Sweet and Sour Meatballs {Easy!}

Okay folks, we’re kickin’ it back old school today.  This is one of those little recipes that I just assume everyone and their grandma knows about.  Then I make it for some gathering and inevitably find out that there are people in the world who have never heard of such a thing.  (I experienced this same phenomenon recently with muddy buddies.  Seriously- there are people who don’t know about muddy buddies, oh the shame!) Anyway, if you are among those who have never before seen this recipe then your first response will probably start with “What the…”

Why?  Because there are only two ingredients to this magical sweet and sour sauce, and here they are:

Yup.  That’s chili sauce and grape jelly.  Trust me on this one people, have we ever led you astray before?!  If you’re wondering, Chili Sauce can be found in the grocery store near the ketchup.  It’s tangy, sweet, and tart all at the same time and full of spices.  The grape jelly adds sweetness and flavor and the result is a wonderful and quick sweet and sour sauce.

Now what do you put in it?  I grew up on Little Smokies/Cocktail Sausages so I must say those are my favorite.  But since we recently had a cocktail sausage post I decided to feature meatballs this time around, which work equally as well.  All you need is just a bag of pre-made frozen ones from the store.  Did I mention this is easy??

Or if you want to live on the edge and be crazy like me you can put BOTH in!   Yes, I really did do that… and I even used Turkey Smokies, but I will admit I like the original fatties better.

Ready for these instructions?  Mix the chili sauce and the grape jelly together.  Technically you can do this right in your crock pot, but I do it in a bowl in case I need to warm it up to get any lumps out.  Just whisk until smooth.

Then toss it in a slow cooker with the frozen meatballs or cocktail sausages.  There is no science to the cook time.  Personally I think the longer the better because it allows time for the meat to absorb the sauce and the sauce to simmer with some of the flavors of the meat.  At least a couple of hours on low and up to several hours.  You could also just put it in a pan in the oven.  I’d do it at about 300 degrees for at least an hour and more if you have it.

I put the meatballs in a bowl purely for photographic purposes, normally I would just leave them in a slow cooker with the sauce.  And just leave some toothpicks nearby.

How’s that for quick and easy party food?  These are always a crowd-pleaser too and no one has to know how easy it is!



  1. My Mom always used this recipe when I was growing up. I think I will use it for a Super Bowl party this weekend. Thanks for the reminder and have a great day!

  2. I used a similar type recipe for my sweet and sours but it uses salsa and apricot preserves. Same idea but I think I will give yours a try!

  3. My uncle made these one time and I couldn't believe it when he told me the sauce contained grape jelly. I was floored, really! But man were those meatballs delish.


  4. This is my "go to" recipe for pot lucks and they are always a hit! However, I have never heard of muddy buddies (hanging head in shame)…

  5. I've heard of this recipe but never knew where to find the chili sauce so thanks for filling a girl in! I have a yummy sweet and sour meatballs recipe but it's very time consuming so it will be nice to have a go-to quick recipe that I bet tastes just as good.

  6. Love this recipe! My mom made these growing up- usually at Christmas/New Year's. She calls them "cocktail meatballs". I've made them using apple jelly, red plum jelly and apricot preserves. All are delicious. My only "must" is to use Heinz brand cocktail sauce. Store-brands just don't seem to compare.

  7. This is such a classic and yummy recipe! My mom would make something similar with hot dogs, grape jelly, and barbecue sauce. She would cook them in the crock pot for a couple of hours and take it to potlucks or family gatherings. I've never seen people eat that many hot dogs. They're super yummy!

  8. Those are so sickeningly good. I remember the first time I had them and the cook told me the recipe . . . I was glad I had eaten them BEFORE I knew what was in it!

  9. I have made these before and they are AMAZING!!! I don't use the Heinz chili sauce. Instead, I use Homemade Chili Sauce. It is sold in the same section as the Heinz. It comes in a plain glass jar with a white lid with black writing and a small white label on it (resembles something you'd find at a general store). I don't know if the Heinz is spicy but this one has a little bit of a kick to it. No matter what sauce you use, this is a definite MUST try!!!!

