Deliciously flavorfully spiced, tender and moist turkey BBQ Meatballs are glazed with the ultimate homemade barbecue sauce with hints of spice, pineapple and molasses! These are the ultimate appetizer for entertaining! If you love these, you will also love my Spaghetti and Meatballs, My Lentil Meatballs and also my Salisbury Steak Meatballs!
Thank you Veronica of Collard Greens and Caviar for Guest Posting this Wonderful Recipe!
Hi I’m Veronica Hendrix, Los Angeles based journalist, podcaster and creator of the food blog collardgreensandcaviar.com. I am super excited to be a Grandbaby Cakes guest blogger.
I have a confession to make – I love meatballs.
I have an obsession for the rustic mounds of seasoned meat lightly rolled into tasty rounds.
From albóndigas meatballs nestled in a light broth with vegetables to the richness of Filipino Bola-bola meatballs with their pork-liciousness, their diversity in texture and flavor is like a trip around the epicurean world.
How it all began
My love affair with meatballs has very humble beginnings. I grew up in a working class family in a little town called Pacoima, California, just 23 miles south of Los Angeles. Both of my parents were transplants from the great state of Alabama. Making more with less was a way of life. For our family, mom prepared a lot of the traditional meals she had grown up eating. But living in California expanded her culinary repertoire with a few new dishes she quickly learned to make like chili and spaghetti. These were perfect for feeding a family of six. And she was thrilled that for a few dollars she could make meals that were ample enough, not to mention tasty enough, to feed the entire family, with leftovers to spare.
The Original Way to Make Meatballs
Her meatballs, which she cooked on the stovetop, were basic: ground beef, salt, pepper, chopped onions, bell pepper, an egg, and crumbled white bread as the binder. She folded the cooked meatballs into hot spaghetti combined with a simple sauce made from a large can of Springfield tomato sauce seasoned with salt and pepper. And when she served this dish, topped with a little grated parmesan cheese sprinkled from a shiny, green cylinder carton, it was like love on a plate. Those meatballs were so moist, flavorful and had little chunks of white bread which never seemed to get incorporated.
A meatball remake
Today, mom doesn’t cook very much. She’s up in age. But I have taken up the mantle or the wooden spoon. And as a nod to my love of meatballs, I have created a barbeque meatball recipe that channels my southern sensibilities and my Southern California lifestyle.
I’ve zhuzhed up mom’s recipe by replacing the ground beef with ground turkey, which is leaner, lighter and healthier. I’ve swapped out the crumble white bread for Panko bread crumbs, which incorporates very nicely. I’ve added chopped spinach and grated sweet potatoes to add moisture in the absence of fat in the ground beef. These two ingredients make them moist, juicy, and take these tasty little meatballs into the umami zone.
The homemade barbecue sauce is luscious, saucy and delicately sweet. And the addition of crushed pineapple added in this recipe melts into the sauce like butter. This sassy sauce is a perfect complement to the meatballs.
Have it your way
You can serve the meatballs as appetizers or as sliders with your favorite store bought dinner rolls. You can even stuff them into a soft hoagie roll or those with bigger appetites. But make sure you add lots of the sassy sauce all over the top. You can even add these saucy meatballs to a pound of cooked spaghetti. Why not?
No matter how you serve them, don’t forget to top the meatballs with lots of grated parmesan cheese. It’s the way mom served them, and it’s the way I like to serve them too.
6 Tips for making delicious BBQ Meatballs
It’s true that the more fat there is in ground meat, the more tender the meatballs tend to be. But since this recipe uses ground turkey, which is much leaner than beef or pork, these simple tips will help you make moist meatballs.
Tip #1 – Chilled is better
Fat tends to melt in warm environments. If fat equals moisture, it’s important to keep your ground turkey chilling in the fridge until you are ready to use it. It also helps to chill your mixing bowl in the freezer for about an hour before you get started.
Tip #2 – Add some moisture
Ground turkey is really lean and has less fat than ground beef or ground pork. Less fat can make your meatballs less tender. Always use the 85% lean ground turkey. It has more fat than the 99% lean ground variety. Adding an egg to your meatballs will certainly help replace some of the lost moisture from the fat. However, keep in mind eggs are used primarily to help bind the mixture together. This recipe bumps up the moisture by adding a modest amount of grated sweet potatoes and chopped spinach, which also adds subtle flavor as well.
