Food/ Main Dishes/ Sauces, Dressings + Spice Blends

Tender Turkey Meatballs With Easy Marinara Sauce

Skillet with turkey meatballs and marinara sauce.

Skillet with turkey meatballs and marinara sauce.

I’ve been looking forward to bringing you these tender turkey meatballs slathered in my easy marinara sauce for about two months now. But, remember how we were building a house? Well, October was moving month. And moving is ALL KINDS of awful. It is a thief of time, energy, and joy.

No matter how prepared you think you are, you aren’t. When you think you’ve put a dent in packing, you haven’t. And when you think you’re on a roll with unpacking, you eventually hit a wall and spend at least a week pretending those boxes sitting in the middle of the floor where the breakfast nook should be don’t exist.

But we’re here, we’re comfortable, and I’m *so* thrilled to be back to work. A few of my friends called me out on this. “Weren’t you taking a month off to unpack and get settled?” To which I laughed. The idea of taking time off when you’re self-employed always sounds glorious. But I can’t be idle; I need to be creating. If I’m a workaholic, so be it. I’m happy!

Anyway. I apologize for the radio silence. But I’m hoping these impressively tender turkey meatballs make up for it ;)

Skillet with turkey meatballs and marinara sauce.

Tender Turkey Meatballs With Easy Marinara Sauce.

These turkey meatballs are everything the turkey meatball isn’t supposed to be: spongy, moist, and flavor-packed. I feel like I’ve conquered some sort of impossible quest. The fact that turkey meatballs—and burgers for that matter—have a bad rap isn’t new. They tend to lack the juiciness you get with beef and pork and, because we have to cook poultry for a longer amount of time, it’s easy to overcook them, leaving them dry and undesirable.

But with several test runs I can say with confidence that this recipe works. It’s made me happy every. single. time. These turkey meatballs are juicy, moist (I don’t care how many people hate that word), and springy to the touch, and they offer a rich, savory flavor. The same type of flavor you’d expect from a tried and true beef and pork blend.

Turkey meatballs and marinara plated over rigatoni.

Why I went with turkey meatballs.

Red meat is a sometimes thing in this house; we’ve been trying to stick with lean meats like poultry and fish. With that, I’ve been playing the substitution game. The cooler months approaching, or have already arrived depending on where you live, and the idea of pasta with meatballs is so much better than the idea of pasta without them. I expected my Italian man to scoff at my attempt, but he devoured these gems and even spooned up seconds! So, consider this recipe Italian approved? (Lol)

Raw turkey meatball ingredients in a bowl.

Some things to note.

The first time I made these meatballs, the meat mixture had me concerned. It felt extremely sloppy and wet while rolling. I had to rinse my hands every few balls. They still rolled into neat and sturdy balls however, and they turned out great.

During my last two test runs, the meat mixture was absolutely fine. I’m not sure if it had to do with the brand or what. Just rest assured that if your meat mixture is a little hard to work with, you’re not out of luck. Be patient and keep rolling. That time spent in the fridge will help firm things up before these bad boys hit the skillet.

Turkey meatballs and sauce over rigatoni

If you make this dish, snap a photo and tag me on the Insta @killing__thyme! I love seeing your creations, and you could be featured in my monthly newsletter <3

Skillet with turkey meatballs and marinara sauce.
5 from 13 votes
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Tender Turkey Meatballs With Easy Marinara Sauce

Ingredients

Tender Turkey Meatballs.

  • 1 lb lean ground turkey
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp cracked black pepper
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 tsp freshly chopped thyme If you don't have fresh thyme, you can use dried thyme or dry Italian herbs
  • 1/2 cup onion, minced
  • 1 TBSP worcestershire sauce
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup panko bread crumbs

Easy Marinara Sauce.

  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup minced onion
  • 2 28 oz cans or cartons of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • 2 tsp freshly chopped oregano If you don't have oregano, you can use thyme
  • 2 TBSP freshly grated parmesan or romano cheese
  • Kosher salt and cracked black pepper, to taste

Garnish.

  • Freshly chopped basil

Instructions

Tender Turkey Meatballs.

  1. Place all of the ingredients for the turkey meatballs into a large bowl. With clean hands, get in there and mix everything up until the mixture is cohesive. Wash your hands and set up a baking tray with parchment paper.

  2. With clean and dry hands, scoop up about 2 TBSP worth of the meatball mixture, gently but firmly roll it into a ball, and place it on the parchment-lined baking tray. Do this until you're out of the meatball mixture.

  3.  Place the tray in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to help firm up the meatballs. This will prevent them from falling apart in the skillet. While the meatballs are idle in the fridge, you can start your marinara.

  4. After 30 minutes have passed, heat 1-2 TBSP of olive oil in a large cast iron or non-stick skillet over moderate heat. Carefully place the meatballs into the skillet one at a time. Cook the meatballs for 3-4 minutes per side, or until golden brown. When flipping them over, be sure to be gentle with them; silicone tongs work really well. If they meatballs seem to be sticking to the pan, let them cook for a little bit longer until they release. Don't force them, or else they will fall apart.

