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Can I Leave Meatballs in a Crock-Pot Overnight? (Yes, if . . . )

Meatballs in a slow-cooker are one of those favorite foods at large family gatherings; easy, low maintenance, and delicious. If you’re making them ahead of time, you may be wondering can I leave meatballs in a Crock-Pot overnight?

As a general rule, meatballs can be left in a Crock-Pot overnight on the warm setting if they are already fully cooked. Raw meatballs should be cooked thoroughly first. But they can be cooked in the slow cooker for 2-3 hours on high or 4-6 hours on low.

The warm setting on slow cookers varies between 145-165 degrees Fahrenheit which is only appropriate for fully cooked meatballs.

The food safety temperature zone for hot foods is above 140° F. So while close to the low end of the temperature range, they will be fine overnight.

But that’s just a quick glimpse.

There are naturally a bunch of follow-up questions. So in this article, we’ll look at how long can meatballs stay in a Crock-Pot,  whether you can put uncooked meatballs in the Crock-Pot overnight on warm, how long should you cook them, and what if they are already cooked?

Just keep reading!

How long can meatballs stay in a Crock-Pot?

Meatballs that were just cooked can sit in a Crock-Pot on the keep warm setting in sauce for up to 24 hours. For raw or frozen meatballs, plan to cook them for 2-3 hours on high or 4-6 hours on low before switching to the keep warm setting.

And browning raw meatballs in a skillet first will produce the best results.

If you are using homemade meatballs, you may want to broil them so they get nice and brown first. Fresh meatballs may need to cook just a little longer. And if you don’t brown fresh meatballs first, they may fall apart in the Crock-Pot.

But if you have a gathering late in the morning or early afternoon, it’s nice to get a head start on things.

The really great thing about cooking in a Crock-Pot is that it is really hard to burn anything. Chances are, you won’t leave them in there too long.

A thing to think about though is the sauce you are cooking the meatballs in. A sugar-based sauce, like something that uses jelly or even barbecue sauce, can burn to the sides of the Crock-Pot.

This can be a really challenging mess to clean up!

All of that said, I’ve left meatballs in a crockpot all day on low and have not had any problems.

It can be challenging to make sure you have enough seasoning when cooking with your slow cooker. Typically, you can taste test as you go, but when cooking in a Crock-Pot, you are usually putting in raw meat. That makes taste testing hard.

But you don’t want bland meatballs. So what should you do to get sufficient flavor and prevent bland meatballs?

When you brown meatballs either in the oven or on the stovetop will add extra flavor. But what if you are cooking a roast or chicken? How do you keep it from tasting bland? Luckily, I’ve detailed how to get the most flavor out of your slow cooker in this recent article.

Just click that link to read it on my site.

How long do you cook already cooked meatballs in the crockpot?

Fully cooked but frozen meatballs should cook for 2 to 3 hours on high or 4 to 6 hours on low. They just need to be heated through. Then they can remain in the Crock-Pot for up to 24 hours afterward on the keep warm setting.

But that’s not to say you can’t cook them even longer. Meatballs are very hardy, so they can withstand a lot of cooking.

If you are looking to cook them overnight, you can cook them on low all night and they will be delicious in the morning.

In fact, you can cook most anything well past the actual cooking time.

You can’t really have meat that is too tender.  There are, of course, a few things you don’t want to cook too long in the Crock-Pot.

You don’t want to overcook vegetables. Even hardy vegetables like carrots and potatoes will get mushy when cooked too long.

Beans and pasta should also be on the list of things not to cook too long. I left pasta in my slow cooker for an hour once. It was inedible! Don’t do that.

Check out all the proper cook times and rules to follow for using your Crock-Pot overnight in my recent article. I even show you a handy chart for all types of meat and poultry to ensure they are not only done but not tough and chewy.

Just click that link to read it now on my site.

How long can a Crock-Pot stay on low?

Many slow cookers can be left on for up to 24 hours, but most manufacturers recommend 7 to 8 hours. Crock-Pots, like other slow cookers, are meant to stay on for long periods of time. 

You’ll find that many people make breakfast in their slow cooker, leaving it on overnight. If they are regular sleepers, it means that they are keeping it on low for at least 8 hours.

Make sure you read the manual. (source)

You can even use slow cooker liners in your slow cooker that long. They are designed to be in your slow cooker as long as you need them to.

They make cleaning up so much easier! Especially if you have food that got stuck to the sides of your Crock-Pot.

Just look for the BPA-free ones, like this one on Amazon, when looking for liners and you’ll be good to go.

Should I thaw meatballs before putting in a Crock-Pot?

It is not necessary to thaw meatballs before placing them in a slow cooker. Just make sure to cook them for 2-3 hours on high or 4-6 hours on low. They can then be kept in the Crock-Pot on the keep warm setting for several hours or even overnight.

