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Sweet and savory and perfectly tender, everyone loves 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!
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.
It’s truly a timeless recipe to make year-round with mouthwatering sweet and savory flavors. Get in the kitchen now because your kids or friends or family will gobble these up! Ha, gobble! Turkey meatballs. See what I did there?!
Why You’ll Love These Turkey Meatballs
I could give you a million reasons – even though I am always developing new recipes, these are a staple in our dinner menu that I make often. Why?
- Easy to make. Just mix them up, form balls, bake quickly, and slather in sauce. You can use your favorite barbecue sauce or any type you have on hand.
- So versatile. We like to serve them with sweet potatoes, over rice, or even on rolls for dinner. But they also make great appetizers for holiday parties and game day gatherings.
- Healthy option. Since these barbecue meatballs are made with lean ground turkey, they are fairly light in the calorie department.
- Can be gluten free. You can use gluten free bread crumbs or my favorite simple swap I’ll share below.
Here is an overview of what you’ll need for this turkey meatball recipe. Be sure to scroll down to the recipe card for the full amounts and instructions.
- 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 meatballs, you can use gluten free breadcrumbs, cornmeal, ground oats, or almond flour. Keep reading for more details on these substitutions.
- Salt and pepper
- Paprika – can use regular or smoked
- Garlic powder
- Onion powder
- Barbecue sauce – 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.
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.
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!
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.
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. See below for storage information.
Just be sure to use extra baking sheets if needed so you can leave at least an inch or two between them while baking.
This recipe is very flexible. You can make substitutions to mee your dietary needs and flavor preferences!
Make them Gluten Free
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 – My 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 – they will not hold together well until they are baked.
Use Your Favorite Barbecue Sauce
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 something 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.
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.
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.
Make it a Meal
Yes, this BBQ meatball recipe is a great party appetizer with air fryer pizza rolls and chicken nachos. But we love to enjoy it for dinner with some stovetop mac and cheese and and air fryer broccoli. Or try these meal ideas…
- BBQ Meal: Enjoy alongside barbecue favorites like the Best Baked Beans and a scoop of Maple Dijon Apple Coleslaw.
- Comfort Food Dinner: Get cozy with Cheddar Bacon Mashed Potatoes or Cheesy Mashed Cauliflower and a creamy Corn Pudding Casserole.
- Fall Favorites: Celebrate the best of the season with Brown Butter Mashed Butternut Squash and a hunk of Gluten Free Cornbread.
- Kid Favorites: Little ones will squeal with glee as they enjoy Baked Cauliflower Tots and Buttered Peas and Carrots.
Shop the Recipe
A few items mentioned above make this BBQ turkey meatball recipe super easy!
- 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.
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 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.