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Gluten Free Slow Cooker Meatballs

Gluten Free Slow Cooker Meatballs

The slow cooker is the secret to the the rich flavor and perfect texture of these gluten free meatballs. And it’s also the easiest, most convenient meal you’ll make all week!

Gluten Free Slow Cooker Meatballs

Something like 80% of Americans own a slow cooker. Until about a year ago, I was not among them (for shame!). But since upwards of 250 million people can’t be dead wrong, I finally went for it. I cooked and cooked from it when I first got it, to give it a fair shake. Soups, chilis, stews, oatmeal and unforgiving cuts of meat. My kids thought that I had fallen in love with my slow cooker, and looking back that was probably a reasonable assumption at the time.

But I think that was the problem—I was trying to fall in love with it. And as anyone who has ever been in love with anything or anyone before knows, forcing the issue is not necessarily a good plan. Love needs an easy touch. So I decided to relax a bit. And then … I finally hit the slow cooker jackpot: gluten free slow cooker meatballs. Ridiculously easy in both preparation and cleanup, and quite possibly the best meatballs I’ve ever had. Love really does happen when you least expect it!

Gluten Free Slow Cooker Meatballs

Slow cooker cooking really is different than conventional cooking, isn’t it? You probably knew that already (you well-schooled 80%), but I didn’t! You really do need recipes that are at least reformulated, if not originally created, specifically for a slow cooker. You want to use dried herbs, not fresh ones for sure for sure. And go a bit easy on the salt (thanks for the tips, Fine Cooking!).

Gluten Free Slow Cooker Meatballs

So what makes these slow cooker meatballs better than conventional meatballs? Well it’s the flavor, but (believe it or not) it’s also the texture! The meat slowly absorbs all of the flavor not only of the ingredients you add to the meatballs themselves, but of the simple tomato sauce they are nestled into for all those hours. And since they do sit in the sauce for all that time while it very gently bubbles away, they don’t need a lot of moisture themselves so they stay together beautifully—but are still moist and tender when you serve them.

Notes on Cooking Times: I’ve made these meatballs on both the high setting (for 4 hours), and the low setting (for 8). I’ve served them right after they’re done cooking, and after they’ve sat on “warm” for an hour and a half. After sitting on warm, they definitely absorb more of the sauce and look like they might taste dry, but they’re still moist and tender.

So what’s your favorite way to use your slow cooker? Are you in love with yours, or just sort of “meh”?

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Prep time: Cook time: Yield: 12 to 14 large meatballs


1 1/2 cups coarse gluten free bread crumbs

1/2 cup (4 fluid ounces) red table wine (or try replacing with an equal amount of beef stock + 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar)*

1 pound ground pork

1 pound ground beef

1 egg (any size, really), beaten

1 tablespoon dried oregano, crushed to release oils

2 teaspoons dried basil

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grated

Tomato Sauce
1 28-ounce can tomato puree (or 1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, pureed with their juices until smooth)

3 ounces (1/2 6-ounce can) tomato paste

1 tablespoon dried oregano, crushed to release oils

2 teaspoons dried basil

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (optional)

1/2 teaspoon chili powder (optional)

*A note about wine: Be sure to use a wine that you would like to drink with red meat, and make sure but that it doesn’t have an overly fruity taste. Cooking with wine, particularly in a slow cooker, tends to intensify its flavor and you don’t want it to overpower the dish.


  • First, begin the meatballs. In a small bowl, place the breadcrumbs and red wine (or stock mixture), and mix to combine. Allow the breadcrumbs to sit in the wine (or stock mixture) while you prepare the tomato sauce.

  • Prepare the sauce. In the liner of a 6-quart slow cooker, place all of the tomato sauce ingredients and whisk to combine well. Set the liner aside and return your attention to the meatballs.

  • Form the meatballs. In a large bowl, place the ground pork and ground beef, and break up the meat gently with your fingers. Add the remaining meatball ingredients in the order listed, mixing gently to combine with your fingers. Do not overwork the meat or the meatballs will be tough. Add the breadcrumb mixture, and again mix until just combined with your fingers. Divide the meatball mixture into 12 to 14 pieces and roll each gently into a ball.

  • Cook the meatballs. Nestle each meatball into the tomato sauce in the slow cooker liner. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours or on low for 8 hours or until the meatballs are cooked through. The cooked meatballs can remain on your slow cooker’s “warm” setting for up to 1 1/2 hours. Turn the cooked meatballs over in the sauce to coat completely before serving.

  • Adapted from Fine Cooking.



P.S. Did you know that there are 3 Gluten Free on a Shoestring Cookbooks? Which ones do you have? The 4th, Gluten Free Classic Snacks, is also available for pre-order and will be out soon!! 

If you liked this recipe, you'll love my new book!

Gluten-Free Small Bites

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  • Tina Howe

    These look delicious!

  • Linda F.

