Drunken Cranberry Cocktail Meatballs ~ tender meatballs in a cranberry bourbon barbecue sauce ~ oh yeah!

Cocktail Meatballs glazed in a cranberry bourbon sauce

You know how I feel about meatballs, they’re nature’s perfect food — bite sized, full of protein, easy to make, they reinvent themselves like crazy, and, when you stick a toothpick in them, they encourage holiday mingling.  Who wouldn’t make a beeline for a pan of juicy little meatballs in a warm cranberry bourbon glaze?  Cheese and crackers are just going to have to face facts, meatballs and cocktails were made for each other.

Cooking drunken cranberry cocktail meatballs

And, yes — you do have time to make these for Thanksgiving — you can form the meatballs and make the sauce today.  Tomorrow all you have to do is brown them and add the sauce, they saute, covered, for about 10 minutes until the meat is cooked through.   The sauce’s intense flavor comes from just a few ingredients — cranberry sauce, bourbon, barbecue sauce, brown sugar, and sriracha.  In this case I made a very special cranberry sauce infused with rosemary, which was so fantastic it’s now my official family recipe.  Of course you can use regular cranberry sauce, but before you decide to to do that, let me tell you how easy this was — you just follow the sauce recipe on the bag like you always do, but add a few sprigs of fresh rosemary to the pan while it’s cooking.  Fish out the sprigs of rosemary before serving, and you’ll have the most wonderful sauce, infused with the piney scent and flavor of rosemary.  It’s distinctive and utterly simple.

making rosemary cranberry sauce

Drunken Cranberry Cocktail Meatballs

Yield: makes about 30-35 meatballs


    for the rosemary cranberry sauce
  • 1 12 oz bag of fresh cranberries (this will make more sauce then you need for this recipe)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • several sprigs of fresh rosemary
    for the meatballs
  • 1/2 lb ground beef
  • 1/2 lb ground pork or veal
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 egg, well beaten
  • 1/4 cup finely minced onion
  • salt and fresh cracked black pepper
  • olive oil for browning
    for the cranberry bourbon sauce
  • 1 cup rosemary cranberry sauce (recipe above, or use your favorite cranberry sauce)
  • 1/4 cup barbecue sauce (your favorite)
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup bourbon
  • 1 Tbsp sriracha sauce


  1. First make the cranberry sauce. Put the berries, the sugar, and a cup of water in a saucepan and stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the rosemary sprigs and bring everything up to a boil. Turn down the heat and boil gently for 10 minutes. Fish out the rosemary sprigs and then let the sauce cool.
  2. To make the sauce, add all the sauce ingredients to a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to combine everything. Turn down the heat and cook for about 10 minutes until thickened.
  3. To make the meatballs, put all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. I like to break up the ground meat as I add it to the bowl to make it easier to combine well. Use your clean fingertips to mix everything, just until well combined.
  4. Use a tablespoon or a small cookie scoop to form balls about 1" in diameter. Roll them in your hands until round, and then set on a plate.
  5. Coat the bottom of a skillet with olive oil and heat until hot. Brown the meatballs on all sides.
  6. Add the bourbon cranberry sauce to the skillet, and stir to cover the meatballs. Add a little bit of water if the sauce seems too thick.
  7. Cook, covered, for about 10 minutes until the meatballs are cooked through, they should read about 160F on an instant read thermometer inserted in the center. I baste the meatballs often during the cooking.
  8. Serve the meatballs hot, with the sauce.

DIY beaded cocktail toothpicks

I made some sweet little beaded cocktail toothpicks to go with my meatballs, I’ll post a tutorial on those this week,  I’ll use them for finger food appetizers and cheese as we head into entertaining season.  Just make sure you get them back from your guests, they might try to make off with them!

Sweet, spicy and spiked, cranberry bourbon cocktail meatballs

It’s always hard to decide what to make for Thanksgiving appetizers, I usually either under do it, or over do it.  I think these meatballs hit the right balance, they’re not carby, like so many snacks,  they satisfy the the grumbling tummies that result from all those wonderful cooking smells in the house…and most importantly, they keep everybody out of the kitchen.  And yes, you could make these in the slow cooker, with or without browning the meat first.  Like I said, nature’s perfect food :)

The link to the be-jeweled toothpick tutorial is HERE.

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25 Responses to Drunken Cranberry Cocktail Meatballs

  1. Frank Mosher says:

    Your Meatball recipes are sensational!!

  2. Cynthia says:

    You mentioned that you could cook these in a slow cooker. Would you pour the sauce in the cooker and cook it all together? And how long would you cook the meatballs. Thank you!

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  4. Mary says:

    Can you make these ahead of time and reheat? I’m going camping for New Years and would like to make these before I go. There is a stove in the cabin. Would you suggest on the stove in a pan or in the oven?

    • Sue says:

      Technically you can make them ahead, but I fine that meatballs lose their nice texture and get a little more dense when you reheat them. If you are going to reheat, I would probably do it in a low oven. Have a great trip!

  5. Marion Hume says:

    A lot of these recipes sound fantastic! I’m going to have to try so many! My favorite ingredient to add to the cranberry sauce is orange juice and a bit of the rind without the pith of course!

  6. Aida says:

    These look delicious. I love the way cranberry tastes with turkey, but the meatballs must take it to the whole another level. I look forward to your toothpick tutorial!

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  8. mimi says:

    How fabulous! I love the addition of rosemary. And I love your little skewers!

  9. savvy says:

    OK, so the ground beef thawed….am going to add some cremini mushrooms, shallots…bourbon is in my ‘stash’! Kitchen floor comes first….and then off to dinner with friends! Side dish is done, and I’m nearly ready to go!! Thanks! Have a wonder-filled Turkey Day!

  10. Andi says:

    The toothpicks are a fabulous idea! I have never made anything with cranberries other than sauce – but this is just naturally a great combination!

  11. Monique says:

    Great also for our Réveillon~
    So festive..Nice to have a NEW recipe..Happy Thanksgiving and thanks!

  12. Amanda says:

    These meatballs sound amazing and the picks you made are adorable!!!

  13. I’ve never thought to combine cranberries and rosemary! But I will — sounds wonderful. As do these meatballs — good stuff. Happy Thanksgiving!

  14. I love cocktail meatballs! Love the addition of bourbon. Will try these over the holidays, for sure :)

  15. Dom says:

    oh I am loving the bourbon sauce, that’s inspired!… love the pretty cocktail sticks too. So festive.

  16. Jackie says:

    I do not see Bourbon in the Cranberry Bourbon sauce recipe, how much should be added?

    • Sue says:

      Ooops, I left out the best part! I just fixed it Jackie, thanks. I guess I had too many of the ‘test batch’ while I was writing up the recipe :/

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