Perfect, Juicy Baked Turkey Meatballs

published Nov 22, 2021
Eat
Baked Turkey Meatballs Recipe

Ricotta is the key to making baked turkey meatballs moist and tender.

Serves4 to 6

Makes24 meatballs

Prep15 minutes to 25 minutes

Cook25 minutes

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Baked turkey meatballs in a gray bowl, with a green linen napkin at the bottom.
Credit: Tara Holland

I spent a lot of time earlier this year researching to discover the secret to perfect air fryer meatballs. And on this journey, after making an abundance of meatballs, I learned a couple of valuable lessons that I’ll never stray from, regardless of how I cook them.

  1. If you grate the onion into a bowl and add the breadcrumbs straight away, the onion juices help yield a moister, more flavorful meatball. I used to moisten my breadcrumbs with milk or water, but I am never going back.
  2. Ricotta key. The acidity helps add tenderness (just like buttermilk does to pancakes), plus the additional creaminess adds even more flavor and richness.

These baked turkey meatballs follow the same trusted formula as my air fryer beef meatball recipe, from the grated onion, breadcrumbs, and ricotta to the egg and Parmesan cheese. But this time I added some sliced pancetta, which can be found in Italian delis and some supermarkets. The pancetta fat melts into the turkey, adding even more moisture and flavor. Do not use pre-diced pancetta — the fat won’t render well enough during the 25-minute bake time. If you don’t eat pork or are a turkey purist, simply omit the pancetta. (Your meatballs will still be moist and delicious.)

Another great combo is turkey and sage, so I included some ground sage into the mix and a kick of red pepper flakes, which is optional if you are not keen on spice. You could also add a teaspoon of grated lemon zest to add some brightness, depending on how you’re planning to serve the meatballs.

Should You Brown Meatballs Before Baking?

Browning or searing tender meatballs can sometimes lead to disaster because they can easily break down and crumble in the skillet if you mess with them too much. (I learned this the hard way many years ago!) The beauty of baking meatballs is that they naturally brown in the oven. Bonus: Cleanup is way easier.

How to Shape Meatballs

A small cookie scoop is the easiest way to shape meatballs — half of the work (portioning the balls) is done for you. To finish, use dampened hands (to avoid stickiness) to roll the meat mixture into the perfect shaped ball. 

Baked Turkey Meatballs Without Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs help bind the meatballs. If you skip them, the beaten egg should suffice to hold them together, but your results will be more fragile and potentially crumbly.

Credit: Tara Holland

What Sauce Pairs Best with Turkey Meatballs?

You could serve turkey meatballs on toothpicks as an appetizer at parties alongside a honey-mustard dip, barbecue sauce, or pesto mayo. Or you could serve with one of the following sauces: 

Baked Turkey Meatballs Recipe

Ricotta is the key to making baked turkey meatballs moist and tender.

Prep time 15 minutes to 25 minutes

Cook time 25 minutes

Makes 24 meatballs

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1

    small yellow onion

  • 1/3 cup

    Italian-style fine breadcrumbs

  • 1

    large egg

  • 2 ounces

    thinly sliced pancetta or prosciutto

  • 1/2 bunch

    fresh flat-leaf parsley

  • 1 pound

    ground turkey (93% lean)

  • 1 cup

    finely grated Parmesan cheese (about 2 ounces), divided

  • 1/2 cup

    whole-milk ricotta cheese

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 3/4 teaspoon

    ground sage

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    garlic powder

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon

    red pepper flakes (optional)

Instructions

  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 400°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

  2. Grate 1 small yellow onion on the large holes of a box grater into a large bowl (just over 1/3 cup onion and juices). Add 1/3 cup Italian-style fine breadcrumbs then use your hands to mix until the breadcrumbs are thoroughly moistened.

  3. Beat 1 large egg in a small bowl. Finely chop 2 ounces sliced pancetta or prosciutto and use scissors to snip any stringy fat into smaller pieces. Finely chop the leaves from 1/2 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley until you have 1/4 cup.

  4. Add the egg, pancetta or prosciutto, parsley, 1 pound ground turkey, 3/4 cup of the grated Parmesan, 1/2 cup ricotta cheese, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 3/4 teaspoon ground sage, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper, and 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, if using. Use your hands or a wooden spoon to mix until combined.

  5. Scoop the turkey mixture into 24 portions (about 2 tablespoons each). They should be a little bigger than a ping-pong ball. Roll gently with damp hands into balls and place on the baking sheet at least 1-inch apart.

  6. Bake for 15 minutes. Lightly sprinkle the meatballs with the remaining 1/4 cup grated Parmesan. Rotate the baking sheet and bake until the meatballs are cooked through, light golden-brown, and firm to touch, about 10 minutes.

  7. Remove the baking sheet from the oven. Immediately slide a metal spatula underneath the meatballs to prevent them from sticking to the parchment paper.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftover meatballs can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

This post originally ran on Kitchn. See it there: Baked Turkey-Ricotta Meatballs