Drunken Cranberry Cocktail Meatballs

Drunken Cranberry Meatballs

Drunken Cranberry Cocktail Meatballs ~ tender meatballs in a cranberry bourbon barbecue sauce ~ oh yeah! These addictive cranberry meatballs will be the hit of your next cocktail party, guaranteed!

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

These delicious cranberry cocktail meatballs are make ahead friendly!

  • You can form the meatballs and make the sauce today, then stash in the fridge.
  • Tomorrow all you have to do is brown them and add the sauce, they sauté, covered, for about 10 minutes until the meat is cooked through.
  • If you like you can make the whole recipe and reheat on the stove top or in a crock pot when ready to serve.

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

DIY beaded cocktail toothpicks

I made some sweet little beaded cocktail toothpicks to go with my meatballs,

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.

Drunken Cranberry Meatballs
4.47 from 15 votes

Drunken Cranberry Cocktail Meatballs

Drunken Cranberry Cocktail Meatballs ~ tender meatballs in a cranberry bourbon barbecue sauce ~ oh yeah!
Course Appetizer
Cuisine American
Prep Time 45 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Yield 30 meatballs
Author Sue Moran


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


  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Coat the bottom of a skillet with olive oil and heat until hot. Brown the meatballs on all sides.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Serve the meatballs hot, with the sauce.
The nutritional information for recipes on this site is provided as a courtesy and although theviewfromgreatisland.com tries to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures are only estimates.


Don’t forget to pin these Drunken Cranberry Cocktail Meatballs!

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    Leave a Reply

    Please rate this recipe!

  • Reply
    December 19, 2020 at 4:09 pm

    Haven’t made them yet, but any alternatives to alcohol for those of us who don’t drink and don’t want to use it in cooking? Thanks. Your abundant cranberry offerings are amazing!

  • Reply
    January 25, 2020 at 8:24 am

    5 stars
    I made these for a New Year’s day get together and they were a definite hit! The flavors work well together. I used canned cranberries and bourbon bbq sauce in addition to the bourbon. I doubled the sauce and poured it over 1 and and half bags of frozen homestyle (beef and pork) meatballs in a crock pot. I gave it a good stir to coat the meatballs and set the temp to high for 30 minutes, then to low until done.

  • Reply
    Patty Carlson
    September 12, 2017 at 3:26 pm

    I could not open the tutorial on the toothpicks…they are adorable! If you could just post on how it’s done, I would appreciate it……the holidays are fast approaching

    • Reply
      September 12, 2017 at 4:48 pm

      Hi Patty, I’m not sure why it didn’t open for you, it worked for me, here it is: toothpick tutorial. Enjoy!

  • Reply
    Frank Mosher
    December 14, 2016 at 12:06 pm

    Your Meatball recipes are sensational!!

  • Reply
    October 21, 2015 at 10:28 am

    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!

    • Reply
      October 21, 2015 at 10:32 am

      I’d put it all in, with the sauce, and cook on low for probably 3-4 hours, or until the meatballs are cooked through.

  • Reply
    December 28, 2014 at 10:18 am

    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?

    • Reply
      December 28, 2014 at 10:29 am

      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!

  • Reply
    Marion Hume
    December 4, 2014 at 10:56 pm

    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!

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