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Making meatballs from ground turkey

Aimee Mar 26, 2010 05:47 AM

I don't use ground turkey much but I happen to have it. Will the meatballs be dry if I don't mix in some pork or beef? Any good recipes? Meatballs can be of any ethnicity - Italian, Middle Eastern etc. Thanks!

  1. bushwickgirl Mar 29, 2010 02:59 PM

    I just saw (on the local news) a blurb about a restaurant in the city that specializes in meatballs; beef, pork, chicken, vegetables and salmon, but no mention of turkey! The owner walked through a kosher meatball recipe for Passover.

    BTW, the restaurant is The Meatball Shop, 84 Stanton Street in the LES, if you're interested. All things meatball, different sauces, sliders and sides.

    1. ChristinaMason Mar 29, 2010 01:43 AM

      These are by far my favorite turkey meatballs, and maybe my favorite meatballs, period. They are just really flavorful and moist. Be careful not to overcook them, and they're perfect.

      (Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

      -5 slices Italian bread, crumbled into small pieces (I used stale homemade oatmeal white bread)
      -1/2 c. milk
      -3 oz. pancetta, or uncooked bacon or turkey bacon, diced
      -1 sm. onion, finely chopped
      -2 cloves garlic, minced
      -1 1/2 lbs. ground turkey (lean is OK)
      -1 egg, lightly beaten
      -4 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
      -1 Tbsp. fresh tarragon, chopped
      -good pinch red pepper flake
      -3 Tbsp. tomato paste, divided
      -1 Tbsp. olive oil
      -salt and pepper, to taste

      Method and photos here: http://culinspiration.wordpress.com/2...

      This mixture also makes an excellent meatloaf. I top it with marinara mixed with ketchup and sriracha.

      1. s
        susanpmccoy Mar 28, 2010 04:48 PM

        If you are using turkey for the health benefits, adding bacon isn't exactly a "good thing." Why don't you use chicken instead? It is moist and lighter in both taste and fat content. 98% of the time there is no need to change the recipe from the original beef. Just tonight I made Paul Prudhomme's meatloaf (meatballs) with chicken. The only thing I changed was to cut down the butter (used 1/2 olive oil) and oatmeal instead of bread crumbs (just healthier). They were fab! I have made it with turkey and while passable, not fab.

        1 Reply
        1. re: susanpmccoy
          nomadchowwoman Mar 29, 2010 12:06 PM

          I don't know about others' reasons, but I make them because they are absolutely delicious!

        2. nomadchowwoman Mar 26, 2010 04:22 PM

          I've made turkey-arugula meatballs many times, and everyone absolutely loves them. The recipe starts with pancetta, which is diced and fried in olive oil until crisp, then set aside in a large bowl. Chopped garlic is sauteed for a minute in the same pan; then chopped arugula is added and cooked 'til wilted. Both added to bowl. To this bowl, once its contents are cool, you add ground turkey, egg, bread crumbs, pecorino romano cheese, chopped capers, salt, and pepper. Shape (small) meatballs w/a very light touch and fry in olive oil. They are good like this, but I usually make a butter-based tomato sauce w/shallots and brandy and simmer the meatballs in it.
          These are very flavorful, and very moist.

          1. s
            Sproutling Mar 26, 2010 03:23 PM

            I always use lean ground turkey and add low fat cottage cheese to keep moist and boost protein - as a thickener/binder i add one egg and some oatmeal. The original recipe used ground beef and was a meatloaf recipe my mom used to make. You can find it by googling cottage cheese meatloaf. I add spices and some grated Parmesan and lots of freshly ground black pepper and bake them on parchment paper in the oven then add to sauce later . They are fantastic and hold up well to most sauces.

            1. rabaja Mar 26, 2010 01:41 PM

              I often make turkey meatballs, turkey burgers, turkey stuffed cabbage, etc..
              One trick I like is to add in some hydrated bulgur when making my meat mixture. A light hand when mixing things together and not over-cooking are also key.
              The bulgur adds moisture and fiber!

              1. yamalam Mar 26, 2010 01:35 PM

                My 100% turkey meatballs are never dry and flavorless. Like bushwick girl mentioned, I used milk soaked bread.

                1 lb lean ground turkey
                1 slice stale bread, soaked in milk, wrung out and torn up
                1/4 cup grated carrot
                1/4 finely chopped onion
                2 cloves garlic
                2 tbsp minced parsley
                1 tsp dried thyme
                1 egg, beaten
                1 tsp salt
                freshly ground pepper

                Combine ground turkey, garlic, beaten egg, milk-soaked bread bits, carrot, onion, dried thyme, parsley and salt and pepper in a large bowl. Roll meat mixture into 1 1/2-2 inch balls and place on a baking sheet sprayed with cooking oil. Broil for 12 minutes, flipping halfway.

