I’m particularly fond of sunshine, but if the weather was calling for cloudy with a chance of turkey bacon meatballs, you better believe I’d be the first one out the door.
The flavor duo of sweet, mild turkey and salty bacon has traveled with me throughout my life. From triple-stacked club sandwiches on toasted white bread at my favorite fifties-style diner to Jersey-inspired hoagies dripping with mayo, red wine vinegar, and oil, this combination has always found its way into my food memories.
But it wasn’t until recently that the concept of combining the two in raw form before cooking and enjoying as a dinner entree or hot sandwich filler landed in my culinary repertoire.
I’ve dabbled in delicate, Dijon-infused turkey burgers and turkey meatballs stuffed with sage and shallots before, but I always felt they were a bit one-note.
They needed some oomph. A salty bite. A fatty companion.
If the term “fatty companion” immediately summoned Patrick from SpongeBob SquarePants to your brain, well, we should probably be friends in real life. But seriously though, why have we not been putting bacon into meatballs all along?
When it comes to traditional meatballs, beef is obviously fatty enough to stand on its own. Though I wouldn’t judge you for sneaking it in there anyway. That’ll be our little secret.
Thanks to turkey’s fat content weighing in on the leaner side of the scale, the unctuous addition of pork fat takes this particular recipe to an entirely different universe. Who needs Earth when you can travel to the galaxy of bacon?
Blast off, baby!
I opt for dark meat turkey. The super lean stuff doesn’t have enough fat for my liking (there it is again) and, in my opinion, doesn’t hold together as well. Since we are sliding bacon into the mix though, feel free to use all white meat if your heart so desires.
Or, you know, if your literal heart actually requires lower cholesterol. Though if that was the case, you probably wouldn’t be perusing this recipe in the first place. Am I right?
Just go with the dark meat. Trust me.
I also have to admit that I have only made this recipe with pork, but I know turkey bacon is also a thing, and I’m all for it if you want to experiment and report back to me.
Parmesan cheese is a must that adds a nutty note, and the use of airy, wheat-free panko (or GF breadcrumbs) means these are suitable for those with a gluten intolerance or sensitivity, or a wheat allergy. Add it to the list of other gluten-free meatball recipes, like our quick 30-minute beef version!
If you’re lactose-free, try a dairy-free substitute, or skip the cheese if you must.
Finally, where there are meatballs, there must be aromatics. These are made with a hefty handful of sweet onions, minced garlic, and bright, grassy parsley.
Just as there are many ways to skin a cat (ew, I hate that expression, but there it is), there are plenty of methods to cook a meatball. You’ll often find me pan-searing them, particularly when I want to finish the cooking process by submerging them in marinara (rather than just draping them in sauce for flavor like this recipe calls for).
But the truth is that I’m equally fond of tossing them in the oven.
Although browning in a cast iron pan gives the rounds that crispy, golden brown exterior, when you’ve got an especially fatty protein like bacon included in the mix, baking renders out some of that fat. To cook them in a pan, you’d need to add even more fat, like oil.
Also, searing them on the stove can lead to splattering. A baking sheet lined with tin foil or parchment paper makes for easier cleanup, and results in your shirt not being bedazzled with teeny-tiny oil spots. Bonus!
Whether I’m cramming these into a fluffy gluten-free roll to make meatball subs or simply swiping them through a dish of red sauce, my beloved bacon and turkey combo continues on.
Long live bacon!Print
Even your guests who aren’t gluten-free will gather for these flavor-packed meatballs loaded with bacon, ground turkey, and fresh herbs.
- 1/2 pound bacon, roughly chopped
- 1 small yellow onion, peeled and quartered (about 1/2 cup)
- 2 large cloves garlic, peeled
- 1/4 cup packed fresh parsley, plus 1 tablespoon chopped for garnish
- 1 pound ground turkey (preferably dark meat), very cold
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (about 3/4 ounce), plus more for serving
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 1/2 cup gluten-free panko (or plain gluten-free breadcrumbs)
- 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups marinara (homemade or jarred)
- Preheat the oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.
- Add the bacon, onions, garlic, and 1/4 cup parsley to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary, until there are no large chunks remaining.
- Transfer the bacon mixture to a large mixing bowl and add the ground turkey, 1/4 cup grated parmesan, egg, panko, salt, and pepper. Using your hands, gently mix until well-combined.
