Slow Cooker Meatball Subs

$19.43 recipe / $2.43 each
by Beth - Budget Bytes
5 from 4 votes
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I think I just fell in love with my slow cooker again. These slow cooker meatball subs are so incredibly tender, flavorful, and just all-around decadent thanks to that low and slow simmer in marinara sauce. It’s magical! And the best part is that this recipe makes a pretty big batch, so you can freeze half for later (use them in subs or on pasta)! Cook once, eat twice. 🙌

Overhead view of slow cooker meatball subs lined up in a row.

Do I Have to Use a Slow Cooker?

You don’t have to use a slow cooker to make these amazing homemade meatball subs, but I’m telling you right now that you want to. That low and slow simmer in the sauce makes the most incredibly tender and flavorful meatballs you’ll ever eat. If you don’t have a slow cooker, follow the cooking instructions for my basic homemade meatballs, then pile them into your buns, top with cheese, and bake till the cheese is melted.

What Kind of Sauce to Use

I tested this recipe with the most basic, inexpensive, generic marinara sauce I could find at the grocery store to make sure they were still totally delicious even if you can’t spring for an expensive sauce. But feel free to use your favorite store-bought or homemade marinara sauce for these meatballs. You’ll need 3 cups of sauce, in total.

Freeze Half for Later!

This recipe makes about 24 hefty meatballs so if you use three meatballs per sub you’ll get 8 sandwiches. If that’s a little too much for your household to eat within a few days, go ahead and freeze half of the meatballs and sauce to use on pasta or more subs later! You can reheat the frozen sauce and meatballs in the microwave or in a saucepot over low heat.

P.S. We reheated the assembled meatball subs from the photos in the air fryer the next day and they were BOMB! We air fried at 350°F for about five minutes for the most delicious leftovers ever.

Side view of a meatball sub on a plate with the baking dish in the background.

Slow Cooker Meatball Subs

5 from 4 votes
These Slow Cooker Meatball Subs are extra tender and flavorful thanks to a low and slow simmer in marinara sauce.
Side view of a meatball sub on a plate with the baking dish in the background.
Servings 8 subs
Prep 15 mins
Cook 3 hrs 5 mins
Total 3 hrs 20 mins

Ingredients

Meatballs

  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs ($0.32)
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan ($0.88)
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder ($0.05)
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder ($0.05)
  • 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning ($0.05)
  • 1/4 tsp salt ($0.02)
  • 1/4 tsp pepper ($0.02)
  • 2 large eggs ($0.39)
  • 1/4 cup milk ($0.05)
  • 1 lb. Italian sausage ($4.99)
  • 1 lb. lean ground beef (90% lean or higher) ($6.99)
  • 1 24oz. jar marinara ($1.50)

Subs

  • 8 buns or rolls ($3.50)
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella ($0.62)

Instructions 

  • Lightly whisk two large eggs in a small bowl. In a separate small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, Parmesan, garlic powder, onion powder, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper.
  • Add the Italian sausage and ground beef to a large bowl with the whisked egg, breadcrumb mixture, and milk Use your hands to mix the ingredients together. Avoid overmixing the meat.
  • Divide and shape the meat into 24 meatballs, about 3 Tbps each. The easiest way to do this is to first divide the meat mixture into four equal portions, then divide each of those in half to make eight equal portions. Finally, divide each of the 8 portions of meat into thirds and shape them into balls to make 24 meatballs.
  • Place half of the meatballs in the bottom of a slow cooker in a single layer and cover with half of the marinara sauce. Add the rest of the meatballs then top with the remaining sauce.
  • Cook the meatballs on high for three hours or low for six hours.
  • After cooking, use a meat thermometer to make sure the internal temperature of the meatballs has reached 165°F. Give the meatballs and sauce a good stir to remix the sauce (there will be some fat pooling on the surface).
  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the buns on a baking sheet or in a baking dish, then pile three meatballs into each bun. Spoon some of the extra sauce over each one. Top each sub with a little shredded cheese.
  • Bake the meatball subs in the preheated oven for about 5 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the edges of the buns are toasty. Enjoy hot!

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Equipment

Nutrition

Serving: 1subCalories: 526kcalCarbohydrates: 30gProtein: 31gFat: 31gSodium: 1346mgFiber: 3g
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Close up side view of slow cooker meatball subs lined up and garnished with parsley.

How to Make Slow Cooker Meatball Subs – Step by Step Photos

egg and breadcrumb mixture

Lightly whisk two large eggs in a small bowl. In a separate small bowl, combine ½ cup breadcrumbs, ½ cup grated Parmesan, ½ tsp garlic powder, ½ tsp onion powder, ½ tsp Italian seasoning, ¼ tsp salt, and ¼ tsp pepper. Pre-mixing these ingredients helps them incorporate more evenly into the meat without having to overmix the meat.

