Words that encapsulate the warm, fuzzy feelings that surround the height of fall and transition into the holidays: footie pajamas; hearth; hot chocolate; mittens; Apple Cranberry Turkey Meatballs.
Cranberry Turkey Meatballs with Apple and Sage

If Thanksgiving were a meatball, it would be an apple cranberry turkey meatball. Sweet, juicy, and tangy, these turkey meatballs take the ingredients and flavors I most associate with family holiday gatherings and pack them into a single, melt-in-your-mouth bite.

The crowd at Wine & Dine Wisconsin for whom I cooked them live agreed!

Cooking at Wine & Dine

Aside from the fact that cranberry sauce should be handled with caution when wearing a white chef’s coat, I could not have selected a more perfect recipe to make for a crowd, whether that crowd happens to be sitting a few feet away watching you cook live as they were for me, or is a hungry crew that’s gathered in your home for a holiday party or game watch. The ingredients in these cranberry turkey meatballs are few but the flavors are profound, and, as I promised my skeptical onlookers, they are some of the juiciest meatballs you will ever taste.

Apple Cranberry Turkey Meatballs. Easy, juicy and every bite tastes like Thanksgiving!

Cranberry Turkey Meatballs with a Maple Cranberry Apple Sauce. Perfect Thanksgiving and holiday appetizer!

About This Cranberry Meatballs Appetizer

My secret to turkey meatball moisture supremacy? Shredded apples. Blended with the ground turkey meatball base, the apples lend their juiciness to the meat, which makes the meatballs super tender, and their light sweetness is a lovely addition too. Chopped fresh sage, a classic ingredient in both stuffing and roast turkey, gives the turkey meatballs a warm, savory flavor that I immediately associate with holiday meals and satisfied appetites.

To dress the meatballs, I stirred together an easy cranberry sauce that’s a perfect tart counterpoint to the sweet apple. While the sauce tastes 100% scratch made, I have a secret shortcut: canned whole cranberry sauce. Stirred together with fresh orange zest and juice, unsweetened apple sauce, and a touch of maple syrup, the canned cranberries are transformed into a boss turkey meatball sauce that tastes like it took hours, instead of mere minutes.

Cranberry Turkey Meatballs withe Apple and Sage

After demoing the recipe for my Wine & Dine audience, I waited anxiously while the cranberry turkey meatball samples were passed to attendees. While I’d been cooking the meatballs on stage, a group of talented culinary students from the Milwaukee Area Technical College had been ferociously prepping them behind the scenes to pass to the hungry crowd. I held my breath during the first bites, then couldn’t help but grin myself as the smiles and thumbs-up spread through the crowd. Turkey meatball victory!

I owe this special opportunity to cook at Wine & Dine to my wonderful local partner, Pick ‘N Save. I’m proud to work as a brand ambassador for the grocery store where I shop daily and of the fact that Pick ‘N Save supports the Milwaukee community. The company was a key event sponsor of Wine & Dine, and it also sponsors a culinary student to attend MATC. So cool! I made the meatballs using Pick ‘N Save Roundy’s store-brand products, which I’ve found to be just as good as their name-brand counterparts, at a fraction of the price.

Cooking at Milwaukee Wine and Dine

That’s me, sporting my sweet Pick ‘N Save chef coat. I even managed to keep it clean while stuffing cranberry turkey meatballs into my face immediately after the crowd cleared. Can you blame me? Just look at these juicy babies!

Turkey Meatball Tips

  • Don’t skip the baking rack! Baking these meatballs on a baking rack set on top of a baking sheet elevates them slightly to ensure even cooking on all sides.
  • Use a Cookie Scoop. I also like using a small cookie scoop to shape the meatballs so that they are all uniform in size and bake at the same rate.
  • Keep the Meatballs Warm in the Slow Cooker. Once the meatballs are made, you can transfer them to a slow cooker to keep warm. This is a great option for parties and to free up stove space. I’ve owned this 6-quart programmable slow cooker for years and absolutely love it.

More Tasty Party Appetizers

Slow Cooker Cranberry Turkey Meatballs

Whether you serve them as a holiday appetizer, game-day bite, or main course with a side of couscous or rice, these apple cranberry turkey meatballs are sweet and sassy satisfaction guaranteed.


Cranberry Turkey Meatballs with Apple and Sage

Apple Cranberry Turkey Meatballs

4.92 from 12 votes
Super moist cranberry turkey meatballs with apples and sage. With holiday flavors, this recipe is perfect for Thanksgiving or any holiday party!

