Turkey Meatballs in Tomato Sauce Recipe (2024)

By Melissa Clark

Turkey Meatballs in Tomato Sauce Recipe (1)

Total Time
50 minutes, plus chilling
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Tender meatballs filled with onions and Parmesan, bathed in plenty of tomato sauce, are classics in every way except for one: They call for turkey instead of the usual beef (or beef-veal-pork combination). Serve them over spaghetti or polenta, or stuff them into a hero roll for a sandwich. Try to use ground dark meat turkey here if you can, it has a deeper, richer flavor than ground white meat.

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Yield:28 meatballs, 4 to 6 servings

  • ½cup grated Parmesan cheese, more for serving, if desired
  • ½cup panko or other plain dried bread crumbs
  • ¼cup minced onion
  • ¼cup chopped chives or basil
  • 2garlic cloves, grated on a microplane or minced
  • teaspoons kosher salt
  • ½teaspoon black pepper
  • ½teaspoon dried oregano
  • Pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
  • pounds ground turkey, very cold
  • 1large egg, beaten
  • 3tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, more as needed
  • 3cups marinara sauce, more to taste

Ingredient Substitution Guide

Nutritional analysis per serving (6 servings)

394 calories; 22 grams fat; 6 grams saturated fat; 0 grams trans fat; 10 grams monounsaturated fat; 4 grams polyunsaturated fat; 18 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams dietary fiber; 8 grams sugars; 31 grams protein; 868 milligrams sodium

Note: The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.

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Turkey Meatballs in Tomato Sauce Recipe (2)


  1. Step


    In a large bowl, combine cheese, bread crumbs, onion, chives, garlic, salt, pepper, oregano and red pepper flakes, if using, and mix well. Add turkey and egg and blend with your hands until well mixed. If you’ve got time, cover mixture and chill for an hour or up to 24 hours. These are easiest to form into balls while very cold. Form into 28 meatballs, each about 1¼-inches in diameter.

  2. Step


    Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large sauté pan. When hot, add enough of the meatballs to fit in one layer without crowding, and brown on all sides, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate, add another tablespoon of oil to pan and brown another layer of meatballs, transferring them to the plate as they brown. Repeat until all meatballs are browned, adding more oil to the pan as needed.

  3. When meatballs are all browned, add marinara sauce to pan and bring to a simmer, scraping up the browned bits on the pan bottom. Return meatballs and their juices to pan, shake pan to cover the meatballs with sauce, and lower heat. Partly cover pan and simmer until the meatballs are cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes.

  4. Step


    Serve hot, drizzled with more olive oil and sprinkled with more cheese, if you like.



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Cooking Notes


I baked these for 20 min at 350 instead of frying. Perfect. Less mess, quick and easy, juicy and tasty.


I make turkey meat balls all the time, I use 1 package of brown mushrooms put through food processor until grounded very fine. Best meat balls ever very light i bake them before putting them in sause freeze very well


You might want to try skipping the baking and just dropping them raw into the sauce. Cook for about 20 minutes or so, without touching them for the first 10 minutes. You may be surprised at how flavorful and tender they are without the bother of the extra step!


Bake @ 350 for 20 mins instead of fryingAdd a package of brown mushrooms, ground in food processor


I like this recipe and make the meatballs often. I do not like the activity of frying, so I bake them in a 450degree oven for 15 minutes, to get them a bit browned and firm. Then
I finish off the cooking in the sauce.


Consider cutting down on the salt... The Parmesan adds quite a bit of saltiness on its own.


To make this kosher, use nutritional yeast flakes instead of cheese.


When can you freeze..before or after cooking meatballs?


These are fantastic! However, I did change one thing. As others have, I added one package of mushrooms ground in Vitamix because I only had 1 pound of ground turkey. I figured they would add moistness as well as meaty flavor. They so did!!! I kept everything else the same including breadcrumbs and they rivaled my best Italian recipes using beef. I also baked at 400 degrees for about six minutes a side, and then ran under broiler for 2 minutes a side before adding to sauce. Perfect and healthy!


So good! I baked too and am happy I made that choice! Stuck to the recipe, increased it slightly based on amount of turkey - 2 lbs. The red pepper flakes are a must. Only change I would make is reducing the salt in half, the parmesan adds some salt to the mixture. Definitely making again!


