BBQ Turkey Meatball Recipe

4.75 from 4 votes
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Sweet and savory and perfectly tender, kids and adults are sure to love BBQ Turkey Meatballs. Baked in the oven then slathered in barbecue sauce, these healthy meatballs are ready in less than 30 minutes. They will definitely be one of your family’s favorite quick and easy dinner recipes or party appetizers. You can even make them gluten free!

piercing a small cocktail pick into one of the barbecue turkey meatballs in a serving dish

Healthy Turkey Meatballs with BBQ Sauce

Oftentimes in the world of blogging, we come up with recipe ideas and immediately plan when we are going to test them and publish them on our sites. Other times, we make recipes over and over for our family before we suddenly think, “Hey, you know, my readers might like this too.”

This, my friends, is one of those recipes. I started playing around with how to make gluten free turkey meatballs that weren’t like little lead balls. I started slathering them in barbecue sauce. It was fall, so I tossed in some apple cider. Then it wasn’t fall and I wanted something a little less sweet and more tangy, so I switched to apple cider vinegar with the sauce. Other times I mixed it with apple juice.

Then, you know, a year later I finally pulled it all together and got it out there for you. And since then, people have loved them. Why did I wait so long?

And why are you waiting so long? Get in the kitchen now because if your kids or friends or family are anything like mine, they will gobble these up! Ha, gobble! Turkey meatballs. See what I did there?!

Bowl of gluten free turkey meatballs with apple cider barbecue sauce

Why You’ll Love This Turkey Meatball Recipe

Easy and healthy turkey meatballs are coated in a sweet and savory mixture of your favorite barbecue sauce and apple cider for a simple dinner or party appetizer. Kids and adults love these either for dinner or as appetizers! Low in calories and easy to make gluten-free with a simple swap of the bread crumbs.

Not only are they perfect for a fast, healthy dinner, but they are also great appetizers for holiday parties and game day gatherings. Since these barbecue meatballs are made with lean ground turkey, they are fairly light in the calorie department. This makes them a great option when you are trying to watch what you are eating after a holiday season filled with a few too many cookies or an extra helping or two of prime rib.

fork picking up a barbecue turkey meatball from a plate with green beans on it

What You’ll Need

  • Ground turkey or ground turkey breast – either works fine for this recipe, depending on how you feel about the fat and calorie content of each. That’s your call.
  • Breadcrumbs – For gluten free turkey metballs, you can use gluten free breadcrumbs, conrmeal, ground oats, or almond meal. Keepo reading for more details on these substitutions.
  • Egg
  • Salt and pepper
  • Paprika – can use regular or smoked
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • Barbecue sauce – you can use your favorite barbecue sauce, depending on your preference for sweet, smoky, and spicy sauces. 
  • Apple cider – this thins out the sauce so it coats the meatballs and adds a rich sweet flavor. You can substitute apple juice, or even apple cider vinegar if you want a less sweet and more tangy version.
raw ground turkey in a bowl with bowls of barbecue sauce, apple juice, and spices, an egg, and a measuring cup with cornmeal

How to Make Baked Turkey Meatballs

Preparations: Preheat your oven to 400°F. Lightly coat a baking sheet with olive oil or nonstick cooking spray. You can also use parchment paper if you prefer.

Make the meat mixture: In a bowl, use your hands to gently combine the ground turkey, egg, bread crumbs or cornmeal, and seasonings in a bowl, and gently work them together. You don’t want to work the mixture too much or the meatballs will be tough.

Form and bake the turkey meatballs: Using about a tablespoon of the mixture, form it into balls and place them on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until they are no longer pink.

How Big Do You Make Meatballs?

As mentioned, I like to use about a tablespoon of the ground turkey mixture for each meatball. I prefer this smaller size for turkey meatballs as you don’t have to cook them as long, so there is less likelihood of them drying out while you wait for the center to cook through. It’s also a nice size for kids to eat or to use as party snacks.

I like to use a small cookie scoop to get my portions and then gently roll them together. 

How Do You Know the Meatballs are Done?

For meatballs of this size, they only need about 15 minutes in a 400°F oven. They will be firm, and if you cut one open it will no longer be pink inside. If you don’t want to break open your meatballs, you can use an instant-read thermometer and ensure the internal temperature has reached 165°F.

Making Barbecue Turkey Meatballs

Make the sauce: While the meatballs are baking, stir together and heat a mixture of your favorite barbecue sauce and apple cider (or juice or cider vinegar). Add the meatballs and stir to coat. Heat until everything is warmed through. Enjoy right away!

How do you keep meatballs warm for a party?

If you’d like to serve them as appetizer meatballs, you can just place them in a bowl or serving dish and be sure to have toothpicks to pick them up. However, they will get cold quite quickly.

I’d suggest combining the barbecue sauce and apple cider in a mini crockpot, then adding the baked turkey meatballs instead of heating them on the stove. This will keep them warm through the whole party. I have a super basic one like this 1 1/2 Quart Crock-Pot. While it doesn’t have a bunch of settings and features, I don’t use it often, and it does the job to just keep stuff warm.

