Turkey Meatballs in Marinara Sauce
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A weeknight dinner winner, these turkey meatballs are tender and full of flavor – and cleanup is a snap!
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!
Looking for more ways to lighten up your traditional ground beef recipes? Check out my skillet turkey burgers and turkey meatloaf.
What You’ll Need To Make Turkey Meatballs
In a medium bowl, combine the egg, basil, salt, pepper, oregano, garlic, and water.
Mix together until well-combined.
Add the onion, turkey, bread crumbs, and cheese.
Mix with your hands until the mixture is uniform.
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.
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, if desired, and serve.
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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!
- 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)
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Hi Jenn! This is another absolute winning recipe! I have two (sometimes picky) children and these were such a hit. I’ve made them two weeks in a row since discovering them on your site. These will be in frequent rotation I’m sure!
These are the best tasting, easiest turkey meatballs I’ve ever made! Pecorino is the key!
This recipe is awesome. My husband and I have made it every week since we found it. I’ve baked the meatballs as well as cooked them in the pan. The pan method is far superior. When making the meatballs I double the garlic and add a few splashes of Worcestershire. They come out perfect! Thank you for sharing!!!
Delicious meatballs! I followed the recipe exactly and they were so easy to make. Don’t omit the fresh basil! I used Rao’s marinara sauce recommended in the recipe and found out that apparently my husband is a marinara connoisseur (who knew?) He said he really liked the marinara because it wasn’t too sweet.
Just perfect!!! The meatballs were so tender! I was thrilled when my meat-loving/beef-loving husband said the meatballs were fabulous!!! We like Rao’s Arrabiatta Sauce – so we used 1/2 Rao’s Marinara and 1/2 Rao’s Arrabiatta for the sauce. Definitely hit the spot! Happy New Year!!!
I haven’t made these yet, but I have made your traditional meatballs and they are perfect! I just have one suggestion: change the ground turkey to 1 pound (since it is usually sold in 1 pound pkgs.), and adjust the other ingredients accordingly. I am definitely going try these, as I love ground turkey as an alternative to ground beef.
These meatballs were absolutely excellent! Ground turkey is a hard sell with my husband, but he really liked these. First night we put them on sub rolls, added a little mozzarella and provolone and ran them under the broiler for a minute. Tonight we are looking forward to having the leftovers over spaghetti. My turkey came from a local farmer and was in a 1 pound package, so I had to monkey with the proportions a little. Worked great, you can always adjust the amount of breadcrumbs a little to get the perfect consistency. I’ll definitely make this again.
I love these meatballs and made them at my son’s house; everyone LOVED them, from
DIL’s mother (who hates turkey, but we didn’t tell her) to my adult grandson. My one recommendation is to make your own marinara–it’s so easy. I tried them once with Paul Newman’s and ended up rinsing it off and digging out an old batch of my own from the freezer. Much better. I also used plain parmesan since it was all I had! I love that they are so easy to freeze in batches.
These turkey meatballs are AMAZING! I’m not a traditional meatball fan either, but these are so good. My husband on the other hand is a traditional beef meatball fan and he also raved over these turkey meatballs! So flavorful and overall easy to make. I paired this with the Cheesy Baked Spaghetti Squash and they were wonderful together…and relatively healthy might I add! Thank you, Jenn for another hit recipe! I’m so glad I found your website.
Thank you very much for this recipe…delicious and simple. The entire family loved it.
Hi Jen. This is a long shot, but is there anything I can use in place of the cheese in this recipe? I’ve been eager to make turkey meatballs but I have people in the family who can’t eat cheese. Thanks in advance.
Hi Kathy, If dairy is an issue, you could use dairy-free cheese. Also, I’ve never used nutritional yeast but I know it stands in for cheese for many people. I can’t say for sure how it will work as a substitute as I haven’t tried it, but I suspect it should work. Please LMK how the meatballs turn out if you try them!
Great recipe,I used gluten free bread crumbs,added bell peppers,used chicken stock instead of water!Was excellent!
Best meatballs I have ever made. Very good recepie, simple and easy to follow.
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!
Delicious!! Definitely holds up to beef meatballs. I was pleasantly surprised. will be my spaghetti and meatball go-to!
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.
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.
Loved this recipe. Simple to make and delicious.
Amazing!! I threw out my other meatball recipes-this is the only one I need! Delicious
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.
Hi Jen, can I use dried basil?
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!
I cannot eat dairy. Can I substitute nutritional yeast for the cheese?
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!
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!
This is a good one! Easy and straightforward.
Can I freeze these after frying? How long will they keep in the freezer?
Hi Susan, Yes, they freeze nicely! See the bottom of the recipe for detailed freezer-friendly instructions.
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.
Can I use grated Parmesan reggiano cheese? What would the difference in flavor be with a different cheese?
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!
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.)
That should be fine, Chrissy. Enjoy!
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!!
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!
I made these last night, followed recipe as written. OUTSTANDING!!
If I use dried basil instead of fresh, will it change the texture of the meatballs because of the lack of moisture?
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.
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
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.
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.
Can you use ground chicken instead?
Sure, that should be fine. Please LMK how they turn out with chicken!
Can these also be baked, instead of pan frying, like you do with the beef meatball version?