These slow cooker Italian meatballs are a great answer for quick weeknight dinners. Toss them on some pasta, make them into a meatball sub, bake them with mozzarella for a cheesy meatball skillet or add them into a meatball pasta bake for a comforting casserole. Or freeze the leftovers for another day!
Homemade meatballs are a staple in my house. And rightfully so because they’re so much better than frozen. There’s a certain texture you get from homemade meatballs that you don’t get from the store-bought kind.
These slow cooker Italian meatballs are lovingly braised in marinara sauce for hours. All 40 of them. I usually serve 5 meatballs per person, so that’s about 8 servings. And you can also opt to freeze them for a quick dinner in the future.
The meatballs are a combination of extra lean ground beef and Italian sausage mixed with Parmesan cheese, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, and Italian breadcrumbs. They’re hearty and will fill you up paired with a pasta of your choice or in a sub, Italian bread or demi-baguette.
Have a sudden craving for a meatball sub for dinner? No problem! Heat up the meatballs, toss in more marinara sauce if needed, arrange them on a sub, and tuck in some slices of provolone then bake it for a while. Yum. So let’s start cooking!
How To Make Slow Cooker Italian Meatballs (1 Min Video)
SLOW COOKER ITALIAN MEATBALLS RECIPE TIPS
To make the meatballs, we’ll combine all the meatball ingredients and mix them up with our hands until all the Parmesan cheese, egg and breadcrumbs are absorbed and evenly distributed into the meat. For the cheese, you can use freshly grated Parmesan or the dry kind in the green shaker.
Now it’s time to form the meatballs. Your hands are your best friends here. It’ll take some time since this is the bulk of the prep work, so put on some music while you’re doing it and if you have some extra set of hands around the house, coax them into helping you. Use an ice cream scoop as a baseline of how to size your meatballs. Then pack them in tightly, smoothing over any cracks so they don’t fall apart.
Why Do We Need To Broil The Meatballs?
While you can technically throw all of these meatballs in the slow cooker, it’s best to broil the meatballs first. Why do we need to broil it? Because even though we’ll be using super-lean ground beef, there’s still some fat in it. If you don’t brown or broil the meatballs beforehand, this fat will melt in the slow cooker and you’ll end up with a greasy marinara sauce. It’s not pretty.
So to avoid this, we use super lean ground beef and broil the meatballs to melt the fat from them prior to slow cooking them. There will still be some fat rendered in the slow cooker but not as much. It’s easy to spoon it all out after all is said and done.
If you don’t want to broil them, you can also brown them up in a skillet. Broiling and browning is also an important step to help them keep their form when they slow cook, so try not to skip this!
Grease a baking sheet and line them up which some space in between each meatball. I have a pretty big baking sheet so all 40 meatballs fit in one. You might need to use two if yours are a little on the small side. Broil them at 500°F on the top rack until browned and the fat has melted through. This should take about 8 minutes. Let them sit a while to harden up before transferring them to a slow cooker.
A Better Marinara Sauce
Now for the marinara sauce. If you’re perfectly happy with the jarred kind, then pour it over the meatballs and call it day. If you have a favorite recipe you swear to, fix that up and add them to the meatballs.
I tweaked mine a little by adding some seasonings to the jarred marinara sauce before adding it in. I’m not a big fan of the tartness you get straight from the jar so I’ve added a quick recipe for a mildly sweetened, balanced, and slightly beefy marinara sauce in the recipe notes. Season the sauce till you get it the way you like.
How Long Do You Cook It?
You can cook on high for 4 hours or low for 8 hours. The meatballs stayed intact throughout so the broiling step was well worth the 10 minutes or less it took! If the sauce comes out a little too thick for your liking, just add some beef broth to thin it out until it reaches the consistency you like.
What To Serve with Slow Cooker Italian Meatballs
Now it’s time to eat! Put it in a hoagie/sub/demi-baguette/Italian bread and some slices of provolone cheese. Broil a little to melt the cheese for a hearty meatball sub. Or try it with your favorite kind of pasta. I’ve included a couple of pics with some pasta for a visual idea. There’s also a really great video to see all four ways you can serve the meatballs.
You can also add them to an oven-proof skillet, top with a generous layer of mozzarella cheese and make a cheesy meatball skillet. This goes really well with some warm, crusty bread. And finally, use some meatballs to make a meatball pasta bake that will feed you for days.
Freeze The Leftovers
If you have a big family, then you’re set and can use it in a few meals. Or if it’s just a few of you and you want to eat it for the next couple of days, refrigerate the rest. They heat up really well. And if there are only two of you and you want to save it for another day, freeze it!
And that’s it, folks! Enjoy the meatballs and have fun digging in 🙂
MORE MEATBALL RECIPES TO TRYPrint
Nutrition per meatball (serving size 40):
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