                1. Bada Bing Mar 26, 2010 12:42 PM

                  In my experience, the chief obstacle is the relatively low fat of turkey. Pay attention to the fat content of your ground turkey. Some is nearly fat free, presumably made from breast, while others (which I prefer) have a higher fat content (they'll say, like, 93% fat-free, which, I suppose, means 7% fat, or?) In any case, I buy that fattier stuff, which by beef standards is still very lean, add half a cup of olive oil (for 5lbs, but exactness is not my thing), and then proceed accroding to the bread crumbs and spices and whatever else I would like to do were it beef chuck.

                  11 Replies
                  1. re: Bada Bing
                    bushwickgirl Mar 26, 2010 01:04 PM

                    If you want to cut back on the added olive oil, moisten your breadcrumbs or whatever filler you use with milk or water. Adds moisture with very little added fat.

                    Yes, 93% lean is 7% fat, which is actually measured by volume or weight, not caloric value. Breast meat turkey is not considered a low-fat product, but is leaner than ground beef and a good option for a lower fat diet. Look for 99% fat free on the label, then you'll be sure of getting breast meat only, no skin or dark meat.

                    Do read your turkey labels, as some in-store ground turkey contains more fat than lean cuts of beef.

                    1. re: bushwickgirl
                      Bada Bing Mar 26, 2010 02:59 PM

                      Turkey breast meat is not a low-fat product? Maybe I'm way off, but I can hardly imagine a lower fat meat.

                      1. re: Bada Bing
                        Sproutling Mar 26, 2010 03:25 PM

                        Yep definitely check the label as some ground turkey includes fat and skin in the grind. Look for lean ground turkey and check the nutrition label.

                        1. re: Bada Bing
                          bushwickgirl Mar 27, 2010 05:49 AM

                          Turkey breast meat labeled 93% lean is not considered a low-fat product, 93% fat being the % of fat I was referring to when I made that statement.

                          A 4oz serving of 93% lean turkey will contain about 72 calories from fat, with total fat content per serving being 8g. USDA guidelines state that for a product to be labeled low fat, it can only contain a maximum of 3g total fat or less per serving. That's why I mentioned looking for a product that is 99% fat free, which contains about 14 fat calories from the same size serving and 1-1.5g total fat, depending on the brand. Now that's low fat, it can be dry and that's why some people find it necessary to add fat or other forms of moisture to the product.

                          I should have written "not considered a low-fat product, but can be, depending on the fat content" for more clarity. At 93% lean, ground turkey is still leaner than most ground beef.

                          1. re: bushwickgirl
                            Bada Bing Mar 27, 2010 06:46 PM

                            I consider 7% fat to be pretty lean, as meats go.

                            1. re: Bada Bing
                              bushwickgirl Mar 28, 2010 01:32 PM

                              " 7% fat to be pretty lean, as meats go."

                              No argument there, it's just not considered "low-fat," in a USDA labeling context.

                              Anyway, I didn't mean to hijack a meatball recipe thread with a nutrition discussion. I just wanted to offer an alternative to using fat to add moisture in an already lean product. My feeling about using turkey is that many people do so because it is low in fat and want to preserve that in the resulting dish.

                              Here's a link for a Morrocan Meatball Tagine that was posted on another meatball thread recently. I haven't tried it but it sounds very tasty with lots of flavor in the meatballs. The original recipe does not call for turkey but you could sub it for some or all of the ground chuck :


                              1. re: bushwickgirl
                                greygarious Mar 28, 2010 01:47 PM

                                The "low fat" credentials are germane to the thread, because nearly everyone who uses ground turkey is doing so because it is commonly considered to be a healthier alternative to ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal, not because they think it tastes better than whatever meat their recipe originally called for. .

                                1. re: greygarious
                                  bushwickgirl Mar 28, 2010 02:07 PM

                                  Ok, thanks. It just didn't seem like the OP was interested in the low fat option, rather just the tasty one.

                                  I don't "think it tastes better than whatever meat their recipe originally called for. ." either, but I find that proper seasoning and added moisture makes turkey meatballs/meatloaf quite palatable.

                                  I do know people who actually like ground turkey...

                                  1. re: bushwickgirl
                                    greygarious Mar 28, 2010 02:28 PM

                                    <I do know people who actually like ground turkey>

                                    Shun them! ;-D Palatable, maybe - delicious, not so much. Unless you add enough cheese, bacon, pancetta, etc., by which time it's original taste and leanness are a moot point.

