Turkey Meatballs

The juiciest, most flavorful turkey meatballs you’ll ever sink your teeth into – AKA how to make ground turkey meatballs you’ll actually crave!

These healthy, juicy, fragrant, herbaceous ground turkey meatballs are utterly addicting – my husband didn’t even know they were turkey! They’re incredibly moist (thanks to my secret tips no one else uses!), seeping with garlic, herb Parmesan goodness, and can be made with fresh and/or dried herbs so you can whip up a batch anytime those Italian turkey meatball cravings strike.  This recipe is easy to whip up and can be cooked on the stovetop or in the oven. Serve these healthy turkey meatballs countless ways such as with tomato sauce or marinara and pasta, with rice pilaf/risotto, or mashed potatoes, with chimichurri, tzatziki or barbecue sauce or in wraps, gyros, grain bowls, salads, subs, etc.  You will love these juicy, tender, flavor bombs any way they are served!

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How to make Turkey Meatballs video

up close of healthy turkey ground meatballs stacked showing how juicy they are

Turkey MEATBALL recipe

Too often turkey meatballs are dry, bland and even crumbly, not this recipe!  It is the boldest, most succulently juicy turkey meatball recipe out there.  They are so good; you’ll be eating them straight from the pan!

What makes this the best turkey meatball recipe:

  • These are the juiciest turkey meatballs ever!  I’m sharing my expert tips and tricks for the most fork-tender meatballs below. 
  • They’re exploding with big, bold, herbaceous flavor.  The healthy turkey meatballs are infused with a medley of Italian herbs such basil, oregano and rosemary, plenty of aromatic fresh onions and garlic, umami packed freshly grated Parmesan and a kick of beef bouillon for a richer, deeper flavor.  It’s impossible not to inhale them!
  • Baking the meatballs in the oven means makes for super easy prep and even cooking.  You are welcome to pan fry the ground turkey meatballs, but you can’t beat the ease of the oven.  No babysitting a pan over the stove which means more time to make a side or to spend with the family.
  • They’re make ahead friendly.    This turkey meatball recipe can be made 100% ahead of time and rewarmed or frozen or they can be rolled, refrigerated and just popped in the oven when ready.  
  • They can be made with any herbs and seasonings!  The beauty of this easy turkey meatball recipe is you can make them differently every time. Swap out the herbs and seasonings for any flavor profile and use the turkey meatballs instead beef in all your favorite recipes!
  • They can be enjoyed countless ways.  Serve them plain with a side of rice, in a wrap, salad or bowl or let family members choose-their-own-adventure!

how to make the best turkey meatballs (Juiciest!)

Too often turkey meatballs are dry because ground turkey is leaner than more traditionally used beef or pork – but they don’t have to be!  By implementing a few smart secrets, you’ll have the juiciest ground turkey meatballs every single time.  In fact, the first time I made this recipe, the meatballs were almost too moist to roll!  I have since perfected the recipe to the ideal foolproof succulent juiciness.  Follow these tips and trick for the best turkey meatballs:

  • Use turkey with some fat.  Now is not the time to reach for the 99% lean turkey.  You can still go pretty lean with turkey that’s 93% lean/7% fat but you need that 7% to give the meatballs moisture and flavor.
  • Use Greek yogurt instead of milk. Using plain Greek yogurt instead of milk provides more moisture that isn’t easily evaporated while the meatballs bake.  This prevents the meatballs from overcooking, helping them to stay moist.
  • Grate the onion stead of chop.  This trick is culinary changing!  By grating the onion, the meatballs are infused with both the grated onion and its juices so the meatballs are extra moist and flavorful, plus you aren’t stuck with any raw onion pieces.
  • Make the meatballs on the larger side. By making the meatballs with a 1 1/2-tablespoon cookie scoop (or larger), there is a larger inside to outside surface ratio so they are less likely to dry out.
  • Loosely mix the meatball ingredients. To prevent tough meatballs, mix all of the meatball ingredients together in a bowl except the ground turkey.  Add the turkey and then mix with your hands, stopping once everything looks cohesive.  This method allows you to handle the meat as little as possible. You don’t want to over-mix the meat into a paste, instead, pieces of ground meat should still be visible.  If you overmix then the ingredients become compact which results in tougher, dryer meatballs.  
  • Use a light touch when rolling the meatballs.  Don’t squeeze the meat mixture or roll your meatballs too tight.  Instead, lightly roll them between your hands to form a ball that feels airy instead of compact, but that will still hold together.  If you overwork the meatball mixture, the proteins can break down and become tough.
  • Keep the meatballs the same size.  This will ensure that they cook at the same rate and you don’t end up with some overdone, dry meatballs.  I use a cookie scoop to keep them uniform.
  • Let the meatballs rest before baking. Time permitting, let the meatballs rest after you roll them for up to 30 minutes at room temperature.  This allows the flavors to build and meld, and the protein relax resulting into more flavorful, tender meatballs.
  • Cook just to 160 degrees F.  Don’t overcook the meatballs because overcooked meatballs are dry meatballs.  It is especially important not to overcook turkey meatballs because there is less forgiving fat.
top view of baked ground turkey meatballs on a platter

