Turkey Meatloaf

DinnerComfort FoodGround Turkey

Turkey Meatloaf! Made with grated zucchini and carrot for moisture and an extra serving of veggies. Sweet chili sauce brushed on top.

Photography Credit: Sally Vargas

Ah, meatloaf…the American classic supper!

Despite her desperate five o’clock scramble, my mom – an artist and mother of four — always managed to pull off a mean meatloaf.

I remember her frantically pulling apart a slice or two of bread to make crumbs, and then throwing them into a bowl with an egg, some ketchup, grated onion, and ground beef. And then there was the grated carrot, which qualified as a vegetable (along with the ketchup).

She shaped it into a mound, threw it in the pan, drizzled the top with more ketchup and tossed it into the oven. Phew! Let’s just say her motto was “I’d rather be painting.”

Turkey Meatloaf

On a recent rainy weeknight, my plan for grilling turkey burgers turned into a meatloaf meal with turkey instead of beef. I used my mother’s eyeball method, and tweaked her “recipe” by adding some sweet chili sauce and lemon. (We were low on ketchup that night.)

I liked the result, which I hereby share with you.

Meatloaf is one of the easiest meals to get on the table. Sometimes it’s good to change it up, though, so why not try it with ground turkey?

Turkey Meatloaf

Dark turkey meat has more flavor and a bit more fat that light meat, and I prefer it in this meatloaf if you can find it. It’s a little easier to find mixed dark and light meat or just light meat in most grocery stores, and they’re perfectly fine to use as well. Ground chicken would also work here.

I swapped out my mother’s onions for some Thai sweet chili sauce, which gives the meatloaf some sweetness and spice. You could substitute ketchup for the chili sauce if that’s what you have in your fridge or if you have picky eaters to contend with.

I also added grated zucchini to sneak in another vegetable, plus it adds moisture so the loaf doesn’t become dry.

I usually bake this as a freeform, football-shaped loaf in a casserole dish, rather than in a loaf pan. This way you get more glaze over the top and the loaf also forms a nice crust. Don’t worry about the ends drying out — they won’t! This said, if you would prefer to bake your meatloaf in a loaf pan, then this should work just fine. Cooking time will be roughly the same.

Mashed potatoes are a classic side dish for meatloaf, of course. You could also bake some russet potatoes alongside the meatloaf in the oven.

Take a deep breath. Don’t be a 5 o’clock like my mom — just enjoy this tweaked version of her meatloaf. And also relish the real reason to make it: meatloaf sandwiches for lunch the next day!

Turkey Meatloaf Recipe

  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cook time: 1 hour
  • Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Ground chicken can be substituted for the ground turkey.


  • 2 slices sandwich bread (white or whole wheat)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 to 2 small zucchini (10 ounces), grated to make about 2 cups
  • 1 small carrot, coarsely grated to make about 3/4 cup
  • 2 tablespoons grated onion, optional
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • Zest of one lemon, finely grated
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 4 tablespoons sweet chili sauce, divided
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground turkey
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup

Special equipment:


1 Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Set a rack in the middle of the oven.

2 Make the breadcrumbs: Tear the bread into 2-inch pieces. Pulse in the food processor to make coarse breadcrumbs. (Or tear into small crumbs with your fingers.)

Tear the bread for Turkey Meatloaf into pieces and add to a food processor Pulse the bread for Turkey Meatloaf in a food processor

2 Make the meatloaf mixture. In a large bowl, stir together the breadcrumbs, egg, salt, pepper, zucchini, carrot, parsley, lemon zest and juice, mustard, and 2 tablespoons of the chili sauce. Mix until fully blended.

Add the ground turkey. Mix well, using your hands. Try not to overwork the meat.

Ingredients for Turkey Meatloaf: sandwich bread, egg, salt and pepper, grated zucchini, grated carrot, grated onion, parsley, lemon zest and juice, mustard Turkey Meatloaf ingredients mixed together Turkey Meatloaf ingredients mixed together with turkey added Turkey Meatloaf mixture in a mixing bowl

3 Shape and glaze the meatloaf: Form the meatloaf mixture into a rough football shape and transfer to the baking dish. Pat smooth. (Alternatively, transfer to a loaf pan to bake.)

In a small bowl, mix together the ketchup and remaining 2 tablespoons chili sauce. With a spoon or brush, spread the chili sauce evenly on top.

Turkey Meatloaf shaped like a football and in a casserole dish Turkey Meatloaf covered with sweet chili sauce glaze and ready for the oven

4 Bake the meatloaf for 1 hour. The loaf should register 165F in the middle with an instant-read  thermometer when done; continue baking if needed. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Leftovers will keep refrigerated for up to 5 days and can be eaten cold or gently reheated.

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Sally Vargas

Sally Pasley Vargas is a freelance writer and the author of three cookbooks (Food for Friends, The Tao of Cooking, Ten Speed Press, and The Cranberry Cookbook). She currently writes the column The Confident Cook for The Boston Globe along with seasonal recipes for the Wednesday Food Section.

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9 Comments / Reviews

No ImageTurkey Meatloaf

Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Kathy

    I use 4C gluten free bread crumbs and you would never know the difference. Though that won’t cut the carbs.

  2. Mary Hershey

    My spouse & I are not spicy folks. If we would rather pass on the chili sauce, what’s a workaround?

    Show Replies (2)
  3. Jen

    Hey there
    Looks delicious!!
    Just wanted to see if anyone has a recommendation for replacing the bread for a gluten free, lower carb option?

    Show Replies (1)
  4. Chris D

    In place of bread I use chicken stuffing mix. I smack with a hammer a couple of times to break it up but not pulverize it.

  5. Sandy S.

    You got me with “I’d rather be painting!” With me it’s a quick trip to the house to put dinner together so I can return to gardening. Hopefully with a few fresh vegies in hand to add to whatever I come up with. Turkey meatloaf, meatballs or burgers have been known to happen.
    I am a vegetarian wannabe who dabbles in turkey, and other fish and meat on occasion. For some time now I have added soy sauce to most ground turkey preparations in place of salt.Soy sauce adds flavor as well as moisture to ground turkey. I love your idea of adding the chili sauce and zucchinis. Might even add a dash of red chili flakes. Having a meatloaf sandwich the next day is definitely in the game plan! Thank you Sally for freshening up my next meatloaf!

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