These Cranberry Turkey Meatballs will be your new favorite holiday appetizer. Tender and juicy meatballs coated in sweet and tangy BBQ cranberry sauce, you will be making them all season long from Thanksgiving to Christmas!

Turkey meatballs don’t need to be dry or flavorless, just try these baked turkey meatballs.

Cranberry turkey meatballs served with inserted toothpicks on a wooden board.

While cranberries are most often associated with the holidays, this turkey meatball appetizer can be enjoyed year round! They are simple to make, taste great, and a healthy option to add to any party spread.

Don’t let the word appetizer stop you from serving them at other meals, though. They can be Thanksgiving meatballs or as a part of New Year’s Eve dinner party or any brunch.

Not too brag, but I am somewhat of a turkey meatballs connoisseur, some may even say a meatball fanatic! I have made Mexican turkey meatballs, Thai turkey meatballs, and Instant Pot meatballs.

Now let’s make some out of the world delicious cranberry turkey meatballs. They are the perfect bite sized finger food for the holiday season!

Ingredients You Will Need

Ground turkey, cranberry sauce, BBQ sauce, apple cider vinegar, egg, apple, cayenne, oil, soy sauce, garlic powder, sage, thyme, salt and pepper.

Juicy, tender cranberry turkey meatballs are coated in a simple pan sauce for superb flavor with only a few simple ingredients.

  • Ground turkey: Lean ground turkey is a protein packed choice of meat instead of ground pork or ground beef.
  • Apples: Shredded apples is the secret to keeping these flavorful meatballs moist plus adds sweet taste.
  • Egg: Adds moisture and binding.
  • Seasonings: Ground sage and thyme add classic savory flavor. Garlic powder, salt and pepper give additional taste.
  • Cranberry sauce: I used leftover Thanksgiving homemade cranberry sauce made with fresh cranberries. But you can take a shortcut and use canned for these cranberry-glazed meatballs.
  • BBQ sauce: This time I used Stubb’s, sometimes I use my homemade BBQ sauce. Use the one your family likes.
  • Soy sauce: Adds color and depth of flavor.
  • Apple cider vinegar: Gives your sauce a kick of both sweet and tangy.
  • Cayenne pepper: Just a pinch for a bit of heat.

How to Make Cranberry Turkey Meatballs

Here is a quick overview how to make cranberry sauce meatballs in 6 simple steps.

Person showing how to make turkey meatballs.
  • Combine turkey mixture: Add ground turkey, egg, apple, garlic powder, sage, thyme, salt and pepper to a large bowl. Mix gently with a spatula or wooden spoon.
  • Set up: Grab a bowl with cold water for dipping your hands in between rolling the meatballs to prevent them from sticking.
  • Roll: With wet hands form a meatball, roll in your hands and set aside. Repeat with remaining meat mixture.
  • Pan fry meatballs: Cook meatballs in a large non-stick skillet on medium-high heat. Pan fry for 2-3 minutes per side, turning 2-3 times. Meatballs should be browned on all sides and evenly round.
Meatballs cooking in cranberry BBQ sauce.
  • Cranberry meatball sauce: Whisk cranberry sauce, BBQ sauce, soy sauce, apple cider vinegar, and cayenne pepper together in a medium bowl. Add to the skillet and bring to a boil.
  • Simmer: Simmer meatballs in cranberry sauce covered for 10 minutes on low-medium heat, then uncovered for another 15 minutes or until sauce has thickened. Turn off heat and let meatballs sit for 10 minutes to soak up the sauce, then transfer onto a platter, insert a toothpick and serve.

Expert Tips

  • Use a cookie scoop: Using a small cookie scoop to shape cranberry turkey meatballs ensures they are the same shape and size for even cooking. Not to mention they look pretty.
  • Chill to hold shape: After you form your meatballs, you can chill for 30 minutes to solidify shape. I didn’t have to and it’s only in case you find meatballs are falling apart during cooking.
  • For perfect thick glaze: Let cooked meatballs rest for an hour. The sauce will thicken and will coat each meatball like a glaze.
  • How to keep warm: Gently transfer cooked meatballs with cranberry sauce to a slow cooker set on the keep warm setting. This is a great option for parties to freeze up stove space.

Variations and Substitutions

Whether you serve them as a holiday appetizer, as part of a game day snack spread or main course, you can’t go wrong with these flavorful meatballs that have a cranberry glaze.

Here are a few ideas to change things up depending on your mood and what’s in your fridge:

  • Ground chicken: Can be used instead of ground turkey.
  • Cranberry sauce: Use leftover cranberry sauce or canned, your choice.
  • BBQ sauce: I would advise not to use a hickory one as it may not taste the best for a cranberry bbq sauce.
  • Orange: Add orange zest to your cranberry meatballs or a splash of orange juice to the sauce for even more festive flavor.
  • Baked meatballs: Bake meatballs on a baking rack placed on a sheet pan at 425 degrees F for 12-14 minutes.
  • Crockpot cranberry meatballs: Add raw meatballs to the bottom of the slow cooker. Combine sauce ingredients, pour over meatballs then cover and cook on low 3-3.5 hours until meatballs are cooked through.