Typically, with large portions of frozen meat, such as roast, you’ll want to thaw it first. If you don’t it won’t cook properly. It could also spend a long time in the temperature danger zone.

You should also thaw out raw meatballs and brown them under a broiler first.

Meatballs are usually pre-cooked before they are frozen. So you don’t have to worry about them cooking properly. However, if you made homemade meatballs and froze them uncooked, you should brown them first.

Whether you’ve thawed your meatballs or put them in frozen, the cooking time is still 2 to 3 hours on high.

If you want to leave them in overnight, though, you should leave the slow cooker on low. You may be tempted to leave it on warm overnight, to prevent any burning or overcooking.

You may want to think twice before doing that.

Crock-Pot temperature settings will vary a bit, but generally, the low setting is about 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Bacteria growth occurs between 70 and 125 degrees Fahrenheit. Generally, foods need to be in their safe temperature zone within 2 hours. For hot foods, this would be above 140 degrees Fahrenheit. (source)

The warm temperature setting is between 145 to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. (source)

If you are absolutely certain that your Crock-Pot reaches at least 145, then it should be safe to leave it on warm overnight.

That’s just too close for comfort to me.

Sometimes slow cookers have been known to crack when we aren’t closely monitoring them.

Luckily, those instances are rare. But you’ll want to make sure you’re aware of those reasons. After all, not only would it ruin dinner, but it would make a huge mess and you’d have to buy a new one!

Luckily, I cover all the reasons a slow cooker might crack in this recent article.

Just click that link to read it on my site.

How long does it take to warm up frozen meatballs in a Crock-Pot?

Frozen meatballs will take 2-3 hours to warm up on the high setting or 4-6 hours on low. While most people do add BBQ sauce and grape jelly, the liquid from the meatballs will be sufficient to cook without any sauce.

I love slow cooker meatballs. They are great for large gatherings and they are also great for family meals when served over rice.

The easiest way for me is to use frozen meatballs. This is one of my favorite recipes! It’s super simple and everyone enjoys it.

Here’s the complete meatball recipe

It uses frozen meatballs, barbecue sauce, and grape jelly. Just dump the sauce and jelly in your slow cooker first and then the meatballs. Set it on high for 2 or 3 hours. Because frozen meatballs are fully cooked, you don’t have to worry about pre-cooking them. You just heat them until they are warmed through.

If you are considering cooking your meatballs without sauce or a variety of sauces on the side, you likely don’t need any sauce at all.

That’s because most meats release liquids during cooking. If you put your frozen meatballs right in the crock and set it on low, they’ll naturally release any liquid as they thaw out.

While you typically cook meatballs directly in the sauce, you don’t always need to add liquid to your slow cooker.

And if you do add liquid, you shouldn’t add too much. To learn everything you need to know about adding liquid to your Crock-Pot, just read this recent article.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Getting the right amount of liquid in a Crock-Pot isn’t hard. It just takes a little practice and you’ll get the hang of it quickly.

Can you cook or warm meatballs in a pressure cooker instead?

You can definitely cook delicious meatballs in an Instant Pot. It even has a saute setting so you can brown them first.

But as the name implies, a pressure cooker is designed to cook them quickly. So you don’t want to leave them in there overnight unless your Instant Pot has a slow cooker feature like this one on Amazon.

But if you have a party happening in under an hour, the Instant Pot is a great way to cook or heat the meatballs fast and have them ready in time for your party.

Perfect homemade meatball recipe

If you’re dead set on making your own meatballs and not using frozen, I get it. Here’s everything you need to know.


  • 1 lb. 80% lean ground beef 
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • ¼ cup bread crumbs
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • ¼ cup finely chopped onion
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
  • ¾ teaspoon Kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
Preheat your oven to 400°F.
1. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with non-stick cooking spray. 
2. In a bowl, combine meat, egg, breadcrumbs, cheese, onion, garlic, salt, pepper, and parsley.
3. Mix the meatball mixture thoroughly
4. Grab a small handful of the mixture and form it into 1 1/2-inch balls
5. Place the meatballs on the baking sheet
6. Bake for 18 minutes, or until no longer pink in the middle. Rotate them halfway through.
Once they are done and fully cooked, they can now be placed in the refrigerator or go right into the Crock-Pot on the keep-warm setting with whatever sauce you plan to use.

Final thoughts

Crock Pot meatballs are one of those favorite items at big gatherings that people are always looking for.

Oddly, it also seems to be one of those things that people only cook for large gatherings. If you have a big gathering coming up, and you want to make meatballs, make it easier on yourself by starting them the night before in your Crock-Pot.

Slow cookers are made to cook for long periods of time unattended.

What is your favorite way to eat meatballs? While I love some barbecue and grape jelly meatballs, I really love a meatball sub with provolone cheese, banana peppers, and black olives!

Photo which requires attribution:

Meatballs by Rob Briscoe is licensed under CC2.0

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Jeff Campbell