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Slow Cooker Beef Meatballs with Broccoli Rabe

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Oh my word, these slow cooker  meatballs are SO good!! I love the broccoli rabe classics – orecchiette with broccoli rabe and sausage, broccoli rabe pizza or simple sauteed with garlic and oil — but I also really love thinking out of the box to find new ways to eat it.

Slow Cooker Broccoli Rabe MeatballsSlow Cooker Beef Meatballs with Broccoli Rabe

The slightly bold, earthy flavor of broccoli rabe pairs perfectly with salty cheeses, so I knew they would be awesome in my Sunday meatballs, and I was right! More meatball recipes I love are Moroccan Kefta Meatballs, Salisbury Steak Meatballs and Chicken Marsala Meatballs.

Slow Cooker Broccoli Rabe Meatballs-6

Turkey meatballs are great, but once in a while I really crave a good beef meatball. To keep them light, I used leaner beef and add lots of veggies (the kids won’t know) to the meat. The key to perfect meatballs, in my opinion, is not just having the perfect ratio of cheese, meat and bread, but also gently forming the meatballs so they are not packed too tight. Rather than frying them like my in-laws do, I broil them until they get browned then let them finish cooking in the sauce in my slow cooker. The results are tender, delicious meatballs worthy of a Sunday meal.

And since so many are asking, although I have and love my Instant Pot, I still love my slow cooker! I have the 6 Quart Hamilton Beach Set ‘n Forget Programmable Slow Cooker (affil link). I love it because you can adjust the time you want it to cook, and it automatically turns to warm when it’s done. It also has a probe for meat that automatically shuts off when done. I hated my old crock pot, it burnt everything and my food had a weird taste. This slow cooker is so great, I actually own several!

You can serve them over pasta or with Italian bread, but I love them over veggies to balance the meal and keep things light. Sure, spiralized zucchini or spaghetti squash would work, but why not serve them over more broccoli rabe – YUM! To finish it I like to add a dollop of ricotta and some grated Pecorino Romano cheese. Hope you enjoy!

Slow Cooker Broccoli Rabe Meatballs-4

Slow Cooker Beef Meatballs with Broccoli Rabe

4.75 from 4 votes
Oh my word, these slow cooker meatballs are SO good!! The slightly bold, earthy flavor of broccoli rabe pairs perfectly with salty cheeses, so I knew they would be awesome in my Sunday meatballs, and I was right!
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: American, Italian
Oh my word, these slow cooker meatballs are SO good!! The slightly bold, earthy flavor of broccoli rabe pairs perfectly with salty cheeses, so I knew they would be awesome in my Sunday meatballs, and I was right!
Prep: 5 mins
Cook: 3 hrs
Total: 3 hrs 5 mins
Yield: 5 Servings
Serving Size: 3 meatballs plus sauce


For the meatballs:

  • 1 bunch, about 20 oz broccoli rabe, washed, stems trimmed off
  • 1 cup unpacked fresh whole wheat bread, crusts removed and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 1-3/4 oz)
  • 3 tablespoons fat free milk
  • 1 lb 93% lean ground beef
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp fresh black pepper

For the Sauce:

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 3 cloves smashed garlic
  • 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes with basil, I love Tuttorosso
  • 1 bay leaf
  • kosher salt
  • black pepper


  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil, then add the broccoli rabe. Blanch for about 1-1/2 to 2 minutes, drain well and set aside in a colander to cool. Finely chop 3/4 cup of the florets and leaves (3-3/4 ounces) and set the rest aside for another use (I sauteed it with garlic and oil).
  • Meanwhile, in a medium bowl combine the bread with milk, tossing to coat. Let stand, tossing occasionally, until bread is completely moist, about 10 minutes. Squeeze bread between your fingers or mash with a spoon to make sure there are no dry spots; if there are dry spots that refuse to moisten, add more milk 1 tablespoon at a time until bread is moist throughout.
  • Add the ground beef, chopped broccoli rabe, grated cheese, egg, fresh garlic, salt and pepper. Mix with clean hands, then gently form into 15 meatballs, about 1/4 cup each and transfer to a large baking sheet. Broil on the 2nd rack from the top until the top is golden, about 8 to 10 minutes.
  • In a small skillet heat the oil over medium heat, add the garlic and cook until golden on both sides.
  • Pour the crushed tomatoes into a 6-quart slow cooker. Add salt and pepper, bay leaf and the garlic. Gently place the meatballs into the sauce, cover and cook low 4 to 6 hours or high 2 to 3 hours.

