State Fair Turkey Meatballs

State Fair Turkey Meatballs

There are a lot of oversized attractions at the Iowa State Fair: the giant slide, the big boar, enormous farm equipment, footlong corndogs, and the ever-popular turkey legs. The aroma of those turkey legs roasting on the grill will reach you from all around the concourse. Sweet and smoky, tangy and tender, they are as impressive to the eye as the tastebuds! They are a bit clumsy to eat but when at the state fair, that’s part of the fun. These state fair inspired turkey meatballs pack all those flavors into a fork-friendly bite!


Once Upon A Time …


My first trip to the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines was earned with a purple ribbon at our county fair in NW Iowa. Our 4-H club had participated in an event called “Share The Fun”. We presented a skit based on the book “There was an old lady who swallowed a fly.” Appropriately dressed in handmade costumes … fly, spider, bird, cat, dog, cow, horse, and old lady … we acted our hearts out. The judges awarded us first place and a chance to perform the skit again at the state fair.

Following our state fair debut, we had lots of little kids coming up to us with big smiles and wide eyes. We ended up walking around in our costumes just to be a part of the entertainment. At least we thought we were. Looking back, we probably fell into the category of that ever-popular fair activity called “people watching”!

Regardless, it is a great memory. It really shocks me that I don’t remember a single thing I ate that day. If I had to guess, a funnel cake was probably involved.

Returning to the state fair now, my idea of “share the fun” is “share the food”! There’s so much to try and I LOVE to try multiple things. The only way to do that is to share those giant, tasty portions like the grilled turkey drumsticks.

Therefore, I made up this recipe for State Fair Turkey Meatballs. They are not only flavored like the drumsticks at the fair, they are easier to eat, AND they are shareable. If you really want to be reminded of the fair, put them on a stick!


State Fair Turkey Meatballs


State Fair Turkey Meatballs


What makes these turkey meatballs “State Fair” level meatballs? There are certain flavor profiles that must be present to capture the experience of eating one of those giant turkey legs. It is a balance of smokiness, sweetness, saltiness, and tanginess.

This recipe was modified from a marinade recipe I received many years ago for grilling boneless turkey breast fillets. That recipe included soy sauce, garlic, lemon, onion, ginger, and black pepper. To bump up the smoky flavor, I added Worcestershire sauce and smoked paprika. Adding brown sugar captures a little more of that caramelized texture of the grilled turkey leg skin.

Now if you really want that State Fair experience, you can park your car a mile or so from home and walk to your front door. Then, make everyone stand in line to use the bathroom for at least 15 minutes. Don’t forget to turn off the air conditioning.

If you figure out how to make deep-fried Oreos in your air frier … I will walk at least a mile to join you!


Tips For Success

  1. Unlike my other meatball recipes (like these Cuban meatballs), this recipe uses vegetable oil instead of traditional milk as a liquid in the meat mixture. Because turkey is such a lean protein, some fat is needed to keep them tender.
  2. Notice that the sauce mixture is divided when preparing this recipe. Half of the sauce goes into the meatball mixture and the other half is used while cooking the meatballs. This way, those State Fair flavors will be tasted throughout the meatball as well as in the sauce on the outside.
  3. For a complete summer meal, serve with sweet corn, watermelon and lemonade!


State Fair Turkey Meatballs

State Fair Turkey Meatballs

All the flavors of State Fair giant turkey legs in bite-sized meatballs. This simple recipe is sharable fun for dinner!
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings 7 people


  • 2 pounds ground turkey
  • 2 cups bread crumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/4 cup minced onion
  • green onions


  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil divided


  • In a large bowl, combine ground turkey, bread crumbs, egg, egg yolk, and minced onion.
  • In another bowl, combine Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, lemon juice, garlic, ginger, smoked paprika, brown sugar, black pepper, and 1/4 cup of the vegetable oil.
  • Pour half of the sauce mixture over the meatball mixture and stir to combine.
  • Using a cookie scoop (1.5" diameter), form meat mixture into balls. Set aside.
  • Drizzle 1/8 cup of vegetable oil into a large skillet over medium heat. Cook half the meatballs, rotating frequently to brown well on all sides (6-8 minutes).
    Browning Meatballs
  • Pour half of the remaining sauce over the meatballs and simmer until meatballs are fully cooked (3-4 minutes).
    Saucing the Meatballs
  • Remove from pan to serving plate or dish. Loosely cover with aluminum foil to keep warm.
  • Repeat cooking process for remaining meatballs and sauce.
  • Sprinkle meatballs with thinly sliced green onions and serve!


This recipe makes approximately 3.5 dozen meatballs. 
Keyword meatballs, turkey


State Fair Turkey Meatballs Pin

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