                            2. re: bushwickgirl
                              Norm Man Apr 2, 2010 04:04 PM

                              This applies to Jennie-O Ground Turkey Products:

                              Jennie-O Ground Turkey (includes light and dark meat and maybe skin) is 93% Lean / 7% Fat. A 4 oz serving of Jennie-O Ground Turkey has 8 mg of Fat and 80 mgs of cholesterol.

                              Jennie-O Ground Turkey Breast (no dark meat or skin) is 99% Lean / 1% Fat. A 4 oz serving of Jennie-O Ground Turkey Breast has 1.5 mg of Fat and 55 mg of cholesterol.

                              I use Jennie-O Grounf Turkey Breast to make Turkey Mushroom Meatloaf and it always turns out moist (bread crumbs and the sauteed veggies help).

                              1. re: Norm Man
                                bushwickgirl Apr 3, 2010 01:57 AM

                                Yes, I did see those stats online. Thanks for posting this info.

                                Mushrooms and sauteed vegetables (I assume you mean things like onions, garlic, red peppers, even celery) will certainly bring moisture to the loaf.

                      2. i
                        iphonechica Mar 26, 2010 12:19 PM

                        I make turkey meatballs all the time. I use a recipe from Cooks Illustrated that I found in the Light Recipes edition of the magazine. However it's basically the same as the all-beef recipe. Only major difference is that it recommends you chill the balls for about an hour before pan-frying them. Not critical, but helps keep them firm and less prone to breaking apart. They are pretty good, garlic-y with a decent texture and not dry in my opinion.

                        The recipe I'm referring to is from Low-Fat Spaghetti and Meatballs. If you have a membership to their website, I'm certain you can find it. Otherwise, here's a blog with the all-beef version.


                        1. s
                          sparkareno Mar 26, 2010 11:59 AM

                          when I make turkey meatloaf I add a little cottage cheese to the mix. It really helps with the dryness. It should work for meatballs too.

                          1. greygarious Mar 26, 2010 08:24 AM

                            Contrarian opinion here - I will no longer use ground turkey as a complete substitute for ground beef or pork. I have experimented with using it solo in enough recipes to know that for me it is a bust. Crumbly and bland. It requires a heavy hand with herbs and spices to cover up the fact that it has so little flavor of its own. However, if combined 1:1 with ground chuck, and some extra seasoning, it makes meatballs/meatloaf that mimic the all-beef version quite well.

                            I always add drained coleslaw or finely-chopped cooked cabbage to meatloaf/ball mix. It melts into the meat, adding tender, moist sweetness without an identifiable cabbage taste.
                            Same volume of slaw/cabbage as onion.

                            1. GretchenS Mar 26, 2010 08:01 AM

                              These turkey-pesto meatballs are excellent.

                              1. mamaciita Mar 26, 2010 06:30 AM

                                I use a Rachael Ray recipe that calls for frozen, chopped spinach. We love it!


                                1. c
                                  cheesecake17 Mar 26, 2010 06:24 AM

                                  I make meatballs from ground turkey all the time. Mix lightly- you don't want to have dense meatballs. I add some panko, parsely, salt, pepper, and an egg. I don't bother frying or baking first, just cook in the tomato sauce. Also made olive stuffed turkey meatballs, I think from a Rachael Ray recipe

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: cheesecake17
                                    normalheightsfoodie Mar 26, 2010 11:09 AM

                                    1 lb. ground beef 1/2 cup Grated Parmesan Cheese 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley 1 egg 1 clove garlic, minced Make It! You can also add panko or bread crumbs.

                                    I use the kitchenaide to mix it.

                                    You can add more or a different cheese too.

                                    PREHEAT oven to 375°F. Mix meat, cheese, parsley, egg and garlic. Shape into 12 meatballs.

                                    PLACE in foil-lined 15x10x1-inch baking pan. I like to use a litte Pam,

                                    BAKE 25 min. or until cooked through

                                    Good Luck.

                                    1. re: normalheightsfoodie
                                      bushwickgirl Mar 26, 2010 12:10 PM

                                      Wow, exactly my recipe! With seasoned bread crumbs, 1 cup, moistened with 4 tablespoons of water.
                                      I pan fry, though.

                                      1. re: bushwickgirl
                                        normalheightsfoodie Mar 27, 2010 06:21 PM

                                        I sometimes use seasoned breadcrumbs

                                  2. kattyeyes Mar 26, 2010 06:21 AM

                                    Hi! No, your meatballs won't be dry without pork or beef--I promise. ;) Though this recipe calls for meatloaf mix, I've made this so many times with ground turkey or chickenI can't even count. For a fun variation on the Italian/Sicilian, add 1/2 cup of raisins.

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