Sweet & Sour Turkey Meatballs with Cranberries & Peppers (Slow-Cooker)

If I keep this one really short, you’ll forgive me, right? It’s been a long week, and I’m just ready to put my (puffy) feet up and sink a fork into a bowl of these comforting and totally satisfying sweet and sour turkey meatballs. I managed to freeze a meal’s worth of them for when the baby comes, which, apparently, could be any day now.

The days leading up to baby are both exciting and terrifying. Each evening as I go to bed the thought crosses my mind that this could be the last night of uninterrupted sleep for a while. So I pull the down comforter up to my chin, silence my iPhone, and close my eyes, searching for rest.

As circumstance would have it, the night is never without interruption though. I’m in my ninth month and there’s a string of delightful indicators to prove that, yes indeed, this is the most trying stretch.

At least there are turkey meatballs, studded with cranberries, flavored with orange zest, and served over a bed of rice. Meatballs which you should add to your menu soon. After all, everyone could use a bowl of comfort in February.

I’ve been making good use of the slow-cooker again. For this recipe I wanted a sweet and sour dish, but without the usual pineapple chunks and ketchup-like sticky sauce. A quick dig through my freezer and vegetable crisper turned up local cranberries and (okay, not-so-local) oranges and there was my sour and my sweet.

The dish is perfect for serving with a nutty rice pilaf, but the turkey and cranberry pairing is also suitable for serving the meatballs over mashed potatoes. Thanksgiving dinner in the crock pot? Almost.

Yes, it’s a large recipe, but the meatballs freeze well, so pack up half of the batch for the freezer. Alternately, you can cut the recipe in half.

Are you a fan of the pineapple chunks? Go ahead, throw a can into the mix, just don’t leave out those tangy cranberries. They totally make the dish.

Slow-Cooker Sweet & Sour Turkey Meatballs
3.6 from 5 reviews
Recipe type: Main
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves/Yield: 8-10
Cranberries and orange juice give these meatballs their sweet & sour zing. Serve over rice or mashed potatoes.
For the meatballs:
  • 3 lbs ground turkey meat
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup green onion, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon ginger, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon garlic, minced
  • Zest of 2 oranges
  • 1 cup Panko flakes or breadcrumbs
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
For the Sauce:
  • 1 cup orange juice, freshly squeezed if possible
  • 4 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar
  • 6 Tablespoons honey
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped ginger
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 1 orange pepper, cubed
  • 1 green pepper, cubed
  • 1 large red onion, cut in large dice
  1. Preheat oven to 400F and line a baking sheet with foil for an easy clean-up.
  2. In a large bowl combine all the ingredients for the meatballs. Using your hands, gently mix to distribute ingredients throughout the meat.
  3. Roll ground turkey mixture into meatballs about the size of a Mandarine orange. It should yield about 24.
  4. Place meatballs on the baking tray and roast for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare your sauce.
  5. In the bottom of a slow-cooker, whisk together orange juice and cornstarch until smooth. Add vinegar, honey, stock, salt, garlic and ginger and stir to combine.
  6. Remove meatballs from the oven and transfer directly to the slow-cooker. Cover with cranberries, sweet peppers and red onion.
  7. Gently stir meatballs, sauce and vegetables until ingredients are evenly distributed. Tuck meatballs down under the liquid.
  8. Cover the slow-cooker and place on Low for 7 hours. Alternately, cook on High for 4 hours.
  9. Serve over long-grain rice or mashed potatoes.


About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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  1. This looks awesome! I love the use of the orange peppers and the cranberries. I like to see a pretty plate of food :-)

  2. What an awesome recipe. It’s slow cooker. It’s meatballs so my kids will be open to trying it, and it has interesting flavors for myself and my husband to appreciate.

  3. I love that your slow cooker recipes never look like slow cooker recipes. These look great and I love the idea to put them in the freezer.

  4. This looks great! I’m just curious though, if it’s going in the slow cooker, why put it in the oven first? I always wondered about that (as I’ve seen it in other recipes before) and it seems strange to me. Thanks.

  5. Yummy! I have them on my menu for next week. Good luck in the baby department as well.

  6. I’m intrigued and inspired.

    And remembering the “any day now” feeling of the last few weeks brings back such adrenaline-packed memories. I’m excited for you!

  7. This looks delicious! I think I will try it this weekend! Wishing you all the best for a great delivery and a healthy baby! It seems like you just announced your pregnancy….can’t wait to hear the name!!!

  8. Oh Amy, these look yummy!
    And we are totally on the same page. I am due next week with baby #4 and have been in prodromal labor for a week. No sleep came last night with contractions for 12 hours! Here’s hoping both of our babes show up very, very soon!

