Melt in your mouth tender meatballs in a deliciously rich tomato sauce. These Slow Cooker Meatballs are an easy weeknight meal that the whole family will love. Cooked low and slow, serve them with with spaghetti or on mashed potato and make sure you have leftovers to make meatball subs.
These meatballs are total comfort food. Tender, juicy, bursting with flavour and easily adaptable. We stuck with classic Italian flavours, but there is no reason why you can't mix things up a bit and add some Mexican seasoning or even Moroccan and serve them with couscous.
This is a rich and hearty meal, but still perfect for summer when you want a filling pasta dish, but you don't want to have the oven on our be standing over the hob.
It isn't the quickest slow cooker meal, because you need to brown the meatballs first - but don't skip this step as it makes such a difference to the flavour and texture of the meatballs and keeps the juices inside.
If you are looking for more meatball recipes, then why not try our Air Fryer Meatballs, Albondigas (Spanish Meatballs), Sweet and Sour Chicken Meatballs, Meatball Pasta Bake or Sticky Chicken Meatballs?
Why you will love them
- An easy slow cooker meal - Although this isn't the quickest meal to make (no slow cooker meal will be), once you have made the meatballs and browned them, everything is just dumped in the slow cooker and left to cook. It's really simple.
- Family friendly - My kids love meatballs. They don't have a strong flavour, they go with pasta, and there is nothing green in them, so it's 3 big ticks for being kid friendly.
- Easy to adapt - You can easily adapt this recipe with different meatballs and additions to the sauce. More on that below.
- Hidden vegetables - We love anything that you can hide vegetables in and you can easily sneak veggies in to the meatballs and/or sauce.
- Freezable - These slow cooker meatballs freeze and defrost really well, so they are perfect for batch cooking and keeping in the freezer for those busy nights.
- Lots of ways to use the leftovers - If you have any leftovers of these that you don't want to freeze, then they are really good in a sandwich.
- Beef mince - We used a lean beef mince to keep it lighter. If you wanted to use one with a higher fat percentage, then it would add more flavour but it would change the nutritional information that we have provided.
- Onion - This is mixed in to the meatballs for flavour and texture. Make sure to really finely dice them so the meatballs are easy to form. You could swap the onion for shallots, which would give a sweeter flavour.
- Garlic - This is a must in meatballs in our opinion. Freshly crushed is always best, and try to finely crush it, almost in to a paste, because it will ensure even distribution of the garlic in the meatballs. You could use frozen garlic or crushed garlic in a tube if you prefer, but it doesn't have the same flavour.
- Breadcrumbs - The breadcrumbs stop the meatballs from becoming dry, by absorbing the juices from the meat and keeping them in the meatball. You can use white, wholewheat or even panko breadcrumbs, which give a crispier edge.
- Oregano and thyme - This adds lots of delicious Italian flavour to the meatballs. You can use fresh or dried.
- Egg - As well as the breadcrumbs, the egg helps to bind the meatballs. We used a medium sized egg.
- Carrot - This adds a little extra texture to the sauce, as well as some extra nutrients. You could grate it in if you wanted it to be more hidden.
- Passata - This is what makes up the pasta sauce. You could use a can of chopped tomatoes instead if you wanted, or even a good quality store bought pasta sauce to save some time. Try to use the best quality passata or tinned tomatoes that you can, as you really will be able to taste the difference, and there will be a difference in thickness too.
- Tomato puree - This gives a tomato flavour boost to the sauce and also helps to thicken it too. You could use a sun-dried tomato paste for a more intense flavour.
- Balsamic vinegar - An easy way to add some flavour to the sauce.
A full ingredients list with measurements is in the recipe card below.
Step by step
One: Put the beef, breadcrumbs, onion, garlic, oregano, egg and salt and pepper in to a bowl and mix well. If the mixture sees a bit wet, then add some more breadcrumbs. Form in to 12 meatballs and set aside.
Two: Heat some oil in a large pan and add the meatballs. Cook on low for 2 minutes each side. Take the meatballs out and then add the onion and carrot and gently cook for 2 minutes.
Three: Add the onion, carrot and meatballs to the slow cooker bowl.
Four: Add the rest of the ingredients for the sauce on top of the meatballs and gently stir so everything is coated.
Five: Cook on low for 6 hours or high for 3 hours and serve with pasta or mashed potatoes.
Health benefits of beef
Beef can definitely play an important role in a balanced diet and using lean cuts is key for this. It can provide a lean source of protein, iron and eight essential vitamins and minerals. Beef is a significant provider of protein and is naturally low in sodium and contributes towards good health and wellbeing.
Homemade or shop bought meatballs?
There are some great ready made meatballs out there if you wanted to save yourself some time, but homemade is always best and you can adapt the flavours that way. We use a low fat beef mince to make ours, but you could use a beef and pork mix or even use lamb if you wanted something different.
Simply mix together the ground beef, breadcrumbs, egg, onion and seasonings and gently roll in to meatballs and then they are ready to be browned. This is an important step, and one we don't recommend skipping, but more on that below.
We mixed together a simple marinara for these meatballs, but there are so many different ways you can jazz it up a little. Chop up some olives and add them to the sauce, or some chopped sun-dried tomatoes or a paste version will add a lot of extra tomato flavour and thicken it a little too.