Total: 30 mins

Servings: 24 -28 meatballs


For the Meatballs:

  • 1 pound 93% lean ground turkey
  • 1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large egg lightly beaten
  • 1 cup shredded tart apple such as Granny Smith, washed with peel on
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped Simply Roundy’s Fresh Sage
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • Chopped fresh parsley optional for garnish

For the Cranberry Sauce:

  • 1 cup whole berry cranberry sauce
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 tablespoons Simply Roundy’s Pure Maple Syrup
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice


  • Place a rack in the center of your oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Place an ovenproof baking rack on top of a large, rimmed baking sheet, then lightly coat with cooking spray. Set aside.
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine the turkey, breadcrumbs, olive oil, egg, apple, sage, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and pepper. With your hands or two forks, lightly mix to combine, being careful not to compact the meat.
  • Roll the mixture into 1 1/2 to 2-inch balls, using a small scoop to help portion as desired. Arrange the meatballs on top of the prepared baking rack. Bake in the oven for 12-14 minutes, just until cooked through.
  • Meanwhile, prepare the sauce: In a saucepan large enough to hold the meatballs, combine the cranberries, applesauce, maple syrup, orange zest, and orange juice. Heat over medium to warm through. Add the cooked meatballs to the sauce, then spoon the sauce over gently to coat. Transfer to a serving platter to enjoy immediately or place in a slow cooker set to the lowest heat to keep warm. Garnish with fresh parsley as desired and serve.

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I am sharing this post in partnership with Pick ‘N Save, for whom I am honored to be a brand ambassador. Thanks for supporting the brands and companies that make it possible for me to continue providing quality content to you!

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Erin Clarke

Hi, I'm Erin Clarke, and I'm fearlessly dedicated to making healthy food that's affordable, easy-to-make, and best of all DELISH. I'm the author and recipe developer here at wellplated.com and of The Well Plated Cookbook. I adore both sweets and veggies, and I am on a mission to save you time and dishes. WELCOME!

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  1. Erin,

    Do the meatballs freeze well? I was thinking of making them for a Christmas Party and want to get as much prep done ahead of time as possible. Thanks!

    1. Absolutely Lauren! I’d suggest omitting the sauce, then laying them out on a baking sheet, and freezing the sheet until the meatballs harden. Then, you can transfer the to a ziptop bag and store them in the freezer until ready to serve. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then warm them up and add the sauce. I hope that helps and that you love the recipe.

      1. Awesome! Thank you, Erin. I can’t wait to try these. I’m sure that they’re going to be a huge hit! Thanks again!

    1. Yes, Angelica! I’d check that your ground chicken is in the neighborhood of 93% lean like the turkey, but I think that’s a swap that would be delicious!

  2. This sounds perfect! I’ve been looking for alternatives to the traditional Thanksgiving meal, and I LOVE this idea. What do you think about just cooking them in a crock pot? Do you think that would work out well? If so, how long do you think it would take? 
    Thank you! 

    1. I too would like to know if this can be done in a crockpot. And how?? Trying to think of something to bring to my boyfriends big family thanksgiving. Would love to make ahead and then plug in the crock at the party. Can you tell me how? 

      1. Hi Lindsay! You can definitely make these meatballs ahead. Follow the recipe as directed, and then when they’re finished you can transfer everything to a slow cooker to keep them warm for the party. I hope you enjoy them! Have fun!

    2. Hi Sara! I have two thoughts on this. First, you could bake the meatballs until they’re just golden on the outside, then transfer them to the crock pot with the cranberry sauce to finish cooking. I haven’t tried them this way so it’d be a bit of an experiment. I’d use this recipe for reference, although the Apple Cranberry Turkey Meatballs will probably take less time: https://www.wellplated.com/slow-cooker-turkey-meatballs/

      My second thought is that you could cook the meatballs completely per the recipe and then keep them warm in the crock pot. That route would probably be the safest!

    1. Hi Paige! I’ve never made this as meatloaf before, so you would be experimenting. I’d recommend referencing other turkey meatloaf cooking times online (the ones I saw were anywhere from 1 to 1.5 hours), but start checking it on the early side to make sure it doesn’t overbake. Good luck!

  3. Hi Erin, these look amazing! I plan on trying them out this weekend when my family comes over. If I do these as an appetizer, do you have any recommendations for a good follow up main course? Or, if not as an app, how would you suggest serving them for dinner? With spaghetti squash maybe?

    Thank you!!

    1. Hi Natasha! Serving these with spaghetti squash is a good idea! I also think couscous, rice, or this winter salad (https://www.wellplated.com/winter-salad-kale-pomegranate-recipe/) would be nice sides too. I hope you enjoy the recipe! Have a wonderful weekend with your family!