  9. I adore this flavor combination. I can’t wait to try it. So beautiful!

  10. Awesome recipe, Aimee — and I hope you are getting enough rest before the little one arrives. Anytime now :)

  11. A mandarine orange? That sounds pretty big for a meatball… (I’ll divide into 24, but was just double-checking)

    Wishing your baby and you a marvelous birthday!

  12. Oh that looks delish! I can’t wait to try this one evening.

  13. This sounds AMAZING!!! I think I might have to try these this weekend!

  14. It is my long-standing belief that anything with sweet and sour sauce is worth eating. Meatballs? Doubly so.

  15. Hi Aimee! My name is Tamara, and I have been visiting Simple Bites pretty regularly for a few months now. I’ve made your Best Ever Muffins almost weekly since November, and I frequently make a menu plan to suit my need for a Butternut Squash Gratin! :)

    Today, you have met all my needs: Meatball recipe- check! Slow cooker recipe- check! Use what I have in the freezer- ground turkey, cranberries, onions, peppers, and so on… check, check, and more checks! Thank you so much! You are the best!

    I will be thinking of and praying for you and your family as you welcome your new little one soon!

  16. My youngest is 3 months old and my oldest is almost three and a half and there is one in-between. I so get your sleep longings. And the futility thereof. Thanks for the great inspiration. I have a freezer full of venison…might see if I can mix and match…also rhubarb and apple…hmmm…thanks!

  17. Very excited to try this recipe! My slow cooker is a much-loved appliance in my household and I’m always on the lookout for some new combinations of ingredients to put in it! This looks fantastic.

  18. Brenda Finley says:

    My boyfriend and I , who are fairly experienced cooks although not in slow-cooking , tried this recipe and followed it exactly. The results were VERY disappointing! Since our slow cooker has only one pre-set setting , we cooked it for 4 hours. I think the terrible taste may have come from the cornstarch and the high acidity, but I am not sure. The cornstarch did nothing to thicken the sauce. I have read online that slow-cooking and thickening agents have to be added near the end of the cooking process. I advise anybody who undertakes this recipe to do some research prior to slow cooking it .

    • Thanks for your honest comment, Brenda. Certainly this dish is more tart than the average sugary sweet & sour sauce. I wanted a decidedly savory dish when I developed the recipe. The addition of honey was enough of a balance for us, but perhaps not sweet enough for you.

      As to why your version didn’t thicken, I really am not sure. Perhaps check the expiry date on your cornstarch? The cranberries also act as thickening agents, as they are full of natural pectin, and when I developed the recipe, I wondered if it was TOO thick as the sauce came to a nice consistency.

      I hope you are not discouraged to continue cooking in a slow-cooker! They sure are convenient. Feel free to pick my brain if you have any other questions.

  19. We love meatballs around here and I love utilizing my slow cooker even more. Definitely Pinning this one!

  20. Made this tonight and LOVED it. My husband thought it was a bit sweet (which is funny considering someone else thought it was too sour!). I served it over mashed cauliflower and potatoes. I only used 2 1/2 lbs of turkey and it made enough for 3 meals for our family of 3 (I did make the meatballs smaller). Wish I had a bigger slow cooker as it came up to the very top. :-)

  21. Amber | Bluebonnets & Brownies says:

    I feel like this recipe must be what I always *hope* Ikea’s meatballs will taste like. James will love the addition of peppers, he’s such a bell pepper loving guy.

  22. meatballs my favorite!!! ((drooling))

  23. Hm, I made this a couple days ago. I’ve made several of your recipes, and they’ve all been so good, I was really looking forward to this one, but… it was not for us. One question: is “rice vinegar” the same thing in Canada and in the US? My (US) rice vinegar is as acid as any other vinegar, but I’m wondering if what is meant is something more like “rice wine”? because a half-cup seemed like A LOT, when normally you’d see a tablespoon or two for a whole stew recipe, but I did put it in, and the results tasted … pretty much like vinegar.

    • jeanne,
      thanks for the input, as i’m in the us and this is on the docket for this week. i’ll go light on the vinegar and add some at the end if i need to. thanks!

  24. Alex Gardner says:

    Really excited to try this! I have an allergy to cranberries and was wondering if you might have any recommendations for a substitute for that ingredient? Thanks!

    • You could use tart apples such as granny smith, as they will add a nice sour, fruity flavor. Add them in later, about 2 hours into the cooking time, or else they will turn to mush. Happy cooking!

  25. Store didn’t have cranberries; so I got blueberries. A little nervous Meatballs were incredible from the oven. I did the fifteen mins, and then broiled until they were brown on top. Hope this blueberry thing works.

  26. Thanks for a great recipe! I just used plain meatballs that I had in the freezer, and the sauce with the cranberries and veggies was delicious! I’ll definitely be making this one again. :)

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