Slow cooker Italian meatballs and sauce is an easy CrockPot recipe. Tender & juicy seasoned ground beef meatballs simmered in a rich homemade tomato sauce is one of our favorite meals. One bite of and you will agree.
Pile these meatballs and spoon some sauce onto spaghetti for a classic Italian-American meal. I make it every year for Christmas to serve with lasagna & it is so good anytime of year for just about everything. Try serving as a meaball sub or serve as an appetizer.
If you love easy ground beef CrockPot recipe, you will also love Slow Cooker Salisbury Steak & Gravy. Both are comfort food classics that kids & adults love.
- Ingredients for Slow Cooker Italian Meatballs & Sauce
- How to Make Meatballs & Sauce in the CrockPot
- When are CrockPot Meatballs Ready?
- Substitutions & Variations
- Equipment Needed
- Storing & Reheating Meatballs
- Top Tips
- Other Italian Recipes
- What to Serve with Italian Meatballs
- Slow Cooker Italian Meatballs and Sauce
- Food safety
Ingredients for Slow Cooker Italian Meatballs & Sauce
These meatballs are made from scratch with a pound of ground beef as the base. They are made without pork or veal. Besides the minced meat, spices for flavoring, and binders to hold them together and make them mouth-watering are all included.
The sauce is a easy with a shortcut ingredient, jarred marinara sauce. It is jazzed up with a 3 more ingredients for a delicious sugo-like recipe. It simmers for hours with meatballs like any good Sunday gravy should.
What You Need to Make Beef Meatballs
- Ground Beef - this is an all-beef meatball recipe and I prefer grass-fed with 10-20% fat.
- Italian Bread Crumbs - these finely ground seasoned breadcrumbs add flavor, act as a binder, & ensure tenderness
- Parmesan Cheese - adds flavor, texture, & saltiness.
- Whole Milk - adds moisture and richness.
- Egg - helps hold the meatballs together.
- Minced Dried Onion - adds crunchy bits with ton of flavor.
- Salt & Pepper - beef needs a lot of seasoning and is key.
- Garlic Powder - classic Italian flavor.
- Dried Parsley - the earthy flavor & color is a traditional item.
Note: these are made without oregano - I find it overpowers the meatballs.
What You Need for CrockPot Tomato Sauce
- Crushed Tomatoes - the consistency is hearty and perfect, way better than tomato sauce or puree in the can.
- Marinara Sauce - use your favorite jarred ready-made store-bought brand; I love Rao's for low-sugar, low-carb, & great flavor.
- Garlic - fresh cloves minced is best.
- Dried Basil - classic herb for a good sugo/marinara sauce.
See the recipe card for quantities.
How to Make Meatballs & Sauce in the CrockPot
It only takes 5 minute to prep these meatballs. Then a bit of time in the oven and hours in the Crock Pot is all it takes. They can be ready in 2 - 8 hours depending on the setting and your schedule. Amazing or what?
I first learned to make this with my grandma 4 decades ago. She always made her meatballs cooked all day in the red sauce in her big CrockPot. It was fun to roll them up and put them in as a kid. What I am sharing is that same recipe that has been perfected over the years in my family.
Here are the easy steps for making Italian Beef Meatballs & Tomato Sauce in the CrockPot:
- Mix, Roll, & Parbake the Meatballs
- Make the Sauce & Add the Meatballs
- Slow Cook the Meatballs in the Sauce
1 - Mix, Roll, & Parbake the Meatballs
The meatballs will be parbaked in the oven before adding them to the sauce. This recipe doesn't require any frying or messy oil splatter.
Begin by preheating the oven to 350°F. While it is warming up, prepare the meatballs.
Combine all spices, ground beef, milk, egg, breadcrumbs, and cheese into a large bowl. Mix thoroughly into the ground beef using your hands - they work best.
Form the mixture into medium-sized balls with your hands and place on a baking sheet. Use 3 tablespoons for each. Repeat and leave 1" between meatballs.
This recipe makes 12 meatballs. Make the meatballs similar in size so they are all ready at the same time.
Cook the meatballs in the preheated oven. No need to flip them over or roll them around.
Let them bake for 20 minutes. This allows a crust to develop on the outside sealing in the juices. Similar to when recipes call for searing the meat before adding to the Crock-Pot.
2 - Make the Sauce & Add the Meatballs
This makes a lot of sauce and a dozen meatballs. Make sure you are using a slow cooker that is large enough to fit it all. Mine is always made in my 6-Quart CrockPot.
In the slow cooker add the crushed tomatoes, jarred pasta sauce, minced garlic, & dried basil. Stir to combine. Set the CrockPot to low for 4 hours.
When the meatballs are done cooking, carefully add them to the sauce. Stir gently to combine. Make sure the meatballs are mostly submerged in the sauce.
3 - Slow Cook the Meatballs in the Sauce
Keep the lid on the CrockPot and let them slow cook in the tomato sauce for 4 hours. You can also set it to High and cook for 2 hours.
When are CrockPot Meatballs Ready?
For ground beef, you want to be sure the internal temperature is safe to eat. Use an instant-read thermometer to check.