These are amazingly good, I did not expect them to a) be so flavorful b) hold up texture-wise. Melissa Clark is a genius. I did everything exactly how the recipe was written (even made exactly 28 meatballs!) and there was no need to change a thing. I definitely recommend using fresh shaved parmesan, but otherwise the seasoning is so well directed, you can't go wrong. This is definitely going to become a regular in our repetoire.

Cindy Rutter

If one were to freeze the meatballs for an easy mid-week dinner, at what time in the process work?


Pretty great. I eliminated the bread crumbs to make them gluten free, and added a tsp of crushed fennel because I like fennel in my meatballs.

Even without the breadcrumbs, these worked up nicely into cohesive meatballs. But the note about working with them cold is key, because turkey is a pain to form into meatballs when even remotely warmish.

Paul M

This recipe is good but way too salty, it doesn't need the salt and the Parmesan. Otherwise it was very enjoyable.


I served them over Spiralized yellow squash and it was delicious! I


I didn’t grow up with a mother or grandmother who made meatballs and have failed every time I’ve tried - except this time! Such an easy recipe, and I appreciate the leaner option of turkey. I didn’t have time to fry them so I threw them in the oven at 450 for 15 minutes and then nestled them in a simmering pot of Rao’s for another hour. Perfectly tender and still moist. They were a weeknight hit and I can’t wait to make with homemade sauce for a casual dinner party.

Doris C.

No one will believe these are turkey! I convention roasted for 25 minutes at 400 to make them nice and brown. Half will go in the sauce and half will be consumed as is. Melissa strikes again!


Went up to two lbs turkey so we didn't have an extra half-lb sitting around and slightly increased the other ingredients accordingly. Best turkey meatballs I've made!

Robert Graves IV

This recipe is delicious and simple!


I’ve made these without adding mushrooms (as other reviewers have suggested) and have made them with mushrooms and, ADD THE MUSHROOMS. It’s like night and day difference. These meatballs are fine without them, but SO good with. Game changer. Otherwise made exactly to recipe but only 1lb Turkey, kept all the other ingredients the same amounts.


A very nice simple recipe. Found the meatballs to be a little dense so next time might add a little more egg and bread crumbs. Added extra basil, because why not? Used Rao’s marinara sauce which is my favorite commercial sauce.


Add brown mushrooms ground in blenderBake at 400 then broil if necessaryMaybe fennel?Less salt


I made this twice. It was so easy and very delicious. I would like to add that I replaced the Parmesan with vegan “cashew Parmesan” (homemade) and it still turned out well and tasted nice and cheesy. I appreciate how tender the meatballs are. Very good.


Used vegan parm.

karen b

I followed this recipe except the only addition was adding a quarter cup of dry red wine and water to the mix. They are delish!

Marie D

I followed the other reviewers suggestions and added fresh cremini mushrooms as well as fresh spinach chopped finely in food processor. I also baked them at 400 degrees for 20 minutes on parchment paper as frying can be messy and lean meats tend to stick. I also cut back on the amount of salt. This recipe has become a staple and with the heartiness of the mushrooms, you don’t miss the flavor of traditional beef / pork.


What marinara sauce are you using here?


I use Mezzetta Family Recipe Marina sauce, or make homemade.

Gary E

Turn the whole thing into a meatloaf.

Amanda S.

Made for the second time and used 1 lb.85% beef.I used everything else in the amounts listed but doubled the egg.I also used seasoned breadcrumbs because that is what I had on my shelf.I cooked the meatballs on a tinfoil covered jelly roll pan at 420 degrees for 12 mins.Then added to a layer of tomato sauce in a Dutch oven and covered with a bit more sauce.Cooked at 325 for about a half an hour covered.Much easier clean up than cooking on the stove and I liked the evenly cooked meatball texture.

Alison S

I love this recipe. As I purchase ground turkey in 1 lb containers, I slightly tweak the recipe. I reduce the panko to 1/3 cup, and I use minced shallot instead of regular onion. I find that the shallot is not as sharp so it still allows for the 1/4 cup as instructed even with the reduced turkey meat. I refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before rolling, then bake at 450 for 20 minutes. I prefer this method to the frying - the higher baking temp still gives a bit of crispiness/browning.

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Turkey Meatballs in Tomato Sauce Recipe (2024)


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