Monica's favorite gear
for making
Turkey Meatball Sliders
This Oxo fork is the most affordable one I've found. It's great for combining the meatball mixture with a light texture.
It's a snap to make uniform, round meatballs with this scoop. I use it for cookies and filling muffin cups, too.
I love having these covered dishes for make-ahead recipes like these sliders. This set is value priced (two for the price of one).
I used this 9x13 baking sheet for freezing & refrigerating my meatballs. The cover makes it easy. I love that I can stack other food on top of it in my freezer and fridge to save space.
This affordable knife cuts through bread like a dream.
I adapted the turkey pesto meatball recipe from this cookbook by Cooks Illustrated. It is packed with great recipes and tips for slow cooking.

Turkey Meatball Sliders

Easy, make-ahead, crowd pleasing party food

I've been on a slider kick lately. King-Man and I hosted a big buffet dinner party recently where I served six different kinds of sliders for the main course. It was an easy way to accommodate a variety of dietary tastes and preferences. Sliders are great finger food and easy to serve. These turkey meatball sliders disappeared the fastest--a definite crowd pleaser. (I'll be sharing the other slider recipes in future posts.) Here's why I like these:

  • Easy slow cooker or stove top meatballs. I adapted a turkey pesto meatball recipe from Cooks Illustrated Slow Cooker Revolution cookbook. It's super easy, because pesto is used to provide the seasoning and flavor. That means you don't have to gather a lot of ingredients, herbs, and spices--they're already in the pesto. You'll see that I simmered my meatballs on the stove-top in the photos below, but they also can be cooked in a slow cooker--your choice. It didn't take long to cook them on top of the stove, so I went for the fast method. I've made them both ways. The meatballs are melt-in-your-mouth tender and flavorful.
  • Make-ahead and freezable convenience. Because I was making these sliders for a party, I wanted to be able to do as much of the preparation ahead as possible. I cooked the meatballs 2 weeks ahead of the party and froze them, then thawed them the day before the party. The sliders themselves can be completely assembled a day ahead and refrigerated, so all you have to do on party day is pop them in the oven for 15 minutes. No last-minute party stress! 
  • "Speed scratching" makes it even easier. (That's when you use some good quality store-bought ingredients for short cuts.) I happen to have my own canned marinara sauce and some homemade pesto in my freezer, so I usually use homemade sauces. However, I've had great success speed scratching with good quality store bought sauces. I especially like Trader Joe's marinara in a jar and pesto from the refrigerated section, although there are lots of good prepared sauces out there. If you buy your pesto, I recommend the kind found in the deli or refrigerator section of the store; it's much fresher and better than the pesto in a jar found with canned goods. You can make your own bread crumbs, but I like the convenience of buying them ready to use.
  • Patties vs. Balls. You'll see in my photos, that I flattened my meatballs into patties that are the same diameter as the buns. It is so much easier to bite into a flattened patty than a round, fat meatball and avoid having the whole thing fall out and make a mess. That's always one of the challenges of eating a meatball sub of any size. Making patties solves the problem, plus they're more like an authentic slider that way. 
  • For a party or a family dinner. Sliders are popular party finger food, but I like serving them to the family for dinner, too. The make-ahead convenience is a helpful option either way. One of the advantages of these mini sandwiches is that there's easy portion control to suit various appetites. Plus, they have a big fun factor and are kid friendly.

Nutritional Information (for 1 slider using ground turkey breast): 227 calories, 9.5g fat, 20.6g carbs, 2.6g fiber, 5.9g sugars, 14.4g protein; Weight Watchers PointsPlus: 6


Step-by-step photos for making
Turkey Meatball Sliders 

Step 1. Assemble the ingredients for the meatballs:

  • ground turkey
  • unseasoned bread crumbs (I used whole wheat, but you can use regular white bread crumbs)
  • basil pesto; make your own (here's my recipe) or buy it ready-made
  • salt
  • finely grated Parmesan cheese; grate your own (here's how I do it), or buy it grated
  • 1 large egg
  • 5 cups (same as two 24-oz. jars) marinara sauce or other red pasta sauce; make your own (here's my recipe) or buy it


To assemble the sliders, you'll also need:

  • slider buns or dollar-size dinner rolls (they're the exact same thing, as far as I can tell)
  • sliced mozzarrella cheese -- I bought the sandwich-size slices; it took a half a slice of cheese for each slider


Step 2. Add these items to a large mixing bowl:Turkey_Meatball_Sliders.jpg

Step 3. Combine everything in the bowl using a very light touch so that your meatballs don't end up as hard as hockey pucks. You can use your fingers. Or, my preference is a big fork with 2 long prongs. I drag the fork repeatedly through the mixture until it is well combined. This keeps the mixture light and makes for tender meatballs.

view 2-prong fork on Amazon


Step 4. Form meatballs (approx. 3 tablespoons each). The easiest way to get uniform meatballs is to use a cookie scoop. I scoop mine onto a baking sheet, but any flat surface will work.

view meatball/cookie scoop on Amazon

Step 5. Use the bottom of a spatula, jar, or drinking glass to press each of the meatballs into a patty. This is optional--you can leave them in balls--but the patties are much easier and tidier to eat and make a more authentic slider shape.


