Appetizers | Grocer to Table

Cranberry Meatballs -GF & Dairy free!

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These Cranberry Meatballs are one of my most requested appetizers! Orange juice and orange zest give them another wonderful depth of flavor! They are tart, sweet and very fruity! Also, they are gluten and lactose / dairy free!

Bowl with cranberry meatballs.Pin

If you are feeding someone with severe allergies to lactose or gluten. Shop carefully for ingredients. There are lots of options now, but be sure to read labels.

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Cranberry Orange Meatballs on pink plate with colored toothpicksPin
Cranberry Orange Cocktail Meatballs

But when in doubt, a few simple substitutions will work wonders for your recipes too.

These Cranberry Orange Meatballs are always a huge hit! Zero left by the end of a party!

Cranberry orange meatballs with colored toothpicks on pink antique platePin

Mincing the garlic and onion directly over the bowl adds lots of flavor and keeps your meatballs moist.

What you need

  • ground beef
  • onion
  • garlic
  • dairy free milk
  • gluten free binder (I use corn chex)
  • egg
  • sage
  • thyme
  • salt
  • pepper
Ingredients for meatballs. See recipe below for details.Pin

How to make them

  1. Whisk egg
  2. Grind up cereal in food processor.
  3. Get the cereal ground finely.
  4. Add meat, milk, spices, egg, cereal to a medium bowl.
  5. Grate garlic directly over the bowl.
  6. Grate onion directly over the bowl.Step by step photos for meatballs. See recipe below for details.Pin
  7. Once everything is added to bowl, mix well.
  8. Mixed up meatball mixture.
  9. Use a cookie scoop to portion out meatballs.
  10. Roll between the palms of your hands. Place on cookie sheet.
  11. Bake at 375°F / 190°C for 25-35 minutes until browned and internal reaches 165°F / 75°C. You can also air fry your meatballs.
Step by step photos for meatballs. See recipe below for details.Pin

Ingredients for sauce

  • jellied cranberry sauce
  • orange
  • soy sauce (be sure to buy tamari or GF soy sauce)
  • sherry
  • ginger
  • brown sugar
Ingredients for sauce. See recipe below for details.Pin

How to make the sauce

  • Add cranberry, sherry, soy and brown sugar to a small saucepan.
  • Grate ginger directly over pan.
  • Zest orange directly over pan.
  • Squeeze orange juice
  • Add to pan. Cook down over medium low heat, stirring often, until thickened.
Step by step photos for sauce. See recipe below for details.Pin

When sauce is as thick as you would like it, add the meatballs and the sauce to a medium saucepan or to your slow cooker or crockpot. Turn on low and heat through. Serve with toothpicks.

You can use a variety of substitutions for bread crumbs. In this case I used corn chex that I ground up with my food processor. You can also use rice chex, corn flakes or cornmeal. There are also commercial gluten free bread crumbs available now. I have even used leftover cooked rice for the bread crumbs.

Pro tips for your success

  • Use a cookie scoop to portion meat out so that your meatballs are approximately the same size.
  • Bake, air fry meatballs or fry in a cast iron pan.
  • Grating the onion and garlic results in juicy meatballs with tons of flavor and meatballs don’t have large chunks in them.
  • You may want to try these meatballs with less orange zest. If you use the zest from a whole large orange they are very fruity. Most people love that. A few like them better when I use only half of the zest.
  • Serve as an appetizer or over rice, mashed potatoes or noodles as part of a meal.

Everyone that has tried these cranberry orange meatballs raves about them! They are extra moist and tender, and very, very fruity! Try these!

Woman's hand stabbing meatball with toothpick from bowl.Pin

Other delicious appetizers

Tools I use for these Cranberry orange meatballs

Hand grabbing meatball with toothpickPin

This cranberry meatball recipe is so easy. It is always the first bowl empty at any party or potluck that we take them to.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe today.

Enjoy. And have fun cooking!

