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Slow Cooker Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

Slow Cooker Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

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This easy slow cooker meatball recipe uses a blend of beef and Italian turkey sausage for a lightened-up version that still makes a flavorful, juicy meatball. Perfect for a weeknight dinner served over pasta or with toothpicks at tailgating party!

Photography Credit:Alison Bickel

Featured in 14 Recipes That Make the Most Canned Tomatoes

Meatballs should be two things: juicy and flavorful. This recipe meets both criteria, and the best part is, you make them in the slow cooker.

You can expect to get about 35 to 40 golf ball-sized meatballs. This is the perfect size to serve over pasta for a weeknight dinner (and freeze some for later), set out for a party snack (football season anyone?), or feed an army for Sunday supper.

The sauce is made from pantry staples like canned crushed tomatoes, with a little crushed red pepper to add just a bit of heat. My kids are 8 and 10 years old, and it wasn’t too spicy for them. Of course, if you don’t want to live life on the spicy side you can always leave it out.


I opted to use lean meat for this recipe – 90/10 beef and turkey sausage. The meatballs stay juicy even after the long simmer in the sauce without the extra fat. The lower fat content still makes tender, flavorful meatballs because the fat that is there doesn’t really cook off.

I can easily find one-pound packages of ground Italian turkey sausage at my local supermarket. If that’s not available try Italian turkey sausage in the casings, and just remove the casings by cutting them open with a knife.

If you can’t find either, just grab some Italian pork sausage. If it’s in the casings, just remove them and mix the ground sausage in with the beef.

If you use a higher fat beef or pork you may have some fat floating on top of the sauce. This is totally fine, just stir it into the sauce before serving. It adds flavor, and that little bit of fat shouldn’t make the sauce greasy.


I honestly just grabbed pre-shredded Romano cheese from the deli, but you can also go for the real deal and buy a wedge of Pecorino Romano cheese, and grate it yourself. Make sure you use the small holes on your grater.

If you can’t find Romano (or you don’t like it) feel free to substitute mozzarella, Parmesan or asiago cheese.


These meatballs be quite sticky. Here are two tips to make the meatballs easier to shape:

  • If you keep your hands wet with water, it is much easier to roll the meat into balls.
  • Alternatively, you can use a small #40 cookie scoop. I like to make meatballs that are smaller than a golf ball.


You can cook them on high for 4 to 5 hours or low for 8 to 10 hours.


The cooked meatballs can be kept in the tomato sauce in an airtight container in the fridge for up to five days.

To freeze, put the cooked meatballs in a dish, sauce and all, and pop them in the freezer. You’ll be happy to have some for later. When you’re planning dinner, just take them out and let them thaw for 48 hours in your refrigerator. Then reheat them in a saucepan or skillet over medium heat.

I’ve also been known to dump a frozen block of meatballs and sauce in a pan and heat them up that way. What can I say? I’m human and sometimes I don’t remember to take food out of the freezer until hungry people are staring at me and asking for food.


  • Turkey Meatballs
  • Greek Meatballs
  • Italian Meatballs
  • Sausage Meatballs with Ricotta in Tomato Sauce
  • Chipotle Meatballs

Slow Cooker Meatballs in Tomato Sauce Recipe


For the sauce:

  • 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 15-oz can crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce
  • 3/4 medium onion, finely diced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

For the meatballs:

  • 3/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 4 cloves minced garlic
  • 1/4 medium onion, finely diced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 cup shredded Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 pound 90/10 ground beef
  • 1 pound ground Italian turkey sausage
  • 6- to 8-quart slow cooker


1 Make the sauce: Set your slow cooker to low, then add the crushed tomatoes, onion, bay leaf, sugar, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Give it a quick stir to combine everything.

2 Soak the breadcrumbs: In a medium-sized bowl, combine the breadcrumbs and milk.

3 Add the other meatball ingredients: In the same bowl with the breadcrumbs, add the garlic, onion, parsley leaves, pepper, salt, oregano, cheese, and egg. Mix it all together with a fork. Add the beef and turkey. Use your hands to mix everything together just enough to be combined.

