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Jun 26, 2009 04:10 PM

I've Finally Hacked Turkey Burgers

I've been trying to make turkey burgers, with dismal results. Dry and bland. The ground meat looks like it has promise, but there's no "there" there. But I've persevered, and made KILLER ones today.

Seasoning (all from Penzeys):

Smoked Spanish Paprika
Ginger Powder (about twice what you'd imagine putting in)
Black pepper
A few squirts of soy sauce (I use Filipino Toyomansi, which contains calamansi - i.e. preseved's my big secret ingredient in lots of dishes)


Sort of a half-assed hybrid of a fry and a braise in a saute pan. I keep at least some water in the pan (with a drizzle of olive oil) for most of the cooking time, and keep covering/uncovering at various intervals. Medium heat. At the end, I try to have water gone and pan uncovered just to dry things a BIT.

An important part is extreme neurotic paranoid attention to removing from heat at the MOMENT pinkness is gone.

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  1. Sounds great! You might want to look at this also:

    The last time I made with with my own ground turkey. Froze them in 6 oz. patties and they were great.

    4 Replies
    1. re: c oliver

      These are fantastic--I made them shortly after you first posted about them.

      1. re: c oliver

        A third vote for the Mar-A Lago, best turkey burger I've had. I didn't have the ingredients for the pear chutney so I mixed Major Grey's chutney with mayo and chipotle pepper as a topping.

        1. re: BeefeaterRocks

          Oh, good idea. I didn't make that either so yours is a great substitute. Don't you think they grilled up just fine? Assuming you grilled them :)

      2. Have you tried fresh ginger? That might add some moisture too.

        Often I put finely-minced mild onion in burgers made from very lean meats.

        29 Replies
        1. re: lagatta

          I also find that finely minced onions or peppers help keep turkey burgers moist, and add flavor, as well. I do think that turkey benefits from potent spices and flavorings like ginger, cumin, Worcestershire, fish sauce, soy, chipotles en adobo, etc. (cumin, chipotle and chopped scallions is a good combo).

          And I agree with Jim that, whatever your cooking method, it's important to cook only until the pink is gone so as not to have dry results.

          1. re: lagatta

            chopped mushrooms are another way to boost moisture and flavor (and fiber!)

            1. re: goodhealthgourmet

              Do you cook them first? What proportion to meat? Thanks. I have to give that a try. I've been using chopped cabbage in my meatloaf and am surprised at how moist it is and that you can't really tell. I'll bet it would work for burgers, too.

              1. re: chowser

                i use the mushrooms in meatloaf too (actually i started using them in turkey meatloaf first, and realized they'd work in burgers as well!) i usually cook them (chop finely & saute with onions & garlic) & let cool slightly before adding to the meat, but i know a lot of people who just add them raw. i just think my method gives them more flavor & a better texture. i typically use about 8 ounces of mushrooms per pound of meat.

                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                    Ground turkey is a great place to used dried shiitakes, to pack an extra "meaty" punch. I rehydrate them in hot miso broth, to add even more umami.

                    The hydrated shrooms are removed from the miso broth, squeezed dry into it, then chopped to fit in the small food processor, fine pulsing to a fine duxelle, along with celery and onions. The small food processor yields very tiny pieces, very useful here. (The miso is served as soup). The mirepoix is sauted to soften, since the texture of the meat must take precedence.

                    Now comes the question of "What is ground turkey?" Is it from a 1 pound tube, or a stryo pack ground onsite at the store, or the factory? Whatever the case, the differences between white and thigh meat are so distinct, and hard to pin down in commercial grinds that may also incorporate skin.

                    Turkeyburgers are a single argument for getting a home grinder, where you can control particle size (critical here) and the balance of white and dark. After a few grinds, with notes, you'll find your fave.

                    1. re: FoodFuser

                      Great post. If I were as serious in my cooking as I am in my dining out, I'd be doing all that you suggest. Good to glean from you (and some of the other posters in this thread) how much room for expansion and ambition there is.

                      1. re: FoodFuser

                        I ground my own from a whole, very small turkey that was on special after Christmas. I'm sure the addition of dark meat made all the difference in the world. And I grind everything coarsely. I'm pretty new to grinding my own meat but a total convert. (Won't even order a burger out any more.)

                        1. re: FoodFuser

                          Good point about "turkey" burgers. Often, skin and dark meat are used which ups the fat/sat fat content to higher than a regular hamburger. If you add healthy additions, like shitake mushrooms (good suggestion--I'll give it a try), you obviously end up w/ a healthier product and tasty, too.