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Cranberry orange meatballs in white bowl.Pin

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Sweet and tangy sauce gives this appetizer meatball a different kick!
See Step by Step Photos Above!Most of our recipes have step by step photos and videos! Also helpful tips so that you can make it perfectly the first time and every time! Scroll up to see them!
5 from 12 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes
Servings: 24 meatballs
Calories: 64kcal
Author: Beth Neels
Cost: $5


For Meatballs

  • 1 pound ground beef or a mixture of beef pork, venison, lamb, chicken or turkey
  • 4 small cloves garlic about 2 teaspoons
  • 2 tablespoon Onion
  • 1 egg whisked
  • 1/2 c rice chex or corn chex, corn flakes, corn meal
  • 1/4 c cashew milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon sage, dried
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Pepper

For the Sauce

  • 1 can jellied cranberry sauce (14 oz.)
  • 2 tablespoon soy sauce Make sure you use GF soy sauce or tamari
  • 2 tablespoon brown sugar
  • Juice and zest from one orange preferably a juice orange NOTE: Using all of the zest from the orange gives the sauce a strong orange flavor. 90% of taste tasters loved it. The other 10% preferred the sauce when I only used about 2 tsp. of Zest!
  • 2 tablespoon sherry
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger grated


For Meatballs

  • Preheat oven to 375°F
  • Place the beef in a medium mixing bowl.
  • Grate the onion and garlic directly into the same bowl to collect the juice too.
  • Add egg.
  • Pulse the chex in a food processor until fine; Soak chex in the milk for a few minutes. Add to meat.
  • Add sage, thyme, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly but gently. Don’t over work.
  • Shape with a tablespoon so the meatballs are all approximately the same size.
  • Place meatballs on a baking sheet.
  • Bake for about 20-25 minutes, until golden and cooked through, 165°F.

For the Sauce

  • While meatballs are baking, prepare the sauce
  • Place all ingredients In a small saucepan over medium low heat, stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Sauce will thicken up nicely and should be ready about the same time as the meatballs are cooked through.
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Make these for parties and potlucks. They will be the first thing gone!
These meatballs freeze well. So make a big batch and heat them up when needed.
Leftovers can be refrigerated for 3-4 days.
Reheat in microwave or, covered, in a saucepan with a tablespoon of water added, for about 10 minutes, until hot.
For longer storage, freeze up to 6 months.
Thaw in refrigerator. Reheat per above instructions.


Calories: 64kcal | Carbohydrates: 1g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 3g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 20mg | Sodium: 154mg | Potassium: 58mg | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 20IU | Vitamin C: 0.3mg | Calcium: 8mg | Iron: 0.6mg
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Originally Published 7/6/16 updated 1/23/22

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    1. You can use leftover cooked rice, any bread product, oats and the like. Thanks for checking out the recipe KErri!

  1. The sauce, orange , everything worked so well together. We enjoyed making and eating these meatballs. Thanks as well for providing such a comprehensive recipe with detailed steps.

  2. 5 stars
    The meatballs look so delicious! I love the cranberry orange combination, perfect for both summer and Thanksgiving.

    1. They are actually made all year long around here. They go as fast as I can make them. Thanks Biana!

  3. 5 stars
    These meatballs are wonderful for parties. What a great way to celebrate the holidays with family and friends.

  4. 5 stars
    Thank you for all the information you shared about lactose-free ingredients. Luckily I don’t have any allergy in the family and I don’t have this constraint, but Francesco was lactose intolerant when he was a baby. I like your idea of substituting bread crumbs with rice. I will try

  5. 5 stars
    They look amazing, I love the flavours you have got going on here… We’ll likely be eating out for Easter after a trip to a thermal spa, so no need for cooking for a change 😀

  6. 5 stars
    Thank you for the recipe. Perfect timing! I am going to visit a friend next week. I should bring this Cranberry Orange Meatballs.

  7. 5 stars
    I love appetizer meatballs and these look outstanding! Makes me want to pick up a few eat them. But since I don’t live near you, I’ll just have to make your recipe! Yummy Beth!

  8. 5 stars
    Using corn flakes in your meatballs is brilliant and so flavourful! I love how juicy these are too! Definitely a fun way to switch it up from the usual breadcrumbs 🙂

  9. 5 stars
    I’m sooo loving your recipe and it’s so easy to make too. Thanks for sharing the step-by-step process and I hope to try this soon.

  10. What an informative article! I didn’t even realize those products contain lactose…it’s always best to make your own when you can so you know everything that goes into what you make. Thank you for sharing. These cocktail meatballs look delicious!

    1. Thanks Dan! We love them! You are right, they are great for the holidays! I hope you enjoy them too!

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