Turkey Meatballs in Marinara Sauce

Tested & Perfected Recipes

A weeknight dinner winner, these turkey meatballs are tender and full of flavor – and cleanup is a snap!

Photo by Edalin Photography

Everyone seems to love meatballs, so much so that I devoted an entire chapter to them in my new cookbook. These turkey meatballs are a lighter alternative to my classic Italian meatballs made with beef, pork, and veal. They are tender and flavorful despite the lean turkey, thanks to the addition of garlic, onions, basil, and grated pecorino Romano cheese. Pan-frying the meatballs in a bit of olive oil also adds flavor – and since you only need one skillet for the meatballs and sauce, cleanup is a breeze.

If you have a good homemade sauce on hand, go ahead and use it, but for those busy weeknights, a good quality jar of marinara sauce, such as Rao’s, gets the job done deliciously. Serve the meatballs over spaghetti or polenta, beside a roasted vegetable, or stuffed into a hoagie roll for a meatball sandwich. They hit the spot no matter how you eat them!

What You’ll Need To Make Turkey Meatballs

turkey meatballs ingredients

Step-by-Step Instructions

In a medium bowl, combine the egg, basil, salt, pepper, oregano, garlic, and water.

egg and seasoning in bowl

Mix together until well-combined.

beaten egg and seasoning in bowl

Add the onion, turkey, bread crumbs, and cheese.

adding ground turkey, onion, cheese, and breadcrumbs to egg mixture

Mix with your hands until the mixture is uniform.

turkey meatballs mixture

Lightly wet your hands with water and form the mixture into balls just slightly larger than golf balls. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the meatballs in a single layer.

browning turkey meatballs in oil

Brown on all sides, 7 to 8 minutes total.

browned turkey meatballs

Pour the marinara sauce over the meatballs and bring to a boil.

adding sauce to meatballs

Reduce the heat to low, cover tightly with a lid, and simmer until the meatballs are cooked through, about 15 minutes.

covering turkey meatballs and simmering until cooked through

Sprinkle with more basil, if desired, and serve.

Photo by Edalin Photography

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Turkey Meatballs in Marinara Sauce

A weeknight dinner winner, these turkey meatballs are tender and full of flavor – and cleanup is a snap!

Servings: 18 meatballs
Prep Time: 20 Minutes
Cook Time: 25 Minutes
Total Time: 45 Minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 large egg
  • ¼ cup finely chopped fresh basil (plus more for serving)
  • Heaping ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 3 tablespoons minced yellow onion, from 1 small onion
  • 1⅓ pounds 93% lean ground turkey (see note)
  • ⅔ cup dried Italian style bread crumbs (such as Progresso)
  • ⅓ cup freshly grated pecorino Romano cheese (plus more for serving)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, for cooking
  • Large jar (24 oz) good quality Marinara sauce (such as Rao's)

Instructions

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg, basil, salt, pepper, oregano, garlic, and water. Add the onion, turkey, bread crumbs, and cheese, and mix with your hands until the mixture is uniform.
  2. Lightly wet your hands with water and form the mixture into balls just slightly larger than golf balls (keep wetting your hands as you go to prevent the meatball mixture from sticking to your hands).
  3. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the meatballs in a single layer and brown on all sides, 7 to 8 minutes total. Pour the marinara sauce over the meatballs and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover tightly with a lid, and simmer until the meatballs are cooked through, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle with more basil and cheese, if desired, and serve.
  4. Note: For best results, I recommend using 93% lean ground turkey, which is a combination of light and dark meat, rather than 99% lean ground turkey breast, which is all white meat.
  5. Freezer-Friendly Instructions: The meatballs can be frozen in their sauce for up to 3 months. When ready to serve, defrost overnight in the refrigerator and reheat on the stovetop over medium heat until the meatballs are hot in the center.

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Per serving (6 servings)
  • Serving size: 3 meatballs
  • Calories: 347
  • Fat: 18 g
  • Saturated fat: 5 g
  • Carbohydrates: 19 g
  • Sugar: 7 g
  • Fiber: 3 g
  • Protein: 27 g
  • Sodium: 779 mg
  • Cholesterol: 113 mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

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Comments

  • These are absolutely perfect! Tender, flavorful and delicious. I’ve been making turkey meatballs for years, with various recipes and tweaks, but this is now the only recipe I’ll use. The ground turkey in our stores comes in 1 lb. packages, so I adjusted the other ingredients down slightly. Such a great dinner with a good (or homemade) marinara over spaghetti. Make them!

    • — Julia on February 18, 2022
    • Reply
  • Delicious!! Definitely holds up to beef meatballs. I was pleasantly surprised. will be my spaghetti and meatball go-to!

    • — Kathy on February 14, 2022
    • Reply
  • Made these along with the tomato sauce recipe (staple in our house, since making this recipe, I have made no other). Such a quick and easy recipe to do. I great alternative to pork and/or beef versions.

    • — Libby Clark on February 13, 2022
    • Reply
  • The recipe may be simple, but the flavor and texture payoff is off the charts! I made the recipe exactly as written, but, being celiac, I substituted Ian’s GF Italian-style panko breadcrumbs. Result, tender, moist, flavorful meatballs. I’m happy I didn’t bake them in the oven, as pan-frying allowed the brown bits and meat juices, plus the olive oil in the pan to make the Rao’s marinara sauce over-the-top delicious. My husband was ecstatic, and told me to make this recipe as often as possible! Thank you, Jen, for sharing this marvelous recipe, and for making me look good as a cook.

    • — Chrissy on February 5, 2022
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  • Loved this recipe. Simple to make and delicious.