INGREDIENTS FOR ground turkey MEATBALLs

This turkey meatball recipe boasts bold flavor, is mega juicy and SO easy. For this recipe, you will need:

  • Ground turkey: Use turkey that is that’s 93% lean/7% fat so it has enough fat for flavor but won’t make the meatballs greasy.
  • Beef bouillon:  My secret ingredient that will change your turkey world!  I always use beef bouillon when using turkey like in my turkey tacos and turkey chili. It infuses the turkey meatballs with rich, beefy goodness. Beef bouillon is essentially dehydrated vegetables, meat stock, salt, and seasonings. For this recipe you will want 1 tablespoon granulated bouillon, bouillon cubes or better than bouillon.  If using cubes, finely crush and then add to mixture, don’t dissolve in water first.  If you don’t eat meat, then eliminate the bouillon and increase the salt to ¾ teaspoon.
  • Yellow: Use half a yellow onion and grate it into the meatball bowl or pan to get the onion and juices.  You’ll want about ½ cup combined onion/juices, which might not be the whole half of the onion.  
  • Greek yogurt:  Is used in place of milk for extra juicy meatballs.  For the most succulent meatballs, use whole milk yogurt, but light and nonfat will also work.
  • Eggs: One egg will do the trick to bind all the ingredients together.
  • Panko: Is a Japanese breadcrumb sold in every grocery store (including Walmart) usually next to the other breadcrumbs. Panko breadcrumbs are larger and dryer than normal breadcrumbs so they absorb more flavor while still providing structure. This keeps the meatballs extra moist and tender.
  • Garlic:  Fresh garlic adds punchy garlicky flavor.  Use more or less depending on how garlic forward you would like your meatballs.  You may also substitute with ¾ teaspoon garlic powder.
  • Basil: The quintessential herb for Italian turkey meatballs. It’s a balance between sweet and savory, with hints of mint, anise, and pepper.   You can use two tablespoons chopped fresh basil or one teaspoon dried.
  • Parsley: Tastes clean and peppery with a touch of earthiness.  Use flat leaf parsley for the most flavor.   Use two tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or one teaspoon dried.
  • Rosemary: Elevates the recipe with its woodsy aromatic notes of evergreen, citrus, lavender, pine, sage, pepper, mint, and sage.  You may use 3 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried. I like to lightly crush the dried rosemary so it gets more evenly distributed. 
  • Oregano:  Boasts minty undertones laced with peppery, grassy and earthy notes. I use dried because it is only ½ teaspoon but you are welcome to use 1 ½ teaspoons chopped fresh.
  • Parmesan: Freshly grated Parmesan cheese infuses the ground turkey meatballs with its alluring salty, nutty flavor. You don’t want to use the powdered or pre-shredded cheese.  Freshly grated Parmesan cheese tastes far superior.
  • Salt and pepper:  Round out the flavors.
up close of Italian turkey meatballs showing how juicy they are

Recipe variations:

This recipe is extremely flexible as long as you stick with the basic formula of 1 pound ground meat, ½ cup breadcrumbs, 1 egg and 2 tablespoons yogurt. Still, some simple swaps can be made to suit dietary or pantry restrictions. Here’s ways to mix up the recipe ingredients and flavor:

ingredient variations

  • Protein: Use ground beef, pork, chicken, or a blend of two meats.
  • Onion substitute: Substitute the grated onion with ¼ cup dried minced onions.  If using dried minced onions, add an extra tablespoon or so of yogurt because you will be missing the juices from the onion.
  • Panko substitute:  Swap the panko with saltine or Ritz cracker crumbs and reduce the salt.  You can also swap the panko with homemade bread crumbs.
  • Cheese swap: Add any semi-hard cheese you’d like! Freshly grated Asiago and Romano are also tasty or use a combo. You can also omit the cheese completely if needed.
  • Play with herbs:  Add more or less of any herb to mix up the flavor profile.
  • Make them spicy:  Add ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes.
  • Make it gluten free:  Use your favorite gluten free panko, crackers or toasted gluten free bread in place of the panko.