Step 6. Heat a large skillet or Dutch oven on the stove top at medium heat. Add half of the sauce and stir in some water. Place the meatball patties on top of the sauce in a single layer, then cover them with the remaining sauce. Simmer on low heat 40-60 minutes until cooked through and tender.



  • SLOW COOKER INSTRUCTIONS: Follow the exact same procedure, except cook the meatball patties in the sauce in a crock pot on low for 4-6 hours.

At this point, you can proceed with assembling the sliders, or refrigerate or freeze the meatball patties for future use.

TO MAKE AHEAD AND FREEZE OR REFRIGERATE: Remove patties from the sauce and place them in a single layer in a storage container that has a lid. If you need to add more layers, put a piece of plastic wrap between each layer to make it easier to separate and thaw them later. Put the covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or the freezer for up to 2 months.  In a separate container, refrigerate or freeze the marinara sauce used for cooking the meatballs. Thaw the patties and sauce by moving them from the freezer to the refrigerator the day before you'll need them.

view on Amazon: baking & storage pan with cover


Step 7. Slice the buns in half. If you're using pull-apart buns or rolls, it's faster to cut all of the connected buns at once before you separate them.

view on Amazon: my favorite bread knife

Step 8. Cut the cheese slices into pieces that will fit on the buns. I quartered my large deli slices of cheese, and that made them the perfect size for sliders.


Step 9. Open each bun and put a piece of cheese on top of both the bottom and top half of the bun. The cheese melts and shields the bread from the sauce, so the bun won't get soggy.


Step 10. Add a meatball patty to the bottom half of each bun and spoon on 1 teaspoon of the marinara sauce that was used for cooking the meatballs.


Step 11. Put the tops on the buns and transfer the sliders to a baking dish. I prefer to use a glass baking dish so that I can see when the cheese is melted and sliders are heated through. I can fit 9 sliders in an 8x8 baking dish and 18 sliders in a 9x13 baking dish.

  • I bought my Pyrex baking dishes  with plastic covers on Amazon. They have the best price I've found when you buy a set that includes an 8x8 square dish and 9x13 3-quart dish. Both have plastic covers that are great for storage in the fridge or taking along somewhere.  View baking dish set on Amazon


Step 12. If you're making these ahead, cover the dish and refrigerate up to 24 hours. When it's time to heat the sliders, remove them from the refrigerator 30 minutes before they go into the oven so they warm to room temperature first. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for approx. 15 minutes. 


After 15 minutes, remove them from the oven and lift out a center slider to make sure it is heated through and the cheese is melted. Return them to the oven, if necessary.


These turkey meatball sliders are so flavorful and tender. It doesn't hurt that they're oozing with melted cheese, either. Oh my.


These did a disappearing act FAST at our party.


Make it a Yummy day!

Link directly to this recipe Print this recipe
Turkey Pesto Meatball Sliders
By Monica              Servings: 16-18 sliders
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 2/3 cup plain whole wheat bread crumbs (may substitute regular white bread crumbs)
  • 2/3 cup fresh basil pesto (homemade or store bought)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 large egg, slightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 5 cups (two 24-ounce jars) marinara sauce, or other red pasta sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 16-18 slider buns or dollar-size dinner rolls, sliced in half
  • 4-5 slices mozzarella cheese (sandwich size slices), quartered
MAKE MEATBALL PATTIES: In a large bowl, add turkey, bread crumbs, pesto, salt, cheese, and egg. With fingers or a 2-prong long fork, lightly mix until well combined. Form meatballs using your hands or a cookie scoop (approx. 3 tablespoons of mixture per meatball) and place on a baking sheet. Use the bottom of a spatula, jar, or drinking glass to press each of the meatballs into a patty the same diameter of the slider buns. In large skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat, stir together water and half of marinara sauce ; gently add meatball patties to sauce in single layer. Pour remaining sauce over top of patties. Bring to simmer and reduce heat to a low simmer; cover and cook for 40-60 minutes until completely cooked and tender.

SLOW COOKER ALTERNATIVE: If preferred, meatball patties may be cooked in the sauce in a slow cooker on low for 4-6 hours.

FREEZE MEATBALLS, if desired. Meatballs may be used right away, refrigerated for up to 3 days, or frozen for up to 2 months.  In a separate container, refrigerate or freeze the marinara sauce used for cooking the meatballs. Thaw the patties and sauce by moving them from the freezer to the refrigerator the day before you'll need them.

ASSEMBLE THE SLIDERS: Open each sliced bun and lay side-by-side, inside facing up. Place a piece of cheese on the bottom piece of each bun, add a cooked meatball patty, and spoon on 1 teaspoon of the marinara sauce. Place a 2nd piece of cheese on top of the sauce, and then the top of the bun. (The cheese should be next to both the top and bottom of the inside of the bun to keep it from getting soggy.) Place sliders in a single layer in a baking dish or pan. Cover and refrigerate for up to a day ahead, or heat them right away.

HEAT THE SLIDERS: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cover baking dish full of sliders with aluminum foil and bake for approx. 15 min., until cheese is completely melted and center sliders are hot throughout.

NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION (for 1 slider using ground turkey breast): 227 calories, 9.5g fat, 20.6g carbs, 2.6g fiber, 5.9g sugars, 14.4g protein; Weight Watchers PointsPlus: 6
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Posted on Thursday, November 29th, 2012

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