Smoked Turkey Meatballs are going to change your perception of flavor. Adding bacon paste to ground chicken or turkey is going to add an amazing flavor and help with binding the meat together. The slowly smoke the meatballs and add to your favorite pasta dishes.
- Bacon paste is ground up and added to the ground turkey for both flavor and to bind the meatballs. It’s also great for turkey burgers.
- Smoking them for up to one hour will add a delicious smokey flavor.
- Serve smoked turkey meatballs as an appetizer, or with your favorite pasta dish. Or make them into a meatball sandwich.
That’s right. Bacon paste.
See, the problem with regular lean ground turkey (or chicken) is that it can easily dry out creating a product that is not as desirable for a carnivore to eat as its juicy beefy counterparts. It’s also pretty bland.
Now the greatest thing about bacon paste is that this isn’t a store bought product you have to seek out at a specialty store (although it wouldn’t surprise me if someone has thought to jar it up and sell it!).
- Recipe Highlights
- What is Bacon Paste?
- Meatball Ingredients
- How to Make Bacon Paste and Meatballs
- How to Smoke Turkey Meatballs
- As An Appetizer
- Cooking Method Alternatives
- Wine Pairing for Smoked Turkey Meatballs
- Other Meatball Recipe Ideas
- More Tasty Uses for Bacon Paste
- Smoked Turkey Meatballs Recipe with Bacon Paste
What is Bacon Paste?
I’m not talking about crispy cooked bacon (not that there’s anything wrong with crispy bacon). I’m talking about bacon paste. Bacon paste is raw bacon that is blended in a food processor until it is the consistency of a sticky paste.
The very first time we started cooking with bacon paste was to amp up the flavor of boring ground turkey and chicken. I first learned this amazing trick about a gazillion years ago from a Bon Appétit article (though I’ve purged my old magazines so not sure exactly where it all started). But the technique is unforgettable, and ridiculously easy.
- Thick cut bacon: Peppered or other flavored bacons work great.
- Ground turkey: We use 1 pound of 90/10 ground turkey which is 90% lean and 10% fat.
- Egg – Helps with the binding along with bacon paste.
- Garlic clove
- White onion – You can also use yellow. Red onion will have a very oniony flavor.
- Pecorino Romano Cheese – You can substitute with Parmesan cheese, freshly grated.
- Panko bread crumbs – If you prefer regular breadcrumbs you can use those.
- Seasoning: Red pepper flakes, kosher salt, and ground pepper
- Food Processor: You want a good strong food processor to get the paste to the right consistency.
- Sheet Pan and Cookie Drying Rack: To get smoke flavor throughout the turkey meatballs it’s best to place a cookie drying rack into a sheet tray and then place the meatballs on the cookie drying rack. Then put them in the smoker. For easier clean up add parchment paper or aluminum foil under the cookie sheet to collect the fat that drips.
- Instant Read Thermometer: A good instant read thermometer like the Thermoworks Thermapen One is important so you can check the internal temperature of the smoked turkey meatballs and avoid overcooking them.
How to Make Bacon Paste and Meatballs
- Simply take a couple strips of uncooked bacon, cut it in quarters, put into a food processor, and pulse until it turns into a paste-like consistency, and then add it to the ground turkey. This also works well with beef burgers, pork/beef meatballs, but my favorite is to add it to poultry. It adds incredible flavor to ground turkey or chicken without adding much fat or excess calories.
- The ratio we use is 2 pieces of thick cut uncooked bacon for every 1 pound of ground meat. That’s all you need to add a boatload of delicious flavor to your meatballs…. Seriously, a boatload!
- Adding this raw bacon paste to your meatballs adds incredible flavor as well as moisture (from the fat) to ensure your meatballs don’t dry out.
How to Smoke Turkey Meatballs
- Preparation: Preheat your smoker to 225 degrees Fahrenheit (108 Celsius) using fruit wood or oak. Prepare the meatballs while the smoker warms up.
- Smoke: Place the meatballs onto a cookie drying rack, inside of a sheet pan lined with parchment paper, and smoke the meatballs for up to one hour or until the internal temperature of the meatballs reaches 165 degrees F using a good instant read thermometer.
