Turkey & Cranberry Meatballs



Thanksgiving – a.k.a, my favorite holiday – is just two weeks away. If you’re anything like me, all of the recipes popping up in my blog feeds, TV talk shows, magazine covers, and commercials have me craving those perfect-for-Fall flavors of earthy sage, tart cranberries, and juicy turkey.

Why wait?!

These Turkey & Cranberry Meatballs from my cookbook Well Fed 2 pack all of the yumminess of a Thanksgiving plate into a portable, friendly ball. (BALLS!) It’s like concentrated Thanksgiving power. BLAM! Plus, they can be mixed, chilled, and baked in about an hour. Save the brining and the multi-hour roasting for the last Thursday in November and take a bite of the best of Turkey Day right now!



Turkey & Cranberry Meatballs

Serves 2-4 | Prep 10 minutes | Chill 20 minutes | Bake 20-25 minutes

As you’d expect, these taste taste amazingly good with some kind of sweet potatoes and a pile of greens on the side. Try these little guys with a side of mashed sweet potatoes, a hash made with roasted sweet spuds and scallions, or a pile of Crispy, Oven-Baked Sweet Potato Fries. For the greens, try simple garlicky greens, Creamy Spice Market Kale from Well Fed, or Crisp, Sweet Collards from Well Fed 2.

  • 2 tablespoons warm water

  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1 pound ground turkey

  • 1 tablespoon orange juice

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)

  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries (unsweetened), coarsely chopped

  • 1/2 tablespoon rubbed sage

  • 1/2 tablespoon orange zest

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper


Preheat the oven to 400F. Cover a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.


In a small bowl, mix baking soda and cream of tartar in water. In a large bowl, mix turkey, orange juice, garlic, cranberries, sage, orange zest, salt, and pepper. Mix well to combine, then add the baking soda mixture to the bowl, and mix again. NOTE: For a smoother, more tender texture, use a food processor or a standing mixer – fitted with the paddle attachment – to blend the ingredients. For more a traditional texture, mix the meat by hand. (For details on the science of mixing meatballs, read this.)


Place meat in the fridge to chill for 20-30 minutes. Roll about 1 tablespoon of meat into a 1-inch ball. I like to use a 1-tablespoon scoop to speed up the process.


Slide the baking sheet into the oven and bake meatballs for 20-25 minutes, until browned and sizzling. Serve with your favorite sides — or recreate a Thanksgiving leftovers sandwich by wrapping a meatball in a butter lettuce leaf with homemade mayo, salt, pepper, and a few fresh parsley leaves.

You Know How You Could Do That?


Replace the ground turkey with ground chicken or pork.


Shape the meat into burger patties instead of balls (BALLS!), bake at 400F for 20-25 minutes, and then serve on the Sweet Potato Waffles in Well Fed 2.


About the cranberries: If they’re sweetened with apple juice, they’re still Whole30 approved. Any other ingredients makes them quesitonable. If you can’t find unsweetened dried cranberries near you, these unsweetened cranberries from Amazon look like a good option — or you can replace cranberries with dried cherries, other tart dried fruit, or even raisins or dried apples.

More Meatballs!

Like this recipe? There are 14 more delicious meatball ideas — plus go-alongs and dipping sauces — in Well Fed 2: More Paleo Recipes For People Who Love To Eat.


wellfed2_coverI’ve also been getting questions about the cream of tartar+baking soda in the meatball recipes I’ve been sharing lately. The answer to that burning question is also found in Well Fed 2:


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  • pamela says:

    What a delightful idea and recipe. Though I can’t eat fruit, myself, I do mental substitutions automatically. Sounds great.

  • Pearl says:

    These sound delicious. How ill do it: I grew up with pan cooked meat balls. I’m gonna try this recipe pan style in a bit of ghee. When they are done ill deglaze the pan with some stock, add a some salt pepper and a Tab of butter for a little “gravy”. I’ll let you know how they turn out! Great recipe idea and description!! Thanks!