4 Shape the meatballs: These can be quite sticky. If you keep your hands wet with water, it is much easier to roll the meat into balls. Alternatively, you can use a small #40 cookie scoop. I like to make meatballs that are smaller than a golf ball.

Pinch off about a tablespoon of meat, roll it in your hands and place it directly into the sauce. Repeat until all the meatballs are made. Some of the meatballs will not be submerged in the sauce. That’s ok. They will fall into the sauce as they cook. Do not worry.

5 Cover and cook: Secure the lid to your slow cooker and let it cook for as little as 5 hours on high or as many as 8 to 10 hours on low.

6 Serve: Serve these over spaghetti, on a hoagie bun for a meatball sandwich, or as a party appetizer on their own.

If you want to thicken the sauce, you can transfer it to a skillet set over medium-high heat and reduce it until it reaches your desired consistency. If the sauce has some fat floating on the top, just stir it in.

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Slow Cooker Meatballs and Tomato Sauce

Simply put, slow cooker meatballs with tomato sauce reminds me of my childhood. For as long as I can remember, my Mom has always told me if I made it past 6pm she knew I would join the family for dinner. If not, it was an early night for this one. All parents would agree that 3 or 4pm to 6pm is a witching-hour for most small children. Heck it’s still my witching-hour! It’s not quite bedtime, “hangry” sets in, and nothing seems to please the little whining lump of humanity on the kitchen floor. I’m guessing I just gave my Mom a flashback to what I was like as a child! Anyhow, I should have said these slow cooker meatballs with tomato sauce really remind my Mom of my childhood, because they acted as dinner-in-a-flash when I was in the middle of my meltdowns!

Children or not, we could all use some healthy slow cooker recipes in our repertoire. Life is busy. And the temptation to order carryout or visit a drive through is one of the easiest things to do after a long day. BUT, if you take the time to prep a simple slow cooker meal in the morning [or night before], you are setting you and your family up for a healthy meal in minutes, in the thick witching-hour!

You might be surprised to see that my meatballs were made with a mix of lean ground beef. No veal or pork. Not that I’m against either… but we LOVE lean ground beef in this house and have a bunch stored in our freezer. It’s also [as the name says] a leaner variety of beef, and because I consider meatballs a cook once dine twice meal, I look for a lower calorie and fat type of meat to use. And nothing says or tastes like a meatball other than beef. If you’re feeling extra zealous, you can make an extra batch or two of meatballs and sauce and double the recipe in the slow cooker too! Eaten alone, with pasta, in between two pieces of bread, or on a pizza, these slow cooker meatballs with tomato sauce make a simple and delicious weeknight meal no matter how you eat them!

The Meat

You can either make the meatballs from scratch or grab some that have been pre-prepared. Making meatballs is quick, but if you don&rsquot have the time, meatballs found in the fresh meat aisle will work just as well.

Choose the type of meat you prefer &ndash I tend to use beef mince, but turkey or pork work just as well.

The Sauce

Like the meatballs, you can either use a jar of tomato pasta sauce or make your own.

When I say make your own, I really don&rsquot put a huge amount of effort into the process! I literally just add some passata (or sometimes a tin of chopped tomatoes), some herbs, spices, and garlic.

Can I add raw meatballs to the slow cooker?

I usually add all my ingredients into the slow cooker while they are raw.

I&rsquom all about speed and minimal washing up!

However, for this recipe, I do like to fry the meatballs first to seal them gently. This helps to prevent them from breaking apart during the slow cooking process. Searing the meatballs also keeps the juices inside the meatballs during the slow cooking period for maximum flavour.

Having said that, it is perfectly safe to add raw meatballs straight into the slow cooker.

Add Sauce Ingredient Straight To The Slow Cooker

If you are making your own sauce, add all the ingredients to the slow cooker bowl and mix in there. Transfer the meatballs into the sauce.

Set the slow cooker on low for 4-5 hours.

At the end of the cooking time, lift the lid and very carefully stir the meatballs around in the sauce, making sure you don&rsquot do it too vigorously and cause them to break apart.

Serve the slow cooker meatballs over cooked spaghetti or mashed potatoes. Grate some cheese over the top of the meatballs and wait for it to melt in. Yum.

I hope you enjoy this recipe &ndash let me know in the comments how you get on with it!