  4. just wondering how I could change these up a bit, with out the breadcrumbs so that they are gluten free, and also to serve cold – what would I do with the sauce?

    1. Hi Anna! I would actually serve these room temperature vs. cold, following the recipe as directed. As far as gluten-free, I’m afraid I can’t advise you there, as I haven’t tried the recipe this way. Do you have another gluten-free substitute that has worked for breadcrumbs in the past? You could certainly try experimenting with that here. Making your own homemade breadcrumbs with gluten-free bread could work well too!

    1. Great question, Fran! Regarding nutritional info, this is something that I’ve actually started adding to all of my new recipes, effective January 2016 (you’ll see it in the recipe box at the bottom). Unfortunately, it’s pretty time consuming, so I’m unable to go back and add it to past recipes. If you’d like the nutritional info for any of my older recipes (or really any other recipe or food), you can actually calculate it yourself for free at myfitnesspal.com (this is how I calculate the new recipes on my blog). I’m sorry I can’t give you the information for this specific one, but I hope that My Fitness Pal will be a helpful resource for you!

  5. Love this recipe.  Made them tonight.  Very light.  What colors and flavors.  Light, fluffy, earthy and tart.  Went great with brown rice and butternut squash . 5 stars

    1. Francesca, I’m so glad to hear you enjoyed these meatballs. Thank you so much for giving them a try and taking the time to leave this wonderful review!

  6. I can usually tell from a recipe whether or not it’s good. This one, Erin, is a winner! I made last night for dinner using my family as the guinea pigs! Got rave reviews, however, I will probably omit the garlic next time and sub with some savory or thyme. I didn’t have fresh sage so I used 1 tsp of my own sage blend (dry and rubber sage, savory) I use for making dressing. So my next challenge will be to make this for a seniors luncheon for 125 people. I will be making one recipe using gluten-free crumbs and homemade cranberry sauce so those with restrictions can enjoy it as well. I like your suggestion of freezing them on trays then repackaging them for freezer storage until I need them. PS the grated apple is genius and absolutely necessary to keep these little babies moist! I served this with roasted butternut squash and rice4 stars

    1. Chris, thank you so much for giving this recipe a try and taking the time to leave this wonderful review! I’m glad to hear the recipe turned out so well and was enjoyed by all!

  7. Hi there…I wanted to make these as an app to take to Thanksgiving this year.  I was hoping to make these the night before and then just put them in the crockpot Thanksgiving day to warm and transport.  Would you the meatballs and sauce separate until putting in the crockpot?

    1. Hi Amy, I don’t think there’d be any problem combining the meatballs and sauce the night before when you make them. I hope you enjoy the recipe!

    1. Hi Bonnie, I began calculating nutrition info for recipes beginning in January 2016. Unfortunately, it’s a time-consuming process, so I’m unable to go back and add it to previous recipes. If you’d like to calculate the calories, My Fitness Pal is a great resource (it’s what I use). The size of the serving is based on personal preference, so I listed approximately how many meatballs the recipe makes. I’m sorry I’m unable to provide specific information, but I hope My Fitness Pal is a helpful resource!

    1. Hi Christine, I haven’t done that myself, but I think you could give it a try as long as they’re kept tightly covered in the fridge. If you do experiment, I’d love to hear how it goes.

  8. I looked thru the recipe and the comments and questions, but might have missed it somewhere, can u tell me how many meatballs you get out of 1 batch with the size of meatballs that you make ? I am definitely gonna be making these yummy looking meatballs ! Thank you ! ?


  9. Ive seen a few people asking about the nutritional information so here it is! I used a recipe calorie online tracker. This info is for one meatball of the 28.
    Servings: 28
    Amount per serving
    Calories 51
    % Daily Value*
    Total Fat 2g 3%
    Saturated Fat 0.5g 2%
    Cholesterol 19mg 6%
    Sodium 91mg 4%
    Total Carbohydrate 5g 2%
    Dietary Fiber 0.5g 2%
    Total Sugars 2.8g
    Protein 3.6g
    Vitamin D 1mcg 3%
    Calcium 11mg 1%
    Iron 0mg 3%
    Potassium 21mg5 stars

  10. We have made these numerous times and LOVE them! Sometimes I make the cranberry dressing, sometimes I use bbq sauce, and sometimes I just eat them plain. I have also cooked them ahead of time and then put the frozen ones in the crockpot the day I needed them. Highly recommend this recipe! Also, used red delicious apples last time and they were still awesome. 5 stars

  11. Easy and delicious! I brought these to a picnic so to make a easier to serve, instead of baking with the cranberry sauce, I put it in a separate container to use as a dipping sauce, and stuck toothpicks in the meatballs. Everyone loved them!5 stars

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