Grape Jelly Meatballs Went Viral After an Episode of ‘Southern Charm’—Here’s Our Updated (But Still Stupid-Easy) Recipe
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If you watch Bravos Southern Charm—I’m more of a Summer House gal myself—perhaps you caught the moment in season 8, episode 11, when Kathryn Dennis (who, I’m told, famously isn’t known for her cooking) served grape jelly meatballs at Friendsgiving. Did you shudder? Were you just confused? Get on board, baby, because those meatballs are all the rage (again).
For most people, “grape jelly” and “meatballs” are two ingredients that sound like they shouldn’t be in the same sentence, let alone a dish. But if you’re familiar with the thrills of vintage recipes (like jiggling tomato aspic and “rumaki”), you’ve likely heard of this appetizer before.
What Are Grape Jelly Meatballs?
Despite sounding like a match made in literal hell, grape jelly meatballs (aka cocktail meatballs or chafing dish meatballs) have been a wildly popular party appetizer since the mid-century. According to Food52’s fascinating deep dive, attributing the dish to an original author is surprisingly difficult. Though it appears in some form or another in both Marian Burros and Lois Levine’s 1967 Elegant But Easy Cookbook and the 1978 edition of Betty Crocker’s Cookbookversions of “cocktail meatballs” made with grape jelly–based sauces circulated since the 1960s.
The balls are a simple concoction, consisting of ground beef meatballs simmered in a sauce of grape jelly and a tomato-based chili or barbecue sauce, sometimes with lemon juice. They’re sticky, frequently prepared in a slow cooker and familiar to many a Midwestern and Southern holiday gathering. And their popularity persists to this day, even without the Southern Charm cameo. A quick Google search for “grape jelly meatballs” yields more than 1.7 million results.
Clearly, we don’t need to give you another recipe for this crowd-pleaser…but we can’t resist putting our own spin on it. Here’s how to make cocktail meatballs at home, and more importantly, how to update them (with no extra effort at all).
How to Make Grape Jelly Meatballs (Plus How to Update Them)
1½ cups chili sauce, tomato-based barbecue sauce or ketchup
1 cup grape jelly
Juice or ½ lemon (optional)
2 pounds cooked meatballs (homemade or frozen)
1. In a large slow cooker or Dutch oven, add the chili sauce, jelly and lemon juice and stir to combine. Add the meatballs and stir until coated.
2. If using a slow cooker, cook the meatballs on low for about 4 hours, stirring halfway through. If using a Dutch oven, simmer the meatballs, covered, over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the meatballs are heated through, about 1 hour.
Instead of Grape Jelly, Try:
- raspberry preserves
- strawberry jelly
- fig jam
- Apricot jelly
Instead of Beef Meatballs, Try:
- cocktail wieners
- Plant-based meatballs
- Crushed red pepper flakes
- Worcestershire sauce
- soy sauce
- Chopped flat-leaf parsley or chives (to garnish)
And if you want to lose a few hours, the grape jelly discourse is waiting for you on the r/Southerncharm subreddit. See you there.
Katherine Gillen is PureWow’s senior food editor. She’s a writer, recipe developer and food stylist with a degree in culinary arts and professional experience in New York City restaurants. She used to sling sugary desserts in a pastry kitchen, but now she’s an avid home cook and fanatic baker.