Do you have a recipe that you've made for years but have never actually written down? You know, you just gather all the ingredients together and start cooking without really measuring?

For me it's my recipe for Homemade Tomato Sauce with Meatballs. I've been making this recipe for 30 years and this is the first time I'm actually writing it down. Silly, I know. But like any other good Italian cook I've always just added a little of this, a little of that and my delicious tomato sauce was made!

I love to use my slow cooker to make meatballs and tomato sauce. Cooking the sauce low and slow all day just makes it amazing. Not to mention the house smells like Little Italy!

Family Favorite Recipe

When I was first married I had no clue how to make homemade tomato sauce. No, I had no clue how to make ANYTHING. But my hubby loves pasta so I asked my mom and sure enough, she didn't have a recipe written down either. She told me over the phone how she makes tomato sauce. I took notes, but over time started adjusting the recipe to the flavors and seasons that my husband and I enjoy.

Which is what you should do too! Use this recipe as a guide and adjust the seasonings to your family's taste. Some people like oregano. I'm one of the very few Italians that doesn't. Go figure. In the summer time I like to add fresh parsley and basil from my garden but the rest of the year I use dried herbs.

The one thing I insist on is using fresh garlic. And not the stuff from the jar. Buy real garlic and use a garlic press. I've tried other garlic presses over the years, but the one posted below is really great.

And I love to use the Mix 'n Chop for so many recipes. It's amazing and yes, you can find out more on the tools I use for this recipe by clicking on the links at the bottom of the page under the Shop My Kitchen label.

How to Make Homemade Meatballs

After the meatballs have been formed, refrigerate them for 15 minutes to firm up before browning them in the frying pan. I know some people like to bake their meatballs. I've tried that but the taste is different. Trust me.

Brown the meatballs in just enough oil to cover the bottom of a heavy frying pan. You don't need a lot of oil, just a tablespoon or maybe two.

Drain the meatballs on paper towels before adding them to the slow cooker.

How to Make Homemade Tomato Sauce

Add the tomato sauce ingredients to the slow cooker and then the meatballs. Cook on low for 4 to 6 hours or until the meatballs are cooked through. Your house will smell amazing.

Serve the homemade sauce over cooked pasta. Don't forget freshly grated Parmesan cheese!

Hints And Tips For Making The Meatballs

  1. Before making the meatballs, fry the diced onion in a little oil, until the onion softens and becomes lightly golden in colour. I do this because, I like the taste of fried onions and find that it gives a richer flavour to the meatballs. Allow the cooked onions to come to room temperature before adding to the ground beef.
  2. Use panko breadcrumbs or fresh breadcrumbs in the meatballs. The panko breadcrumbs will soak up some of the juice produced by the meatballs as it cooks, which in turn creates a moist and tender meatball.
  3. I like to add finely sliced red chilli to the meatballs to give them a little spiciness. If you don’t like chilli you can leave it out.
  4. After you have mixed all the ingredients for the meatballs together, take a teaspoon of the mixture and make a tiny patty, fry the patty in a little oil until it is cooked, then taste for salt. If you find that the meat patty is lacking salt, mix a little more salt to the raw meatball mixture, then do a taste test again, by frying another tiny patty, keep doing this until you are happy with the seasoning before shaping the ground beef mixture into balls.

Shaping the Meatballs

You should get about 1.43 kg of raw meatball filling. If you make the meatballs about 28 – 30 grams each, you will end up with around 46 – 48 meatballs. This size is perfect for serving with pasta.

As meatball appetiser, you can reduce the size of the meatballs and make the recipe stretch further. You could make them about 20 – 25 grams each and this would give you about 57 – 71 meatballs.

  1. To shape the meatballs, I like to use kitchen scales to weigh the meat mixture, then divide it into the required number of meatballs. Alternative you can use a small cookie scoop to divide the meat mixture.
  2. When you have divided the meat mixture into the required portions, roll each portion into balls, by rolling between damp hands. Having your hands slightly wet when rolling the raw meat into balls will prevent the meat from sticking to your hands. Fry the meatballs until they brown on the outside and are still raw on the inside before adding the sauce. Browning the meatballs will give more depth and flavour to the sauce as it slowly cooks.
  3. However, if you a short on time, or you just don’t want to brown the meatballs, it’s okay to add raw meatballs to the sauce (after all, the meatballs are going to get cooked anyway).