flavor variations

This recipe is a blank canvas for any flavorings you can dream up!  I’m sharing a few of my favorites below but please don’t limit yourself to these.  The following variations are for one pound ground turkey.  Keep the onion, beef bouillon, salt and pepper the same as the original recipe unless specified otherwise.  Of course, you are welcome to double the ingredients as well.

  • Greek turkey meatballs: Swap the yellow onion for red onion, and add 2 tablespoons fresh parsley (1 teaspoon dried), ½ tablespoon fresh minced dill, ½ tablespoon fresh mint, ½ tablespoon dried oregano, ½ teaspoon EACH ground coriander, paprika, ground cumin and ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes.
  • Swedish meatballs:  Season the meatballs with the bouillon, pepper and ½ teaspoon dried parsley, ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg and ¼ teaspoon ground allspice.  Serve with this Swedish meatball sauce.
  • Asian Meatballs:  Omit the herbs and add ½ tablespoon freshly grated ginger or ½ teaspoon ground ginger.  Serve with teriyaki sauce or sweet and spicy Korean sauce. Note: these sauces are for 2 pounds of meat, so you may wish to half them or double the turkey meatball recipe.
  • Cocktail Meatballs: Season the meatballs with ½ teaspoon ginger powder, ½ teaspoon chili powder.  Serve with this cocktail sauce or this cranberry cocktail sauce.  Note: these sauces are for 2 pounds of meat, so you may wish to half them or double the turkey meatball recipe.
  • Honey Buffalo Meatballs: Season with ½ tablespoon brown sugar, ¼ teaspoon chili powder, ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika and ¼ teaspoon ground cumin. Serve with this Honey Buffalo Sauce.

HOW TO MAKE turkey MEATBALLS

These ground turkey meatballs are easy to make at home, you will simply mix, roll and cook!  Here’s how (full measurements in the recipe card at the bottom of the page):

STEP 1: COMBINE MEATBALL INGREDIENTS

  • Grate the onion on the large holes of your box grater straight into a large bowl.  Sometimes it’s helpful to use a 9×9 baking dish instead so the bottom of the grater can sit flat inside. 
  • Whisk in the egg, yogurt, panko herbs and seasonings.
  • Add the turkey and gently combine with your hands.
a collage showing how to make turkey meatballs by 1) adding egg, panko, onions, breadcrumbs and herbs to a bowl, 2) mixing until combined, 3) adding turkey, 4) gently mixing with hands

STEP 2: ROLL the MEATBALLS

  • If baking, line a baking sheet with foil for easy cleanup and top with a baking rack. Lightly spray the rack with cooking spray. 
  • If pan frying, line the counter next to your stove with parchment paper.
  • Scoop the meat mixture using a 1 1/2-tablespoon capacity cookie scoop to form the meatballs and then roll them in between the palm of wet hands to form balls.  Place meatballs onto prepared surface without touching.
showing how to make turkey meatballs by rolling and lining on a baking sheet

STEP 3: COOK the MEATBALLS

You can bake the ground turkey meatballs in the oven or cook them on the stove.  They both take about the same amount of time but the oven requires zero babysitting and cooks more evenly whereas the skillet produces a crispier exterior. They both will be juicy and tender as long as you don’t overcook them!  So, the best method for you is whichever method you will not overcook.

HOW TO BAKE turkey MEATBALLS

  • Lightly brush the meatballs with olive oil or spray with cooking spray for extra flavor and moisture.
  • Bake at 400 degrees F for 16-21 minutes or until cooked through.

How to fry turkey meatballs:

  • Add enough olive oil to a large nonstick skillet (my favorite pan!) to lightly cover the surface of the skillet.  Heat over medium heat (medium-low if our skillet runs hot).  You don’t want the skillet too hot or the outside of the meatballs will burn before the insides are cooked.
  • Working in batches, add the meatballs to the skillet in a single layer and cook until nicely browned all over and cooked through, about 5 – 7 minutes.
  • Remove to a paper towel lined plate and tent with foil to keep warm.  Repeat with remaining meatballs, adding and heating more oil in between batches if the skillet looks dry.