How to Store

  • Store meatballs with sauce in a covered airtight container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.
  • This recipe freezes well for 3 months, store in an airtight container.
  • To reheat, simply thaw your frozen meatballs in the fridge overnight and then warm up in the microwave.

FAQs

What to serve with cranberry meatballs?

Really it depends when you are serving them! For a weeknight dinner main, serve with simple sides such as mashed potatoes and greens beans or broccoli. At the holidays, they would be great with sweet potato casserole. For game day, serve them with air fryer nachos or this cold 7 layer dip.

How to make ahead the meatballs?

Mix and form meatballs ahead and then refrigerate them covered up to 24 hours before you’re ready to cook them. You can also make your sauce ahead and store in the refrigerator. This is the perfect make-ahead appetizer!

You could also cook them, then freeze. Thaw overnight in the fridge and then warm in a crock pot or microwave with the sauce until heated through.

How to prevent tough meatballs?

For tender meatballs don’t overwork your mixture when combining. Use a wooden spoon or your hands and stop when everything is combined.

Why did my meatballs fall apart when I cooked them?

Egg should bind everything together, but if you find your mixture is too moist, add up to a 1/2 cup bread crumbs or panko breadcrumbs to help soak up additional moisture. Use gluten free, if needed.

More Healthy Party Appetizers

Cranberry meatballs with toothpicks on a wooden board.
Cranberry turkey meatballs served with inserted toothpicks on a wooden board.

Cranberry Turkey Meatballs

Cranberry Turkey Meatballs will be your new favorite holiday appetizer. Cranberry meatballs are tender, juicy coated in sweet and tangy sauce!
5 from 5 votes
Servings 4
Calories 339
Diet Gluten Free
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes

Ingredients 
 

For cranberry meatball sauce:

For meatballs:

  • 1 1/4 lbs ground turkey
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 medium apple shredded and squeezed (1 cup before squeezing)
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground sage
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil for frying

Instructions 

  • In a large bowl, add ground turkey, egg, apple, garlic powder, sage, thyme, salt and pepper. Mix with spatula well.
  • Get medium bowl with cold water and large plate ready. Dip your hands in water, then using small trigger scoop, form a meatball, roll in your hands and place on a large plate. Repeat with remaining meat mixture, dipping your hands in water in between.
  • Preheat large non-stick skillet on medium-high heat and swirl half of the oil to coat. Add half of the meatballs and pan fry for 2-3 minutes per side, turning 2-3 times. You want meatballs browned on all sides and evenly round. Transfer onto a plate and repeat with remaining meatballs. Set aside.
  • While meatballs are cooking, in a medium bowl, whisk cranberry sauce, BBQ sauce, soy sauce, apple cider vinegar, and cayenne pepper. Pour into the skillet and bring to a boil.
  • Add meatballs and gently scoop some sauce on top. Simmer covered for 10 minutes on low-medium heat, then uncovered for another 15 minutes or until sauce has thickened a bit.
  • Let meatballs sit for another 10 minutes, stir gently to coat meatballs in sauce, transfer onto a platter, insert a toothpick into each and serve.

Notes

  • Store meatballs with sauce in a covered airtight container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.
  • This recipe freezes well for 3 months, store in an airtight container.
  • To reheat, simply thaw your frozen meatballs in the fridge overnight and then warm up in the microwave.

Nutrition

Serving: 4meatballs | Calories: 339kcal | Carbohydrates: 31g | Protein: 36g | Fat: 8g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Trans Fat: 0.03g | Cholesterol: 119mg | Sodium: 1253mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 24g
Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: North American
Author: Olena Osipov
Did you make this recipe?Mention @ifoodreal or tag #ifoodreal!

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About Olena

Welcome! I grew up in Ukraine watching my grandma cook with simple ingredients. I have spent the last 11 years making it my mission to help you cook quick and easy meals for your family!

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Comments

  1. Hi Olena,
    I’m excited to try this recipe for a post holiday holiday party for my partners company we’re hosting at the house. I have store bought meatballs which are made with pork, parmesan, and no breadcrumbs. I’m hoping they will complement the cranberry bbq ok and stay together even without the breadcrumbs. I’d love to make my own meatballs next time when I have more time, but for now do you think this will taste ok? Thanks and I love your stuff! I’m turning to your recipes more and more. Keep it up! Happy New year!

  2. 5 stars
    These yummy meatballs were quite a hit at my dinner party the other day! Thanks, Olena! I made them in a crockpot, as per one of your suggestions and to save time during other food preparations – and they turned out excellent!

  3. 5 stars
    Thank You Olena,will definitely try this,as many of your wonderful recipes.I love your stuff.I love the fact that you use wholesome ingredients,and give substitutes as needed.All the best to you and your family over the Christmas period and so grateful for your posts and time in creating them.You are truly wonderful and know your stuff.Best regards Linda.

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