Easy meatballs whipped up in the slow cooker and smothered in zesty BBQ. Dinner or appetizer worthy!
Happy week to you! What’s your story this week. Are you working? Do you have off? Are you traveling? I’ve been in Baltimore for the past few days and am back in the kitchen tomorrow. I’m thinking festive cookies for New Years Eve. Sprinkles for sure. And there will most definitely be confetti, glitter, party hats, and a few pitchers of fruity champagne sangria. I’m usually not gung-ho about NYE but I’m really into it this year. Must be my sangria plans.
After a ridiculous amount of Christmas cookies and food coma-inducing cinnamon rolls, I’m craving steamed vegetables. Well, just anything besides Christmas cookies and cinnamon rolls. I figured you might be as well? If that’s the case, you’re in luck. Today I’m sharing a family-friendly, super simple saucy slow cooker sensation (say that 5x fast!) that not only takes little effort, but is also perfect for entertaining. Or just a weeknight with the family. I love these!
I made these slow cooker BBQ turkey meatballs when I had my whole family over around Thanksgiving. They loved it. And we did too! In fact, I’ve made them 3 times since for just Kevin and I. 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.
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.
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, 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.
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
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Meat: You can use any ground meat you prefer; I always use turkey.
- 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.
- BBQ Sauce & Italian Dressing: Use your favorite BBQ sauce and Italian dressing. These make up the sauce, so make sure you like their flavor!
- Slow Cooker: You’ll need a 4 quart or larger slow cooker. Here is the one I own!
- 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
More recipes fit for entertaining:
Fiesta corn & avocado salsa is always a crowd-pleaser.
And this super simple (and lightened up!) pizza dip recipe. I sneak Greek yogurt into this stuff!
And the one and only bacon wrapped cheesy stuffed jalapeños! Love.
See more appetizers and snacks.
See more dinner recipe ideas, too!