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Using ground turkey for meatballs

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I'm planning to make Ina Garten's Real Meatballs & Spaghetti, and usually when I make the meatballs I use 50/50% ground beef and ground pork.

I want to lighten them up a bit by substituting ground turkey....I'm thinking 50% turkey, 50% ground pork. What does everyone think? Will I need to make other adjustments, like maybe adding some olive oil to moisten them?

I appreciate any ideas!

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  1. It depends on how much fat is in the different ground meats. It's not standard.

    The Garten recipe calls for 1 lb. of ground beef and 1/2 lb. each of ground veal and ground pork. Most ground veal is pretty lean, roughly comparable to ground turkey. And most ground pork has as least as much fat, if not more, than 80% lean ground beef. So if by "lighten up" you mean reduce the fat in the recipe, you're probably not accomplishing that by going with a 50/50 mix of pork and turkey. 50/50 ground beef and turkey would probably have less fat.

    The Garten recipe has quite a bit of breadcrumbs (both 1 cup fresh and 1/4 cup dry) plus water, so that should keep things reasonably moist even with reduced fat. Substituting milk for the water should give a somewhat more tender result, particularly if the milk has fat in it.

    1. I sometimes make meatloaf with a beef/turkey mix instead of all-beef. It needs an extra egg to bind it but since I don't measure anything when making meatloaf or meatballs I can't tell you if the amount of bread differs. I always put some Gravy Master/Kitchen Bouquet (same thing) into it but when turkey is involved, I use half again as much because turkey needs extra seasoning and to maintain the same color as with all-beef.

      If you really want to lighten your meatballs, keep the beef/pork mixture and use 3/4 the amount. For the remaining quarter, substitute cooked lentils. Recently when making meatballs with a smaller amount of beef than usual, on a whim I scooped out some homemade lentil soup using a slotted spoon, and pureed the solids before mixing them into the meat. The finished meatballs were more tender, and smoother in texture, than my usual ones. If I'd just used plain cooked lentils I wouldn't have pureed - the soup had pieces of carrot and celery (and of course onion). If using larger cooked beans, definitely mash or puree them first. Since I enjoy kofta balls, the legume-based vegetarian meatball analog served in Indian restaurants, I realized later that adding lentils to meatloaf or meatballs is not original.

      1. Ground turkey can be extra lean breast meat at 3% fat content, or ground thigh meat, at 7% fat, depending on the brand. Which turkey you chose will affect the final outcome of juiciness and fat content. Try 50/50 ground 80/20 chuck (80/20 is lean to fat ratio) to turkey and work from there. The ground chuck will give you better flavor also, than just straight turkey or turkey/pork.

        I'd follow sfmiller's other recommendations as well, to use milk instead of water. Regular sliced bread, soaked in milk, rather than the breadcrumbs, might be a better choice of binder for turkey.

        1. Thanks for the ideas, everyone. I ended up buying 1 lb ground turkey, 1/2 lb ground sirloin & 1/2 lb ground pork. I think I'll use milk rather than water, boost the seasonings, and make the call on fresh breadcrumbs vs. milk-soaked bread and/or an extra egg when I'm mixing. I'm going to use the lentils/beans idea next time, and I LOVE the idea but need to see how the family reacts to the turkey for starters! Thanks!

          1 Reply
          1. re: nojunk

            Your mix should have some good flavah!

          2. I've been using ground turkey in lieu of ground beef for over 5 years in making meatballs because I no longer eat beef. I've never had any comment from my family that they even noticed that much of a difference in using ground turkey than beef and I've been making the same recipe for many many years.
            The only change that I've done since using ground turkey (I use the 85/15) is using between 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup water/milk in my meatballs for the extra moisture. I've always been heavy handed in seasoning my meatballs anyway, so throw in extra seasonings if you'd like. =)