Nothing quite beats the classic holiday dinner. Maybe it's pure nostalgia, but the magical balance of spices, textures, and tastes from turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce is something we look forward to all year.
Eating the holiday meal is pure delight, but preparing it... not so much. Enter this turkey meatball recipe. It's the perfect party trick to capture all the tastes of the holidays as a bite-sized treat with very little prep time.
These simple step-by-step instructions provide a great visual guide so your total time in the kitchen goes by fast!
What You Will Need
Don't tell your grandma, but this recipe uses a boxed stuffing mix to reduce prep time. We dress it up with added herbs (hello sage) and rehydrate it in milk and broth for added flavor.
Of course, you can swap for leftover homemade stuffing. If doing so, add 1/2 cup of panko breadcrumbs when making the meatball mixture in Step 4.
Keeping with the holiday theme, the recipe uses ground turkey with added spices. If available, opt for a higher fat content than the standard lean ground turkey meat, and feel free to use frozen turkey meat (just thaw in advance).
While you can substitute ground chicken or ground pork, the recipe captures the holiday meal best with ground turkey.
Step 1: Make the Stuffing
Unlike most meatball recipes, here we "stuff" the meatball with a generous nugget of stuffing that gains extra flavorful thanks to the turkey meat as it cooks in the oven.
Shake the bag of stuffing mix to distribute the dried spices, then throw away the box (we won't use those instructions), and set aside 1/2 cup of stuffing mix to use in Step 4. Heat the chicken broth, milk, and butter in a pot until warm, then stir in the remaining stuffing mix with the added herbs and spices. Set aside for 5 minutes to rehydrate.
Step 2: Scoop and Chill the Stuffing
Using a cookie scoop, measure approximately one tablespoon of the stuffing into your hand, and roll it into a ball, then place it on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
Place the baking sheet with the stuffing balls in the freezer for 20-30 minutes. Giving them a brief freeze will help the stuffing hold its shape as you build the meatballs and bake them in the oven.
Note - the size of your stuffing ball will guide the final size of your meatball. If you prefer a bite-sized party treat, use only a scant tablespoon of the stuffing.
Step 3: Sautee the Vegetables
While the stuffing is chilling, prepare your veggies by sauteeing the onion, celery, and garlic in a pan with a couple tablespoons of butter until translucent.
Pour the veggies into a large mixing bowl and set the pan aside for Step 8 (no need to clean).
Step 4: Make the Meatball Mixture
Add the ground turkey to the large bowl with your sauteed veggies, along with the eggs, remaining stuffing mix, herbs, salt, and pepper, and mix to combine.
If using fresh herbs (like fresh parsley or fresh sage) increase the amount by ½ teaspoon to one teaspoon (depending on preference). And, if using leftover stuffing, add the 1/2 cup bread crumbs to the mix to help absorb some of the moisture.
Step 5: Form the Meatballs
Remove the stuffing balls from the freezer. Using the same cookie scooper, scoop a large dollop of turkey mixture into your hands. Patty the turkey into a large disc, then place the stuffing ball in the center and wrap the turkey around. Roll gently to secure into a ball.
Take care to cover the stuffing ball evenly with the turkey. You may find you need more or less turkey, but the goal is to build a thin even layer around so you get a nice bite of stuffing in the center.
Step 6: Bake the Meatballs
Place the meatballs in the oven to cook. You want a medium temp here as you will brown the meatballs at the end to finish.
You can use an instant-read thermometer to gauge cooking time here, as each oven is unique. Remember to aim for the side of the meatball to test and not the stuffing center.
Step 7: Make the Sauce
This recipe pairs the meatballs with a zesty cranberry glaze for a full holiday bite. The sauce comes together quickly and can be completed while the meatballs are baking. Simply mix all ingredients in a small pot on medium-low for 10 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent scorching on the bottom.
The cranberry sauce is naturally gluten-free. You can omit the stuffing and breadcrumbs from the meatball recipe for a fully gluten-free option, as the herbs and spices lend a nice holiday flavor. If using this method, you may want to increase the herbs and spices in the turkey mix for added flavor.
Step 8: Brown the Meatballs
The final step is to brown the meatballs in a pan. Heat your pan well with the remaining butter and gently shake the pan occasionally to prevent the meatballs from sticking.
The thin layer of turkey meat on the outside can make the meatballs difficult to turn in the pan. Moving the meatballs frequently in the pan (as noted above) and silicone tongs will help. Remember this is just a finishing step, so the meatballs do not need to cook long on each side.
Serve and Enjoy!
These meatballs are wonderful arranged on a platter with a dollop of glaze and toothpicks for an easy grab-and-go appetizer. But, you can just as easily dish out individual servings as a dinner option with mashed potatoes and other classic sides.
Leftover meatballs (if there are any) can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.