Once you have done all of the above, place the browned or raw meatballs into the bottom of your slow cooker (or crock pot) and start making the sauce.

Recipe Keywords

1. Put all the ingredients for the meatballs in a bowl and mix together with your hands or a potato masher.

2. Form 40 2-inch meatballs and place in to pie plates.

3. Microwave each pie plate of meatballs for about 4 minutes.

4. In the slow cooker combine all the sauce ingredients and stir together.

5. Add the meatballs, one by one and discard the drippings on the plate.

6. Cover and cook in the slow cooker on low for 4 hours.

7. Serve over pasta or as an appetizer with tooth picks.

Slow Cooker Veggie Loaded Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

I hope 2016 is off to a great start for you! This year I am focusing on balancing my home and work life a little bit better along with balancing what I eat in the kitchen too. I love comforting meals, but I am working hard to make sure my family gets even more fruits and vegetables in every meal I cook as well. These delicious Slow Cooker Veggie Loaded Meatballs in Tomato Sauce are perfect any night of the week and even your picky eaters won’t complain about the added vegetables!

Spaghetti and Meatballs are just one of those meals that everyone loves. Any type of pasta with sauce and meatballs is a hit at our house. Since I don’t want to give up yummy beef meatballs to make my dinner a little more healthy, I decided to add some fresh veggies to lean ground beef which gives you these delicious, moist and colorful meatballs that are sure to become a family favorite.

The best part about these meatballs is how easy they are to make. Who knew you could have meatballs and sauce on a busy weeknight without any hassle?

These meatballs can be made ahead of time for your convenience. Start by quickly chopping all of your veggies in the food processor.

Then roll up your sleeves, and start combining the veggie mixture, lean ground beef, egg, Parmesan cheese, Italian seasoned breadcrumbs and a little salt & pepper with your hands lightly and gently, then roll the mixture into 2 1/2 inch balls.

Set them on a plate while you prepare the sauce, or store in the refrigerator or freezer for later use.

Combine your favorite tomato sauce with a can of crushed tomatoes and add a little seasoning and you’re almost done!

Pour half of the tomato sauce into your (affiliate) Slow Cooker to cover the bottom and add your meatballs. Cover them with the rest of the sauce, add a bay leaf or 2, put the lid on and set the timer! 4 hours of cooking on High or 7-8 hours of cooking on Low, and you’ve got yourself (and your family) one delicious and comforting dinner!

Since I can’t stick to a serving size of spaghetti and am trying to make better choices this year, I like to serve these yummy meatballs in tomato sauce over penne pasta topped with some fresh Parmesan along with a nice big salad.

The tasty slow cooked sauce gets into every bit of the penne pasta and can be a little easier to portion control too. Enjoy!

Meatballs with rice in tomato sauce

We are confident that you will enjoy tender meat balls cooked in this recipe. Perhaps, after this delicious dish will become a frequent guest at your table. To make the meatballs in tomato sauce in a slow cooker, you will need to follow our recommendations:

  • Let us start To cooking rice. To do this, take half of multistone rice, rinse it thoroughly in water several times and place in the bowl of the device. Rump pour water in the ratio 1:3, install the program &ldquoRice&rdquo and boil until soft.
  • Mince small onion, veal shanks and chicken (total weight of the stuffing should reach 500 grams).
  • Mix the products with the cooled rice and one chicken egg. To taste add salt and pepper.
  • From the resulting meat to form balls the same size, and then fry them in the bowl of the device with two sides. To achieve the best effect, put multivarku mode &ldquoHot&rdquo.
  • To make the sauce, mix two tablespoons tomato paste, diluted with water, and a half Cup of low fat sour cream.
  • Pour the Meatballs with sauce, season with your favorite spices and cook the dish in the mode of &ldquoFighting&rdquo another half hour.

When the meat balls are ready, place them on a plate, sprinkle with greens and serve.

In this recipe (and in these photos) you will see 1 ½ inch size meatballs, which in the words of Goldilocks we find not too big and not too small. You can make bigger or small meatballs as you like, and the cooking time will be pretty much the same, perhaps a little longer for meatballs 2-inches or larger.