  5. Once each side of the meatballs is golden, but not quite cooked through, add about half of the marinara sauce to the skillet—or enough to coat the meatballs. Bring the heat to low, and let the meatballs simmer in the marinara sauce for 10-15 minutes, or until the meatballs reach an internal temperature of 165° F. 

  6. Once the meatballs are cooked, you can serve them with marinara over pasta, with bread, or enjoy them on their own. Use any of the extra marinara for your pasta if needed. 

Easy Marinara Sauce.

  1. Heat olive oil over medium-low heat in a medium-sized pot. Add the garlic and onions, and sauté them for about 3-5 minutes, or until fragrant and tender. Careful not to burn the garlic.

  2. Add the crushed tomatoes, salt, pepper, oregano, and bay leaf. Stir and let the mixture come to a simmer. Then, cover the pot and let the sauce simmer for about 20-30 minutes. Add the grated cheese, stir, and remove the pot from the heat; set it side until you're ready to add it to the meatballs.

Skillet with turkey meatballs and marinara sauce.

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14 Comments

  • Reply
    Kirsten/Comfortably Domestic
    November 8, 2018 at 12:43 am You are so right about moving. I've wished that those last few boxes would miraculously unpack themselves many times over the years. I'd definitely take a break for these turkey meatballs. I love how lean they are!
  • Reply
    Amanda
    November 7, 2018 at 7:14 am I can't wait to try these, Dana! I've had some run-ins with really dry, hockey-puck-like turkey meatballs in the past, and I've known in my heart they could be better! haha. They look absolutely delicious and I want to dive into that skillet with my fork. Saving this so I can make it for dinner next week!
  • Reply
    Marisa Franca
    November 5, 2018 at 1:06 pm Congratulations on your move -- we are in the process of. Lots to get done before our final move. So I do understand how busy you've been. Now, I've never tired making turkey meatballs but your recipe and photos look so good I'll be making it soon.
  • Reply
    Angeline
    November 5, 2018 at 10:14 am I'm still in disbelief over how flavorful these meatballs are! Tradition in our house has always been pasta with meatballs on Sundays, but my husband has been getting really bad heart burn from ground beef. I figured I'd give turkey meatballs a try before saying goodbye to meatballs in general and all I can say is this meal is our new Sunday meal. Everyone loved it, and there was no heartburn :) I doubled the recipe, and it worked out great. Even used rigatoni! The only downside is that there are no leftovers ;) Thank you so much for this recipe. You saved our meatball Sundays!
  • Reply
    Stef
    November 5, 2018 at 9:49 am I am also a defender of the word "moist". I don't get what people have against it. It is very descriptive. Good luck finishing unpacking. That is such a major job! And, I can't wait to try these!
  • Reply
    Tracy
    November 4, 2018 at 10:49 pm Oh congrats on the new house - that's so exciting! But yes, it's always way more work than you expect. But thank you for sharing this. I'm always looking for new ways to get ground turkey into a diet over read meat and I think this will definitely be a way that my husband will approve of!
  • Reply
    Debra
    November 4, 2018 at 8:19 pm What a great meal to enjoy in your new house!! I bet this really made things smell nice and homey. Such a hearty recipe and lots of tasty ingredients. Cooking is a great way to settle in.
  • Reply
    Tins
    November 4, 2018 at 8:18 pm Sounds like you had a well-deserved break, and it definitely seems like it helped getting the creative juices flowing! I love this healthy option for a favorite comfort food classic. This will fit in nicely for my weekly dinner plan!
  • Reply
    Courtney
    November 4, 2018 at 6:26 pm These turkey meatballs are full of flavor! Perfect with some crispy bread and we used zoodles instead of regular pasta, going on the meal plan regularly!
  • Reply
    Carmy
    November 4, 2018 at 4:41 pm I am the worst with packing. I'm a "throw everything into a box" type of gal then future me would be mad about the lack of labeling haha. These meatballs look so good. You can never go wrong with a classic marinara sauce.
  • Reply
    Tina
    November 2, 2018 at 3:21 pm I do the same thing! Whenever I can substitute another meat for beef I do. Turkey meatballs is a real winner, there's not much difference which is key when you have picky eaters. This looks amazing, definitely a winner. Thanks for sharing this!
  • Reply
    Traci
    November 2, 2018 at 10:05 am Love this recipe! You've combined two of my favorite homemade dinner recipes...homemade turkey meatballs and marinara sauce. This is my idea of THE perfect weeknight meal...and breakfast leftovers (tee hee). Such a gorgeous, easy recipe, as always. Thanks for sharing it!
  • Reply
    Gloria
    October 31, 2018 at 12:09 pm Ground turkey is underused for sure. What a great change of pace form meatballs made from red meat. That sauce is mouthwatering. Now the decision...put this on pasta...or stuff them into a sub?? Hmmmm!!!!
  • Reply
    Sarah
    October 30, 2018 at 5:17 pm Well if it's Italian-approved, I'm in! lol. These sound so good, and I haven't made myself anything for dinner yet. I wish you could deliver them! I'll have to try them out soon- I love turkey burgers! :D
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