- Using about 2 tablespoons as your size guideline, form the mixture into equally-sized balls. You’ll end up with approximately 20-22 meatballs.
- Place the meatballs onto the prepared baking sheet, spaced evenly, and bake until golden brown and cooked through, for about 25 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 160°F.
- Meanwhile, warm the marinara in a small saucepan over low heat on the stove.
- Arrange the meatballs on a platter. Garnish with the remaining parsley and parmesan cheese, and serve with the marinara sauce.
- Category: Meatballs
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: Poultry, Gluten-Free
Keywords: turkey meatballs, bacon, gluten-free
Cooking By the Numbers…
Step 1 – Prep and Pulse Ingredients in Food Processor
Roughly chop the bacon, and peel and quarter the onion. Peel the garlic, and prep the parsley. Grate the parmesan if you need to, and lightly beat an egg.
In the bowl of a food processor, add the bacon, onions, garlic, and 1/4 cup parsley. Pulse until there are no large chunks remaining, scraping the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed.
The mixture should still have some texture, and not be so finely ground that you can’t make out the onions.
Step 2 – Make the Meatball Mixture
You can typically find dark meat ground turkey in the packaged section of your grocery store’s butcher aisle or in the case, alongside the ground turkey breast (which is often marked “lean” or even “extra lean”).
Extra lean ground turkey is 99% lean with only 1% fat, and will have very little flavor. The dark meat will have a darker color, but the fat content is the most important part.
The most common fat content for ground dark turkey meat that you’ll see is 85% lean, but if you want something with a little less fat, go with 93% lean, which is mostly white meat. Ask your butcher for help if you don’t see what you’re looking for.
The ground turkey should be cold and used directly out of the fridge when you’re ready to form the meatballs, instead of leaving it out while you prep the other ingredients, because it will hold together better. It tends to be softer and slightly mushier at room temperature, which makes it hard to form into balls.
Place the bacon mixture into a large mixing bowl and add the turkey, 1/4 cup parmesan, egg, panko, salt, and pepper. Set the prepared baking sheet next to your bowl so you can transfer the meatballs directly onto it.
Step 3 – Form the Meatballs
Using your hands, gently mix until everything is well-combined.
Using about 2 tablespoons as your size guideline, form the mixture into equally-sized balls. You’ll end up with approximately 20 to 22 of them.
You can dip your hands in cold water to keep the mixture from sticking to your fingers too much.
Step 4 – Bake and Serve
Place the meatballs onto the prepared baking sheet and cook until golden brown and cooked through, for about 25 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 160°F as indicated on a meat thermometer.
Meanwhile, warm the marinara in a small saucepan over low heat on the stove.
Arrange the meatballs on a platter. Garnish with the remaining parsley and parmesan cheese, and serve with the marinara sauce ladled on top, or on the side for dipping.
Blast Off to Bacon Land
Other than a superior red sauce, we all know that the most important companion to meatballs is good bread. And this can still be true if you’re on a gluten-free diet!
If you’re interested in trying the world’s best roasted garlic bread (who wouldn’t be?) but want to keep the wheat out of the picture, just follow this recipe and swap in gluten-free all-purpose flour.
Bacon’s richness can be balanced by the addition of even more fresh, vibrant herbs, and I find that fresh rosemary, sage, and oregano bring a nice brightness to these succulent meatballs.
Tired of ground turkey recipes that don’t spark joy? After you’ve tried this one, these crave-worthy creations will change that even more:
Sliced and stuffed in a calzone? Plopped onto pasta? Where will you enjoy these turkey bacon meatballs?
Share your savory secrets in the comments below! And don’t forget to give this recipe a five-star rating if you loved it.
Photos by Fanny Slater, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on November 3, 2013. Last updated on September 16, 2021.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Fanny Slater
Fanny Slater is a home-taught food enthusiast based in Wilmington, North Carolina who won the “Rachael Ray Show” Great American Cookbook Competition in 2014, and published her cookbook “Orange, Lavender & Figs” in 2016. Fanny is a food and beverage writer, recipe developer, and social media influencer. She was a co-host on the Food Network series “Kitchen Sink,” was featured on Cooking Channel’s longtime popular series “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and continues to appear regularly on the “Rachael Ray Show.”