Easy Turkey Meatballs in Tomato Basil Sauce
How to make tender ground turkey meatballs cooked in a quick and easy tomato basil sauce. You will love this easy recipe. This recipe has no lengthy cooking times, no baking, and no searing. Simple! Jump to the Tomato Basil Turkey Meatballs Recipe.
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How to Make the Best Ground Turkey Meatballs
These tender turkey meatballs do not last long in our kitchen. The moment one of us turns away, the other quickly steals a meatball, and before we know it, all that’s left is an empty pan.
You will love this easy recipe. There are no lengthy cooking times and no need to bake or sear the meatballs in advance. Instead, we make quick tomato basil sauce — similar to our marinara sauce. After bringing it to a simmer, we carefully drop the meatballs right into the sauce. For baked or seared meatballs, take a look at this easy meatball recipe.
To make the sauce, cook chopped garlic, and crushed red pepper flakes in olive oil, then add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and basil. Bring it to a simmer and allow it to reduce while you make the meatballs.
For the meatballs, we combine lean ground turkey with breadcrumbs, milk, egg, cheese, and herbs. After forming them into balls, we carefully drop them into the simmering sauce. Simple.
For the most tender and light meatballs (using ground turkey, chicken, or beef) you use a light touch when mixing and forming. To help with this, we have two tricks:
- First, combine all the ingredients before adding the ground meat. You’ll see that in our recipe we mix breadcrumbs, milk, an egg, and herbs first. That way, when we add the turkey meat, all we need to do is lightly mix. We do this when making chicken meatballs, turkey burgers, and even meatloaf.
- Second, these meatballs are pretty wet, so the mixture is a bit sticky when forming the balls. Be gentle when forming into meatballs then after placing them into the sauce, don’t move them for the first 10 minutes of cooking. Once they’ve cooked and firmed up a bit, you can stir them as usual.
Make Ahead Tips
Meatballs are the perfect make-ahead meal. Here are our tips for making them in advance:
Make-ahead sauce: The tomato basil sauce can be made in advance and should last in your refrigerator up to three days and in your freezer for about 3 months. We recommend using freezer-safe glass containers, or double layers of freezer bags to store sauces. To thaw, just leave it overnight in the refrigerator.
Make-ahead meatballs: Arrange shaped and uncooked meatballs in a dish or on a baking sheet, without touching. Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day.
Freezing uncooked meatballs: Prepare the recipe through the shaping step. Arrange them on a foil-lined baking sheet and freeze until solid. Place the frozen meatballs in a freezer container or freezer bag, and freeze for up to 1 month. Thaw meatballs in the refrigerator overnight before cooking.
Freezing cooked meatballs: Let the cooked meatballs cool completely, then transfer to a freezer container or food-safe bag. Freeze for up to 1 month. Frozen meatballs can be thawed overnight or reheated directly from the freezer. Reheat them in a simmering sauce for 10 to 15 minutes or in a warm oven for 10 to 15 minutes.
More Meatball Recipes
- The Best Swedish Meatballs — This recipe makes juicy and flavorful meatballs with a creamy, rich, and crave-worthy sauce.
- Tomato Basil Slow Cooker Chicken Meatballs — made with lean ground chicken, parmesan cheese, parsley, and oregano, and then cooked in a simple garlic and basil tomato sauce.
- Goat Cheese Stuffed Baked Chicken Meatballs — I love that these easy meatballs are baked — it makes them so easy.
- Spaghetti and Turkey Meatballs with Spinach Pesto — How to make extra flavorful turkey meatballs tossed with an easy homemade spinach pesto.
Recipe updated, originally posted January 2013. Since posting this in 2013, we have tweaked the recipe to be more clear. – Adam and Joanne
Easy Turkey Meatballs in Tomato Basil Sauce
We love these easy turkey meatballs cooked in a simple tomato basil sauce. This recipe has no lengthy cooking times, no baking, and no searing. Instead, we simmer the meatballs in a simple tomato basil sauce.
Use a light touch when mixing and forming the meatballs. Also, when you add them to the sauce, be careful not to stir it for about 10 minutes so the meatballs can firm up. Once they’ve cooked and firmed up a bit, you can stir them normally. Serve these with a dollop of ricotta cheese, spooned over spaghetti or with rustic bread.
Watch Us Make the Recipe
You Will NeedTomato Basil Sauce
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
1 large basil sprig plus handful of torn basil leaves
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs, regular bread crumbs or homemade bread crumbs
1/2 cup milk, we use reduced fat
1 large egg
1 ½ ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, coarsely grated (generous 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves and tender stems, chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 pound ground turkey (93% lean)
- Make Sauce
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet with sides and lid. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, then cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Stir in the tomato paste and cook, stirring often, until the color turns from bright red to orange, about 2 minutes.
Pour in the crushed tomatoes and a generous pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer. Add the basil sprig, then taste for seasoning. Adjust with additional salt if needed. Continue to simmer while you prepare the meatballs.
Add the breadcrumbs, milk, egg, cheese, parsley, oregano, and salt to a large bowl. Stir until well blended.
Add the ground turkey and use a fork or fingers to mix everything until combined. For the most tender meatballs, try your best not to over-mix.
Wet your hands, and then form the mixture into 1-inch balls. You should get about 22 to 24 meatballs.
Gently drop the meatballs into tomato sauce. It’s okay if the sauce does not entirely cover the tops.