                          1. re: chowser

                            I wouldn't think that I COULD grind the skin even if I wanted to. I think it would wrap around the blade and clog the whole thing up. But I didn't fix them for the healthy aspect but for the flavor. Even with dark meat, I'd think it's still healthier than plenty of things I consume with glee :)

                            1. re: c oliver

                              I was talking about commercial producers. It can be eye opening to read the labels. People see turkey burgers and assume they're better for you but it pays to be careful. Well, it pays the most to grind your own :-) but barring that, if someone is choosing turkey burgers because they're lower in fat/healthier, he/she needs to look closely.

                              1. re: chowser


                                If anyone has a KA stand mixer and doesn't spend the $50 for the meat grinder, I think they're missing the boat. so easy and SO good.

                                1. re: c oliver

                                  A few more reasons to grind your own:


                                  And as you choose your parts: some helpful calorie/fat tips: Thighs are 3x or so the fat content of breast, but the flavor/texture is what lots of folks go for. It's a good dish to shoot high (pure white) and find how much, or little, dark that you need to add.


                                  1. re: FoodFuser

                                    What grinder do you use? KitchenAid grinder attachment apparently does a real crappy grind...more of a mash. And it's finicky, with frequent jams. There's a more powerful $300 model from Northern Industrial that's supposed to be a lot better, but there are complaints on amazon about fit and finish (they're made in china, and you've got to, for example, flatten the blades on a wetstone before using. The Waring Pro MG-800 sounds like maybe a good bet, though I've seen quality complaints there as well.

                                    1. re: Jim Leff

                                      I have been grinding my own meats with a kitchenaid attachment for about a year. I admit that my first try, it was a mess. Things jammed, and the results were abysmal, but it turned out I didn't have the blade!

                                      Now, with a sharp blade, the grind is perfectly good. There is no mashing. We make all our own ground lamb, chicken, pork and beef, some of which are turned into sausages. If you prepare the meat properly, and don't plan to do commercial quantities, the attachment works extremely well.

                                      I have read all the negative reviews too, and almost didn't bother because of them, but membership in a meat CSA made the grinding option important and so I gave it a shot.

                                      The kitchenaid grinder attachment is a very affordable way to move into home-grinding, if you already own the mixer.

                                      1. re: Jim Leff

                                        I agree with smtucker. I've read here some of that about the KA but have only praise for it. I do 5-8# of various meats at a time and have had not a single problem. I run my mixer at a relatively low speed and I cut the pieces of meat (turkey, pork and beef so far) into pieces that are the approximate shape of the feed tube. Easy as can be.

                                        1. re: c oliver

                                          Agreed that KA is great if you're not wanting to do large volumes, which call for larger throat diameter and increased wattage. Those 1.5 horsepower #32 grinders are sweet, but it costs lots of bucks to get in the big game.

                                          The KA is a great platform for home grinding.

                                          Google around for tips on freezing the grinder components, the meat, etc to make the grinding go smoothest. The closer everything is to 32 degrees, the fewer problems. I grind into a stainless bowl that was frozen, then reinsert in freezer for a few minutes (along with the grinder), before second grind.

                                          Cutting the meat to small pieces helps. Examine the size of the channels of the screw drive of the grinder, and cut meat accordingly. And importantly, for pork and beef,trim out any long loose strips of connective tissues, because they can slip between the blade and the grinder plate. Your first silverskin jam will give you a feel for this.

                                          To prevent splashing of juices, I take a 6" by 6" piece of Saran, and screw it onto the front of the grinder housing, so that it is attached at top side only, and drapes over the exit. Saved a few shirts that way.

                                          1. re: FoodFuser

                                            I've read most of these suggestions before (and appreciate them) but have never had any problems. Whatever the meat it, just comes out of the fridge, the grinder parts are at room temp, etc. But I don't do a second grind. I also have never had any *juices* splashing. I wonder (but not very hard!) why I don't have these issues and others do.

                                            1. re: c oliver

                                              Yes... the above recs are most important when dealing with several pounds of fatty pork butt, with numerous connective fascia. Combine fascia with fat and grinding 10 lbs of pork butt might engender issues that aren't as germane on a "ground turkey" thread.

                                              As to temp: we've all seen the recs for bringing meat to a barely frozen temp if we want to do thin slicing. It works. The grinder's knife appreciates the same thing.

                                              So give it a try with a ten pounder Boston butt. Keep the Saran handy.

                                              1. re: FoodFuser

                                                Is a Boston butt the same as a pork shoulder? That's not a term I'm familiar with.

