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.
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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.
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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.
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.