Cover the skillet and cook for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, the meatballs will have firmed up, so you can gently shimmy the skillet to move the meatballs around in the sauce.
Cook for another 5 to 10 minutes or until the meatballs are thoroughly cooked. Just before serving, scatter torn basil leaves over meatballs and sauce.
Adam and Joanne's Tips
- Storing leftover meatballs: Store leftover meatballs in a food-safe container in the refrigerator up to 1 week. Reheat over low heat in a saucepan or in the microwave.
- Make-ahead sauce: The tomato basil sauce can be made in advance and should last in your refrigerator up to 3 days and in your freezer for about three months. We recommend using freezer-safe glass containers, or double layers of freezer bags to store sauces. To thaw, leave it overnight in the refrigerator.
- Make-ahead meatballs: Arrange shaped and uncooked meatballs in a dish or on a baking sheet, without touching. Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day.
- Freezing uncooked meatballs: Prepare the recipe through the shaping step. Arrange them on a foil-lined baking sheet and freeze until solid. Place the frozen meatballs in a freezer container or freezer bag, and freeze for up to 1 month. Thaw meatballs in the refrigerator overnight before cooking.
- Freezing cooked meatballs: Let the cooked meatballs cool completely, then transfer to a freezer container or food-safe bag. Freeze for up to 1 month. Frozen meatballs can be thawed overnight or reheated directly from the freezer. Reheat them in a simmering sauce for 10 to 15 minutes or in a warm oven for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Nutrition Facts: The nutrition facts provided below are estimates. We have used the USDA Supertracker recipe calculator to calculate approximate values.
If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #inspiredtaste — We love to see your creations on Instagram and Facebook! Find us: @inspiredtaste
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This looks sooo good and easy too! I’m lactose intolerant and don’t have milk in the house –could I substitute unsweetened almond milk which I do have on hand for the milk?
Hi Marilyn, Yes, an unsweetened plant-based milk like almond milk will be fine in this recipe.
Hello. I just wanted to say that using half beef and half Italian sausage meat is a perfect meat combo. Way better than just using beef. And baking the meatballs makes them more tender than frying them. Overall great recipe! Ritz crackers works great instead of breadcrumbs. A happy accident 🙂
We love this! I bet sausage meat adds a lovely flavor. Thanks for sharing.
I love these meatballs so much! Could I bake them to save time? If so, what temp and time would you recommend? Thank you!
Hi Alexandra, You can bake the meatballs. We suggest 425°F, and the meatballs should take somewhere around 20 minutes to bake.
How would this recipe hold up without the cheese? The strongest cheese I can eat is a mozerella, will it still be okay without the cheese?
Hi Paige, Yes, you can leave the cheese out. It helps to season the meatballs, so you might lose a bit of flavor.
Tender – not delicious. They have a wet – meaty flavor. Not an ideal meatball.
Hi Paul, We are sorry that you did not enjoy the recipe. I’m not sure what went wrong, we love these tender, juicy meatballs. You might want to take a look at this meatballs recipe, which calls for searing the meatballs. They might be a bit firmer for you.
Just wow! How delicious and moist are these beauties. Lovely and moist and perfect with any type of pasta or lots of lemony cous cous to soak up that gorgeous sauce. A real hit. Thank you
Hi Jude, We are thrilled that you enjoy them so much! Thanks for coming back and letting us know.
Ah now that’s a good idea and if you an use cous cous then you can use bulgar wheat, I will give that a go!
Delicious! I’m 37 years old and have never made meatballs before. Tried this simple recipe yesterday (with the pasta sauce and noodles) and it was a hit! My partner said he could eat it every day – that’s the biggest compliment. Thanks so much for making this as easy and unintimidating as possible.
Oh wow, that is a wonderful compliment, Kelly! So happy you both enjoyed them.
This recipe is very easy to follow, comes together quick and is delicious! It tastes like its been cooking all afternoon, such amazing flavor! My husband, who I thought would give it a 5 out of 10, gives it a 12!
Wow! We are thrilled that you both enjoy them so much, Laura!
I have are this recipe several times. The meatballs are so tender and delicious. Highly recommend.
Thanks for coming back and leaving a review, Karen. We really appreciate it.
I love your recipe for turkey burgers. The ground, cooked, mushrooms keep the turkey so moist. Would ground, cooked, mushrooms work in this recipe as well?
Yes, they would work well in this recipe.
sooo good. served my turkey balls on top of blanched zoodles. was super tasty and added a nice crunch. my housemates and i loved them. i was really surprised at how moist and full of flavour they were, i added a touch more cheese and chilli and i did not regret it. thanks for a great recipe that takes very little concentration
Hi Bernadette, a bit more cheese is never a bad idea! So happy you enjoyed the meatballs!
Perfect result. Fantastic meatballs. I found difficult to follow the recipe as they are in US measures but the result is delicious.
Did you know that there are facilities online for you to convert one set of measures/weights to another, such as cups to grammes or grammes to ounces, etc? This is what I do as I am not American so prefer ounces or grammes.
I have made these meatballs twice for my family and everyone gives them 2 thumbs up. They are easy to make and they are not dry and dense as some meatballs can taste. They stay light and fluffy and moist and the flavor is excellent. This is turning into a regular dinner recipe over here. Thank you!
This is my go to turkey meatball recipe. I have not changed a thing- they always come out moist and tender and flavorful. There is usually enough sauce left over to save for another dish.