Turkey Burgers Go to Rehab


Ground turkey is one of the most versatile products at the meat counter. It plays well with assertive flavors from many of the world’s cuisines, and can be made into meatballs, meatloaf, kebabs, or our favorite—burgers.

Unfortunately, turkey burgers have a reputation (undeserved) for being both bland-tasting and insufferably dry. But not when handled and cooked properly.

Here are our tips for serving juicy, flavorful turkey burgers every time.

Tips for Serving Juicy and Flavorful Turkey Burgers

  • When buying ground turkey, look for meat that has at least some fat in it. Breasts yield very lean ground meat, so devoid of fat that burger patties tend to fall apart on the grill. A mix of white and dark meat (breasts and thighs or leg meat) is what you want, with a meat to fat ratio of at least 90 to 10 percent. If you have a good relationship with your butcher, he or she might custom-grind turkey for you.
  • There are several ways to add flavorful fats and/or moisture to ground turkey burgers. For example, you can add an egg, bread soaked in milk, grated butter, a handful of grated cheese (either add to the meat mixture or stuff the burgers), condiments like soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce, grated onion, or finely chopped mushrooms, which exude liquid as the burgers cook. (Or, you can stuff the burgers with sautéed mushrooms.)
  • Chill the meat and other ingredients thoroughly before mixing. Run your hands under cold water, then handle the meat very gently. (It helps to form your hands into a claw-like shape.) Over-handling the meat will result in dense, compacted burgers that have no room for juice. Place the formed patties on a plate covered with plastic wrap, then cover with more plastic wrap before chilling for 30 minutes or so. (Briefly place the patties in the freezer for a few minutes if you’re short on time.)
  • Set up your grill for direct grilling and preheat to medium-high. Brush the grill grate clean and oil well.
  • Lightly oil the patties with vegetable or olive oil before grilling. Season generously with your favorite rub or Steven Raichlen’s Project Smoke BBQ Spice Rub Seasoning.
  • Grill the burgers for about 5 minutes per side, or until the interior registers 165 degrees on an instant-read meat thermometer. Important: Do not overcook.
  • Serve the burgers with a creamy sauce or condiment.

Turkey, a bird native to South America, adapts well to the flavors many of the planet’s grilling cultures. Below are some suggested flavor combinations, along with a recipe for a Tex-Mex version of burgers published in Steven’s must-have book, Man Made Meals.

Tex-Mex Turkey Burgers


Get The Recipe »

  • Combine ground turkey with finely chopped mint, a bit of oregano, grated lemon zest, and salt and pepper. Brush the patties with olive oil and grill as directed above. Serve in pita bread with Tzatziki (Yogurt Cucumber Sauce), sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, and crumbled feta.
  • Add grated fresh ginger, finely diced scallions, minced garlic, soy sauce, a teaspoon of sesame oil, and chopped cilantro leaves to chilled ground turkey. (We also like to add a bit of sriracha or Asian sweet chili sauce). Grill as directed above. Serve with peanut sauce or a simple sauce of mayonnaise and sriracha.
  • For the flavors of Thanksgiving in a burger, combine chilled ground turkey with bulk pork sausage, chopped fresh sage and parsley, diced onions, and a bit of fennel seed. Brush with butter before grilling as directed above. Serve on a bun with cranberry sauce.

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