Juicy little cocktail meatballs are the best appetizer! Coated in a wonderfully flavorful sauce, they are simply irresistible.
I love meatballs – turkey meatballs, pork meatballs, chicken meatballs, spicy meatballs… but these are especially fun because of their size. And they are also extra flavorful, thanks to the simple yet delicious three-ingredient sauce.
In fact, I like these cocktail meatballs so much, that I often serve them to my family for dinner. Why wait until we host when we can enjoy these tasty ground beef morsels whenever we feel like it? They truly are very easy to make.
The ingredients you’ll need
You’ll only need a few simple ingredients to make this tasty meatball recipe. The exact measurements are included in the recipe card below. Here’s a general overview:
Olive oil spray: You’ll use that to grease the pan and also to lightly spray the meatballs before baking them. If you’d rather use an oil with a higher smoke point, you can use avocado oil instead.
Lean ground beef (85/15): I tried using extra-lean ground beef in this recipe, but the meatballs were not juicy enough.
Kosher salt and black pepper: I use kosher salt in most of my recipes. If you use fine salt (sea salt or table salt), you might need to use less salt.
Spices: Garlic powder and onion powder. Make sure they are fresh! A stale spice can easily ruin a dish.
For the sauce: Unsweetened ketchup, Dijon mustard, and sugar-free maple syrup (or use the real thing if you don’t mind the carbs).
How to make cocktail meatballs
It’s a truly easy recipe! Scroll down to the recipe card for the detailed instructions. Here are the basic steps:
Mix the ingredients. Your first step is to place the ground beef and the spices in a bowl and mix them together.
Form the meatballs. Form the mixture into 24 small meatballs. I actually weigh them on a kitchen scale (about 20 grams each), but It’s fine to eyeball it.
Bake them. Arrange the meatballs on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Lightly spray them with olive oil and bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees F.
Heat the sauce. While the meatballs are in the oven, whisk the sauce ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring them to a gentle boil over medium-low heat, then lower the heat to low and keep the sauce simmering until the meatballs are ready.
Coat the meatballs in the sauce. Add the cooked meatballs to the sauce and turn to coat. Transfer them to a serving platter, brush with more sauce (I use a pastry brush), and serve.
What ground beef to use
I recommend using lean ground beef (85/15). I tried making these cocktail meatballs with extra-lean ground beef (93/7) and felt that the meatballs turned out too dry and not juicy enough.
Variations on the sauce
The mustard is optional, so you can omit it if you want. I do feel that it adds an extra dimension of flavor, and I do like to use Dijon mustard, which is thicker, creamier and less vinegary than yellow mustard.
If you don’t mind the carbs, you can obviously use regular ketchup and real maple syrup (or honey). I’ve made this recipe with honey and it’s amazing. Definitely better than the sugar-free maple syrup.
However, it’s thicker and not as liquid, and honey burns easily, so keep a close eye on it. You might only need to warm it for a few minutes, then turn the heat off.
I don’t cook the meatballs in the sauce
I have found while experimenting with this recipe that since the meatballs are fully cooked when they emerge from the oven, simmering them in the sauce results in them being overcooked.
On the other hand, I really prefer to bake them first, because this ensures they are fully and evenly cooked.
So rather than adding the cooked meatballs to the sauce and simmering them in the sauce, I simmer the sauce while the meatballs are in the oven, and then simply add them to the sauce and turn to coat.
How to serve cocktail meatballs
You can obviously serve them as a party appetizer with some toothpicks or mini party forks. If you have some extra sauce left, place it in a small bowl next to the meatballs so that people can dip (hopefully not double-dip!) their meatballs in the extra sauce.
You can also serve them for dinner. I like to serve them on top of mashed cauliflower, and again, I don’t let any of the sauce go to waste – I pour any extra sauce on top of the meatballs.
What to do with leftovers?
Keep the leftovers in the fridge, in an airtight container, for up to 4 days. Reheat them in the microwave, covered, on 50% power. You can also freeze them.
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- Olive oil spray
- 1 lb. lean ground beef (85/15)
- 1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil and spray the foil with olive oil spray.
- In a large bowl, mix the beef with the spices.
- Form into 24 small meatballs, each weighing around 20 grams. I actually weight them on a kitchen scale, but you can eyeball it too.
- Place the meatballs on the prepared baking sheet, not touching each other. Spray them with olive oil, then bake for 10 minutes.
- While the meatballs are baking, whisk together the sauce ingredients in a medium saucepan, then heat the sauce over medium-low heat. Bring it to a gentle boil, then lower the heat to low and simmer while the meatballs are in the oven.
- Remove the meatballs from the pan with a slotted spatula. Toss them in the sauce until well-coated. Transfer to a serving plate and use a pastry brush to brush them with more sauce.
- Serve the cocktail meatballs with the remaining sauce for dipping.