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BBQ Turkey Meatballs are baked in the oven, then coated in a mixture of apple cider or juice and your favorite barbecue sauce for sweet and savory flavor kids and adults are sure to love. Ready in less than 30 minutes, these healthy meatballs will definitely be one of your family’s favorite quick and easy dinner recipes. Or toss them in a slow cooker and add some toothpicks for party appetizers. You can even make them gluten free!
When I started this blog, it was a hobby. It was my little corner of the internet to share my recipes and random ramblings. Those random ramblings used to flow out of me with almost no effort and I could bang out a blog post in no time.
Then I discovered that I had to do things like add descriptions for Pinterest to make it clear whether they were pinning a recipe for Banana Chocolate Peanut Butter Energy Balls or meatballs. Because from a quick glance on a tiny phone screen, those can sometimes look the same.
Google wants posts to be a certain length, sound natural, but be unique and compelling. And readers don’t want posts to be too long.
That, my friends, is a formula for writer’s block. And all of that comes together and mean that the first time I published this recipe, a recipe that involves turkey and apple cider, was in January. I had made them over and over in October and November, but I didn’t have the wherewithal to pull it all together to post.
Well, good timing is in the eye of the beholder, right?!
Healthy Turkey Meatballs with BBQ Sauce
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.
Here is a brief overview so you can see just how easy it is to make. Scroll down to the printable recipe card for the full quantities and details.
But don’t skip my PRO TIPS below!
- 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 – or the gluten free alternatives I discuss below.
- 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.
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 always 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.
Directions overview – scroll to the recipe card for the full set of instructions
- Preheat your oven and coat a large baking sheet with oil or cooking spray.
- Place the ground turkey, egg, binder, 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 balls with about a tablespoon of the turkey mixture.
- Place the meatballs on the prepared baking sheet.
- Bake the meatballs for about 15 minutes or until no longer pink.
- 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
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.
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.
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.
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…
More recipes with barbecue sauce
- Barbecue Chicken Tostadas
- BBQ Pulled Pork Fries
- Barbecue Ranch Quinoa Chicken Salad
- BBQ Shrimp Quinoa Bowls
More meatball recipes
- Pineapple Teriyaki Turkey Meatballs
- Grandma’s Porcupine Meatballs
- General Tso’s Chicken Meatballs
- French Onion Stuffed Meatballs
- Plus here are 11 Amazing Meatball Recipes From Around the World!
Apple Cider BBQ Turkey Meatballs
- 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)
- 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 14-17 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.