Meatball ingredients in a bowl

Add the whisked egg, breadcrumb mixture, ¼ cup milk, 1 lb. Italian sausage, and 1 lb. ground beef to a bowl. Use your hands to mix the ingredients together.

Shaped meatballs one held in a hand.

Divide and shape the meat mixture into 24 meatballs. The easiest way to divide the mixture evenly is to first divide it into four equal portions. Divide each of those in half to make eight equal-sized pieces. Finally, divide each of the eight sections into three meatballs.

Sauce being poured over the meatballs in the slow cooker.

Add half of the meatballs to the slow cooker in a single layer, then cover with half of a 24oz. jar of marinara sauce. Add the rest of the meatballs in a second layer and pour the rest of the jar of sauce over top, making sure all the meatballs are covered in sauce.

Lid being placed on the slow cooker.

Place the lid on the slow cooker and cook on high for three hours or low for six hours.

Slow cooked meatballs in the slow cooker.

After cooking, use a meat thermometer to make sure the internal temperature of the meatballs has reached 165°F. You’ll see some fat pooling on the surface, but don’t worry, that deliciousness will be stirred right back into the sauce.

Finished slow cooker meatballs in the slow cooker.

Stir the meatballs in the sauce to make sure everything is evenly combined. These meatballs can now be used in subs or even on a plate of pasta!

Meatballs in subs in a baking dish.

To make the meatball subs, preheat the oven to 350°F. Place your buns on a baking sheet or in a baking dish. Fill each bun with three meatballs and spoon some of the sauce over top.

Shredded mozzarella on the meatball subs.

Top each sub with a little shredded mozzarella.

Baked meatball subs in the baking dish.

Bake the meatball subs in the preheated oven for about 5 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the edges of the buns are toasty.

Overhead view of baked meatball subs garnished with parsley.

Enjoy the meatballs hot! I garnished with chopped parsley for some color, but the parsley isn’t needed for flavor. :)

Side view of a meatball sub on a plate with the baking dish in the back.

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  1. A family favourite in our house! The kid commented on how it was so good and the meatballs were so soft and moist. I will definitely make again!

  2. I followed the recipe as written but subbed ground pork for the ground beef. I looked at other posts and decided to do the meatballs in the air fryer (12 minutes) to eliminate some of the grease. Then I added the meatballs to hot spaghetti sauce. I think the slow cooker would make a softer meatball, but it was a big win at my house. Oh, one other substitution: I used the little king’s hawaiian rolls to make meatball sliders! so easy!

  3. Has anyone made this with impossible burger and sausage? My husband is vegetarian so I’m always on the hunt for recipes I can swap.

    1. I haven’t done this particular recipe yet, but, from my experience, you could do this recipe with impossible burger or sausage, but not using the slow cooker. Even the best veggie meats I’ve found don’t hold up well to long cooking and lose their texture if left in too long especially if not pre-cooked. If it were me, I’d cook the impossible burger separately and then add at the end. You might have better luck with some of the veggie meats that are prepackaged as meatballs, though! 

  4. Wonderful. I made these and put them in the crockpot this morning. I was soooo tired and got home from some errands to the smell of an Italian sub shop in my house. It was delicious and better than take out.  The only adjustment I made was to leave out the cheese. It didn’t cause any problems at all. Will be a regular repeat. Would also be great on pasta. 

    1. Hunt’s is really affordable. But truly, most any brand will do! XOXO -Monti

    2. HI Amy. My local HEB makes their own Italian sausage that comes in mild, sweet, and spicy. I just buy them on sale and pop them in my Food Saver to freeze for later. When I’m ready to use I simply thaw and remove the casings. The choice is really whatever you like. We like mild the best.

  5. Your recipe is almost identical to the one I’ve used for decades, so of course it’s 5 stars!!! The only difference is that I use very finely minced fresh onion and garlic instead of the convenient and inexpensive powdered versions. I think it’s important to look for lower fat ground meat as you specify for this recipe–cooking the meatballs in sauce isn’t the place to use inexpensive ground beef which has at least twice as much fat as the 90% lean in this recipe. If higher fat beef was all I could find, I would oven cook or air fry the meatballs to render out much of the fat before placing in sauce–won’t be as meltingly tender as the slow cooker method but you won’t have to skim fat off the surface. I often make my own Italian style sausage from 90+% lean ground pork, too, although I’ve been very pleased with Aldi’s Italian sausage.