three gluten-free turkey meatballs in red sauce on top of a bowl of spaghetti

Gluten-Free Turkey Meatballs Recipe

About a year before Miss E and I were diagnosed with celiac disease, my husband (Dave) and I were discussing his gluten sensitivity. He was encouraging me to try a gluten-free diet. My disdain for fad diets, ignorance of gluten-free options, and Italian heritage all came together in this one sentence, “If I can’t eat pasta, why live?!”

Thankfully, I have since learned that all of my Italian favorites, including spaghetti and meatballs, are just as delicious when made gluten-free. You will not feel the least bit deprived when you eat these gluten-free turkey meatballs on top of a pile of your favorite gluten-free pasta.

And you can confidently make these meatballs for gluten-eating dinner guests, who will never suspect they are eating anything other than amazing, Italian meatballs. Because they are!

This gluten-free meatball recipe was inspired by my grandmother’s recipe (a handful of this and a little bit of that) and has been modified over the years by Dave, the current meatball maker in our home.

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Step-by-Step Directions

Preheat oven to 375° and prepare two sheet pans.

I line the sheet pans with silicone baking mats, to make clean-up easier. Parchment paper works well, too.

Add all ingredients to a large mixing bowl and mix by hand until thoroughly combined.

raw ingredients for  gluten-free turkey meatballs in a large mixing bowl... visible is ground turkey, covered with ground crackers, shredded parmesan cheese, chopped fresh parsley and basil

This recipe uses 8 simple ingredients, and you can take liberties with them. Having watched my grandmother and mom approximate ingredient amounts over the years, I am confident you can’t mess these up with slight adjustments to breadcrumbs, cheese, and herbs. Options for substitutions and modifications are discussed in detail near the end of this post.

By far, Dave prefers to use finely-ground crackers rather than breadcrumbs. If you also opt for gluten-free crackers instead breadcrumbs, simply add them to your blender or food processor and pulse several times until they are fine crumbs. Dave uses the Blendec blender.

hands mixing gluten-free turkey meatball ingredients

Mixing can be the most challenging part of this recipe. The ingredients are cold, so add everything to a large bowl and mix quickly.

If you have little helpers in the kitchen, this is a great time to call in your assistants. Kids usually love the tactile experience of mixing meatballs by hand. If everyone takes a turn with the meat mixture, no one will freeze their hands! Be sure to have everyone wash their hands thoroughly after handling raw meat and eggs.

Form meatballs by hand (~2-inch diameter) and place on baking sheets. 

raw gluten-free turkey meatballs on a silicone mat on a baking sheet

Form a handful of the meatball mixture into balls approximately two-inches in diameter.

Alternatively, use a large cookie scoop to form your meatballs.

Place meatballs in a single layer on your prepared baking sheets. Leave about an inch between each meatball for the heat to circulate and cook them evenly.

Bake at 375° for approximately 35 minutes. After 20 minutes, use tongs to turn the meatballs over.

Place the baking sheets in the preheated oven for 35 minutes.

The brown outside of the meatball is my favorite part. The part of the meatball touching the baking sheet gets the brownest. Rotating your meatballs after 20 minutes is key to evenly browning these fabulous Italian meatballs.

Continue baking until the meatballs reach an internal temperature of 165° (meat inside should no longer be pink).

cooked gluten-free turkey meatballs on a white plate

Use a meat thermometer to make sure your turkey meat has fully cooked to the safe internal temperature of 165°. You can also cut open one meatball to confirm that the inside is no longer pink. Of course, this means you will have to sample your cut-open meatball!

Simmer in Your Favorite Sauce

Your meatballs are ready to serve!

But, in the interest of a really fabulous Italian dinner, may I recommend making these meatballs early in the day. Or even better, make them the day before. Allowing them to simmer for hours in your favorite pasta sauce melds the flavors together.

gluten-free turkey meatballs in a sauce pan, covered in red sauce

Stovetop Method: make your own tomato sauce or simply add two store-bought jars of your favorite marinara sauce to a large saucepan, covering the cooked meatballs. Simmer on the stovetop on low for two hours. My grandmother and mother always made their own Sunday gravy, while my husband uses jarred sauce. Whichever you use, allowing the flavors to mix makes both the sauce and the meatballs even better.

Slow Cooker Method: place the meatballs and sauce in a slow cooker and heat on low for up to 12 hours.

Serve with Gluten-Free Pasta and Enjoy!

For a healthier option, choose lentil pasta, spaghetti squash, or zucchini noodles. Although, lentil pasta and meatballs may be a bit of protein overkill. I generally prefer to use lentil pasta in a vegetarian dish.

If you are trying to replicate traditional, wheat pasta, I recommend either:

La Veneziana: made in Italy, the top-selling corn pasta in that country, and available on Amazon

Gluten-free Barilla: corn pasta, readily available in most grocery stores, and more affordable than La Veneziana

Both of these brands are excellent substitutes for regular pasta, and gluten-eaters will never know the difference. They also come in a wide variety of pasta shapes. I am partial to rotini or any variety that holds the sauce, but the rest of my family prefers spaghetti.

