Baked turkey meatballs are a snap to pull together, and a weeknight protein my kids can’t get enough of (thank goodness!). Serve ’em over mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables with a sweet onion gravy (no drippings required!) for a cozy bowl of healthy comfort food.
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Baked turkey meatballs of every variety are a staple in this house year-round. They’re quick and easy for dinner, make for an excellent freezer stash, and are one of the few proteins both kids will eat without complaint – and let’s be honest, that last bit is the most important!
In the summer I make them Italian-style with fresh tomato marinara, for our January Whole30 I reach for my paleo version, and this time of year I love them with a sweet onion gravy over mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables – it’s the ultimate bowl of healthy comfort food.
How to Make Perfect Baked Turkey Meatballs
These baked turkey meatballs are decidedly more “Thanksgiving-style” than “Italian-style”, seasoned with thyme and sage and smothered with gravy. Use dark ground turkey meat for superior flavor and tenderness.
Combine a pound of ground turkey with an egg, dried parsley, thyme, and sage, diced onion and celery, salt and pepper, and some panko-style breadcrumbs. Keep the dice for the onion and celery on the super fine side for best texture.
Mix up the meatball mixture until it’s just barely combined, being careful not to overwork it, which can result in dense, tough meatballs. I mix ’em using the most versatile tool in my kitchen – my (clean) hands!
Tip – rub a little olive oil on your hands before mixing and then again before forming the meatballs (reapplying as necessary as you form them). For one, this will prevent the mixture from sticking to your hands too much. For two, the extra fat will give the meatballs a nice caramelized crust and a kick of extra flavor. YUM!
Scoop a heaping tablespoon of meatball mixture into your hands, roll it into a ball, and place onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and rubbed with a little oil. Repeat until you’ve got ’em all rolled out. This recipe makes about 24″ one-inch meatballs.
Transfer the baking sheet to a 400°F oven and bake for 15-18 minutes, or until they reach 165°F on an instant read thermometer. I always, always use a thermometer with turkey meatballs, as it’s really hard to test them for doneness without slicing one open.
Mmmmm, hmmmm. That’s what I’m talking about. Moist, tender, tasty turkey meatballs.
How to Make Sweet Onion Gravy
Take your baked turkey meatballs next level by smothering them with a sweet onion gravy. Turkey + gravy always equals heaven, even in meatball form. This gravy is so easy to make – no drippings required!
Thinly slice a sweet vidalia onion. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a small saucepot over medium heat, add the onion and a pinch of salt, and sautee until browned and caramelized. As the onions start to cook down, they’ll release their moisture content, and eventually will start to dry out, so have some chicken broth handy and add a bit to the pot every now and then to keep the onions moist.
Once they’re nice and brown, add a clove of smashed garlic, a cup of chicken broth, and a sprig of thyme. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the garlic is soft and the thyme leaves are starting to fall off the stems.
Fish out the thyme stems, then pour the gravy into a blender. Blend until smooth. Finish it off with a pat of butter and a splash of heavy cream. The cream isn’t necessary, but it adds some really nice body to the finished gravy. Taste for seasoning and add cracked black pepper and a little more salt (if needed).
Plate up your meatballs, smother with gravy, and tuck in!
How to Freeze Baked Turkey Meatballs
Turkey meatballs freeze amazingly well, and I almost always double a batch for storage. To freeze, place the cooked meatballs onto a baking sheet, ensuring there is a little space between each meatball. Place the entire baking sheet into the freezer and freeze until the meatballs are solid (about an hour or two). Place the individually frozen meatballs into a gallon sized freezer bag, label, seal, and stash!
Cassian loves these in his lunch. In the morning, I take out three or four meatballs from the freezer bag, pop them into the microwave for 90 seconds, then put them into a thermos for his lunch.
To defrost the entire batch, simply transfer the entire bag to the fridge over night to thaw and gently reheat on a baking sheet in a 350°F oven for about 10 minutes.
Dietary Accommodations and Variations
- The meatballs are naturally dairy free. Keep the gravy dairy free by using ghee instead of butter for finishing, and omit the heavy cream.
- Low carb, with just 12g net carbs per serving.
- You can substitute gluten free breadcrumbs with excellent results. If you can source them, go for panko-style for a light and airy texture.
- I do NOT recommend making these with almond flour for a paleo version. Once baked, they turned out too dry for my taste. I much prefer pan-seared, then baked, paleo meatballs that are entirely binder free. You can find my go-to recipe for paleo and whole30 turkey meatballs here.
What to Serve with Baked Turkey Meatballs
We love these over mashed potatoes with roasted brussels sprouts. The coziest fall dinner bowl! They’d also be excellent with these other side dishes:
- Garlic Mashed Yucca Root
- Maple Roasted Root Vegetables
- Bacon Brussels Sprouts with Maple and Bourbon
- Honey Roasted Carrots
- Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Fritters
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Baked Turkey Meatballs with Sweet Onion Gravy
These baked turkey meatballs are decidedly more "Thanksgiving-style" than "Italian-style", seasoned with thyme and sage and smothered with gravy. Use dark ground turkey meat for superior flavor and tenderness.
Baked Turkey Meatballs
- 1 lb ground turkey dark meat is best
- 1 small onion finely minced
- 1 rib celery finely minced
- 1 egg
- 1/3 cup panko style breadcrumbs gluten free works great!
- 1 tsp sea or kosher salt
- 1 tsp dried parsley
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 1/2 tsp dried sage
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
- 2 tbsp olive oil
Sweet Onion Gravy
- 1 large sweet onion thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 clove garlic smashed
- 1 c chicken broth
- 1 sprig fresh thyme
- 1 tbsp cold butter
- 1 tbsp heavy cream
Start the gravy. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a small sauce pot over medium high heat until shimmering. Add the onions and a pinch of salt and toss to coat in the fat. Sautee, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and golden brown, about 20 minutes. Add broth, a tablespoon at a time, as needed to keep the onions moist and to prevent scalding.
Heat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray with olive oil spray or rub with 1 tsp olive oil.
Place the ground turkey, minced onion and celery, egg, breadcrumbs, and all seasonings into a large mixing bowl. Wash your hands, then rub half a tablespoon of olive oil onto your hands. Using your oil hands, mix until all ingredients are thoroughly distributed, but do not overmix.
Form heaping 1 tablespoon portions of the mix into meatballs and place onto the baking sheet, leaving space between each. Apply more olive oil to your hands as needed to prevent sticking and to give each meatball a thin coating of oil.
Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and bake 15-18 minuter, or until the meatballs are golden brown and the internal temperature reaches 165°F using an instant read thermometer.
Finish the gravy. Add the smashed garlic clove, 1 cup chicken broth, and fresh thyme to the onions. Simmer an additional 10 minutes, or until the garlic is soft and the thyme leaves are falling off the stems.
Pour the gravy ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. Add the cold butter and heavy cream, and blend one final time. Taste for seasoning and add pepper and additional salt (if needed).
Serve the meatballs warm, smothered with sweet onion gravy. Leftovers can be stored in the fridge in a tightly sealed container for up to 5 days. See notes for freezing instructions.
To freeze, place the cooked meatballs onto a baking sheet, ensuring there is a little space between each meatball. Place the entire baking sheet into the freezer and freeze until the meatballs are solid (about an hour or two). Place the individually frozen meatballs into a gallon sized freezer bag, label, seal, and place back into the freezer.
To defrost the entire batch, transfer the entire bag to the fridge overnight to thaw and gently reheat on a baking sheet in a 350°F oven for about 10 minutes.
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