I love meals I can make ahead and freeze. And I love cooking with my crock pot. So it’s a safe bet that I really, really love meals I can make ahead, freeze and then throw in the crock pot. That’s one reason I really, really love these meatballs. The other reason is that they’re amazingly delicious. Or awful, according to the Guy. But awful is Guy’s code word for, “Will you please make these every night for the rest of my life?”
If you do a Google search for meatball recipes, almost all of them will call for you to mix up the meat madness, form it into balls, then either bake them or cook them in a pan. That’s where this recipes is deliciously different, and why it’s so simple. Instead of baking or pan-frying the meatballs, you let them simmer in a crock pot full of marinara sauce for six to eight hours, meanwhile absorbing all the rich tomato-ey goodness of the sauce. And since you’re slow cooking them, you can go straight from freezer to crock pot without thawing first.
I’ve also included a recipe for marinara. Of course, feel free to substitute your favorite jarred sauce if you’d like, but it really is very simple and much cheaper to make your own.
Freezer to Crockpot Meatballs
- 1 lb lean ground beef
- 1 lb sausage
- Small onion, finely diced
- 2 tsp. minced garlic
- 1 1/2 tsp. oregano
- 1 tsp. basil
- 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
- 1 tsp. black pepper
- 1 tsp. sea salt
- 1 to 2 tsp. hot sauce, to taste
- 1 cup bread crumbs
- 1/2 cup half and half
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 2 cans crushed tomatoes (28 oz.)
- 2 cans tomato paste (6 oz.)
- 1 small onion, finely diced (1 T. minced dried onion if you’re in a hurry)
- 2 T. minced garlic
- 2 tsp. dried basil
- 1 T. dried oregano
- 3 bay leaves
- Salt and pepper to taste
To make the meatballs, mix all but last three ingredients in large bowl, then work in half and half, breadcrumbs and parmesan. You can use a spoon if you’d like, but it really works better just to get in there with your hands and mix it all together…you’re going to get “meat hands” when you shape the meatballs anyway, so you might as well dive in, right?
Once everything is well-blended, shape into meatballs. I tend to make my meatballs gigantic, but you can downsize ’em a bit. Lay the meatballs out on a cookie sheet or parchment paper and put them in the freezer for an hour or two, until solid. Once they’re solid, you can put them in a freezer safe gallon storage bag and label them for later use.
To make the marinara and cook the meatballs, mix all of the marinara ingredients, except bay leaves, in your slow cooker. Add frozen meatballs to sauce one at a time, making sure that all the meatballs are covered by sauce. Add bay leaves and cook on low 6-8 hours (the larger the meatballs, the longer they will take to cook).
The one downside to this recipe is that, even if you use extra lean ground beef, the sausage produces a lot of grease, so you’ll have to take a few minutes after your meatballs are done to skim the grease off the top of the sauce. Don’t worry–the taste is worth it! And make sure to remove and discard your bay leaves while you’re at it.