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Easy meatballs whipped up in the slow cooker and smothered in zesty BBQ. Dinner or appetizer worthy!

bbq turkey meatballs in a white bowl

bbq turkey meatballs in a slow cooker with a serving spoon

I made these slow cooker BBQ turkey meatballs when I had my whole family over around Thanksgiving. They loved it. And we did too! When it’s just us 2, the recipe makes tons of leftovers which are perfect for lunch during the week. Think: meatball sandwiches on whole wheat rolls or just alongside of a salad. They’re fantastically versatile.

First thing on your list is to brown those turkey meatballs. Beef lovers: you can use ground beef instead. I always choose a lean ground turkey. Mix up all the meatball fixings like ground turkey, breadcrumbs, egg, and seasonings. For the seasonings, I vary them depending on what I have but I’ll suggest my favorites. Definitely garlic, salt, pepper, oregano, and a touch of smoked paprika. Smoked paprika is my secret spice weapon. You need to try it in these BBQ meatballs!

I don’t use too much binder for my meatballs because I feel it takes away from their melt-in-your-mouth texture and flavor. Just enough stuff to bind.

2 images of turkey meatballs in a skillet before and after cooking

Roll up the meatballs and brown them in a skillet before placing in the slow cooker. There are two key reasons you’re browning them. First, it adds unparalleled flavor. Second, it helps “set” the meatballs so they don’t fall apart in the slow cooker. I don’t have a massive skillet to hold 25 or so meatballs, so I brown them in batches and add them to the slow cooker each batch at a time. Takes about 15 minutes total to brown them all. Not too bad. Completely worth the effort!

Slow cooker ingredients: BBQ sauce, Italian dressing, onions. That’s it!! The onions are imperative for flavor, plus they get all soft and soak up all the BBQ goodness. Use your favorite BBQ sauce*, use your favorite Italian dressing.

turkey meatballs in a slow cooker topped with barbecue sauce

You can serve these turkey meatballs with mashed potatoes and veggies, baked sweet potato fries and a salad, with dinner rolls and melted mozzarella for sandwiches, zucchini casserole on the side, or even with toothpicks as a party appetizer for football games, New Years Eve, entertaining, whatever. The options are endless.

No matter what you do, make sure you serve with all that extra mouthwatering and zesty BBQ sauce. And the onions! Those might just be my favorite part.

bbq turkey meatballs in a slow cooker
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bbq turkey meatballs in a white bowl

Slow Cooker BBQ Turkey Meatballs

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 35 minutes
  • Cook Time: 7 hours
  • Total Time: 8 hours
  • Yield: 25 meatballs 1x
  • Category: Appetizer
  • Method: Slow Cooker
  • Cuisine: American


These slow cooker BBQ turkey meatballs are easy and full of flavor! An appetizer or dinner recipe solution for chilly weather days.


  • 1 large egg
  • 2 pounds 92-97% lean ground turkey*
  • 2/3 cup regular or gluten free Panko* (quick or whole oats work too!)
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped (or about 1 Tablespoon minced)
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 large sweet onion, sliced
  • 1 and 3/4 cups BBQ sauce*
  • 1/2 cup store-bought Italian dressing
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil


  1. Beat the egg in a large mixing bowl. Add the ground turkey, Panko, garlic, oregano, salt, paprika, and pepper. Mix everything up just so the ingredients are combined – avoid overmixing. Roll into desired size balls – mine were slightly larger than a golfball. Place all rolled meatballs on a large baking sheet.
  2. Place onion slices in the bottom of the slow cooker, then top with half of the BBQ sauce and half of the Italian dressing (the rest will go on top).
  3. Coat a large skillet with the olive oil and bring to medium-high heat. Lightly brown the meatballs in batches for about 1 minute on each side. (Do not skip this step! So much flavor and it helps set the meatballs so they do not fall apart.) Layer the meatballs into the slow cooker as you’re browning each batch. Once all browned meatballs have been added to the slow cooker, pour remaining BBQ sauce and Italian dressing on top.
  4. Cover and cook on low for 5 hours or on high for 3 hours. Serve warm with sauce and onions. You can enjoy alone or with mashed potatoes and veggies, salad, sweet potato fries, onion rings, with rolls and melted mozzarella for sandwiches, or even with toothpicks as a party appetizer. Store leftovers covered tightly in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.


  1. Make Ahead & Freezing Instructions: Prepare meatballs through the browning step; cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day or freeze up to 2 months. Add to slow cooker and cook as directed. OR you can fully prepare 1 day in advance, refrigerate, then cook in the slow cooker on low for 45 minutes or until warmed. Freeze cooked meatballs in sauce for up to 2 months. Defrost before reheating as desired.
  2. Meat: You can use any ground meat you prefer; I always use turkey.
  3. Panko: Panko is sold in all major grocery stores. You can use regular (not gluten free) instead. I prefer Panko for texture, but you can use whole wheat or homemade dry breadcrumbs instead. Or even oats, like I suggest. To make your own breadcrumbs for this particular recipe, you can trim the crusts from 2 slices of stale whole wheat bread. Cut bread into pieces and pulse in a food processor until coarse crumbs form. Spread breadcrumbs on a baking sheet and bake at 250°F until dry, about 12-14 minutes. This makes around 2/3 cup.
  4. BBQ Sauce & Italian Dressing: Use your favorite BBQ sauce and Italian dressing. These make up the sauce, so make sure you like their flavor!
  5. Slow Cooker: You’ll need a 4 quart or larger slow cooker. Here is the one I own!
  6. No Slow Cooker? No Problem! Add the shaped meatballs to a large skillet coated with 1 Tablespoon olive oil and sauté until browned on all sides, about 5 minutes. Place on a large baking sheet. Repeat with all meatballs since they cannot all fit into the pan at once. Turn off heat. Pour off any excess oil. In a very large pot, add the sliced onions and half of the BBQ sauce and Italian dressing. Add the meatballs and pour remaining BBQ sauce and Italian dressing on top. Turn the heat to low-medium and simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, the flavors blend, and the meatballs are cooked through, 25-35 minutes.

