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Slow cooker turkey meatballs in tomato sauce over spaghetti in a bowl.
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Slow Cooker Meatballs in Homemade Marinara

Adapted from my book, Fresh Flavors for the Slow Cooker (Storey Publishing, 2019). The slow cooker is the ideal tool to cook turkey meatballs—it renders them ultra tender and juicy even when using lean meat. The meatballs are packed with flavor from garlic, Parmesan cheese and dried herbs, and I sneak in a bit of added nutrition with finely chopped spinach. They slowly simmer in an easy, homemade tomato sauce. You can serve the meatballs over cooked spaghetti or Creamy Grits, or you can pile them into sliders or hoagies with pesto (homemade or store-bought) and mozzarella (it’s an awesome game-day appetizer!).
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time1 hr 30 mins
Total Time1 hr 50 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: crockpot meatballs, slow cooker meatballs, slow cooker meatballs recipe
Servings: 4 -6 people

Equipment

  • 6- to 7-quart Slow Cooker

Ingredients

Marinara sauce

  • 1 28- ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon ground fennel
  • ¼ teaspoon sugar
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon cold butter, cut into small pieces

Meatballs

  • 1 pound lean ground turkey
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon ground fennel
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely grated
  • ¼ cup packed baby spinach, very finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons dried breadcrumbs (gluten-free or regular)
  • 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

For serving (optional)

  • Cooked spaghetti or hoagies
  • Grated parmesan cheese and/or mozzarella
  • Chopped fresh basil or pesto

Instructions

Assemble the sauce

  • In a 6- to 7-quart oval slow cooker, combine the crushed tomatoes, garlic cloves, dried oregano, ground fennel and sugar. Season with salt and pepper, and scatter the butter over the sauce.

Form the meatballs

  • In a large bowl, combine the turkey, dried oregano, ground fennel, garlic, spinach, breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese and egg. Sprinkle with the kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Using a fork, gently stir to incorporate (don’t work the mixture too much, otherwise the meatballs could turn tough). Gently form 16 golf ball-sized balls (they’ll be sticky), and nestle them in the slow cooker in a single layer.

Cook and serve

  • Cover and cook until the meatballs are cooked through and tender, 2 ½ to 3 ½ hours on low, or 1 ½ to 2 ½ hours on high.
  • If you’d like, pile the meatballs over spaghetti or into hoagies. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese, or, for hoagies, melt mozzarella over top. Garnish with fresh basil or pesto.

Notes

Do Ahead: You can assemble the sauce and the meatball mixture then refrigerate them separately for up to 1 day before cooking. The cooked meatballs can be cooled in the sauce and refrigerated for up to 5 days (reheat them on low until warmed through). You can also freeze the meatballs in the sauce for up to 3 months!
Tips:
  • It's best to cook the meatballs in a 6- to7-quart oval slow cooker. This will allow the meatballs to fit in a single layer and cook without sticking. 
  • If your slow cooker automatically switches to a "warm" setting after the time ends, you can set the time and let the meatballs sit all day (this is great if you're gone at work or if you're entertaining). 
  • It’s best to use lean ground turkey for this recipe, as ground beef is higher in fat and will create a greasy sauce.
  • Get a ton of other slow cooker recipes in my book, Fresh Flavors for the Slow Cooker.