  • Oooh, so I’m not having a turkey since I’m only having 6 people over for Friendsgiving. But this will make a good side item to the roast chicken I’ll be making! Thanks for sharing!

  • Shannon says:

    Just out of curiousity, can you use the cream of tartar and baking soda be used to hold together a meatloaf? I tried it with almond flour and HATED the texture. What would you suggest OBI ONE?

    • Mel says:

      Hmmm… that should work. It’s 2 tablespoons water + 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar + 1/4 teaspoon baking soda per pound of meat, so just do the math (MATH IS HARD!) and give it a go. It certainly won’t hurt anything, and it should give the top of the meatloaf a nice crust.

  • Vivian says:

    I made these with ground chicken and it came out kind of tough (used food processor). Does the cream of tartar/baking soda have to be added immediately while bubbly? or should it still have worked within 5-10 min?

  • Mom says:

    WOW! I can’t wait to make these. I have lots of ground turkey in the freezer and you know how I love cranberries…..and YOU! You’re like the energizer bunny…..your recipes ideas keep going and going and going!

  • Suzanna says:

    These are DELICIOUS! I love turkey and cranberry so this was a must try for me. I made a double batch and my husband nearly ate all of them in one sitting. It’s awesome when he really likes something, but come on man! Let a girl get a turkey meatball will ya?!

  • kristen says:

    Just made these and they were awesome!! Thanks for posting!!

  • remy says:

    has anyone been able to find unsweetened dried cranberries sold commercially? I’ve only ever found sweetened or “lightly sweetened”

  • jane Ross says:

    Hi Mel,

    First of all, I really do hope you are feeling better. I grew up on a paleo diet as I have so many allergies. I know how it feels to be on such a restrive diet and still feel like rubbish! Keep with it as it does get better and you will, too.

    I love the look of this recipe… I’m allergic to oranges. Do you think lemon juice/zest will work just as well?

    • Mel says:

      I’m hanging in — thanks for the encouragement!

      I think lemon zest will taste awesome, and I think just skip the lemon juice. The zest will add a nice tang, but for a reason I can’t articulate, I feel like the juice won’t work.

  • Lynn Messenger says:

    Oh snap! You are a guru! Perfect for just the two of us. Your cookbooks have made Paleo a sheer delight. Thank you, thank you! I’ve never felt better…(although still having trouble losing weight)Have any suggestions for a 57 year old with about 80 lbs to lose?

  • Lynn Messenger says:

    …and I like your new ‘do’

  • Lori says:

    These sound like a close to second to my All Time Favorite Meatballs – the Bora Bora Fireballs. Can’t wait to try them, and get my own copy of Well Fed 2! Thanks Mel – absolutely love the food you create!

  • Julia says:

    I just made 3 pounds of meatballs, 1 pound turkey as above, 1 pound greek (pork) and 1 pound italian (pork, made up). My house smells so good, and I have protein for the week! I am also roasting spaghetti squash, something I never liked until I read Well Fed (1) and figured out how to keep it from getting too mushy! Thanks, Melissa

  • Sarah says:

    Have you tried these with fresh cranberries? i live in a very small community; it’s hard to find unsweetened dried fruit within 40 miles.

  • Mel, can I use fresh sage? Thanks. We’ve loved every recipe of yours we’ve tried! (Especially the five spice ribs.)

  • Karen says:

    I am in love! Made these tonight-double batch–with a mix of pork and turkey. SO YUM! I really like the sweetness of the orange zest and the cranberries and oh so yummy! I can hardly wait to have some tomorrow for lunch with some homemade mayo and kale salad! OH and we had roasted sweet potato chunks–tossed in coconut oil, salt, pepper and fresh zested ginger and roasted for about an hour at the same temp as the meatballs. I tossed them after with some light olive oil and cinnamon–WOW! Finished off the meal with your garlicy greens that were a mix of rainbow chard and curly kale. I tossed in some cranberries and finished it off with a couple T’s raw apple cider vinegar. Just had to share! 😀

  • Lori M. says:

    Made a double batch and very glad I did! Kids are gf/df and it’s so nice not having to rely on a “flour” to get a good ball (BALLS!). We used dried cherries. Thank you!

