasted roll with some melted cheese. I was happy to note that they did not fall apart and equally as happy to pack up the leftovers for the freezer. That means easy meatball subs all summer, my friends.
How to Make Slow Cooker Meatballs
There’s no chopping required for these meatballs – the recipe makes good use of pantry spices – and it’s really just a mix and roll operation. I rolled about one ounce of the meat mixture to make each ball and plopped them in the slow cooker with the sauce. Set the slow cooker for four hours on high and simmer them until they’re tender and juicy. Here are the ingredients you’ll need for the meatballs:
- Ground beef
- Italian sausage
- Store-bought breadcrumbs
- Garlic and onion powder
- Dried oregano
- Salt and pepper
Now, if you wanted to use your favorite jarred marinara sauce instead of making your own you should totally do that because A) it will work fine and B) you’ll shave off at least 10 minutes from the prep time. I recommend using about 5 cups of sauce. That said, this recipe for slow cooker tomato sauce – which does require a little bit of chopping – is easy to do and you may already have all the ingredients on hand.
- Canned crushed tomatoes
- Canned tomato sauce
- Chopped onion
- Chopped garlic
- Red pepper flakes
This recipe makes approximately 30 meatballs with plenty of sauce. I like to pile the meatballs in top-slice hot dog buns, top them with some cheese and pop them under the broiler just long enough to melt the cheese without overheating the kitchen. The meatballs and sauce freeze well – keep them in the freezer for easy meatball dinners because, like I said, you never know when another craving might hit. For me, it happens more than I like to admit.
More Slow Cooker Recipes
My chicken enchiladas with slow cooker salsa verde recipe is another great slow cooker dinner with no pre-cooking required. Or, if you’re still in a sandwich mood, give my slow cooker shredded beef sandwiches or short rib sliders a try – both recipes are a low maintenance way to feed a crowd.
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These slow cooker meatballs don’t need any pre-cooking – just mix, roll, and drop them in the slow cooker with the sauce. The tomato sauce is also easy to make although you can substitute your favorite store-bought marinara sauce to make it even easier. These soft and juicy meatballs are freezer-friendly and great for sub sandwiches or served with pasta.
For the Tomato Sauce
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 (32-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- 1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
For the Meatballs
- 2 large eggs
- 1/4 cup store-bought plain breadcrumbs
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano or Italian seasoning
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 pound mild Italian sausage
- In a 6-quart slow cooker, combine the olive oil, crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, onion, garlic, salt and red pepper flakes.
- In a large bowl combine the eggs, breadcrumbs, salt, onion powder, garlic powder, pepper, and oregano. Add the ground beef and sausage and, using your hands, mix it all together just until combined. Scoop approximately one ounce of the mixture to form each ball. Place the meatballs in an even layer in the sauce. Spoon some sauce over the meatballs so they are covered, place the lid on the slow cooker and set it to cook on high for four hours. Serve on rolls or with pasta.
I used grass-fed beef for this recipe. Depending on the fat content of the beef you use the nutrition estimates may vary. I like to freeze the meatballs in small batches. Reheat them in the microwave or on the stove top.
- Category: Dinner
- Method: Slow Cooker
- Cuisine: Italian-American
- Serving Size: 3 meatballs
- Calories: 299
- Sugar: 5.4g
- Sodium: 932.4mg
- Fat: 19.9g
- Saturated Fat: 5.7g
- Unsaturated Fat: 11.4g
- Trans Fat: 0.3g
- Carbohydrates: 11.8g
- Fiber: 2.5g
- Protein: 19.3g
- Cholesterol: 98.5mg
Keywords: slow cooker meatballs, meatball sandwiches, meatball subs, meatballs
The nutrition information in this recipe is an estimate only and was calculated using Nutrifox, an online nutrition calculator.