Apple Cider BBQ Turkey Meatballs in a mini crockpot for a party appetizer

Making Gluten Free Turkey Meatballs

Do you need breadcrumbs in meatballs?

Ground turkey meatballs typically use breadcrumbs and eggs as a binder to keep them together. If you would like to make these as gluten-free appetizers or dinner without needing to buy special bread crumbs, there are a few options that I have used extensively.

  • Cornmeal – this is my new favorite binder for turkey meatballs. Even when using very lean ground turkey breast, cornmeal results in a very tender meatball that still holds together without being super dense. It also adds a nice but subtle flavor.
  • Ground oats – this used to be my go-to and still works quite well. Take some old fashioned oats and pulse a few times in a blender until they resemble the same consistency as breadcrumbs. I do not recommend quick oats as these expand quite a bit and can make the meatballs fragile and fall apart easily.
  • Almond meal – while this is not a super low carb recipe due to the apple cider, you can reduce the carbs and make it grain free by using almond meal. You do have to take care with the uncooked meatballs as they will not hold together well until they are baked.

What barbecue sauce do you use?

I usually use Stubb’s Original Bar-B-Q Sauce for this turkey meatball recipe. They are not a sponsor, it’s just my favorite. It has no high fructose corn syrup, is gluten-free, and isn’t too sweet. While for this recipe I like the sweeter flavor, thus the apple cider, I don’t typically like super sweet barbecue sauce. That means for this recipe when I add the apple cider, it has the perfect level of sweetness.

However, if you want to change things up, try making your own so you can customize the flavors, like these:

  • Bourbon BBQ Sauce is smoky, tangy, and better than a restaurant. Skip it if you are sensitive to grain alcohols, though.
  • Balsamic BBQ Sauce adds somethign unexpected and delicious to your basic sauce.
  • Honey BBQ Sauce is made with apple juice, so you can skip the apple cider or juice and add more sauce.
Toothpick picking up one Barbecue Baked Turkey Meatball

Storing Leftovers

You can keep any leftover BBQ turkey meatballs sealed in a container in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days. Reheat them in a pot on the stove or in the microwave, adding additional sauce, if needed.

Freezing Meatballs

You can freeze leftovers after you’ve tossed them in the sauce, or freeze the meatballs without the sauce.

If they are already coated in the barbecue sauce, transfer them to a freezer-safe container and seal. The baked turkey meatballs without sauce can be carefully transferred to a container or zip-top plastic freezer storage bag. Squeeze out any excess air and place in the freezer.

For the best flavor, enjoy within two months. Be sure to thaw in the refrigerator overnight before reheating.

Double or Triple the Batch

Yes, you can double or triple this recipe if you want to have a large amount for a party, or simply freeze the extras for another time. Just be sure to use extra baking sheets if needed so you can leave at least an inch or two between them while baking.

turkey meatballs covered in barbecue sauce on a plate with green beans

Make it a meal

Yes, this BBQ meatball recipe is a great party appetizer, but we love to enjoy it for dinner with these sides…

Bowl of Apple Cider Barbecue Turkey Meatballs with a container of toothpicks

Shop the Recipe

A few items I mentioned in the post that make this BBQ turkey meatball recipe super easy!

Brianne Recommends
  • Baking Sheets: I love the 2-pack from Nordicware and use them almost daily.
  • Small Cookie Scoop: This is helpful to make uniform-sized meatballs so they cook evenly.
  • Instant Read Thermometer: Allows for a quick check of doneness without cutting the meatballs open.
  • 1 1/2 Quart Crock Pot: Great to keep meatballs warm during a party.
4.8 from 4 votes

Apple Cider BBQ Turkey Meatballs

Easy turkey meatballs are coated in a sweet and savory mixture of your favorite barbecue sauce and apple cider for a simple dinner or party appetizer. Kids and adults love these!
Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 20 mins
Total: 30 mins
Servings: 6 servings (36 meatballs total)

Ingredients

  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs, cornmeal, ground oats, or almond meal
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika (regular or smoked)
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 cup barbecue sauce
  • 1/2 cup apple cider or apple juice (or apple cider vinegar for a less sweet and more tangy option)

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 400°F and lightly coat a baking sheet with cooking spray or oil.
  • In a bowl, combine the ground turkey, bread crumbs (or cornmeal or oats or almond meal), egg, salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, and onion powder. Gently combine with your fingers until fully mixed.
  • Using about a tablespoon of the mixture for each, shape the mixture into balls and place on the prepared baking sheet.
  • Bake for 12-15 minutes or until firm and cooked through.
  • Combine the barbecue sauce and apple cider in a saucepan or small slow cooker and warm gently. Add the cooked meatballs and heat through for about 5 minutes.
Nutrition Facts
Apple Cider BBQ Turkey Meatballs
Amount Per Serving (6 meatballs with sauce)
Calories 164 Calories from Fat 18
% Daily Value*
Fat 2g3%
Cholesterol 68mg23%
Sodium 521mg22%
Potassium 317mg9%
Carbohydrates 15g5%
Sugar 10g11%
Protein 19g38%
Vitamin A 195IU4%
Vitamin C 0.3mg0%
Calcium 22mg2%
Iron 1.1mg6%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

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