Tip #3 – Please don’t over mix
This is never more important than when using ground turkey. Over mixing will certainly make your meatballs less tender. To save you from this faith, here’s my method:
Place your chilled ground turkey meat in a chilled mixing bowl and spread the meat over the surface of the bottom of the bowl.
Evenly distribute each ingredient over the entire surface of the meat. Add the cracked egg in the center.
Wet your hands. Gently toss the mixture with your fingertips until all the ingredients are evenly mixed. This takes about a good minute.
Tip #4 – Pack them lightly
Here is your last chance to make moist meatballs. Don’t blow it. If your meatballs are formed into compacted rounds, they are more likely to be tough and rubbery once they are done. Pack them lightly by rolling them gently in your hands until they hold their shape. Remember; resist the urge to compact them. Lastly, wetting your hands can be helpful in preventing the meat from sticking to your hands.
Tip #5 – Make them all the same size
Aesthetically they will look better. But in reality it helps them to cook more evenly. If your meatballs are different sizes, some will be undercooked and some will be overcooked. Overcooking means a tougher meatball. You can always use a small ice cream scoop if you don’t want to risk it.
Tip #6 – Use parchment paper
Aluminum has its place in the baking world. But for this recipe, parchment paper is the winner. Why? Well it helps to stop the meatballs from sticking to the sheet pan, and it helps to regulate the temperature of the pan so the meatballs bake more evenly.
Turkey BBQ Meatballs
For the Meatballs
- 2 lbs 85% lean ground turkey chilled
- 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
- 1/2 cup fresh grated sweet potato firmly packed
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup fresh chopped spinach firmly packed
- 1 tbsp dried chopped onion
- 1 tbsp worchestershire sauce
- 1/2 tsp chipotle chili pepper
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
- 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 large egg
- More grated parmesan cheese for serving
- freshly chopped parsley for garnish
For the BBQ Sauce
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 cup chopped bell pepper
- 1/2 cup chopped red onion
- 1 garlic clove
- 29 oz tomato sauce can
- 8 oz crushed pineapple can
- 3 tbsp dark molasses
- 2 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 tbsp dry mustard
- 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
For the Meatballs
- First, gather all your ingredients before you start. This will help save you time and help you maintain your focus and momentum as you begin to make this recipe or any recipe.
- Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Next, line a baking sheet with parchment paper. A standard 18 x 13 inch baking sheet works well.
- In a large, chilled mixing bowl, add chilled ground turkey. Break up the meat and spread it over the bottom surface of the bowl.
- One by one, evenly distribute each listed ingredient over the meat. Add the crack egg last.
- Using your hands, gently mix until all the ingredients are incorporated. This takes about 1 minute. Make sure not to over mix.
- Divide the mixture in half. Form each half into 12 meatballs, for a total of 24 meatballs. Place the meatballs on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.
- Place the baking sheet in the preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, remove the baking sheet from the oven.
To Make the BBQ Sauce
- First, gather all your ingredients before you start. This will help you save time and help you maintain your focus and momentum as you begin to make this recipe or any recipe.
- Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a 2.5 or 3 quart, non-stick saucepan set on medium heat. Once the oil is heated, add the chopped bell pepper and onion to the saucepan.
- Next, sauté the bell pepper and onion for 4 minutes - stirring constantly with a wooden or silicone spoon/spatula - until they are lightly brown. Add chopped garlic to mixture and sauté 30 seconds or until the garlic is fragrant.
- Add all of the remaining ingredients, and mix well.
- Bring the sauce to a gentle boil, and then cover the saucepan with the lid.
- Simmer the sauce for 15 minutes, covered; stir at least twice. After 15 minutes, remove the saucepan from the heat.
- Add the baked meatballs to the sauce and gently stir them through. Cover the saucepan for 5 minutes, and then serve as appetizers, as sliders or pour over a pound of cooked spaghetti. Finish with grated Parmesan cheese and fresh chopped parsley.