Michigan Cherry Barbecue Chicken Meatballs

Michigan Cherry Barbecue Chicken Meatballs

Bookmark this seasonal fave for your next summer dinner!

Cherry season is a jewel in the crown of Michigan’s food history. From June to August, folks enjoy both sweet and tart cherries in all forms including jams, libations, and the most glorious baked goods. Traverse City, Michigan, known as the cherry capital of the world, is a mecca for cherry-lovers. Each year thousands gather for the city’s Cherry Festival where they can enjoy fun family activities, great food, and the blessing of the blossoms! 

With all of Michigan’s rich cherry history, we just had to bring a little of that sweet cherry flavor to our favorite barbecue recipe—Cherry barbecue sauce! This sweet and tangy sauce is the perfect addition to chicken, beef, or pork. It’s on the sweeter side but if you’re a spicy sauce lover, this sauce would be amazing with a hint of cayenne. We love pairing this sauce with our simple ground chicken meatballs. They are pan fried to perfection, then finished off with a slathering of sauce and a little time in the oven to allow the flavors to develop. 

*Sauce tip: If you’re a smooth bbq sauce lover, place the prepared sauce in a blender and pulse until smooth. If you’re into a heartier sauce, simply make the sauce according to the directions below. You’ll get sweet bits of cherry goodness in every bite!


Cherry Barbecue Chicken Meatballs Recipe

Makes about 24 meatballs


For the Cherry Barbecue Sauce

  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons salted butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup Ketchup
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoon spicy brown mustard
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 ½ cups frozen dark sweet cherries, thawed, juices reserved, and finely chopped
  • ¼ to ½ cup water, to thin, if needed
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground pepper

For the Chicken Meatballs

  • 1 lb ground chicken
  • ¼ cup bread crumbs
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground pepper
  • Olive Oil, for frying
  • 2 tablespoons chopped green onion, to garnish


  1. To make the Cherry BBQ Sauce: In a large saucepan sauté the shallot in butter over medium heat until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and continue to cook until fragrant. Add the ketchup, brown sugar, muster, cider vinegar, Worcestershire, and cherries and tun the heat to medium high. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium low and cook until the sauce has thickened and the cherries are tender; about 10-15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool. For a silky sauce, puree in a blender until smooth. For a chunky sauce, leave as-is! Keep refrigerated until use. 
  2. To make the Meatballs: Add the ground chicken, bread crumbs, egg, and seasoning to a large bowl and mix well to combine. Scoop 1 heaping tablespoon of the meat mixture and form into a ball; place on a plate and repeat with the remaining meat. Meanwhile, heat oven to 350F.
  3. Cook the meatballs in a large skillet with olive oil over medium-high heat, turning frequently to brown on all sides. Once the meatballs are cooked though, add them to a large bowl with ½ cup of the prepared barbecue sauce and toss to coat. Add the sauced meatballs to the Michigan dish, cover with foil, and bake for 15 minutes to heat through. *Any meatballs that don’t fit in the dish can be baked separately! 
  4. To serve, top the hot meatballs with chopped green onion and the extra sauce on the side. 

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