How do I know when my turkey meatballs are done?

Ground turkey is cooked through and safe to eat when it reaches 165 degrees F.  To reach this temperature without overcooking the meatballs, cook them to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F and let them rest for 5 minutes to allow for a 5-degree carryover to reach 165 degrees F.

The most accurate way to check the internal temperature of your meatballs is with an instant read thermometer inserted into middle. These thermometers eliminate all of the guesswork without having to break open a meatball!

You can pick up an inexpensive instant read thermometer at the grocery store or Amazon, or I HIGHLY recommend this digital probe thermometer – you will never overcook any protein again!  Just insert a probe into a meatball and leave it in while the meatballs bake and an alarm will ring as soon as it reaches the set temperature.  Now just walk away and be rewarded with the juiciest baked turkey meatballs ever!

showing how to serve ground turkey meatballs by topping with chimichurri

EXTERT TIPS AND TRICKS FOR MAKING healthy turkey meatballs

This turkey meatball recipe is very simple, which means it’s important to get the technique right. Reference the section on secrets to the juiciest turkey meatballs as well as the tips below:  

  • Don’t skip grating the onion:  I have tried this recipe with grated onion, dried minced onions and onion powder and the recipe with grated onion was by far the juiciest. 
  • I like to use Jenni-O brand turkey: It doesn’t seem to be as wet as other brands so it’s easier to work with.
  • If the meatballs are dry:  Add another tablespoon of yogurt to the meatball mixture. The turkey meatballs should be moist but hold their shape.
  • If the meatballs are too wet: Add panko 1 tablespoon at a time, taking care not to overmix.
  • Don’t overmix the meatball ingredients: overmixing results in tougher meatballs.
  • Make uniform turkey meatballs: Use a cookie scoop to form your meatballs so they are all the same size, this way they will cook evenly.  It also makes forming the meatballs quick and easy. If you do not have a scoop, use a measuring spoon to make them roughly the same size.
  • Nonstick trick: Due to the nature of turkey meat, the mixture may be very sticky which is a good thing, it means extra juicy meatballs! To remedy this, lightly wet or oil your hands. This “lubrication” will form a barrier that keeps the meat from sticking to your hands as much.
  • Keep the turkey cold: Start with cold ingredient – cold eggs, cold yogurt and add cold turkey straight from the fridge.. For even colder/easier to work with meatballs, I like to either refrigerate the meatball mixture and remove portions at a time to work with or scoop the meatballs onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet, flash freeze for 3-5 minutes to let them firm up, then gently roll them, taking a few out of the freezer at a time.
  • Don’t roll too tightly:  Roll the ground turkey meatballs as loosely as you can without falling apart.  The looser the meatballs, the more tender. If you are baking the meatballs, they can be looser than if frying.
  • Make uniform meatballs: So they are all done at the same time and you aren’t stuck with some overcooked duds.
  • Prep ahead: You can also roll your easy turkey meatballs up to 24 hours ahead of time, cover with plastic wrap, refrigerate, then bake when ready.  Let the meatballs sit on the counter for 30 minutes to help come to room temperature before cooking.
  • Use an instant read thermometer:  Overcooked meatballs are dry meatballs.  Use an instant read thermometer and cook the meatballs just until they reach an internal temperature or 160 degrees F and allow to rest for 5 minutes for a 5-degree carryover.
  • Test a few meatballs for doneness: Sometimes areas of the oven can bake differently so test meatballs in the center, edges, etc.
showing ways to serve Italian turkey meatballs by serving with marinara sauce in a skillet

ways to serve ground turkey meatballs

There are countless ways to serve ground turkey meatballs from pasta to salad to soup!  Here are just a few to try:

  • Spaghetti and Meatballs:  Gently warm your favorite store-bought or homemade tomato sauce or marinara sauce in a large skillet. Cook the meatballs until mostly cooked through then add to the skillet. Simmer for a few minutes to finish cooking. Serve over spaghetti, zoodles or spaghetti squash.  
  • Turkey Meatball Subs: Slather the open faces of hoagies with butter and toast at 400 degrees for 5 minutes. Line meatballs down the center from the above marinara bathed meatballs and top with mozzarella cheese. Bake an additional 5-10 minutes, until the cheese is melted.
  • Turkey Meatball Appetizer:  Serve the meatballs with your favorite cocktail sauce, barbecue sauce, tzatziki sauce, chimichurri sauce or dipping sauce for a fun appetizer at a dinner party.
  • Greek Mezze Platter: Serve the easy turkey meatballs alongside any of your Greek favorites of Kalamata olives, cubed feta lightly drizzled with olive oil and a pinch of herbs, pickled red onions, marinated artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, assorted nuts, hummus (homemade or store-bought), Greek yogurt stirred with a pinch of salt and drizzle of olive oil or tzatziki, harissa (optional if you like spicy!) sliced English cucumber, cherry tomatoes, sliced carrots, grapes, and warmed pita bread.
  • Turkey Meatball Salad:  Add meatballs to any of your favorite salads like Caesar, Greek, panzanella, lemon orzo, etc.
  • Turkey Meatball Pasta:  Toss meatballs with your favorite pasta and pasta sauce for an easy dinner.  You can also add meatballs in place of chicken or sausage in any of your favorite pastas such as fettuccine Alfredo, spaghetti Bolognese, bruschetta pasta, creamy pesto pasta, creamy basil orzo, hamburger helper, skillet stroganoff, linguine in creamy sun-dried tomato sauce, rigatoni in tomato cream sauce or buffalo mac and cheese.
  • Tiktok Feta Pasta with Turkey Meatballs:  Whip of a batch of this sensationally easy, viral pasta by baking a block of feta, tomatoes, pesto and olive oil together to create an irresistible, cheesy, creamy, tangy, tomato sauce then stirring in garlic, basil and cooked pasta.  Now just add ground turkey meatballs and a protein-packed dinner is served! 
  • Turkey Meatball Risotto:  Add meatballs to any of my baked risotto recipes such as mushroom risotto, Parmesan risotto, spinach and pea risotto, Greek Risotto or butternut squash risotto.
  • Turkey Meatball Soup:  Shape the meatballs smaller and use in place of protein in any of your favorite soups.  I recommend browning the meatballs in the oven for 10 minutes then let them finish cooking in the simmering broth.  Try them in lemon orzo soup, chicken noodle soup, gnocchi soup, cabbage soup, minestrone, hamburger soup or zuppa Toscana.
  • Turkey Meatball Pitas:  Spread a light layer of hummus down the middle of pita bread or a tortilla and top with your choice of sliced tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, thinly sliced red onions, artichokes, olives, lettuce, feta, meatballs and a drizzle of tzatziki.
  • Turkey Meatball Wraps: The possibilities are endless from the greens to the toppings to the sauce! Fill your wraps with anything from arugula, pickled red onions, pickled beets, edamame, avocados, cucumbers, carrots, alfalfa sprouts, tomatoes, radishes, corn, cabbage, bell peppers, etc. and top with any of your favorite dressings, hummus, salsa, guacamole or buffalo hot sauce.  

WHAT SIDES TO SERVE WITH easy turkey MEATBALLS?

You can serve anything alongside these ground turkey meatballs.  Here are some tasty options: 

CAN I MAKE this recipe IN ADVANCE?

Absolutely!  You can make roll the meatballs up to 24 hours ahead of time, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.  Remove the tray from the refrigerator 30 minutes before baking then bake according to recipe directions.

showing ways to serve Italian turkey meatballs by serving with marinara sauce in a skillet

HOW TO STORE AND REHEAT this recipe

  • Storage:  Let meatballs cool to room temperature. Transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.   
  • To reheat in the microwave:  Transfer meatballs to a microwave safe plate and microwave for 60 seconds then at 15 second intervals until warmed through. I like to cut my meatballs in half so they reheat more evenly.
  • To reheat on the stove: Heat a drizzle of oil or melt some butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Add the meatballs and reheat, stirring often until warmed through. 
  • To reheat in the crockpot: Lightly spray the crockpot with cooking spray.  Reheat over LOW for 1-2 hours, or until completely warmed through, stirring 1-2 times. 

CAN I FREEZE Turkey MEATBALLS?