  10. Sara- Agreed. Any brand of jelly works great for this recipe. I have even combined a few flavors of whatever I had left in the jar. This is definitely a great and easy recipe to keep in your back pocket!

  11. I just thought you might like to know that I sent a link to this page to my husband's email with the subject line "Go ahead & make these. I won't mind."

    I've always wanted this recipe, so thanks!

  12. We had both grape jelly/chili sauce meatballs AND lil' smokies in BBA sauce at our wedding reception!! LOL It was a great reception- I bought big dishes and asked about 10 different ladies if they'd make something to fill a dish, and then handed it to them. They all did it and it was awesome!

  13. I used to make this all the time with currant jelly, but it was getting harder and harder to find so I started using the grape. But I'm super lazy apparently, cause I always just dump the jelly in over the meatballs and then pour the chili sauce over that, put the lid on and walk away, lol! No premixing ever and it turnes out just perfectly 🙂

    LOVE your blog, thanks so much for all the tasty recipes y'all post!

  14. Wow, my mom and I have been making these for years.. I didn't realize they're so popular! I love making them, they're always the first to go at get togethers. And no one ever believes me when I tell them the TWO ingredients.. heh heh.. genius.

  15. Okay, I've seen this recipe before and it is yummy! HOWEVER, I have never heard of Muddy Buddies! How about telling those of us who don't know…………..what they are! 🙂

  16. Cherie- okay I'm totally going to do a post about muddy buddies, I'm getting emails too! lol.

    It's a wonderfully addicting snack made from chex cereal. It's covered in a chocolate peanut butter mix and doused with powdered sugar. Divine!

  17. So even though I am one of those people who has never heard of this recipe, I cannot believe there are people who have not heard of muddy buddies!!! LoL although it IS called Puppy Chow where I come from.
    These meatballs look delicious, and I feel if I make them for my honey (he loves meatballs) he might just propose to me on the spot 😉

  18. A friend I worked with a long time to go always brought little smokies made like this to potlucks. I was nuts for them. Thanks for reminding me!

  19. Looking at this post made me nostalgic for a similar two ingredient recipe my mom used to make. She used red currant jelly instead of grape jelly and regular old prepared yellow mustard instead of chili sauce. It's great with cocktail sausages. I'll have to try this version and see how it compares.

  20. I use this same recipe but use linguica and at the very end I add in a can of pineapple chunks. Everyone always raves about it!

    1. I serve these for appetizers at parties, and then if there are leftovers, I mix in some chunks of green pepper and pineapple, and serve over rice for a quick dinner the next day! 🙂

  21. We will definitely be making these for our superbowl party! 🙂

    I also had a question about your sweet fruit salsa. Have you ever tried making it with frozen fruit? I'd love to make it (along with the cinnamon chips) for our party, but the fresh fruit is pretty sad this time of year. Trader Joe's has some interesting frozen fruit medleys, and just wondering if that would work as a substitution. Thanks!

  22. My family uses this recipe and serves it over rice for dinner. Make sure to get a spoonful of sauce to drizzle on your rice cause it is so tasty!

  23. I have twice benefited from your "This is so easy, I think everyone must know this trick" recipes (this and the pretzel turtles).

    Rest assured, we don't all know the super-easy recipes, so keep them coming! I have LOVED THEM BOTH. And, as a bonus, I've received huge, undeserved compliments on the food from friends, family, and – best of all – my husband.

    So, I pass the thanks on to you. 🙂 Love your site!

  24. We made these for a superbowl party, and they were good. I did put them in a shallow pan and broil them for a few minutes. This thickened the sauce which I think made them even better. Good recipe though!

  25. I feel that you have to cook these a long time. In fact, our family usually cooks them all day the day before, puts them in the fridge, then warms them up for the party/dinner. o.h. m.y. yummy.

  26. I've always made this recipe with JELLIED CRANBERRY SAUCE & a little brown sugar, instead of grape jelly. I love it because it is so easy, and my family loves the flavor!