Substitutions and Modifications for This Gluten-Free Turkey Meatball Recipe

Substitutions for Ground Turkey

a package of Jennie-O ground turkey, 3 lbs

In our home, Dave prefers to make his meatballs with ground turkey in favor of healthy turkey meatballs, but this recipe also works beautifully with the ground meat of your choice.

Substitute ground beef or ground veal for the 3 lbs of ground turkey in the recipe. Or mix 1 lb ground pork, 1 lb ground beef, and 1 lb ground veal for a traditional combination.

Turkey has a milder and leaner flavor than meatballs made with ground beef. To strike a balance between leaner meat and the taste of classic meatballs, combine 1 ½ lbs ground turkey with 1 ½ lbs beef, veal, or pork.

Easy, Gluten-Free Substitutes for Breadcrumbs in Meatballs

Breadcrumbs are essential in meatballs. Along with eggs, they serve as a binding agent. More importantly, they soak up and trap the juices from your meat, giving you tender, juicy meatballs.

Regular breadcrumbs are the only gluten-containing ingredient in most traditional meatball recipes. Fortunately, there are a number of great substitutes for wheat-based breadcrumbs, all of which work well in this easy turkey meatball recipe.

To replace traditional breadcrumbs, you can purchase store-bought gluten-free breadcrumbs, gluten-free panko breadcrumbs, or gluten-free Italian-style breadcrumbs. Or, my favorite option…pulse gluten-free crackers in your food processor until finely ground to make the perfect meatball filler.

Money-saving tip! Collect the crumbles at the bottom of each bag of gluten-free crackers, which are notorious for breaking and crumbling due to lack of gluten, a binder. Save those crumbles for whenever you make meatballs or to use in other recipes that call for breadcrumbs.

If your crackers have Italian seasoning, consider it a bonus. They will just give extra flavor to these already great meatballs.

Substitutes for Shredded Parmesan Cheese

Pecorino and Romano cheese both make excellent replacements for parmesan cheese in meatballs.

Kraft grated parmesan also works perfectly well. It adds flavor, absorbs moisture like the breadcrumbs, and distributes evenly throughout your meatballs.

Fresh Herbs or Dried Herbs

a handful each of fresh parsley and fresh basil on a round, wooden cutting board

Use ½ cup each of chopped, fresh basil and fresh parsley. Or use 3 tablespoons each of dried basil and parsley. Either will give you flavorful meatballs!

Adjusting for a Crowd or for a Small Portion

You can double, triple (or more) this recipe when cooking for a large family gathering or any crowd. You’ll need more baking sheets or will have to bake in batches. In a pinch, you can squeeze about 20-24 meatballs on each baking sheet, as long as they are still in a single layer. Leave at least a little space around each meatball, so they cook evenly.

This recipe easily lends itself to be cut down to a third. To make only eight meatballs, you’ll need 1 lb ground turkey, ½ cup gluten-free breadcrumbs or crushed crackers, ⅓ cup shredded parmesan cheese, 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp dried basil, 1 tbsp dried parsley, and 1 tsp garlic powder.

These turkey meatballs are a favorite in my house. We enjoy them on holidays, as easy weeknight meals, and I almost always request them for my birthday. They are a wonderful reminder that giving up gluten doesn’t mean giving up the meals we love!

three gluten-free turkey meatballs in red sauce on top of a bowl of spaghetti

Gluten-Free Turkey Meatballs

These easy gluten-free turkey meatballs are everything you love about classic meatballs, with none of the gluten!
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 35 mins
Total Time 50 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Servings 12 servings (24 meatballs)

Ingredients
  

  • 3 lbs ground turkey
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 ½ cups gluten-free breadcrumbs or finely ground, gluten-free crackers (pulse crackers in blender or food processor to make fine crumbs)
  • 1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ cup fresh chopped basil (or 3 tbsp dried basil)
  • ½ cup fresh chopped parsley (or 3 tbsp dried parsley)
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 375° and prepare two sheet pans (with optional silicone baking mat or parchment paper).
  • Add all ingredients to a large mixing bowl and mix by hand until fully combined.
    3 lbs ground turkey, 3 eggs, 1 ½ cups gluten-free breadcrumbs or finely ground, gluten-free crackers, 1 cup shredded parmesan cheese, 3 tbsp olive oil, ½ cup fresh chopped basil (or 3 tbsp dried basil), ½ cup fresh chopped parsley (or 3 tbsp dried parsley), 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • Form meatballs by hand (~2-inch diameter) and place on baking sheets.
  • Bake at 375° for approximately 35 minutes.
  • After 20 minutes, use tongs to turn the meatballs over. Continue baking until the meatballs reach an internal temperature of 165° (meat inside should no longer be pink).
  • Enjoy!

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