Last Step:

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Serving: 3 meatballs plus sauce, Calories: 295 kcal, Carbohydrates: 18 g, Protein: 27 g, Fat: 11 g, Saturated Fat: 4.8 g, Cholesterol: 102 mg, Sodium: 757 mg, Fiber: 1 g, Sugar: 7 g


Slow Cooker Broccoli Rabe Meatballs-9Slow Cooker Broccoli Rabe Meatballs-10Slow Cooker Broccoli Rabe Meatballs-8

What’s your favorite way to eat broccoli rabe?

Disclosure: This recipe is in partnership with Andy Boy. Thank you for supporting the brands that make Skinnytaste possible. All thoughts are my own.



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83 comments on “Slow Cooker Beef Meatballs with Broccoli Rabe”

  1. If I could give this 10 stars, I would! Best meatballs ever – made them exactly as directed. Found them to be even more delicious the next day.

  2. Avatar photo
    Sarah Tegeler

    Food: 5 stars

    Recipte: 3 stars because it is much longer than a 5 min prep. With soaking breadcrumbs, mixing, chopping, and broiling the prep is much closer to 30 min.

    Average: 4 stars

    But they tasted good!

  3. Hi Gina! I love this recipe and I am currently making a bunch of freezer meals as we are expecting our first child. Do you think I could freeze these meatballs raw or should I cook them and then freeze them?

    Thank you,

  4. Love the burgers with broccoli rabe, so I wanted to do these and we thought they were like going to a restaurant but better of course as they are healthy! I added some more herbs from my garden but otherwise made as directed. My husband said they were the best meatballs. Thank you for another wonderful recipe.

  5. Avatar photo
    Andrea McDermott

    I really loved this recipe, but when I put it in the recipe builder for just the Meatballs, I got 8 Freestyle points. Just wondering how mine was different from yours?
    16 oz cooked 93% lean ground beef = 21 pts
    4 oz Kraft Parmesan Style Grated Topping, Reduced Fat = 14 pts
    4 slices Healthy Life Bread, 100% Whole Wheat Whole Grain = 4
    3 tbsp Organic Valley Milk, Fat Free, Organic = 1 pt
    Total = 40 pts / 5 servings = 8 Free Style points

    Just wanted to know where I went wrong here so that I don’t incorrectly track for other recipes too. Thanks!

    1. Not sure? The SmartPoints® calculator isn’t meant for recipes and will often give you the wrong points (usually higher) because it’s counting 0 points foods such as eggs, chicken, fruits and vegetables. So if you see a recipe with a SmartPoints® value that’s different from what the calculator tells you, that is why.

      The only accurate way to determine any recipe’s SmartPoints® value is to plug the ingredients into the recipe builder on the Weight Watchers website (Click on “My Foods,” select “Recipe,” and click “Create a recipe.”)

    2. This is an old post but I couldn’t resist trying to understand the point difference.  The first thing I noticed is that the recipe calls for 16 ounces of raw beef. After it’s cooked the weight is probably different. So that could be part of the point difference. The other thing I noticed is you didn’t use Pecorino as per the recipe but instead used a reduced fat Parmesan grated style “topping” which has sugars in it. Pecorino has 0 carbs the kraft topping has 2 carbs per serving. Could be your getting dinged extra points because of the sugar in the kraft topping.  Lastly you used 4 slices of bread which is probably too much. The recipe calls for loosely packed cubes of bread. I’m guessing one or two slices is all you would need for this recipe.

  6. Avatar photo
    Michelle Reynolds

    I made this exactly. They were delicious. I used broccoli because that’s what I had. I’ll be making this again. The only thing is. I only got 12 meatballs. I used a 1/4 cup measure (scant). I didn’t really matter as it’s just the 2 of us and we had leftovers.

  7. Can the broccoli rabe be left out or replaced with something else?  Broccoli sets off my husband’s gout so I can’t include it in recipe. 

  8. Is there a way to make meatballs without breadcrumbs? I had to change my lifestyle and cut out a lot of carbs to deal with a diabetes threat, but I still crave a good meatball!

  9. How many grams of saturated fat are in a serving? I’m doing weight watchers- I know you put that in is 7 smart points but when I estimate the sat fat and plug in the other factors (cal 295, Sugar 7, protwin 27) I’m getting a number much higher. Thank you!

    1. The only accurate way to determine any recipe’s SmartPoints® value is to plug the ingredients into the recipe builder on the Weight Watchers website (Click on “My Foods,” select “Recipe,” and click “Create a recipe.”) which does not count fruits and vegetables in recipes in the calculations as they are now 0 points.

  10. Why was my broccolini so bitter? It ruined the whole flavor of the meatballs? I followed the recipe explicitly.

    1. Is this the first time you had broccoli rabe? It is a little on the bitter side, although blanching it mellows that out.

  11. Avatar photo
    Michelle provost

    I just made this recipe tonight and it is literally the best thing to come out of my crockpot yet!!!