    • — Jane F. on February 5, 2022
    • Reply
  • Amazing!! I threw out my other meatball recipes-this is the only one I need! Delicious

    • — Laura B on February 4, 2022
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  • Delicious! Didn’t have all the exact ingredients so used chicken instead of turkey, dried basil and parmesan for the cheese. Added a left over of 2 cups of finely chopped baby spinach. I will definitely make again.

    • — Elizabeth on February 3, 2022
    • Reply
  • Hi Jen, can I use dried basil?

    • — Sheila on February 3, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Sheila, I like them best with fresh, but dried will work. You’ll need a generous teaspoon of dried basil. Please LMK how they turn out!

      • — Jenn on February 3, 2022
      • Reply
  • I cannot eat dairy. Can I substitute nutritional yeast for the cheese?

    • — Ellen Freedman on February 3, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Ellen, I’ve never used nutritional yeast but I know it stands in for cheese for many people. I can’t say for sure as I haven’t tried it, but I suspect it should work. Please LMK how it turns out if you try it!

      • — Jenn on February 3, 2022
      • Reply
  • Very easy and tasty. Probably the best I’ve made thus far. They weren’t dry unlike other recipes I’ve tried. Dinner was a cinch with a good jar of marinara, spaghetti, salad, and a glass of wine. Thanks Jenn!

    • — Jan on February 3, 2022
    • Reply
  • This is a good one! Easy and straightforward.

    • — Michelle on February 1, 2022
    • Reply
  • Hello Jenn,

    Can I freeze these after frying? How long will they keep in the freezer?

    Thanks,

    • — Susan on February 1, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Susan, Yes, they freeze nicely! See the bottom of the recipe for detailed freezer-friendly instructions.

      • — Jenn on February 1, 2022
      • Reply
    • Ooops I found the freezer friendly instructions on the bottom of the page. Here they are for anyone else who may need them. Thanks for another great recipe Jenn! 🙂

      Freezer-Friendly Instructions: The meatballs can be frozen in their sauce for up to 3 months. When ready to serve, defrost overnight in the refrigerator and reheat on the stovetop over medium heat until the meatballs are hot in the center.

      • — Susan on February 1, 2022
      • Reply
  • Can I use grated Parmesan reggiano cheese? What would the difference in flavor be with a different cheese?

    • — Debbie on February 1, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Debbie, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese will work here. Pecorino Romano is slightly saltier, but you won’t need to make any modifications to the recipe. Please LMK how they turn out!

      • — Jenn on February 4, 2022
      • Reply
  • Can I make the meatballs in advance today, and wait to fry the meatballs and finish the recipe tomorrow for dinner? Will waiting that long to cook the meatballs cause the breadcrumbs and grated cheese to lose integrity in the meat mixture? (I’ll wait to comment until I’ve actually made the recipe.)

    • — Chrissy on January 31, 2022
    • Reply
    • That should be fine, Chrissy. Enjoy!

      • — Jenn on January 31, 2022
      • Reply
  • Excellent! Very moist and great flavor. I made my own homemade Marina sauce in my Dutch oven. While it was simmering on the stove I made up the meatballs and baked them in the oven at 350 for about 15 minutes then added them to the Marina sauce on the stovetop covered for about 15-20 minutes. I served the meatballs along with Fettuccine with fresh parsley, garlic and red pepper flake. So tasty!!

    • — Lisa on January 31, 2022
    • Reply
  • Made this last night for the first time with a few minor changes and turned out excellent! Never had such flavorful turkey meatballs before. Instead of using 1-1/3lbs of ground turkey I just used the whole 2lbs that I bought since it only comes in 1lb. packages. Since I had no fresh basil I used some of my homemade pesto and just increased all the other ingredients to what I thought would work using your recipe as a guide. They were so good. Honestly, I haven’t made one recipe from your site that I haven’t liked. I’ll be making these again!

    • — Danette Harlow on January 29, 2022
    • Reply
  • I made these last night, followed recipe as written. OUTSTANDING!!

    • — Laura P on January 29, 2022
    • Reply
  • If I use dried basil instead of fresh, will it change the texture of the meatballs because of the lack of moisture?

    • — Gwen on January 28, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Gwen, I don’t think the change will be significant. If you’re using dried, you’ll only need a generous teaspoon of dried basil. Please LMK how they turn out.

      • — Jenn on January 29, 2022
      • Reply
  • So flavourful, delicious and easy to prepare! I used ground chicken and the meatballs were tender and moist. I will try turkey next time as I’ll definitely be making these again!
    Thanks again Jenn for another great recipe1

    • — Linda on January 28, 2022
    • Reply
  • I was lucky to have a snow day today due to cold weather in Ohio. I decided to make the meatballs in my le creuset dutch oven. I followed the recipe exactly. They were delicious, so moist and flavorful. It was an easy weeknight dinner. A perfect meal for a cold winter’s day! Thank you again, Jenn.

    • — Tonya on January 27, 2022
    • Reply
  • I made this tonight for dinner. There is a reason Jenn says to fry the meatballs in a NON-STICK skillet. I did it in a cast iron and it was a nightmare getting the meatballs unstuck. I was so disappointed that I ruined dinner…NOPE. Damn, those meatballs are incredible!! So soft and flavourful. I used the Rao’s marinara sauce as well. I’m truly impressed.

    • — Julie Godwin on January 27, 2022
    • Reply
  • Can you use ground chicken instead?

    • — Barbara Glazier on January 27, 2022
    • Reply
    • Sure, that should be fine. Please LMK how they turn out with chicken!

      • — Jenn on January 28, 2022
      • Reply
  • Can these also be baked, instead of pan frying, like you do with the beef meatball version?

    • — Erika on January 27, 2022
    • Reply
    • Yep 👍

      • — Jenn on January 27, 2022
      • Reply

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