                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                  Sort of. I'm not absolutely clear on this, but I believe a Boston Butt is a part of the pork shoulder. A pork picnic is also a part of the pork shoulder. I believe one is the upper portion, one the lower. All I'm certain of is that around me, the Hispanic supermarkets carry "pork shoulder" or pernil, the major supermarkets carry "picnic", and no one labels anything Boston butt.

                                                  1. re: sbp

                                                    I make my sausage out of pork shoulder and there's no splatter. So I AM curious. I totally believe those who talking about the splatter etc. I just haven't had the problem. Knock wood.

                                                  2. re: c oliver

                                                    as a quick intro twixt butt shoulder picnic Boston etc:

                                                    This next one spells it out. For grinding, with fewer sinews and less skin and less cap fat, you want butt, which includes the full shoulder blade/scapula. :

                                                    Picnic/lower portion of shoulder is best used for long slow heat, as in BBQ, though butt is also desirable there, too.

                                                    Boston Butt is a very traditional name. "pork shoulder" is the most often used name in my area for upper (butt) shoulder. The pics will tell the tale.

                            2. re: goodhealthgourmet

                              I do this too for both the burgers and the turkey meatloaf and it always works out great. I use baby bellas for a "meatier" flavor. Which mushrooms do you use ghg and have you experiemented with different kinds?

                              1. re: laylag

                                yep, crimini are definitely preferable to white buttons because they have more flavor. if i'm limited to white mushrooms, i just make sure i saute & season them well to add flavor. shiitake are really the best - they have a ton of meaty, umami flavor, and if you use re-hydrated dried ones you can add some of the soaking liquid to the meat for even more flavor & moisture.

                                one other thing - since i'm on a gluten-free diet and can't *stand* packaged GF buns, i sometimes use grilled portobello mushroom caps as the bun. when i do that, i chop the stems from the portobellos and add them to the other chopped mushrooms.

                          2. re: goodhealthgourmet

                            I made turkey burgers tonight and got high praise from my SO.
                            Finely chopped onions AND mushrooms were key -- sauteed first in lots of olive oil AND butter to "lard" the ground turkey breast I got at the Farmers Market.
                            dash of Worcestershire sauce and
                            a handful of Panko Bread Crumbs
                            Lettuce and Russian Dressing (ghetto version made w/ ketchup and mayo) on the bread

                          3. re: lagatta

                            No, the powdered ginger was very purposeful. I didn't want a deep and broad ginger flavor...didn't want a distinguishably gingery result, just an overall meaty flavor, which this blend seemed to accomplish quite well.

                            I think you're right on the onion, though, and finely minced sounds about right. That'll be my next addition. Problem is that I don't want to risk the slightest crunchy/chewiness with the onion nibs, I think that'd be too much for the delicacy of the turkey. So I'd want to sautee them a bit first...though not to the point where they're dried out, 'cuz, as Caitlin says, I want them to add some moisture. It'll be tough to find the right point.

                            1. re: Jim Leff

                              If you're concerned about the texture of the onions, you could try grated onions. That would give you their moisture, but not distract with the texture of chopped pieces.

                              1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                I do use grated onions when I can, lots of fine chopped peppers and I do use my one slice of bread soaked in milk. I know this will not get approval, but I do use it.

                                Sorry about that. But spices are usually worcestershire, steak sauce, garlic, parsley, s/p for the burger. Sometimes more. I make it a bit different every time. I also like to add some white wine in one recipe I have with basically all fresh herbs, onions and mushrooms. It has a great flavor.

                                It always comes out tender and light and yes, cooking is the key. Take it off when it is lightly pink but not well done. It continues to cook and a few minutes later it is done. perfectly. Nice and juicy.

                          4. thank you!

                            I've only successfully used ground turkey in meatballs and meatloaf--it was too lean for real burgers. This looks like something which would work.

                            Question--any recommendations for grilling?

                            14 Replies
                            1. re: Caralien

                              I wouldn't grill. Turkey just can't stand up to the dryness. The braise/steam/fry technique is the only thing that seems to work for me.

                              1. re: Jim Leff

                                That sucks, but I'll see what I can do to prove you wrong (in the name of good Chow, of course!)

                                1. re: Caralien

                                  You can't get past the fact that grilling is drying. Good, careful grilling minimizes the drying. But ground turkey STARTS OUT dry to begin with!

                                  So unless you're willing to slather on some fat, which defeats the purpose of using turkey in the first place, you really need to cook with moist heat.