  • Betty says:

    Love your book! A little embarrassed to ask this as I rushed through the recipe trying to prep ahead of time for tomorrow, I threw in the cream of tartar and baking soda with dried spices, mixed by hand. …… 😐 skipped that important step 1 of mix in water. What’s the impact? Anything I can do? Meatballs are not cooked yet.

    • Mel says:

      The cream of tartar and baking soda don’t affect the taste, so if it’s too late, no worries! The meatballs will just be a little denser than they would be with the aeration of the baking soda.

      But if you haven’t cooked them yet, just add the 2 tablespoons of warm water to the meat mixture now and knead with your hands to incorporate. The baking soda/cream of tartar should still activate a little. Enjoy!

  • Renee says:

    Brought these to a kids school Thanksgiving party and they were a huge hit amongst all the not-so-healthy stuff. Turns out the teacher has celiac and was delighted to know they were gluten free. I made a “cranberry aioli” to go with them – equal parts of your mayo and cranberry sauce with a bit of garlic and dijon added.

  • Lori says:

    My mouth was watering for these meatballs, but I soon discovered that they were way too salty for me. Can you tell me what the water with baking soda and cream of tartar does for them, besides the sizzling bubbling action? Maybe this is what made them seem to salty for me. I ended up making a cranberry avocado relish to use on them to help “absorb” some of the saltiness. Next time I make them I will not add any salt, or I will not use the fizzy mixture. Thanks, though, for giving me a base for a delicious recipe!! And I’d love to know the purpose of the baking soda/cream of tartar – I’ve never added it to meatballs before.

    • lori_vt says:

      i wish i could retract this comment. i’m sure the over-saltiness was due to this cook’s error! i have found all of your recipes to have just the perfect amount of flavoring, whether it’s herbs, spices or salt and pepper. i think i made half the recipe, but neglected to halve the soda/tartar. i’ve been feeling awful for my mistake and my comment. i have well fed 2 in my hands now, and i am in awe that you continue to create such delightful masterpieces. Thank you!!

  • Lori says:

    Haha, never mind responding about the fizzy mixture, I just noticed the reason posted above. Leave it to me to scroll right to the bottom and not look for the description.

  • Amy says:

    My only “problem” with this recipe? That you didn’t recommend doubling it! I sauteed some apples and onions in coconut oil and served that and the meatballs on chopped lettuce. Delicious! These are going into party food rotation, too.

    • Mel says:

      HA! In Well Fed 2, all of the meatball recipes were for 2 pounds of meat, but them I did a survey and the vast majority of people said they’d rather have the recipe for 1 pound and double it they wanted more — instead of having to cut it in half.

      I’m with you. I ALWAYS make double batches of balls!

  • Kimberly says:

    We just made these meatballs and they are excellent! Wed like to serve them as an app. Any ideas for a dipping sauce?

  • Mary says:

    I made the meatballs and really enjoyed them but had more of the mixture left over after baking all I could do in the time I had. So, created a second meal with the remaining the following day. I sautéed onion, tomato and added additional chili pepper. I added about a cup of organic chicken broth left from another recipe and shredded a ½ a cauliflower also left over and added that too then cooked for about 15 minutes. nice lunch with a bit of a punch and the sweetness from the cranberries.

  • Lauren says:

    These were great! I couldn’t find unsweetened dried cranberries, but Trader Joe’s has freeze dried cranberries that worked great!

  • Carmen in Maine says:

    I just purchased Well Fed 2 this weekend. This is the first recipe I tried. I made it as burgers and cooked in the oven. Delicious! And I have four burgers left over for the rest of the week.