After it is done cooking, it can remain on warm for another 4 hours. Stir ocassionally since sometimes the sauce can burn a bit on the top edges.
Substitutions & Variations
Try a recipe option with these variations and ingredient swaps. Modify, add, exclude, or replace to create a delicious recipe catering to a variety of cultural, dietary, health, or personal nutritional needs & tastes.
- Ground Beef - use ground turkey or a beef/pork/veal combination.
- Breadcrumbs - use gluten free instead of regular to make this gluten free
- Parmesan - use nutritional yeast instead.
- Egg - a great egg-free option is using 3 tablespoons of ricotta cheese or sour cream instead.
- Garlic - use fresh or powder in either the sauce or meatballs as a swap-out.
- Spicy - add 1 teaspoon chili pepper flakes to the sauce.
- Dairy-Free - use non-dairy cheese and milk substitutes.
- Kid friendly or Mini Meatballs - roll into small-sized balls only 1 ½ tablespoon sized and cook for just 10 minutes in the oven before adding to the sauce.
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Storing & Reheating Meatballs
Store leftovers sauce and meatballs in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Reheat them either in the crockpot directly on high for an hour. Or warm them up in a pot on the stove simmering on low for 30 minutes.
You can freeze the meatballs either cooked or uncooked. Freezing them already cooked wihtout sauce is a great timesaver. Later, they go straight from the freezer into the red sauce and then just simmer until heated through.
Cooked meatballs should be completely cooled before placing in a gallon-sized freezer bag and transferred to the freezer. Store for up to 90 days in the freezer.
All of these great tips are shared in the post. But these are so good and important they are worth mentioning again so you don't miss them.
- Make the meatballs similar in size so they are all ready at the same time.
- Baking them for 20 minutes is an important step to seal in the juices and adds flavor to the outer crust of the meatballs.
- Stir often so the sauce doesn't over heat around the crock.
- Enjoy immediately with pasta or make the meatballs ahead of time and freeze for later.
Many traditional meatball recipes use more than one kind of ground meat. This recipe works for any combination of beef, pork, or veal. Make sure to use 1 pound total.
What I lovee about this recipe is that you can set it and forget. But if you do not have a slow cooker, you can still make this recipe on the stove. Add the sauce and meatballs to a large stockpot and simmer on low for 1-2 hours. Make sure the internal temperature of the meatballs reaches 160°F (71*C) to be sure they are done and safe to eat.
OMG, yes! We love grabbing fresh ciabatta rolls or hoagie buns to pile these meatballs on. Make sure to drizzle on some sauce & add cheese - parmesan, sliced provolone or shredded mozzarella for the ultimate homemade meatball sandwich!
They are added for several reasons. The breadcrumbs act as a binder to hold them together. But they are also the key ingredient to making sure they are succulent & soft. The breadcrumbs absorb the fat of the meat as they cook which holds onto so much flavor and moisture.
What to Serve with Italian Meatballs
Besides serving meatballs and sauce with spaghetti, ravioli, or other pastas, here are some great recipes to serve as a side dish. Make sure you have some crusty bread like my homemade ciabatta to sop up all that yummy tomato sauce.
These are my favorite dishes to pair with pasta with tomato sauce & meatballs:
Slow Cooker Italian Meatballs and Sauce
- CrockPot slow cooker
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 egg
- 1 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
- ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
- ¼ cup whole milk
- 1 tablespoon dried minced onion
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon dried parsley
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 can crushed tomatoes
- 2 cups Rao's marinara sauce or other jarred sauce
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- ½ teaspoon dried basil
Mix & Bake the Meatballs
- Preheat the oven to 350°.
- In a medium bowl add the ground beef, breadcrumbs, parmesan, egg, milk, onion, and spices. Mix thoroughly into the ground beef using your hands - they work best.
- Form the mixture into medium-sized balls with your hands and place on a baking sheet. Use 3 tablespoons for each. Repeat and leave 1" between meatballs. This makes about 12 meatballs.
- Bake on the baking sheet for 20 minutes.
Make the Sauce & Add the Meatballs
- In the slow cooker add the crushed tomatoes, jarred pasta sauce, minced garlic, & dried basil. Stir to combine. Set the CrockPot to low for 4 hours.
- When the meatballs are done cooking, carefully add them to the sauce. Stir gently to combine. Make sure the meatballs are mostly submerged in the sauce.
- Keep the lid on the CrockPot and let them slow cook in the tomato sauce for 4 hours. You can also set it to High and cook for 2 hours.
- Stir ocassionally to keep sauce from sticking or burning to the edges. The meatballs are done when the internal temperature reaches 160°F.
|Amount per serving
|% Daily Value*
|Total Fat 14.4g
|Saturated Fat 5.1g
|Total Carbohydrate 41g
|Dietary Fiber 10g
|Total Sugars 2.4g
|Vitamin D 7mcg
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calorie a day is used for general nutrition advice.
|Recipe analyzed by
When working with and cooking raw beef, follow these safe food handling guidelines.
- Cook to a minimum temperature of 160 °F (71 °C)
- Do not use the same utensils on cooked food, that previously touched raw meat
- Wash hands after touching raw meat
- Don't leave food sitting out at room temperature for extended periods