    Oh my goodness these look so good. I love meatballs and there are so many things you can do with them. Meatball sub, meatball pizza, meatball calzone…all with your recipes of course :) I love my crock-pot. You do know they have liners you can buy? They are just under $2 at my Wally World. Hope it’s OK to post a picture. I love them. All you do is take out the liner and your mostly done with clean up. Can’t wait to try this recipe.

    • So funny you should mention those liners, Linda! I’ve seen those in the grocery store so many times, and have been tempted since I do loathe the liner cleanup (!) but I have been reluctant to use more plastic. I should buy them for an occasional cleanup treat. :)

      • Linda F.

        I love them. It’s so easy. I know it’s just more money from our budget but it’s just so easy with them. The best is when I make my gluten free cheese dip. That’s a bugger to try to wash even in the dishwasher.

      • Sandi B

        Have you ever tried a light spray of olive oil or cooking spray before filling. Makes cleanup easy and eliminates most of those white marks.

  • JillShPk

    Thanks for this recipe! I needed a gluten-free meatball recipe as I can’t find frozen ones without gluten in them! Great timing as I need meatballs for one of this weeks recipes!

  • Mare Masterson

    My favorite way to use my slow cooker is your English Muffin bread, but you already know that! My second favorite way is our corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day. I do not use it a lot. I am old school and like cooking in oven or on stove top. I will love to try your meatball recipe, but I will add a 3rd meat – ground veal. Did you know some of the chefs out there soak bread in milk for their meatballs?

    • Most of the other meatball recipes I have made in my life, I have soaked the bread crumbs in milk, but soaking them in wine (or a stock/vinegar mixture) makes the meatballs so much more flavorful!

      • Mare Masterson

        I never soaked them at all. Interesting. I will try it.

  • I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who is less in love with the slow cooker. I just haven’t quite figured it all out. Meatballs and sauce mmmmmmmm.

    • You’re not alone, Lauren! I think there are many of us out there, hiding in plain sight. :)

  • Adrianne Fitzpatrick

    Ooh, love this idea. I have a slow cooker but I mostly use it to make yoghurt, so I’ll have to plan things for when the cooker’s not otherwise in use. (Oh, and I have all three recipe books and the new one on pre-order. :-) )

    • Homemade yogurt is definitely a treat, Adrianne. Hope the meatballs get some cooker time soon. :)

  • Jennifer S.

    Love love love the new site! And these meatballs look pretty good too!

  • Donia Robinson

    Here’s what I love about this recipe – that you’re actually cooking the meatballs in the slow cooker. I like my slow cooker for certain things, but when I see a recipe calling for using it basically to reheat something that I had to cook using another method already, I don’t see the point of dirtying another dish. These look awesome!

    I don’t suppose you’d have a crack at a Paleo version?? ;)

    • Mare Masterson

      Donia, I make meatloaf and meatballs using spinach instead of bread crumbs if I don’t have any gf bread crumbs on hand. I cannot give you measurements though because I do it by feel.

    • I hear you on the extra steps. I try to be judicious about the extra steps required, although I will gladly sauté onions before using them in a slow cooker recipe. It does make a difference. But pan frying meatballs before slow cooking them? No thanks!

      Funny you should mention Paleo, as the one thing I do think needs to be done is some sort of easy Paleo coarse bread crumb—something that doesn’t require a spendy and time-intensive loaf of Paleo bread first. Will get on it. :)

      • Donia Robinson

        Yes, that sounds great! Maybe an almond flour and tapioca starch crumble, toasted a bit in the oven? It would be very nice not to have to make a loaf of bread, just to destroy it. ;)

        • Jean Edeal

          If I don’t have breadcrumbs available, I have used instant potato flakes. About 1/3 cup in 2# meat.

    • kittywitty

      Donia, There is a recipe for *really* yummy slow cooker meatballs in the Everyday Paleo cookbook by Sarah Fragoso. The binder is almond meal and eggs. I’m sure Nicole wouldn’t want me to post it here, so you can contact me by clicking my user name and I’ll be happy to give it to you. (Comment back here if that doesn’t work and we’ll figure it out!) :)

  • anna

    Yum! My parents sent me home with some beef from my cousin’s steer and i was planning on making bierocks with it, but thanks to this post now i want meatballs :) I love that the raw balls go directly into the cooker. No pre-pan frying needed. Perfect! That extra step in most other cooker meatballs was always a deal breaker for me.

    Like you, i dont use my slow cooker often. Mostly for pulled pork (BBQ or carnitas style, depending) and homemade chile. It just makes SO MUCH! And the pot is a bit unwieldy while washing. Thank you!

    • Me too, anna, no pan frying meatballs before slow cooking them for me. I’m still in search of a few more good slow cooker recipes that don’t make, well, mush. :)

  • Judy O

    This is not a comment about the meatballs per se (although they do sound awesome and I’m planning on making these soon!) but just a heartfelt thank you for making celiac disease bearable! Your recipes are amazing and inspiring and allow me to still enjoy the foods I grew up loving and can now eat without suffering! Thank you for sharing!

    • That’s the very best type of comment, Judy! I’m so thrilled to be able to help, and hope you feel a true sense of possibility about what you can continue to enjoy, even with celiac disease. (P.S.—it’s everything! you can have everything)

  • kittywitty

    I love slow cooker meatballs…these look delish!

