Easy slow cooker chicken meatballs made with lean ground chicken, parmesan cheese, parsley, and oregano, and then cooked in a simple garlic and basil tomato sauce. Jump to the Tomato Basil Slow Cooker Chicken Meatballs Recipe or read on to see our tips for making them.
How to Make Meatballs in a Slow Cooker
Using a slow cooker makes these chicken meatballs so easy. The sauce is cooked first. We throw everything into a crock pot and turn it on. The sauce gets better and better as it cooks. After a few hours on high or 6 hours on low, it’s ready for the meatballs. The chicken meatballs only need an hour in the slow cooker — this way, they cook just until done, guaranteeing their juiciness. No one likes a dry meatball!
I mentioned above that we make the sauce first. You see it gets so much better with time, the meatballs don’t since they can become dry.
We add canned tomatoes, tomato paste, olive oil, a small onion that’s been halved, lots of garlic and spices to the crock pot. If we’re in a hurry, we’ll turn it to high and cook for 3 hours. If we’re starting in the morning, switching to low and cooking for 6 hours does the trick.
A+J’s Tip: Make this slow cooker tomato sauce in advance — it keeps in the fridge for 2 to 3 days and in the freezer for months!
As the sauce slowly bubbles away, we get started on the meatballs. In our photos, we are using ground chicken, but ground turkey, pork or beef will work. (See our easy turkey meatballs or these Swedish meatballs that combine beef and pork.)
We use panko breadcrumbs and milk for tenderness and lots of parmesan cheese, oregano and parsley for flavor (here’s a similar meatball recipe that’s baked instead). They are cooked at the end after the sauce is made, but you can form the balls whenever you like. You could do this a day in advance if you wanted to — just keep them covered in the refrigerator. Or, form them weeks in advance and freeze them uncooked.
When you’re ready, gently drop the formed meatballs into the hot sauce. Cover them and cook for about 1 hour or until they are done. And that’s it — slow cooker chicken meatballs that are easy to make, taste great and are perfect for making in advance. We hope you give them a try.
Recipe updated, originally posted February 2016. Since posting this in 2016, we have tweaked the recipe to be more clear. – Adam and Joanne
Tomato Basil Slow Cooker Chicken Meatballs
We love these crock pot meatballs. They are made with lean ground chicken, parmesan cheese, parsley, and oregano, and then cooked in a simple garlic and basil tomato sauce. Be sure to look at the notes section below for our tips on making them in advance! Serve these with pasta, spiralized noodles, vegetables, bread, or as an appetizer.
You Will NeedTomato Basil Sauce
2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 medium onion, split in half
4 garlic cloves, minced (about 1 1/2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 large stem fresh basil sprig
Salt, to tasteChicken Meatballs
1 pound ground chicken, see notes
1/3 cup (25 grams) panko bread crumbs
1/3 cup milk
1 large egg
1 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grated (about 1/3 cup)
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- Make Tomato Basil Sauce
1Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, halved onion, garlic, olive oil, bay leaf, red pepper flakes and the basil sprig to a slow cooker. Stir then add salt to taste — we use between 1/2 teaspoon and 1 teaspoon of salt, depending on the tomatoes. It will be cold, but you will get a good idea of whether or not the sauce is well seasoned.
2Cover and cook on LOW for 6 hours or on HIGH for 3 hours. Remove the onion, bay leaf and basil sprig. Taste then add additional salt as needed.
- Prepare Meatballs
1The meatballs can be prepared ahead of time, see notes below. Combine panko breadcrumbs and the milk in a large bowl. Wait 3 to 5 minutes until the breadcrumbs have absorbed most of the milk then whisk in the egg. Whisk in the parmesan cheese, parsley, oregano, salt, and the pepper.
2Add the chicken and use a fork or your hands to then blend the chicken and the egg mixture together. The meatball mixture will be quite moist. Shape into one-inch meatballs, pressing no more than necessary. This recipe makes approximately 18 meatballs.
- To Finish
1Once the tomato sauce has finished cooking and the onion has been removed, add the chicken meatballs. To add them, use a spoon or two forks to gently lower them into the sauce. Cover the tops of the meatballs by gently pushing sauce over each meatball. Cook on HIGH for 1 hour or until the meatballs are cooked through.
Adam and Joanne's Tips
- Ground Chicken: This recipe works beautifully with leaner, ground chicken breast, however, using ground dark meat (thighs) makes more tender meatballs. You can also used ground turkey for these meatballs.
- Make-ahead sauce: The sauce can be made ahead and kept refrigerated 2 to 3 days and 3 to 4 months in the freezer.
- Make-ahead meatballs: Meatballs can be shaped and kept refrigerated up to a day ahead. Arrange them on a baking sheet, cover, and then refrigerate up to 1 day.
- Freezing uncooked meatballs: Meatballs can be shaped and and arranged on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Freeze until solid then transfer them to a freezer-safe container or bag, and freeze up to 1 month. Thaw meatballs in the refrigerator overnight before cooking.
- Nutrition facts: The nutrition facts provided below are estimates. We have used the Nutrifox recipe calculator to calculate approximate values.