How To Make the Best, Juiciest Turkey Meatballs

published Aug 6, 2019
How To Make the Best, Juiciest Turkey Meatballs

An easy step-by-step guide to making great turkey meatballs in marinara sauce.

Serves4 to 6

Prep20 minutes to 25 minutes

Cook15 minutes to 20 minutes

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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

While meatball purists might declare blasphemy, turkey meatballs are actually my favorite meatballs. The reason is twofold. It’s partially nostalgia — the only kind of meatballs my dad made growing up were made with turkey — and partially because I enjoy their lighter flavor and texture.

All too often, however, turkey meatballs are dry and bland, since the meat is leaner than more traditional beef or pork. So we took to the kitchen to figure out how to make the juiciest, most flavorful turkey meatballs, and came away with a few smart secrets that yield foolproof turkey meatballs every time. Here’s how to make turkey meatballs you’ll actually want to eat.

3 Secrets to the Juiciest Turkey Meatballs

The first important note? You need a bit of fat in the meat to give the meatballs moisture and flavor — so now isn’t the time to reach for the leanest ground turkey you can find. Opt for ground turkey that’s 93% lean/7% fat for the best results. Then use these tips to ensure fail-proof meatballs.

  1. Add Greek yogurt to the mix. While milk is typically used to make meatballs, I learned from Associate Food Editor Meghan’s delicious turkey burgers that using plain whole-milk Greek yogurt instead of milk provides more moisture and prevents the meat from overcooking.
  2. Use a light hand. When mixing the ground turkey with the dry and wet ingredients, you’ll want to combine them 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.
  3. Simmer the meatballs gently in the sauce. These are delicate meatballs, so you’ll want to treat them that way. When adding them to the sauce, make sure the sauce is just gently simmering. This way the meatballs won’t fall apart in the sauce and they’ll have a chance to soak up some of the sauce’s flavorful juices.
Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

How to Serve Turkey Meatballs

Of course you can’t go wrong if you serve these meatballs over spaghetti or another variety of pasta, but that’s just one of many great options. I particularly love serving them over creamy polentamashed potatoes or cauliflower are also good choices. Or serve them in shallow bowls on their own, with warm garlic bread alongside for dunking into the sauce.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn
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How To Make the Best, Juiciest Turkey Meatballs

An easy step-by-step guide to making great turkey meatballs in marinara sauce.

Prep time 20 minutes to 25 minutes

Cook time 15 minutes to 20 minutes

Serves4 to 6

Nutritional Info


  • 2/3 cup

    fresh breadcrumbs, or 2 slices white sandwich bread (about 1 ounce)

  • 1/4 cup

    plain whole-milk Greek yogurt

  • 1

    large egg

  • 1/4 cup

    grated Parmesan cheese

  • 1

    large shallot, finely chopped

  • 1/4 cup

    loosely packed chopped fresh parsley leaves

  • 3 cloves

    garlic, minced

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    dried oregano

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 pound

    ground turkey (93% lean / 7% fat)

  • 2 tablespoons

    olive oil

  • 1/4 cup


  • 3 cups

    marinara sauce (about 24 ounces), store-bought or homemade


  • Knife

  • Cutting board

  • Food processor

  • Large mixing bowl

  • Wooden spoon

  • Baking sheet

  • High-sided sauté pan

  • Tongs

  • Large plate


  1. Make the breadcrumbs. If using slices of bread, tear into pieces and pulse in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment into coarse breadcrumbs. Place the breadcrumbs in a large bowl.

  2. Combine the dry and wet ingredients. Add the yogurt, egg, Parmesan, onion, parsley, garlic, salt, oregano, and black pepper to bowl of breadcrumbs. Stir to combine with a wooden spoon.

  3. Mix in the turkey by hand. Add the turkey and use your hands to combine it with the breadcrumb mixture. Mix until just combined; do not overwork, which can make the meatballs tough.

  4. Form the meat into meatballs. Form the meat mixture into 1 1/2-inch-wide meatballs (about 2 tablespoons each), wetting your hands with water as needed to keep the mixture from sticking, and place on a baking sheet. You should have 16 to 18 meatballs.

  5. Pan-fry the meatballs. Heat the oil in a 12-inch high-sided sauté pan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the meatballs in a single layer and pan-fry until browned, about 3 minutes. Use tongs to carefully flip the meatballs and brown the other side, about 3 minutes more. Transfer to large plate (the meatballs will not be fully cooked).

  6. Deglaze the pan. Pour the water into the pan and use a wooden spoon to scrape up the browned bits that have formed on the bottom of the pan.

  7. Heat the marinara sauce and finish cooking meatballs. Pour in the marinara sauce and bring to a simmer. Add the meatballs and reduce the heat to simmer gently until the meatballs are cooked through, 5 to 10 minutes.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The meatballs can be shaped and refrigerated for up to 1 day before baking. The meatballs can also be frozen uncooked or cooked. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze until solid. Transfer the meatballs to a freezer container or freezer bag, and freeze for up to 1 month. If uncooked, thaw in the refrigerator overnight before baking. If cooked, either thaw in the refrigerator overnight or thaw directly in simmering sauce for 15 minutes.

To bake the meatballs: Instead of pan-frying the meatballs, you can also bake them. Transfer the baking sheet of uncooked meatballs to a rack in the middle of a 400°F oven and bake until the meatballs are lightly browned on the outside and cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes. They are done when an instant-read thermometer inserted into the middle reads 165°F. Bring the marinara sauce to simmer in a large high-sided sauté pan or Dutch oven and once the meatballs are cooked, transfer them to the sauce. Simmer gently for 5 minutes and serve.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated on their own or in sauce in an airtight container up to 3 days, or frozen for up to 1 month.

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