If Thanksgiving were a meatball, it would be a Cranberry Turkey Meatball. Sweet, juicy, and tangy, these turkey meatballs take the ingredients and flavors I love most about family holiday gatherings and pack them into a single, melt-in-your-mouth bite.
Words that encapsulate the warm, fuzzy feelings that surround the height of fall and transition into the holidays: footie pajamas; hearth; hot chocolate; mittens; cranberry turkey meatballs.
Turkey meatballs often get a bad rap for being dry and flavorless. One of my goals in life has been to prove that’s simply not true.
My Moroccan Turkey Meatballs and Crock Pot Turkey Meatballs are evidence of this! Today, these cranberry turkey meatballs only further cement their place is moist, juicy meatball land (a place I would love to visit BTW).
They’re a perfect Thanksgiving appetizer, divine Christmas lunch idea (served with Crockpot Wild Rice Stuffing), and totally worthy of your New Year’s Eve party snack spread (ideally beside these Maple Bourbon Bars).
5 Star Review
“These are AMAZING! I just made them and paired them with stuffing. Oh my. I am in heaven.”— Stacy —
How to Make Cranberry Turkey Meatballs
The ingredients in these cranberry turkey meatballs are few but the flavors are profound and they are some of the juiciest turkey meatballs you will ever taste.
- Ground Turkey. A lean, protein-packed alternative to beef and pork.
- Apples. My secret to turkey meatball moisture supremacy is shredded apples. The apples lend their juiciness to the meat, which makes the meatballs super tender, and their light sweetness is a lovely addition too.
- 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.
- Breadcrumbs. Absorb the juices from the turkey and apples as the meatballs cook, trapping them within the meatball to keep them moist and delicious. I encourage the same technique with my Baked Turkey Meatballs.
- Egg. Adds additional moisture and helps bind the meatballs together.
- Cranberry Sauce. The PERFECT tart counterpoint to the sweet apples and savory sage. I use a secret shortcut of canned whole cranberry sauce to save time and effort.
- Applesauce. Balances the tartness of the cranberries and brings the apple flavor of the meatballs into the sauce.
- Maple Syrup. Naturally sweetens the cranberry sauce and adds subtle maple flavor.
- Orange Juice + Zest. For a little brightness that pairs perfectly with the cranberries.
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
- Lightly combine the meatball ingredients using two forks or your hands.
For moist and tender meatballs, don’t overwork the mixture while mixing or shaping. Compacting and handling the meat too much can cause meatballs to become tough.
- Roll into 1 1/2 to 2-inch meatballs.
- Arrange on a baking sheet topped with a wire baking rack.
- Bake until just cooked through.
- Prepare the sauce by combining the ingredients together in a saucepan, warming until heated through.
- Toss the cooked meatballs in the sauce to coat and then serve. ENJOY!
Follow these tried-and-true tips for perfect turkey meatballs every time.
- 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.
Whether you serve them as a holiday appetizer, game-day bite, or main course with a side of Healthy Sweet Potato Casserole or Crockpot Green Bean Casserole, these apple cranberry turkey meatballs are sweet and sassy satisfaction guaranteed.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes! You may either mix and form the meatballs ahead and refrigerate them in a covered container up to 24 hours before you’re ready to cook them. You may also bake the meatballs as directed and then freeze them for up to 3 months. Defrost overnight in the fridge and then warm in a crockpot on LOW with the sauce until heated through.
I have not tried making these turkey meatballs with gluten free breadcrumbs. However, I imagine it can be done. If you choose to experiment, let me know how it goes.
Yes! Check to make sure the ground chicken is somewhere in the neighborhood of 93% lean like the turkey. If so, you should be able to swap without any further modifications to the recipe.
Cranberry Turkey 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 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 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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These meatballs sound great – like something I will make for Thanksgiving if we stay home this year. They are much easier than what I made last year. I’m hoping we do stay home, since where we would go is an 8.5 hour drive each way, which is very tiring, and we just did that trip this weekend. I’m curious what you would choose to serve these with.
Susan, I’m so glad you like the sound of these! As an appetizer, I’d serve them plain (just using toothpicks), but for a main I might try them with wild rice or whole wheat couscous with a side of green veggies. I hope you enjoy the recipe!
how would you serve them cold as an appetiser? Could you just use the sauce as a cold dipping sauce?
Thanks, Erin! I love the idea of a simple meal like what you suggested. I would be serving this as a main dish.
These are AMAZING! I just made them and paired them with stuffing. Oh my. I am in heaven. This will be my go to holiday recipe as I am an “orphan” and don’t need big meals. Thanks so much!
Hooray!!!! I’m so happy to hear that Stacy. Thanks for trying the recipe and letting me know how it turned out. It really means a lot!
