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This Recipe Will Change Your Mind About Turkey Burgers

Turkey burgers don’t have to taste like a compromise when you mix in some helpful additions and radically change how you cook them.  

Published July 24, 2023.

It’s no secret that we love burgers. Over the years we’ve made all kinds, from real beef to plant-based beef, blended (a personal favorite) to lamb, chorizo, and salmon. We even wrote a whole book about burgers

One burger that we feel deserves a little more love and attention is our Skillet Turkey Burger

For many food enthusiasts, the idea of a turkey burger might evoke images of bland, dry patties that are a far cry from the juicy, flavorful allure of beef burgers. But this turkey burger completely upends that notion.

Senior Editor Annie Petito’s recipe allows you to enjoy the richly flavorful, satisfying experience of a classic burger without any compromises.

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Why Turkey Burgers Are Typically Dry

The funny thing about ground turkey is that it actually has a lot more moisture than ground beef—it’s 71 percent water versus 66 percent for beef. So why does it usually turn out so much drier tasting? 

Because ground turkey must be cooked to 160 degrees. At that temperature, nearly all the turkey’s abundant moisture will have been squeezed out by contracting protein, which makes the burger dense.

Three Reasons Our Burgers Aren’t Dry—or Dense

Besides being dry, turkey burgers are also prone to cooking up unpleasantly dense. Here's how we avoid these pitfalls.

1. The addition of panko. A few tablespoons of panko bread crumbs physically disrupts the proteins so that the texture stays loose.

2. Mixing in baking soda and gelatin. A teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in water and mixed into the meat raises its pH, changing the protein structure and enabling the meat to better retain moisture. Unflavored gelatin also traps juices so that they stay in the meat, giving it a juicy mouthfeel.

3. Using a light touch. Mixing the ground turkey too aggressively causes the myosin (a sticky protein) to link up tightly, making burgers dense. Instead, Annie carefully tosses the ingredients together and lightly shapes the patties for pleasantly coarse, loose, and tender burgers. 

How Our Turkey Burgers Taste Rich and Meaty

A satisfying burger needs some richness and fat. To compensate for turkey’s leanness, Annie adds just a teaspoon of melted butter to the mix. When combined with the cold meat, it solidifies and disperses throughout the ground turkey, creating tiny particles of richness. 

Finally, to boost savoriness without overpowering turkey’s slightly gamey taste, she adds a bit of soy sauce and grated Parmesan.

Your Guide to Burger Brilliance

The Ultimate Burger

Take a deep dive into achieving all kinds of burger greatness. The Ultimate Burger covers updated classics, regional favorites, homemade everything (from meat blends to pretzel buns), and craft-burger creations, plus fries and other sides and frosty drinks.

Start in a Cold Skillet, Then Sear and Steam (You Read That Right)

No matter what enhancements you add to ground turkey, if you don’t cook it properly, it’s all for naught. 

Burgers are typically seared in a screaming-hot skillet to help create a thick browned crust. But since a turkey burger needs to cook through so thoroughly, starting in a hot skillet is likely to overcook the exterior before the interior is done. 

Skillet turkey burgers on the stove being covered with a lid.

Instead, Annie starts her turkey burgers in a cold skillet, turning on the heat only after the patties are in the pan. The method, called cold-searing, allows the burgers to gradually warm through while still forming a crust on the bottom. 

Then, once the bottom of the first side is well browned, she quickly covers the skillet. The lid traps moisture, essentially steaming the top and sides of the burgers so that they cook more quickly and evenly. Meanwhile, the bottom of the second side of the burger has a chance to brown.

Read more about Annie's turkey burger recipe here.


Skillet Turkey Burgers

Think turkey burgers are dry, tough, or bland? Then you haven't tried these.
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