Yes, you can either freeze the meatballs before baking or after baking.  I recommend making a double batch of meatballs if you have freezer storage space to make your life easier.  Next time you need dinner, just thaw some delicious turkey meatballs!  Here are some helpful freezing tips:

TO FREEZE RAW turkey MEATBALLS

  1. Line meatballs on a parchment paper lined baking sheet so they aren’t touching. 
  2. Place entire baking tray with the meatballs in the freezer. If your freezer can’t accommodate your baking tray, then use a small tray and freeze in batches.  Freeze for 1-2 hours, until solid.
  3. Transfer meatballs to a freezer safe bag or container and squeeze out excess air to prevent freezer burn.
  4. Label and store in the freezer for 3-4 months.
  5. When ready to serve, thaw meatballs in the refrigerator overnight then continue to cook per recipe instructions, allowing 30 minute resting time on the counter if baking.

TO FREEZE COOKED turkey MEATBALLS:

Once your meatballs are cooked, freeze them while still on the baking sheet:

  1. Bake meatballs according to directions; let cool to room temperature.
  2. Place entire baking tray with the meatballs in the freezer. You will want to make sure the meatballs are not touching so they don’t freezer together.  If your freezer can’t accommodate your baking tray then use a small tray lined with parchment paper and freeze in batches.  Freeze for 1-2 hours.
  3. When your meatballs are frozen enough that they won’t stick together, transfer meatballs to freezer safe bag or containers.
  4. Label meatballs and store in the freezer for 2-3 months.
  5. When ready to use, let meatballs thaw overnight in the refrigerator.  Reheat per instructions.
up close of turkey meatball recipe with toothpick in the meatball showing they can be served as an appetizer

What are the benefits of eating turkey?

Turkey is an excellent source of protein and can provide up to 24 grams of protein per a serving. Protein is an essential building block of your bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, hair, nails and blood.  Your body needs protein to heal from everyday wear and tear as well as relieve muscle aches and build muscle.

It also packs a nutritional punch with high amounts of niacin, B6, and B12. It also contains zinc, selenium potassium, and phosphorus.

Vitamin B-12 supports cellular functions such as dividing cells and breaking down carbohydrates, proteins and fats to produce energy.  It helps your body build red blood cells which allows oxygen to be used by the body. Zinc is vital for a healthy immune system, correctly synthesizing DNA, and healing wounds.  Phosphorous forms and strengthens bones and teeth. It also helps produce ATP, a molecule the body uses to store energy.  Potassium helps to lower blood pressure and combat heart disease.  It also supports heart and muscle function and may reduce the risk of developing kidney stones and help to decrease bone loss.

turkey MEATBALL faqs

Is ground turkey better for you than ground beef?

Turkey is generally lower in saturated fat than beef so it is a better choice for heart health. Ground turkey is available in several lean-to fat ratios that determine its nutritional content, some of which contain more dark meat and therefore are not as lean as the leanest ground beef. If you choose the leanest ground beef which is about 93 percent lean, and choose the leanest ground turkey which is also 93 percent lean, you might be surprised to learn they come up pretty even in protein, and fat.  When it comes to saturated fat, however, turkey wins.  So, if you are purchasing ground turkey to cut calories, be sure to check the Nutritional Label or you could be defeating the purpose.

How do I prevent turkey meatballs from falling apart?

It is important to use the correct ratio of binding agents: breadcrumbs and eggs.  My general rule of thumb for no-fail meatballs is 1 large egg + ½ cup fresh breadcrumbs + 2 tablespoons yogurt/milk/or other liquid per 1 pound of ground meat. Works like a charm every time!  If your meatballs are too loose to roll, try flash freezing or adding more breadcrumbs one tablespoon at a time. If you’re afraid they’re going to fall apart in the skillet, bake them instead of pan frying.

Do I have to add egg to turkey meatballs?

Yes, eggs play an important role in preventing meatballs from falling apart by binding the ground meat, breadcrumbs, and herbs together. As the meatballs cook, the eggs cook which helps glue all the ingredients together instead of crumble apart.  Typically, you don’t want more than 1 egg per pound of meat, otherwise the meatballs can be dense instead of soft.

Do I have to add breadcrumbs to turkey meatballs?

Yes, because breadcrumbs:  1) help bind the ingredients together so the meatballs don’t fall apart, 2) add structure which allows you to add additional milk/moisture to produce juicier meatballs and 3) helps the turkey meatballs stay moist by absorbing and trapping the meat juices as they cook.

Why are my turkey meatballs tough?

Turkey meatballs can be tough and dense instead of light and juicy because of four reasons: 1) too little liquid, 2) overworking the meatball mixture, or 3) over-rolling/compacting the meatballs or 4) overcooking. To prevent tough meatballs, add all of the meatball ingredients to the bowl except the ground turkey, stir to combine and then mix the ground turkey in with your hands. This method allows you to handle the meat as little as possible. Also, take care when rolling the meatballs to use a light touch by not squeezing them too much or rolling them too much.  Leave them airy instead of compact. Cook the meatballs just to 160 degrees F then allow for a 5-degree carryover.