Made these excellent meatballs today for the first time. I think it is the cranberry sauce that makes them so special. The cranberry’s also add color to these very low calorie but tasty meatballs. The orange Zest also adds a lot of flavor in these meatballs. I would rate this recipe 5 stars. Keep up the good work Erin. I for one will be watching your recipes closely. I am diabetic and always looking for tasty low calorie recipes.
Arthur, I’m so excited that you enjoyed these, and I love the cranberry sauce with the orange zest too! Thanks so much for trying the recipe and for letting me know how it turned out. I hope you love the other recipes you find too!
I made these meatballs for an appetizer for our family Christmas Eve celebration. Instead of the cranberry sauce, I used cranberry chutney I previously made. These were an absolute hit – tender, moist and tasty. Kids and adults alike love them! Will definitely keep this recipe and make again for another get together soon.
Margie, I am so happy to hear this, and I bet the meatballs were fantastic with your cranberry chutney! I’m honored that this recipe was a part of your Christmas Eve. Happy Holidays, and thank you so much for letting me know how the recipe turned out for you.
Simply divine….the cranberry sauce is so yummy…..such a nice change from the standard italian…I make them in larger batches to freeze and to share….
Annemarie, I’m so so happy to hear you like this recipe! And when it comes to meatballs, I say the more, the merrier :)
Made these meatballs last night. I did not have all the ingredients and either omited (sage and onion powder) or substituted (fresh garlic and lingonberry preserve) and it still came out great. They’re very addictive. Can’t wait to make them again.
I’m so happy to hear that you enjoyed these Uti. Thanks for letting me know!
Erin, these meatballs sound so great! I’m hosting a ‘Christmas in July’ party on the weekend and was thinking I’d make these as burgers. Any suggestions for how they might turn out on the BBQ? Would I need to modify the recipe in any way? I excited to try them!
Hi Holly, I’m sorry, but I have never tried grilling meatballs before! I’d suggest finding a different grilled turkey meatball recipe online, then following those cooking times. Because of the apple, these might cook a bit more quickly, so definitely keep an eye on them so that they don’t dry out. If you do decide to experiment and try them grilled, I’d love to hear how it turns out. Enjoy the party—that sounds so fun!
These meatballs ARE fantastic!!! I didn’t make the cranberry sauce as I’m on a farm and not running to the store today (I also had to sub ground sage for fresh for the same reason) but will definitely make it in future. Both my kids (age 6 and 3) LOVED them! They were super easy and will make perfect lunches for school and harvest!!! Thanks so much!!
Whoooooo hooooo! I am so happy to hear that Jen. Thank you!
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!
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.
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!
Do you think these would be good with ground chicken rather than turkey?
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!
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?
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?
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!
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!
Could I make this into a meatloaf and if so how long would you bake it for in a loaf pan?
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!
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?
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!
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?
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!
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 .
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!
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 rice
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!
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?
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!
Can you prep these meatballs in the morning and then cook them at dinner time? Love them!
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.
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 ! ?
Hi Wendy! The yield is at the very top of the recipe. 24 – 28 meatballs. I hope you enjoy it!
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.
I’m SO happy that you’ve enjoyed them, Erin! Thank you for sharing this kind review!
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!
I’m so happy that you enjoyed them, Barbara! Thank you for sharing this kind review!
Made this recipe and am happy to say it was a crowd pleaser.
I did not place on baking rack, I placed directly on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. They cooked perfectly. I added parsley to the recipe and also as a garnish. Thank you for sharing!
Hi Linda! So glad you enjoyed them! Thank you for this kind review!
We made these as a trial run for Thanksgiving with our friends. They were a HIT! Absolutely delicious! Cooked them in the oven and placed them in a crockpot to stay warm with the cranberry sauce-crowd favorite! Just the right amount of flavors!
Hi Rachel! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
Most amazing meatballs I’ve tried!!! I made these for an event and seriously considered keeping them and bringing something else! They are moist and the sauce is just delicious!
Hi Sue! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
We just made these for Thanksgiving dinner instead of a traditional turkey and sides. These turkey meatballs are absolutely delicious! The delicate combination of flavors are beautifully balanced. They are a bit sweet but a perfect, easy to make, holiday appetizer.
Hi Tracey! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
Can I use this recipe for gr beef?
Hi Sammi, you probably could, I’ve just only tested it with ground turkey. If you decide to experiment, let me know how it goes!
Made these for our early family Christmas as I couldn’t be bothered with cooking the whole turkey. These were a big hit! Prepared the day before and just put them on the stove top to heat through on the day. I increased the quantity by .5 to have enough for 15 guests. Should have doubled as they were so popular.
Hi Jenna! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!