  • Cassie says:

    Made these tonight and they made the house smell amazing! Found a cranberry sauce recipe to pair with them, so tasty and easy to make! I’ve bookmarked your site!!

  • chelsea says:

    Instead of the cream of tarter and baking soda.. can I just use oatmeal instead.. like I would if making a meatloaf

  • Anne says:

    Hi. Just saw this recipe. It looks amazing. Are cream of tartar and baking soda whole 30 approved? I am trying to prepare.

  • Sara says:

    These are crazy delicious. CRAZY! DELICIOUS! I love any excuse for oven sweet potato fries (like I really need an excuse), and these were a PERFECT match. Nom nom. Thank you!

  • Karen says:

    Hi Mel,
    I am just exploring Paleo and this will be my first recipe (I am soooo not a cook !)
    I am in Germany and they do not have Cream of Tartar here, but I read on a site that
    1 tsp baking powder = 1/4 tsp baking soda + 5/8 tsp cream of tartar. Is it okay if I substitute 1 tsp of baking powder ? They also don’t have ground turkey here, so we special ordered it and it will cost like $10 for 1 lb., so I don’t want to mess it up ! Thanks so much – Happy Thanksgiving

    • I use baking soda+ cream of tartar because baking powder often includes cornstarch, which is no good.

      You can:
      – skip the baking soda+cream of tartar;l they’ll taste just fine but won’t be as tender
      – replace the baking soda + cream of tartar with an egg instead (for leavening)
      – use the baking soda and add a little bit of acid, like 1-2 teaspoons of orange juice (that will take the place of the cream of tartar to activate the baking soda).

  • Elizabeth says:

    I am wondering if frozen cranberries would work since I’d like to avoid the concentrated sugar in dried cranberries?

    • Fresh/frozen cranberries are quite tart. You can give it a try; if you like the tart taste, you should be fine, but I’ve never made the meatballs this way, so I can’t guarantee the taste.

      If you’re concerned about sugar, you can always skip the dried fruit — but honestly, the amount of cranberries is so low, the sugar is pretty minimal. A 1/4 cup cranberries has about 30 g of carbohydrate. A serving size of this recipe is 1/4 of the recipe, which means each serving includes about 7 g of carbs — that’s pretty low.

  • Karen Smith says:

    Hi, I love your turkey cranberry meatballs! I make them with chicken. Is there a place that will tell me all the nutrition values for this recipe, (calories, carbs, sodium, fat, etc)? I am learning to log on my fitness pal. I need the info and find this is the hardest part. Thank you in advance!

    • I don’t calculate the nutrition info for my recipes because I follow an “eyeball it” system, based on the meal template found here whole30.com/downloads/whole30-meal-planning.pdf

      But you can always plug my recipes into a recipe calculator like this one http://recipes.sparkpeople.com/recipe-calculator.asp if you prefer to know specifics.

      When I’m using FitDay to log my food, instead of calculating the whole recipe, I just enter something like this:
      4 ounces ground chicken
      1 tablespoon dried cranberries

      Those are the only ingredients that are nutritionally significant, so you can estimate that way instead of calculating the whole recipe.

  • Becky says:

    It’s the week of Thanksgiving and it is my son’s high school football team’s sports award dinner and I am making these to serve. 🙂

  • Melissa says:

    Just made these last night for the second time. Amazing recipe! Easy to make and delicious. Excited that I have a few left over for lunch today. Thanks! 🙂

  • Kris says:

    I ended up making these with chopped up prunes and golden raisins (since I couldn’t find any unsweetened cranberries) and they turned out AMAZING! Definitely will be making again. Thank you for the great idea!

  • AnnMarie says:

    I found Eden brand on line thru LuckyVitamin.com. Sweetened w/Apple. Juice.

  • Kelly says:

    I knew I’d find a turkey meatball recipe on your site. Thanks for not letting me down!