How long can raw turkey meatballs stay in fridge?

Technically, raw turkey meatballs can be refrigerated for three to four days, stored in an airtight container or covered tightly in plastic wrap.  Still, I recommend using them within 24 hours for optimal freshness and juiciness.  Make sure to bring them to room temperature by sitting on the counter for 30 minutes before cooking.  Cooked meatballs are also good for up to four to five days stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. 

Do you have to sear turkey meatballs?

Turkey meatballs should always be seared first in the skillet or the oven before sauce is added or before being added to the crockpot to finish cooking. Searing the meatballs first: 1) helps them not fall apart by cooking/sealing the outside 2) helps them stay juicy by sealing in the juices and 3) results in the Maillard reaction, also known as the flavor reaction, in which amino acids and reducing sugars produce browning and complex flavor.

How long do you cook turkey meatballs?

Ground turkey is poultry and should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer. The length of time varies based on the size of the meatballs and cooking method.  Smaller meatballs will require less time and larger meatballs require more time. 

What’s the best method to get equal portions?

The easiest method create equal meatballs is to use a cookie scoop or small ice cream scoop.  Not only does this give you equal portions, but it helps prevent you from compacting the meat mixture too much which makes for dense meatballs.  If you don’t have a cookie scoop, you can use a measuring spoon to scoop out the mixture and weigh it on a kitchen scale.  

Why are my turkey meatballs mushy?

Ground turkey has a finer texture than beef or pork which means it needs structure to prevent it from becoming mushy.  Switching from breadcrumbs to panko aids against mushy meatballs because the breadcrumbs are larger. The finer consistency of ground turkey also means the it has a harder time holding onto moisture.  Using yogurt instead of milk adds the needed moisture that isn’t easily evaporated.  

Why are my turkey meatballs hard?

Hard meatballs are a result of overmixed or overcooked meatballs. When mixing the meatball ingredients, thoroughly combine all of the ingredients before adding the ground turkey and then add the turkey and combine gently. Overworking the mixture will result in tough meatballs, so use your hands to mix in the meat and stop when it’s just combined.

Can Turkey Meatballs be a little pink?

Ground turkey will not be pink once cooked to the safe internal temperature of 165 degrees F. 

How do you make meatballs firmer?

If your meatballs are too soft, add additional panko 1 tablespoon at a time, then gently combine.  The panko will add additional structure to the meatballs.  Take care to add as little additional panko as possible because the softer the meatballs, the juicier they will be out of the oven.   

showing ways to serve Italian turkey meatballs by serving as spaghetti and meatballs with marinara sauce

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Turkey Meatballs

These healthy, juicy, fragrant, herbaceous ground turkey meatballs are utterly addicting – my husband didn’t even know they were turkey! They’re incredibly moist (thanks to my secret tips no one else uses!), seeping with garlic, herb Parmesan goodness, and can be made with fresh and/or dried herbs so you can whip up a batch anytime those Italian turkey meatball cravings strike.  This recipe is easy to whip up and can be cooked on the stovetop or in the oven. Serve these healthy turkey meatballs countless ways such as with tomato sauce or marinara and pasta, with rice pilaf/risotto, or mashed potatoes, with chimichurri, tzatziki or barbecue sauce or in wraps, gyros, grain bowls, salads, subs, etc.  You will love these juicy, tender, flavor bombs any way they are served!
Servings: 25 -28 meatballs
Prep Time: 25 mins
Cook Time: 20 mins

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Ingredients

  • 1/2 small yellow onion, peeled
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt (light or whole)
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced (may sub ¾ tsp garlic powder)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary, or 1 tsp dried, lightly crushed
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, or 1 tsp dried
  • 2 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley, or 1 tsp dried
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon granulated beef bouillon, better than bouillon or 3 cubes, crushed (optional, see notes)
  • 1/2 tsp EACH salt, pepper

ADD LAST

  • 1 pound ground turkey 93% lean
  • olive oil for brushing or cooking spray

Instructions

PREP

  • If baking: Line a baking sheet with foil for easy cleanup and top with a baking rack; spray the rack with cooking spray.
  • If pan frying: Line the counter next to the stove with parchment paper.