Keywords: bbq turkey meatballs, slow cooker turkey meatballs

bbq turkey meatballs in a white bowl

Reader Questions and Reviews

    1. You can prepare the dressing using that dry mix– then add the prepared dressing.

  1. Hi Danielle! I don’t recommend it because that’s where most of the flavor comes from. You could use another flavor dressing I suppose– one whose flavor would pair well perhaps.

  2. These were so tasty, and both my toddlers and my husband loved them, so we will be eating these again and again! My slow cooker must run hot, because they bottoms of a few were burned after 4 hours on high, so I think I’ll give the meatballs a stir halfway through next time, but otherwise I won’t change a thing. Thanks for this yummy recipe!

  3. I made these last week and they were just incredible. I have never use s ground turkey before and I’m kicking myself for not trying it sooner. I always assumed it would be flavorless and dry but you have converted me! I’m dreaming up a couple of variations of these. A Thai curry version and also an Asian “orange chicken” type one. Thank you for the recipe! 

    P.S. Have you considered writing a savory cookbook? I would be first in line. I love your easy packed with flavor approach to your dinner recipes. 

    1. LOVE your ideas for other flavors!! Glad you tried ground turkey….it’s great cooked the right way! So happy you enjoy my savory recipes 🙂

  4. I made these meatballs for a baby shower yesterday and they were a hit! Thank you for the recipe!

  5. These were delicious!! So simple and so tasty. I have some waiting in the freezer for the next time I need a quick and yummy meal too. Thanks! 

  6. If I don’t use breadcrumbs will they fall apart in the slow cooker? I read somewhere using grated Parmesan can be used as a binder. I’m going to experiment this weekend. I will be making these for a birthday party. 🙂

  7. The are delicious. I’ve made them several times, and I’m going to get started on a big batch for the Super Bowl party tonight. Double everything if you have a group coming over, because these will disappear right out of the crock pot.

  8. These meatballs are delicious! The only change I made was substituting ground flaxseed for the breadcrumbs The sauce is amazing! I used Sweet Baby Ray’s Honey BBQ sauce and Sally’s homemade italian dressing. I think next time I’ll try them with ground beef. The only problem I had was with them sticking to the pan when browning. Now I know to use a nonstick pan. Thank you Sally for another fabulous recipe.

  9. Hi Sally! Planning to take these to a tailgate this weekend.. any thoughts on trying a buffalo version? Possibly sub out the bbq sauce and Italian dressing for buffalo sauce? Thanks!

  10. I made these meatballs on the weekend and they turned out great! My son even asked to take some to school for lunch today. I used Sweet Baby Ray’s bbq sauce and Kraft Golden Italian. I forgot to put them in the slow cooker early enough so I cooked them on the stove in a big pot instead.

  11. Just fyi. I used very fine blanched almond flour. I dont think I recommend this. This meatballs didnt bind very well and several meatballs fell apart when I was turning them in the skillet. Next time, I think I will try quick oats or parmesan cheese as I have to have low carb. What do you think? Meatballs are still cooking in the crockpot, but they look and smell wonderful. Cant wait to try tonight!

    1. Either quick or whole oats work instead of the panko. Enjoy!

  12. Made these the other day and was disappointed. The sauce was great but the meatballs were dry. Might try again maybe I browned them too much. Any other suggestions?

  13. Hi, I was looking for a recipe more like a swedish meatball. Want to make a creamy gravy with them to pour over mashed potatoes. Can I cook these without the barbeque? Actually, cook them with no sauce until the very end?

    1. Hi Judy, we’re not sure how well they will cook (they might burn) without any sauce in the slow cooker — you can certainly try swapping the BBQ sauce for the gravy, though. Or, we’d recommend following the “No Slow Cooker? No Problem!” directions in the recipe notes, cooking your meatballs in the gravy sauce rather than the BBQ sauce.

  14. My wife and I just made these. So delicious! Thank you for the recipe!!!

  15. It was ok. 6 hours was way way too long on low, I should’ve shut it off at 4 hrs. They are dry and overcooked sadly. I may try a different bbq sauce, I used Baby Rays

  16. These are so good! I didn’t have time to make in the slow cooker, so I used the directions for cooking on the stove. Will definitely make again!

  17. These meatballs are the best. Thanksgiving weekend is when I normally add them to our family meal rotation and they are absolutely delicious with the homemade dinner rolls as suggested. Highly recommend!

  18. These are insanely delicious! Another incredible Sally recipe. Thanks!