    1. That’s how I use to make it and my mom did too for years. Then since someone was allergic to cranberries I started dong it this way 14 years ago and love it.Usually cook it then put in crockpot but I’ll do it this way now.

  27. Okay, it was great, even with my home made, healthy (full of pureed onions, peppers, and zucchini) meatballs. My kids werent thrilled, but thats just because their still at that dont like anything new stage in their lives (do they ever outgrow that???).

    Thanks ooodles and oodles

  28. Okay, it was great, even with my home made, healthy (full of pureed onions, peppers, and zucchini) meatballs. My kids werent thrilled, but thats just because their still at that dont like anything new stage in their lives (do they ever outgrow that???).

    Thanks ooodles and oodles

  29. This is one of my old stand-by recipes too except I use two cans of Campbell's tomato soup (the condensed kind) and two cans of jellied cranberry sauce. Always has rave reviews! And perfect for parties because they can just sit on warm in the crock pot. We also serve them for dinner served over egg noodles.

  30. My mom would put pineapple (in small chunks from the can), cut up stuffed olives and bite size of green bell peppers. It adds a little crunch and a little extra sweetness. It's always a winner when I make it served over a bed of rice. When they ask what's in it, I always get weird looks lol but it's delicious!

  31. My Mom makes these except she uses apple jelly, ketchup and a package of brown gravy mix! Everyone gives me the stank eye when I tell them what's in it, but it's WONDERFUL!

  32. I found that in a pinch you can cook these on the stove top for 15-20 min. & they turn out just as good. All the flavor & everything. These are a favorite at our house on Dec. 31st & beyond. We eat them over rice with fruit on the side. My kids LOVE them. So do I.

  33. It gives me comfort to know that store brands (a.k.a. Walmart) are being used by the top cooks out there! I am excited to try these out tonight!

  34. Hello there!!! of the both grocery stores here, neither of them sell this kind of sauce…:-( any suggestions or substitutions?? please.

  35. Hmmm…well ketchup is actually pretty close, but you’d probably want a few more spices. Honestly I’d do a quick google search and I bet you could find a pretty easy substitution (ketchup + spices).

  36. Hi – I am looking at the cookbook, pg. 126 “sweet and sour meatballs” and want to get the same recipe, but online… do you have that recipe? It’s different than this one. I know I already dig it – I just want to share it w/ everyone else I know will dig it 🙂
    Love your cookbook ladies!

  37. Deanna, I sure hope you used “fake chicken” or “fake turkey” for your Vegan friends. Vegans don’t eat chicken, turkey, or anything made from animal ingredients for that matter.

    As far as this recipe- its great!

  38. I totally trust you on the sauce! We are famous for our Lil’ Smokies around here and the secret recipe is the sauce is equal parts mustard and grape jelly. SOOO Yummy! I’ve stopped telling people what the sauce is because they don’t believe me or won’t try it. So when people ask we tell them it’s a secret family recipe 😉

  39. Some people know about muddy buddies, just under a different name. I’ve heard it called Texas trash, dog food, and a whole bunch of other names I can’t remember!!

  40. My husband’s family makes something very similar but mix yellow mustard with grape jelly. It ends up like a tangy BBQ sauce! I don’t really like either ingredient normally, and can’t watch him mixing it up (ugg), but it is so good afterward!

  41. I used these same ingredients yet, I added one can of drained sauerkraut to the mixture………you’ll be licking your lips with this added veggie ingredient…one will NEVER know or be able to taste that this is sauerkraut added to this delicious, extraordinary, yummo dish…….

  42. My M-I-L used to make S&S meatballs, but she used a can of jellied cranberry sauce and ketchup. Very good and tangy. I am going to live dangerously and try them with cranberry-chili sauce!

  43. Thank you for saving me with this recipe on this Snowy OCT. Sunday morning!!
    Jewelery party for the girls….Football for the boys! & these awesome meatballs for Everyone!! 🙂

  44. I do a lot of dutch oven cooking for our church’s senior youth groups mostly older teens and college kids. This one of our favorite go to items on every camp out. There is never any left overs. The same applies to old fashion pop corn

  45. I used a can of the jellied cranberry sauce instead of grape jelly with the chili sauce. Same good results! You are right about Heinz Chili Sauce! I tried store brand ONCE! Never again.

