This jerk turkey meatball recipe is truly a representation of my Caribbean-American heritage where a beloved Jamaican flavor meets a favorite American style of serving meat. The only specialty ingredient you’ll need is a jar of jerk seasoning.
These meatballs don’t have the smokiness jerk chicken is known for, but they do showcase the prominent flavors of jerk spice―allspice, ginger, thyme, and heat from scotch bonnet or habanero peppers. I like to make these a good size for two full bites: perfect for an appetizer, potluck dish, or as part of a quick dinner entrée. What I love most about this recipe, though, is how approachable it is for anyone craving a quick meat dish with the adventure of trying the flavors of Caribbean cuisine.
Simple Ingredients Bring It All Together
Two pounds of ground turkey, a couple of tablespoons of jarred jerk seasoning, fresh ginger and scallions, minced habanero peppers, and just a few pantry spices bring this appetizer together. You can bake them (my preference) or pan fry. These are packed with flavor, so I like to serve them alone, but you could try them with your favorite dipping sauce or chutney.
Jerk Marinade Vs. Seasoning
I love using store-bought jerk seasoning. It’s a regular part of my Caribbean pantry staples. It’s great on meat, fish, and even some vegetables! Walkerswood or Grace brand are common choices for ready-made jerk seasoning. Both of these brands make a jerk marinade and jerk seasoning. Be sure to buy the seasoning and not the marinade. The marinade is runny and will make your meatball mixture loose and hard to hold a shape. Jerk seasoning is more of a paste, and this is what you’ll want for the meatball mixture. You can certainly use a homemade seasoning, just make sure it’s measure for measure when making this recipe.
These meatballs are spicy, but can be adjusted by how much jerk seasoning you add. If I’m making this for adults who love spicy foods, then I’ll use the hot variety. Otherwise, mild is the way to go for flavor but not as much heat―little adventurous eaters will be able to enjoy this as well. Purchase Walkerswood jerk seasoning here.
Use Quality Ground Turkey
I only use Jenni-O ground turkey (93% lean, 7% fat) when making these meatballs. I find it to be more flavorful due to the dark meat turkey and bit of fat. Do not use ground turkey breast for this recipe; it is too lean. Using lean turkey results in tough and dry meatballs, so you’d have to add fat to the mix, like some oil or mayonnaise. If you cannot find Jenni-O brand, any 93% lean, 7% fat ground turkey will work.
A Tip for Mixing Meatballs
Many meatball recipes stress not overmixing to avoid making the meatballs tough, and suggest using your hands to gently mix. But truth be told I can never figure it out! No matter how gently I mix with my hands, I always end up treating it like dough and mixing too much.
So I’ve found an easier way that works great for me. Instead I only use a small spatula to combine the ingredients using a cutting motion, gently turning the mix into the center just two or three times. Ever since I switched to using a small spatula my meatballs are tender and just perfect!
Make Ahead to Save Time
Meatballs are the ultimate make-ahead dish and there are so many ways to do it. My preference is to mix all the ingredients, then transfer to a glass bowl that has a tight lid. Refrigerate overnight and then roll them out when you’re ready to cook. This is what I do when bringing meatballs to a potluck.
Alternatively, you can shape the meatballs and line them up on a baking sheet. Then tightly wrap the entire pan with plastic wrap.
You can also freeze the mixture in a freezer bag, defrost overnight, shape, and cook it when ready. My preference for freezing, though, is to cook the meatballs first, let them cool off, then transfer them to a freezer bag. That way all you have to do is reheat when you’re ready. It’s the best option for quick weeknight meals!
Make It a Meal
- Plantain Frittata
- Oven Baked Sweet Potato Fries
- Jamaican Rice and Peas
- Coconut Rice and Beans
- Collard Greens
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray modestly with cooking oil.
Combine the ingredients:
In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground turkey, jerk seasoning, ginger, habanero peppers, garlic, green and yellow onions, and thyme. Add the paprika, black pepper, salt and breadcrumbs.
Mix the turkey mixture:
Using a small spatula, mix all the ingredients together. Make cutting motions with spatula until the ingredients look evenly mixed. Use the spatula to fold the meat a few times from the sides into the center to make sure the turkey on the bottom of the bowl gets properly mixed in. You can also use your hands to gently mix it all together. As soon as the ingredients look fairly distributed, stop mixing.
Shape the meatballs:
Use your fingers or a 1-tablespoon measure to scoop out the turkey mixture into the palm of your hands. Two tablespoons will give you a medium-large meatball; one rounded tablespoon, smaller sized meatballs.
Gently form it into a ball using both palms. Do not smash or put pressure when forming the shape. Place on the prepared baking sheet leaving a little space between each meatball. Repeat this step until all the turkey mixture is used up.
Bake the meatballs:
Bake the meatballs for 20-25 minutes until browned. If you prefer using a thermometer it should read 165°F when inserted. You can also just cut into one and check if it is firm and cooked through.
You’ll notice a thick white ring around the bottom of each meatball. Don’t be alarmed, this is just the fat from the turkey released during the cooking process. The tops won’t get very brown, but if you’d like a little more color, leave the pan in the oven and turn the broiler on to 525°F for 2-3 minutes.
These meatballs are juicy and have so much flavor that they are perfect on their own, so there’s not much need for a dipping sauce. However, you can brush a little bit of guava jelly or apricot jam on top or serve with your favorite chutney.
Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 4 days. If freezing, I prefer to cook the meatballs first, cool, then put them in a freezer bag and freeze for up to 2 months. When you are ready to eat, bake them at 350°F for 10-15 minutes.
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