- Serve: Serve with your favorite marinara sauce and pasta. Try it with homemade orecchiette pasta and sauce.
As An Appetizer
When we cater this is a great appetizer. Warm up your favorite marinara sauce (we use our smoked marinara sauce) and chop up fresh basil. Then on your plate add a small dollop of the sauce, then a piece of the basil, and then top with a meatball. Add a toothpick and it’s ready to go.
Cooking Method Alternatives
- Oven Bake: Bake in the oven at 400 degrees F (203 degrees C) for 15 minutes until the reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.
- Pan Fry: Place meatballs in a skillet coated with oil and cook 5-6 minutes until the internal temperature reads 165, and they are browned all over. To avoid splatter use a cover.
- Gas Grill: If you have a gas grill follow our guide on how to smoke on a gas grill.
Prepare the turkey meatballs up to two days in advance of cooking. This is especially nice if you are scaling up the recipe for an appetizer. If you cook a large quantity in the smoker note that it will take longer to smoke. Always cook to temperature and not time.
You can smoke the meatballs in advance and store them in the fridge for two days or keep them in the freezer until you’re ready to eat them. Then toss them with your favorite pasta sauce (they are KILLER with smoked marinara sauce), or use for smoked meatball sandwiches.
Wine Pairing for Smoked Turkey Meatballs
I’m always drawn to classic pairings when it comes to spaghetti and meatballs (or linguine in this case). Let the sauce guide you when it comes to the pairing since the meatballs aren’t intense in flavor. The acidity from the tomato sauce is what you want to focus on, and the savory nature of the meatballs is secondary. Especially after we have smoked them.
I love Italian-style reds, like Barbera for this. Those made from Sangiovese (like Chianti for ex.) are also classic examples to pair with red sauces. Tomatoes are high in acidity, and Sangiovese has signature acid notes that stand up to most tomato sauces. I also love Nero d’Avola from Sicily for this too. Every bottle of Nero d’Avola reminds me of traveling through Sicily and tasting some of the greatest meatballs I’ve ever had. It just seems like they are made for these smoked turkey meatballs.
Other Meatball Recipe Ideas
Here are some of our favorite meatball recipes.
- Grilled Buffalo Chicken Meatball: These sliders are delicious served up with a Buffalo flavor and ranch filling.
- Smoked Cranberry Meatballs: Smoked meatballs then braised and served in a cranberry and wine sauce.
- BBQ Stuffed Meatballs: These beef meatballs are stuffed with mozarella cheese and glazed with a tangy BBQ sauce.
- Smoked Lamb Meatballs: Ground lamb slowly smoked and added to a pita sandwich.
More Tasty Uses for Bacon Paste
This smoked turkey meatball recipe was originally published in February of 2016 and updated in March of 2023 with more recipe details, photos, and process steps.
Mary (a certified sommelier and recipe developer) and Sean (backyard pitmaster) are co-authors of the critically acclaimed cookbook, Fire + Wine, and have been creating content for the IACP nominated website Vindulge since 2009. They live in Oregon on a farm just outside Portland.
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These are not just good for ‘turkey’ meatballs, these are among the best meatballs ever. They are delicious and do not taste like bacon at all, yet they are tender and flavorful. They’re certainly better than any beef/pork meatballs that I have ever made.
Bella B (xoxoBella) says
Oh my gosh…this looks so good. I would love to be eating this right this minute.
Me too. And it’s barely breakfast time around here right now 😉
What a great tip! I have never had good luck with Turkey meatballs, precisely because they are dry and tasteless. I am going to have to try this tip!
Exactly! We struggled with that for years. Not anymore! This gives great flavor to boring ground turkey!!
HOLY SH*T This looks amazing, want to come over for dinner? 😛
Hahaha, anytime! Just let us know when to show up and we’ll bring dinner 😉
i missed your mention of bacon paste, so i’m glad you revisited it! what a great idea, and what a delicious way to use it!
Thanks!! It’s pretty genius. I wish I would have thought of it first. Though I’ve never seen anyone else use it for poultry! Game changer for those attempting to eat healthier meats!