  46. I love the meatball idea; I’ll add it to the chicken recipe I’ve used for years.
    Uncooked chicken pieces in apricot preserves, chile sauce and dry onion soup mix, and bake or slow cooker. Simply delish!

  47. Does anyone fancy up the sauce with sauteed onions or anything? Was thinking about this for Super Bowl Sunday!

  48. @Jill: I spice up the sauce a little bit, by adding Worcestershire, dry mustard powder, and garlic powder (all to taste). I also do cut-up Kielbasa pieces, instead of meatballs. I think sauteed onions would be fantastic. This is my Super Bowl standard recipe (along with bacon-wrapped dates and hot cheesy spinach-artichoke dip!). You’ll love it, and you won’t have any leftovers.

  49. I’ve never made these before but plan to try this recipe for a hockey lunch tomorrow. I’m hoping to impress hockey moms. Fingers crossed!

  50. I was introduced by a friend to your site,love it. I have 7 kids who all loved these,pretty amazing to get all 7 on the same page! Took them to a wedding shower and everyone wanted the recipe,were shocked it was so simple! Thank you for all your hard work that makes my life a bit easier! All these recipes are wonderful!

  51. I made these for the first time last year and everyone loved them and didn’t know it was my first time making them. I’m making them again for a work bbq and another time for a babyshower. These are great. I added a little bit of syrup to make them a little sweeter.

  52. I love sweet and sour meatballs. When I prepare I usually grab the fresh pre-rolled ground beef from Publix that is already seasoned. I also use medium salsa in place of the the chile sauce (for a kick of heat) and use cranberry jelly in place of the grape jelly. Either way they are DELICIOUS!

  53. Does the sauce have to completely cover over top of the frozen meat? I have a 2lb bag of frozen meatballs, the chili sauce and 14oz jelly

  54. What a big hit this recipe was. These were delicious! My family thought they were great and the best part is, you can smell it cooking all day and it builds up the enthusiasm! They were sticky greatness in your mouth… Going to do this again!

  55. I made a big boo boo the first time I cooked these several years ago. I thought chili sauce was tobasco sauce. Try eating something with a cup and a half of tobasco in it. It will make your head explode like Mt. Vesuvius!

  56. How do these do as leftovers? Can they be refrozen and then reheated without tasting icky? I’m not a good cook so I need to know.

  57. Hi
    I plan on doing this with homemade meatballs, as I cannot stand the texture of frozen ones. Any tips on getting them to stay meatballs, and not because meat sauce? I’ll bake them first, then chill, then put in the crock. . .? Thanks. Also never heart of a muddy buddy

  58. OK! I, too, had never heard of this recipe until reading this just a couple of weeks ago. Tomorrow is Christmas Day, and I will be bringing these to my mom’s house in my crock pot! I hope they are as much of a hit as those on this board are indicating! Merry Christmas!

  59. You can also trade out the grape jelly for apricot jam or cranberry sauce (I use whole berry homemade) with very tasty results too. Sometimes I use HOMADE (brand) Chili Sauce instead of Heinz for a more mexi flavor.

  60. While I do 99% of the cooking my wife turn me on to this recipe years ago and I make it often and everyone just raves about them. I use the Heinz. Never tried the Smokies but next time I will as it sounds interesting.

  61. Hi girls! You have probably already answered this question. How can you make this meal in the oven? Thanks for all your ideas. I love looking at your blog!

  62. One batch can easily feed five men. I use the frozen mini size meatballs from the grocery store. I mix up the jelly and chili sauce and then pour it over the frozen meatballs in the crock pot. I start it about 4 hours before the gathering and mix it once or twice during the course of the cooking time. Serve it right out of the crock pot!