TO MAKE MEATBALLS

  • Grate the onion on the largest holes of the grater straight into a large bowl (we want all the juices!) until there is about ½ cup combined juices/onion. Stir in the remaining ingredients up to the turkey and mix well. Add the turkey and mix with your hands just to combine (don’t over-mix or your meatballs will be tough).
  • Wet or lightly spray your hands with cooking spray to prevent the mixture from sticking. Scoop the meat mixture using a 1 ½ tablespoon cookie scoop (or a heaping 1 tablespoon), then gently roll in between the palms of your hands to form balls; don't compact too much or the meatballs will be dense. Place the meatballs onto the prepared rack or parchment paper without touching.

TO BAKE THE MEATBALLS

  • Lightly brush the meatballs with olive oil or spray with cooking oil.
  • Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and bake at 400 degrees F for 16-21 minutes, or until the meatballs are cooked through (reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees F on an instant read thermometer then allowed to rest for 5 minutes to reach 165 degrees F). Broil for a minute or so if desired for some extra color.

TO PAN FRY THE MEATBALLS

  • Heat enough olive oil to a large nonstick skillet (my favorite pan!) to lightly cover the surface of the skillet. Heat over medium heat (medium-low if your skillet runs hot).
  • Working in batches, add the meatballs to the skillet in a single layer without touching and cook until nicely browned all over and cooked through, about 5-7 minutes. (They should reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees F on an instant read thermometer then allowed to rest for 5 minutes to reach 165 degrees F.)
  • Remove to a paper towel lined plate and tent with foil to keep warm.
  • Repeat with remaining meatballs, adding additional oil in between batches as needed.

Video

Notes

Tips and Tricks

  • I like to use Jenni-O brand turkey: It doesn’t seem to be as wet as other brands so it’s easier to work with.
  • Beef bouillon: My secret ingredient that will change your turkey world!  It infuses the turkey meatballs with rich, beefy goodness. If using cubes, finely crush and then add to mixture, don’t dissolve in water first.  If you don’t eat meat, then eliminate the bouillon and increase the salt to ¾ teaspoon.
  • Gluten free: Use your favorite gluten free panko, crackers or toasted gluten free bread in place of the panko.
  • Don’t skip grating the onion: I have tried this recipe with grated onion, dried minced onions and onion powder and the recipe with grated onion was by far the juiciest. If you do skip grating, then increase the yogurt but 1 tablespoon or so.
  • Use cold ingredients: Start with cold eggs, yogurt and add cold turkey straight from the fridge to make the mixture easier to work with.
  • Nonstick trick: For even colder/easier to work with meatballs, I like to either refrigerate the meatball mixture and remove portions at a time to roll or scoop the meatballs onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet, flash freeze for 3-5 minutes to let them firm up, then gently roll them, taking a few out of the freezer at a time. If the meatballs are still too wet, add panko 1 tablespoon at a time, taking care not to overmix.
  • Don’t overcook: Overcooked meatballs are dry meatballs.  I recommend using an  instant read thermometer for the juiciest meatballs.
  • Prep ahead: Roll the meatballs up to 24 hours ahead of time, cover with plastic wrap, refrigerate, then bake when ready.  Let the meatballs sit on the counter for 30 minutes to help come to room temperature before cooking.
  • Recipe variations:  See post for tasty recipe variations and ingredient substitutions. 
  • Ways to serve:  See post for TONS of ways to gobble up these turkey meatballs!

HOW TO STORE and REHEAT

  • To storage: Let meatballs cool to room temperature. Transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.   
  • To freeze: Let the meatballs cool then then transfer to a freezer safe bag, squeeze out excess air and seal or transfer to an airtight container.  Freeze for up to 3 months.  Let the meatballs thaw in the refrigerator overnight before reheating.  
  • To reheat in the microwave: Transfer meatballs to a microwave safe plate and microwave for 60 seconds then at 15 second intervals until warmed through. I like to cut my meatballs in half so they reheat more evenly.
  • To reheat on the stove: Heat a drizzle of oil or melt some butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Add the meatballs and reheat, stirring often until warmed through.  

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2 Comments

  1. Anna says

    Is there an egg substitute for these? Or for any meatball? All have eggs in them…

    • Jen says

      Hi Anna, I haven’t personally experimented making meatballs without eggs so I suggest googling a recipe with out eggs, you can still use the spices in this recipe. Good luck!

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