Bacon paste!?!?!? My life is forever changed.
It does that for people! True story.
Bobbi from Bobbi's Kozy Kitchen says
I have done this with ground pork, but never thought of using it in turkey or chicken ones!! Love it!
Pasta + bacon are my main weaknesses! I have never put all 3 of these together! I know what we are having for dinner tonight!!
It’s a pretty magical combination!
Wow, I have never heard of bacon paste! I’m a vegetarian, but I will pass on to my many carnivore friends! (And I will admit bacon is the one thing I truly miss…:))c
Yes, please do share with all your carnivore friends!! Also, you’re always welcome to come back to the pork-eating world. I did after being vegetarian for 10 years! 😉
Heather with WELLFITandFED says
Oh. My. Gawd. You literally just changed my life. Bacon Paste. What the what!!!!!
It changed my life too! Truth!!! 😉
Bacon Paste? I think I must have this in my life!
It’s a great thing to have in your life! I promise!
YUM. Add bacon to anything and I’m sold.
Yea, this is happening! I’m excited, this looks delicious!
Love it! I hope so 🙂
Jessica @ Citrus Blossom Bliss says
What a smart idea! Although my boyfriend will eat anything I cook, I’m sure adding a bit of bacon would make him much happier. I love searing the meatballs first and then finishing them off in the oven. These look fabulous!
Thanks! Yes, I agree, searing them gives them a nice outer crust (and adds add’l flavor!), and then the oven keeps them nice and tender inside!
Linda @ 2 Cookin' Mamas says
Oh Mary you are so right! Bacon makes everything better! I love the idea of adding it to ground turkey (’cause I agree it’s bland) but I never thought of adding a bacon paste to it. Brilliant! I do use bacon fat that I save when I cook bacon to add to dishes to bring up the flavor content so I am so going to use your idea! Thanks!
One things we’ve also done is cook the meatballs stovetop in a little bit of bacon fat just like the kind you mentioned! Even more delicious bacon-y flavor 🙂
You had me at bacon paste, what a great trick to eat healthier but still get good flavor with just a itsy bit of extra
Oh what a Yummy recipe! I love that you used turkey and bacon! 🙂
Well I’ll be, this is definitely intriguing to say the least and a must try on my next batch of meatballs. Bacon paste? Who would have thought. I usually add cooked bacon on meatloaf but this just ups the ante so much more.
Oh yes, we’ve done this in meatloaf too! Same results. Amazing!!
Valentina | The Baking Fairy says
Okay, one, those meatballs look incredible. And two, bacon paste?! Where has this been my whole life? Total genius. Pinning for later!
Hahah. Bacon paste makes everything better!
Yum what a great idea!! I will have to try this 🙂 Bacon makes everything better no doubt!
These look absolutely delicious! I definitely am going to make these, I’ve never made meatballs before, but these images have me craving them 🙂 I’m very interested in this whole bacon paste as well…what a great idea!
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Thanks so much!!
Marlynn @ UrbanBlissLife says
Oh you know I am all over that bacon paste addition! YUM yum yum!! We always use ground turkey versus ground beef, and our go-to for turkey meatballs and burgers is adding teriyaki to the meat. I’ve never had a dry turkey burger with that method, but this I will most definitely try. So clever! Thanks, Mary!
I love the teriyaki idea! Anything to help the meat from drying out. I try my test to do turkey over beef, but my hubby is a die hard beefeater!
I’ve never heard of making bacon paste before! What a fun idea.
Thanks! It’s our favorite way to add great flavor to poultry!
Never heard of bacon paste. Wondering if I can find it around here where I live.
It’s not a store bought product. Just take a couple pieces of uncooked bacon and pulse it in your food processor until it turns into a paste-like texture. It only takes a few pulses! Then mix it into your meat mixture for meatballs or burgers!
Frugal Mom of 8 says
That is a great idea to make the turkey meatballs taste more flavorful!
Thanks 🙂 It’s tasty that’s for sure!!!
This looks ridiculous! Bacon, meatballs and pasta sounds so right plating them together. Adding this to my meal planning list for next week
Thanks! It’s such an easy way to add awesome flavor!!!