  63. I had these meatballs for the first time 22 years ago at a work potluck, and I had a hard time believing it was simply grape jelly and chili sauce 🙂 These days it works great on soccer nights ~ the great thing about them is that my kiddos and I can eat before we leave, then they stay on low for another hour until my husband gets home and he doesn’t have to have leftovers! Thanks for posting, there are a surprising number of people who are sadly unaware 🙂

  64. If making these for meatball subs, about how many people do you think that would serve? I’m planning a dinner for 25-30 people (hungry TEENS!) and am trying to figure out about how many pounds of meatballs to prepare. Thanks!

    1. Danielle, you’ll probably want to look at a package of meatballs and see how many meatballs are in there and then decide how many you want per person and start doing the math!

  65. Do you have a recipe for the meatballs? Store bought meatballs are just gross. 🙁 I’m kinda surprised that you guys even use them.

  66. We use 2 – 12oz chili sauce and 1 16 oz grape jelly, heat in sauce pan , pour over frozen meatballs in crockpot and cook on low untill ready – very good and they always go

  67. I was just wondering if I can use a 2 lb. bag of the Italian Style Meatballs. The originai Farmrich meatballs do not come as 2 lbs. Please let me know. Thanks !!

  68. I was just wondering if I can use a 2 lb. bag of frozen meatballs. I tried to find the original Farmrich meatballs but they don’t make them in 2 lbs. They make them in 1 lb. 12 oz. Could I substitute and use the 2 lb. bag of Italian Style frozen meatballs instead? Please let me know. Thanks !!

  69. Do I also need to use cooking spray before pouring the sauce in the crockpot or is it okay if I just add the sauce to the crockpot and then add the meatballs. I figured I would cook them for 4 hrs. in my crockpot. I do not have a lower time on my crockpot other than that. Please let me know. Thanks !!

  70. Need to know the brand of the SMALL CAN of spaghetti sauce mixed with a can of cranberry sauce to make sweet ad sour meatballs. It may no longer be available, but going nuts trying to remember the name.

  71. I have had these a few times at sport-viewing parties along with other appetizers. But if you were having these for dinner what would you serve with them? Thanks for any suggestions!

    1. You could put them on little rolls, for sliders- they’re super good that way. Paired with a nice salad and fruit would make a great meal! Or the sweet and sour combo actually works really well over rice, too!

  72. This was the cats meow at my Christmas Lucheon! It was a potluck lunch! I let quite a few people ahead of me in the lunch line, maybe was a mistake! When I got to my crockpot of meatballs, they were completely polished off. Never even got to try one! Lol. So today I am at home wondering what to make for supper! And it dawns on me at 2pm. I already had meatballs made, just need the sauce! So I went to Walmart quickly as I set my crock pot to high! Can’t wait to taste these! I got nothing but great compliments from people at work! Thanks again!

  73. This weekend I needed to bring a dish to a party. I remembered that everyone loved the little meatballs at my Aunt’s annual Christmas party. But I never knew the recipe. So, I found your site, grabbed all the ingredients and made these (with frozen meatballs). I have to admit, I was skeptical and a little worried that it would be a fail. (I am all thumbs in the kitchen, to say the least). But they were GREAT!!! The sauce clings nicely. Perfect combo of tangy/sweet/spicy. THANK YOU!

  74. This is an amazing recipe. My friend’s recipe adds the juice of one lemon.

    I catered a friends party. She specifically asked for this recipe to be made. Her only addition to this recipe was the juice of one lemon. I have to admit when I saw the ingredients, I winced and almost gagged. The party was for 12 people and we had a lot of other appetizers. We bought a six pound bag of frozen Costco meatballs. I argued that three pounds of meatballs would be more than enough. By the middle of the party, I was making the remaining three pounds of meatballs w/sauce and there weren’t a lot of leftovers of this marvelous recipe.

  75. At my job we used to have a Fat Tuesday potluck. The first year I made two 5lb. bag of GFS meatballs. People were stopping by my desk to see if all of them had been put out on the table. The second year I doubled the amount and you heard people in the hallway saying “ooh, the meatballs are here”. I finally refused to make more than 8 bags. But what fun. Didn’t add a thing to the recipe – it’s perfect. So just a warning, if you don’t show up with these you may not be allowed in the door.

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