                                  1. re: Jim Leff

                                    my thoughts were to start with a meatloaf recipe, such as the low carb one from FN:

                                    (I modified the recipe for my meatloaf--omitting the proscuitto and provolone, as well as the tomato sauce, splenda, vinagre; replaced the ground meat with turkey b/c it was too greasy with the original recipe, also asiago to replace half of the parmesan; one of the best meatloaves I've made


                                    That's for starters. My thought is that the onions and peppers would provide moisture (possibly pureed first), the parmesan fat and salt. Maybe egg yolks as another binder, with added fat.

                                    All things considered, if this works, it would still be lower in fat, cholesterol, and calories than a beef burger. Although then it would be turkey meatloaf burgers instead of turkey burgers?

                                    1. re: Caralien

                                      "Although then it would be turkey meatloaf burgers instead of turkey burgers?"

                                      Yeah, a similar thought went thru my head on my own recipe, which yields something more burger-like than a real burger. In the end, though...whatever!

                                      I'd love to be proved wrong on the grilling thing. I'll try some of the suggestions posted by others and post notes...hope you do likewise!

                                      1. re: Jim Leff

                                        I ground my own turkey and it was quite coarse. And then there were a lot of wet ingredients with apple, chutney, etc. Perhaps those things helped.

                                    2. re: Jim Leff

                                      Grilling is drying, but if the turkey meat is amended with moistening ingredients, it does fine on the grill (and nothing beats a grilled burger for taste). I generally saute minced onions in a little olive oil with plenty of salt and pepper. Allow to cool, mix into the turkey meat. This solves the dryness issue. Yes, you're adding fat, but not animal fat, so it's still pretty healthy. Adding some crumbled blue cheese (I like Maytag best) into the meat also keeps it moist and tastes great, but of course you lose the health benefits.

                                    3. re: Caralien

                                      go for it, Caralien. i've had very juicy grilled turkey burgers - as we were discussing up-thread, mixing chopped/grated vegetables into the patty keeps it moist.

                                      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                        I'm addicted to mushrooms, so adding that to the veggie puree would be great too!


                                        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                          Maybe I'm just being ignorant here, but nofat yogurt is such a useful and transparent moisturizer for baked goods...would it make any sense at all to mix it into the ground turkey? Sounds gross, I know, but the secret with Shanghai meatballs (aka lion's head) is to mix tofu into the meat, and that works quite well.....

                                          1. re: Jim Leff

                                            I use nonfat yogurt all the time in my turkey burgers....and I cook them on the grill. You do have to watch them very carefully- perhaps not quite extreme neurotic attention, but pretty close- so that they don't overcook and dry out too much. I think the nonfat yogurt also helps deliver the flavor of all the spices mentioned above- worchestershire, soy, cumin, etc, etc.

                                            1. re: Jim Leff

                                              Jim, there's nothing "ignorant" about that! it makes perfect sense. some people use milk to make a panade for meatloaf, meatballs and burgers, and the purpose of the panade is to keep things moist. nonfat yogurt, evaporated skim milk, light sour cream...they all work.

                                      2. re: Caralien

                                        The recipe I use above definitely works on the grill. They're SO soft you just have to be really careful when turning them. About three minutes a side.

                                        1. re: Caralien

                                          I grill them, just can't over grill. I do make sure I have plenty of moisture in mine, even an egg at times which goes against alot of recs but if nothing else you need moisture with some vegetables to make it moist and flavorful.

                                          I also freeze mine just a short while. Being more moist this helps them stay together well. Not frozen solid. Just chilled a bit to get them firm. I love my red pepper aioli, a good slice of tomato and lettuce on a onion roll

                                        2. Take an innocuous vegetable like zucchini to a box grater. Grate an entire medium size zucchini, one per pound of meat, and mix that in with your turkey. It will keep those burgers a bit more moist, and as an added bonus, the burgers will look a lot prettier too. As for spicing, continue as you would.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Cheese Boy

                                            One of the first of Aidell's sausages was chicken-apple. I assume the apple was to lend moisture.

                                          2. Turkey burgers are easy. Easy to keep moist, and tasty.

                                            The trick in our house is adding a couple of things that will impart moistness. Well actually 3. Chopped jalapenos, chopped green onions, and an egg yolk. And we cook on the GFC (George Foreman Grill) for about 8 minutes. Perfect everytime. Slip the pattie on top of the bottom (toasted oinion) bun that has been toasted on a flat cast iron skillet and topped with slice of sharp cheddar cheese. Then top the pattie with a slice of beefsteak tomato and green leaf lettuce and the top bun that has some mayo and mustard spread on. Oh yeah, yum!