This works best if you have a large slow cooker with a lot of surface area on the bottom. A larger appliance prevents them from squishing a bit as they cook, but you can stack a light second layer on the bottom layer if you need to.

Slow cooker meatballs in tomato sauce – Recipe

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
400g/14oz can chopped tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato purée
1 tsp dried oregano or dried mixed herbs
¼ tsp dried chilli flakes (optional)
1 dried bay leaf
12 ready-made fresh beef mince meatballs (around 375g/13oz)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
To serve
freshly cooked tagliatelle
grated Parmesan

Heat the oil in a small frying pan and fry the onion for 4–5 minutes, or until softened and lightly browned, stirring regularly. Add the garlic and cook for a few seconds more.

Transfer the cooked onion and garlic to a slow cooker and add the tomatoes, tomato purée, oregano (or dried mixed herbs), chilli (if using) and bay leaf.

Pour over 400ml/14fl oz of water, season with a good pinch of salt and lots of ground black pepper and stir well. Add the meatballs and turn to coat in the sauce.

Cover with a lid and cook on low for 10-12 hours or until the sauce is thick, the onion is softened and the meatballs are tender. Serve with freshly cooked tagliatelle, and sprinkled with plenty of grated Parmesan.

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Somizi Mhlongo is going through it with his marital woes splashed on the front pages. He has recently taken a break from his travel with bestie Vusi Nova to give the people a life update.

I was making everyone else happy while I wasn’t happy. It’s my turn now,” he wrote. “Don’t be afraid of losing people. Be afraid of losing yourself trying to please everyone around you. Learn more

Slow-Cooker Pork and Ricotta Meatballs with Garlicky Tomato Sauce

Ricotta cheese and fresh bread crumbs are the secret ingredients that make these meatballs moist and tender. You can make the bread crumbs in advance and store them in a zippered plastic bag in the freezer for up to 3 months. Serve the meatballs and sauce tucked into hoagie rolls or spooned on top of pasta or sautéed spinach.

Slow-Cooker Pork and Ricotta Meatballs with Garlicky Tomato Sauce


  • 3 lb. (1.5 kg) ground pork
  • 1/2 lb. (250 g) good-quality sliced white bread, processed into crumbs in a food processor
  • 1 large yellow onion, minced
  • 1 cup (8 oz./250 g) ricotta cheese
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp. ground fennel
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cans (each 28 oz./875 g) crushed tomatoes with their juice
  • 1 can (15 oz./470 g) tomato sauce
  • 1 tsp. fresh oregano leaves
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large sprig fresh basil, plus chopped basil for garnish (optional)
  • Grated Parmesan cheese for garnish

1. To make the meatballs, in a large bowl, combine the pork, bread crumbs, half of the onion, the ricotta, the eggs, the fennel, 1 tsp. salt and a few grinds of pepper. Using a wooden spoon, mix well. Oil 2 large rimmed baking sheets. To shape each meatball, scoop up about 3 1/2 Tbs. of the meat mixture and roll between your palms. As the balls are ready, arrange them on the prepared baking sheets, dividing them evenly between the pans and spacing them at least 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart. You should have 30 to 34 meatballs. Cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.

2. To make the sauce, in the slow cooker, combine the tomatoes, tomato sauce, the remaining onion, the oregano, garlic, basil sprig, 1 tsp. salt and a few grinds of pepper and stir well. Cover and cook on the low-heat setting for 1 hour.

3. About 30 minutes before the sauce is ready, position 2 oven racks in the middle of an oven and preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C). Roast the meatballs, rotating the pans between the racks and from front to back about halfway through the cooking, until browned, about 20 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meatballs to the sauce in the slow cooker. Discard any fat on the pans.

4. Cover and cook on low for 4 hours. The meatballs should be cooked through and the sauce should be flavorful. Remove and discard the basil.

5. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meatballs to a platter and spoon the sauce over the top. Garnish with chopped basil and the cheese and serve immediately. Serves 8 to 10.

Learn to make the most of your slow cooker with this and other inspiring recipes in our Quick Slow Cooking , by Kim Laidlaw.