gameday snacks: turkey meatball sub [week 9]

This post is late.  Oops.  It was my birthday this past weekend, so with that in mind, I hope you’ll forgive my tardiness.  I kept it pretty low maintenance this year – I’ve had a lot of obligations over the last few months, and while tremendously fun, as a result I had zero desire to plan anything for my birthday.  I had some friends over for cake, then hit my two favorite bars: 15 Romolo and Mr. Bing’s… the two could not be more different.  15 Romolo is a trendy speakeasy with fantastic food and cocktails; I actually prefer to come here early, grab a bite, and then ease into the night.  Mr. Bing’s is probably my favorite good ol’ drinking establishment in the whole world.  It’s cash only, the pours are stiff, and the bartender will sometimes play dice with you.  Or sometimes just make fun of you.  Or call your roommate Miss America.  You know.  Anything goes.

Anyway, you’re not here to read about places to drink in San Francisco… you’re here because I promised you turkey meatballs that actually taste good.  But first, you have to appreciate my cake and its six amazing layers:

And the roses I piped onto it:

Okay, so, meatballs.  And meatball subs!  Despite what my recent posts may suggest, I do actually prefer to maintain a healthier diet: I eat lots of salads and lean protein.  But, the thought of making 100% turkey meatballs kind of made me cringe… turkey can be completely void of flavor and so lacking in fat that the resulting meatballs are dry and crumbly, which does not sound appetizing whatsoever.  I toyed with the idea of emptying my spice cabinet and grating frozen bacon fat into the turkey meat to give it some life, but decided that anyone looking for an easy gameday recipe would laugh at an ingredient list that called for an entire spice cabinet and frozen bacon fat.  Because, you know, who actually keeps that on hand in case of emergencies?

Turkey Meatball Sub
Turkey Meatball Sub

I decided that the best way I could get a big whammy of flavor into these meatballs was by using a traditional ingredient: pork sausage.  I kept approximately a 2:1 turkey to pork ratio, though if you wanted to make these leaner, you could probably go 3:1 (so 3/4 lb turkey and 1/4 lb sausage).  I used spicy sausage for this recipe and found the kick it gave my meatballs to be just right; if you’re planning to serve children or friends with very sensitive palates, you may want to go with mild or sweet sausage instead.  Just be sure to use one that you’ve tried before so you know that you a) like the flavor, and, b) think it would taste good in meatballs.

Turkey Meatball Sub
Turkey Meatball Sub

Another secret to getting juicy meatballs: mozzarella.  I discovered this by accident when I made my pepperoni pizza biscuit bites; I thought the cheese would stay somewhat intact, but it quite literally disintegrated into the biscuit.  Adding mozzarella to the meatballs yielded the same result – the cheese just melted into the meat during the cooking process and kept the meatballs moist and juicy.

Turkey Meatball Sub
Turkey Meatball Sub

I’ll give you just a few more notes on serving, then I promise it’s recipe time.

Assembly: Tradition dictates meatballs on the bottom, then generous layers of sauce and cheese on top.  I made one like this… I got cheese all over my face and didn’t get a whole lot of meatball in my mouth.  To make this a little easier to eat, I carved a V into the bread (who needs that much bread anyway? Its’ sole purpose is to hold the meatball in place) and spread my sauce along the exposed bread to give it some delicious tomato flavor.  Then, I crammed as much cheese as I possibly could into the cavity, and pressed the meatballs on top of it.  When the cheese melted, it helped anchor the meatballs to the bread and made for a much easier eating experience.

Serving: It’s easiest to assemble two six-meatball sandwiches and either cut them into 4 large subs or 12 mini ones.  I prefer the little 2-biters because I have a small appetite, and I like to eat a few small meals as opposed to 3 big ones.  But really, this is where you can make the recipe your own!  You could even cut all the meatballs in half and stuff them inside of a grilled cheese, or make little meatball patties and serve them in a soft brioche bun.  As always, the possibilities are endless – so let me know what you come up with and how it works!

Turkey Meatball Sub
Turkey Meatball Sub

[mostly] turkey meatballs

prep time: 20 minutes

cook time: 20 minutes

total time: 40 minutes

yield: 12


  • 1/2 large onion, diced fine
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 TBSP olive oil, divided
  • 2/3 lb ground turkey
  • 1/3 lb spicy pork sausage (use mild if you prefer)
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 C panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 C freshly shredded parmesan
  • 1/4 C freshly shredded mozzarella
  • 2 TBSP chopped basil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • For the sub
  • 1 loaf sweet baguette
  • 1 C tomato sauce (use 2 cups if you want a saucier sandwich)
  • 1-2 C freshly shredded mozzarella (the cheese is really a personal preference which is why the range is so large)


  1. Mise en place, and read this recipe all the way through.
  2. To make the meatballs:
  3. Add 1 TBSP oil to a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the onions and a pinch of salt. Saute until the onions become translucent, then add the garlic and cook just until fragrant.
  4. Transfer the onion and garlic to a bowl to cool, and use tongs to hold a paper towel wad to wipe any residue out of the skillet.
  5. While the onions cool, remove the sausage from its casing and put it in a large bowl with the ground turkey. Use a fork to mix the turkey and sausage together to create one uniform mixture. Using a fork keeps the meat from getting too densely packed together, which yields much less tasty meatballs.
  6. Add the cooled onion mixture and all remaining meatball ingredients to the turkey mixture, and use the fork to mix everything together.
  7. If you have one, use a 1 1/2 inch disher (or cookie scoop) to portion out the meat mixture. If you don't have a disher, just use a large spoon to separate 12 equal portions.
  8. Lightly roll each portion between your palms and set on a plate or tray.
  9. Add remaining 1 TBSP olive oil to the skillet and set over medium heat. When the oil just begins to shimmer, add the meatballs to the pan.
  10. Cook for about 5 minutes on each side, until the meatballs are GBD (golden brown and delicious). Transfer to a (clean!) plate and use the tong and paper towel technique to wipe any excess oil from the skillet.
  11. Add the tomato sauce to the skillet over medium heat, and return the meatballs to the pan. Cook the meatballs in the sauce until the sauce thickens slightly, then kill the heat.
  12. For the sub
  13. Cut the ends off the baguette and then cut it into 2 even pieces to make it easier to work with.
  14. Carefully cut a wide V in the top of the bread by making 2 cuts that angle towards the center of the bread. This will create space for the meatballs. You can just cut the baguette in half, but I find that the V shape helps prevent the meatballs from sliding around.
  15. Spoon the tomato sauce into the bread, then add the cheese. Yes, I am aware that the cheese traditionally goes on top, but it's easier to eat these with the cheese on the bottom. It also helps the meatballs stay in place.
  16. Finally, add 6 meatballs to each half of the baguette.
  17. Bake at 400 just long enough to melt the cheese and warm the bread.


Use mild or spicy sausage depending on your taste. You can make the meatballs the night before and assemble the sandwich the next day, just bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes to get the meatballs heated through.



so, what did you think?


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