  • Chris

    We don’t really have slow cookers here in Europe that much, so is it possible to do these in the oven at really low heat or something like that? :)

    • You know, Chris, for regular meatballs I honestly don’t really recommend this recipe as I think the oven would dry them out. You really need more moisture in the meatballs. If you have my first cookbook, I’d go with the recipe for “meatlove” in there!

  • Elena, Age 11

    these look delicous, beautiful, wonderful. Ok I didnt come here to say how wonderful these look but they look amazing! today mom and i made your oat bread from gfoasbb. we used the same amount of almond meal in place of dry milk as a df and healthier option. it worked wonderfully. our thermometer broke so we kind of had to just go by sound but it seemed to turn out fine. it certainly tasted great! i also made your choco donuts from gfoas quick and easy. also df and wonderful. thanks so much for the great recipes!!!!!!!

    • That’s great, Elena!

      • kclark

        What a mature 11 year old!

  • Lauren

    I find it funny that I can crave foods I’ve never actually eaten. The other night I had a dream about making really fragrant meatballs, but in real life I don’t have a family recipe for them, plus I have all those pesky food allergy issues, so I really hadn’t gone on the hunt for a version I could eat. But then you deliver one {that is *legitimately* for the slow cooker}. Allow me again to mention just how much you ROCK! :D

    • It’s kismet, then, Lauren! Thanks so much for the kind words. :)

  • Robin

    I’m making these right now. Just a note to warn that if you let the liquid sit too long with the breadcrumbs, you get a big gummy mess (literally like silly putty!). Next time I will have it mostly prepared and just let the breadcrumbs sit for a minute or so. They are in the cooker right now and smell so good!

    • If you use coarse bread crumbs, Robin, that definitely doesn’t happen. They must be proper bread crumbs, ground coarsely and toasted up right, not finely ground dust!

      • Robin

        Thanks Nicole! Next time I will try homemade breadcrumbs instead of store-bought

  • Lucy

    Yum, I have three slow cookers.
    Use them all the time, especially during the summer when I’m outside all day and have little or no time to cook.

  • Ann

    We adore meatballs and love that you posted this! Many (too many-lol)
    years ago, I found a recipe from an Italian grandmother which is almost
    identical to this and have used it ever since. The only difference is
    that her “secret” ingredient is milk and she said you add it until the
    meatballs just hold together and that is the secret to keeping them
    moist. Who knew?! It works in the oven, stove top or slow
    cooker–never dries out! Hope that helps the lady from Europe.
    p.s. thanks for all the paleo recipes–love, love the choco chip scones!

  • GabbyCT

    I didn’t do these in a slow cooker and I used all beef but they turned out great. It was a very interesting and terrific idea to add the liquid to the breadcrumbs. I am a recent fan of yours! Thanks for the blog, I have shared it will many others.

  • Joni G.

    Love this recipe! I can’t believe how easy these were to make!
    I am currently in the middle of a Whole 30, so I made these W30-compliant by leaving out the breadcrumbs, red wine and Parmesan. They still turned out great! Thanks so much for all you do!

  • Olivia Ramage

    Made these tonight and they were fab – and the whole family ate it too. Many Thanks.

  • kclark

    Hi Nik, I have been lurking, baking and cooking from your site, as usual. Oh and bragging about you when people like my food. My latest addiction is the buttermilk biscuits from page 227 of your book. Yes, I have the page memorized. I made the biscuits and took them on a trip. Baked them at the cabin and made breakfast sandwiches. Awesome and they were served to gluten eaters. I have also rolled out the dough as a topper for chicken pot pies, etc. WHY did I wait so long to try them? I was scared of that folding thing and I am mad at myself.

    I am with you on the slow cooker thing. I have one or two recipes I like. I tried oatmeal and wasn’t impressed. How did your oatmeal turn out?

    This meatball recipe looks fantastic and I am going to try it next week! Thank you!

  • Denise Campbell

    This is not good…It’s almost 6AM EST here and I’m having visions and craving a Meatball Sandwich right now & in the worst possible way too & I *know* we don’t have all the stuff needed to make these. Darn it!! Here’s hoping I can convince Mom into getting what we don’t have here tomorrow. (Don’t ask, as the last person you would think who would not support or help me since my Celiac was discovered, is in fact my Mom. Loooong story. Anyway…). It’s okay for an iPadd to be covered in drool, right?

    Came here through Pinterest and have been brousing ever since. Only issue I have is your Breads pretty much all call for Yeast & we have a mutual intense dislike of each other. Not in an allergy way, but that I can never get the blasted stuff to work for me & I usually end up w/loaves that would double nicely as doorstops. I’ve actually had my Mom & a few others I know who are amazing bread makers watch me, but tbey haven’t a clue, as I did everything right. Who knows, but it’s maddening.

    I really am enjoying what I’m seeing around here and can’t wait to try a few things. Thanks for all the hard work you do and share w/us.

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