If you wanted to hide some vegetables in to it, then why not grate some carrot and courgette in to the sauce and then stir in some finely chopped spinach 30 minutes before it is finished. You could add chunks of vegetables, and then remove the meatballs when cooked and blend the sauce and then mix everything together again.
We added a splash of balsamic vinegar for some extra sweetness, but you could add a pinch of sugar instead. We have also made it with some Worcestershire sauce too, which added a lot of extra flavour.
If you don't want to go down the marinara route, then you could cook these meatballs in our Homemade Healthy BBQ Sauce or even a sweet and sour sauce and serve with rice.
What to serve with slow cooker meatballs
Meatballs and spaghetti is such a classic combo, but you can top any kind of pasta with these meatballs - no need to buy anything special. If you are going down the low carb route, then sautéed courgette (zucchini) noodles go well with these. We also like these on top of mashed potato for a hearty meal.
Don't forget to serve a few slices of our Cheesy Garlic Bread on the side too. Perfect for dipping in to all that delicious soup.
We always make sure we have some leftovers of this to make meatball subs the next day. Slice up the meatballs, add to a sub roll with a spoonful of sauce and then some slices of cheese and put it under the grill. Sandwich perfection.
Frequently Asked Questions
You can prepare the meatballs in advance and they will keep in the fridge for a day or two until you are ready to put them in your slow cooker - this makes it easier for a fuss free week night meal.
If you have any leftovers, then they can be stored in an air tight container in the fridge for 2 days.
These do freeze really well too - just wait until they are cooled down and freeze in portions. They will keep in the freezer for about 3-4 months.
To reheat, let them fully defrost in the fridge and then heat them through in the pan. You could also reheat them in the microwave.
If you use gluten free meatballs, and make sure that there is no cross contamination, then these meatballs can be gluten free. Just be careful what you serve them with.
There really is no rule here, just make sure that it is big enough for all the ingredients. We use a Crock Pot DuraCeramic Slow Cooker and we love it. What I love most about it is that you can put the bowl insert on the hob too. So, we thicken the gravy on the hob, in the slow cooker bowl. You can also sear the meat in it first. I also love that it has a clear lid, as I am so impatient that I want to keep looking and seeing what it is doing. If you don't have a clear lid, then lifting it to see will release lots of the heat and add to the cooking time.
You don't have to, but we really recommend it as it adds such a depth of flavour. Basically, you want to trigger the Maillard reaction. It is a chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that gives browned food its distinctive flavour. You don't have to though, and you can just throw everything in to the slow cooker and leave it if you are really short on time.
Yes, you can easily double the recipe and it won't change the cooking time. Just make sure you have a frying pan big enough to brown the meatballs (or do them in batches) and a slow cooker big enough for double all of the ingredients.
Cooking dishes in the slow cooker can result in a watery sauce because there is nowhere for it to evaporate. Using good quality passata should help with this. If it is too thin for your liking, then you can remove the lid from the slow cooker and cook for a further 30 minutes with the lid off.
More slow cooker beef recipes
Slow Cooker Meatballs
- 500 g (17.5 oz) Lean beef mince
- 1 Onion - small; peeled and finely diced
- 2 Garlic clove - crushed
- 25 g (0.25 cups) Breadcrumbs
- 1 tablespoon Dried oregano
- 1 Egg - medium size; whisked
- 1 pinch Sea salt and black pepper
- 1 tablespoon Olive oil
- 1 Carrot - peeled and diced
- 1 Onion - peeled and diced
- 500 ml (2 cups) Passata
- 3 Garlic clove
- 1 pinch Sea salt and black pepper
- 2 tablespoon Tomato puree
- 2 tablespoon Balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon Dried thyme
- Put 500 g Lean beef mince, 25 g Breadcrumbs, 1 Onion, 2 Garlic clove, 1 tablespoon Dried oregano, 1 Egg and 1 pinch Sea salt and black pepper into a bowl. Mix well. If the mixture sees a bit wet, then add some more breadcrumbs.
- Form into 12 meatballs and set aside.
- Heat 1 tablespoon Olive oil in a large pan and add the meatballs. Cook on low for 2 minutes each side. Take the meatballs out and then add 1 Onion and 1 Carrot and gently cook for 2 minutes.
- Add the cooked onion, carrot and meatballs to the slow cooker bowl.
- Add 500 ml Passata, 3 Garlic clove, 1 pinch Sea salt and black pepper, 2 tablespoon Tomato puree, 2 tablespoon Balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon Dried oregano and 1 tablespoon Dried thyme on top of the meatballs and gently stir so everything is coated.
- Cook on low for 6 hours or high for 3 hours and serve with pasta or mashed potatoes.
- Stick with classic Italian seasoning, or go with Mexican or Moroccan for something a bit different.
- Serve these meatballs with pasta or mashed potatoes. Don't forget to save some leftovers to turn in to meatball subs the next day.
- Want to try a different sauce? Cook these meatballs in a homemade BBQ sauce or a sweet and sour sauce and serve with rice.
- Save some extra time with this recipe and either make the meatballs in advance, or use store bought meatballs.
- Don't over mix your meatballs. Mix it until it is just combined, otherwise they will become quite dense. You want light and fluffy meatballs.
- Make sure that the meatballs are even sizes, so they will all cook at the same rate.
The nutritional information provided is approximate and is calculated using online tools. Information can vary depending on various factors, but we have endeavoured to be as accurate as possible.