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Sep 23, 2010 07:10 AM

Using ground turkey in place of ground beef -- what works, what doesn't?

I'm trying really hard to cut down on the amount of red meat in my diet, and I've been experimenting with using ground turkey where I'd ordinarily use ground beef. My biggest success so far -- turkey chili; my biggest failure -- turkey meatballs with spaghetti. I do believe there's hope for the meatballs if I alter my recipe a bit. There is obviously a learning curve here because turkey that's 99% fat free just does not cook up like ground beef.

I just saw a recipe in the food section of today's local paper for "Ashkenazic Stuffed Cabbage" that I'd like to try. Since that's a fairly labor-intensive dish, I'd like to up my chances of success by knowing what adjustments I need to make to the recipe if I substitute turkey for the beef. The meat filling calls for ground beef, raw rice, bread crumbs, egg, water, chopped onion, s&p. I'm wondering which of those ingredients to increase, decrease or eliminate and which others I should add in to have the turkey not cook up dry, hard and inedible (as my meatballs were).

I'm also wondering which other dishes work well with ground turkey, and how to enhance the turkey so it cooks up tasty and tender. For example, what's the best way to use ground turkey for turkey burgers? In what other ways do you use ground turkey with great results? Thanks for your suggestions!

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  1. We have found that the ground dark meat turkey we can get at Whole Foods is the best substitute for ground beef.

    3 Replies
    1. re: AGM_Cape_Cod

      The dark meat may still be quite fattening/unhealthy so if that is the OP's purpose in eliminating the beef I think it wouldn't really be worth it.

      I recommend instead of ground turkey breast or the 99% use the 93%.

      1. re: melpy

        Yes... using dark meat would be defeating the purpose of switching to turkey. I had considered using the 93% turkey instead of 99%, but, if I can use the 99% an still be happy with the outcome, that would be my preference.

        1. re: CindyJ

          You're never going to get what you want with the 99% fat-free ground turkey. Period. It's drier than, and shares its texture with the white styrofoam package it sits in. It's not a matter of "learning curve." It's just that dry.

          I've used the 7% fat for twenty years now, in everything I could possibly make from ground beef. My favorite is turkey meatballs, with a small amount of breadcrumbs; diced onions pre-sauteed in olive oil; a little mustard; ground parmigiano-reggiano.

          I bake them on a parchment-lined half-sheet pan, like the ones Ina uses all the time, and serve them with a simple tomato sauce (tomatoes, onions, basil).

          I've never done the stuffed cabbage, as I dislike cooked cabbage, but I have basically traded ground beef in for 7% ground turkey. I happen to prefer the flavor.

    2. This board is replete with ground turkey recipes that posters claim are delicious. To each his own. I have never had a ground turkey dish that didn't leave me wishing it tasted meatier. But I think a one-to-one mix of ground turkey with whatever other "real" meat you'd use for the particular dish works very well. In meatloaf, it is indistinguishable from all-beef except for a lighter color and less shrinkage. The color is fixable by adding Kitchen Bouquet or Gravy Master. Use extra vegetables to provide the moisture that less-fatty turkey lacks. Coleslaw or finely-chopped steamed cabbage is particularly good in this regard. It melts away in the meatloaf and leaves a mellow, non-cabbagy taste. Maybe you can have a higher proportion of turkey to beef (or pork or whatever) but I have never done that. To compensate for ground turkey's bland flavor, you can chop turkey bacon in the food processor and mix it with the ground turkey before cooking, but it's still a good idea to use more onion and garlic than you would with other meats.

      4 Replies
      1. re: greygarious

        I disagree about meatloaf flavorwise. I think that is one of the most obvious substitutions. I agree that chili and meat sauce for pasta are probably the best applications though. Season the meat heavily to avoid blandness.

        1. re: melpy

          I agree with you, melpy. I cannot stand turkey meatloaf. Or turkey meatballs or turkey burgers.

          But I like turkey chili. And I just made Cook's Illutrated "skillet chili mac" the other day and used ground turkey in place of ground beef. It was good. Or I will make a mapo tofu kind of dish with ground turkey and I think it works well. Basically anything with a lot of sauce works well with ground turkey. And I only use ground turkey breast or I don't think there's any reason to use it at all.

          1. re: melpy

            You've given me an idea, melpy. Maybe, instead of fighting with the meatballs, I just use lots of ground turkey to make a super-meaty sauce. That can work! Thanks!

          2. re: greygarious

            So it's all about the compromise, eh? I like the idea of mixing a bit of beef in with the turkey, and I'm really intrigued by your suggestion of adding coleslaw or steamed cabbage, especially in the stuffed cabbage recipe. I've tried turkey bacon in the past, and truthfully, I think I'd rather have no bacon at all. It just didn't give me that bacon rush I was expecting. :) OTOH, maybe as an ingredient, rather than the star of the show, it'd work better.

          3. I like to add a little beefy flavor and sometimes extra fat when I'm substituting ground turkey. For beefy flavor, adding beef broth or Worcester sauce can work well. In the stuffed cabbage recipe you mentioned, I'd replace the water with beef broth. In something like meatballs, I like to add some grated cheese.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Pia

              I generally use grated Parmesan cheese in my meatballs. In this particular stuffed cabbage, however, I'm not so sure it would work for me. But using beef broth or stock to replace some of the liquid is a great idea!

            2. Ground turkey works very well in wet preparations. Stuffed peppers, stuffed cabbage, shepherd's pie all work fine. When I sub for something like meatballs or meatloaf, I usually add a little extra liquid to the ground turkey. Worcestershire sauce, broth, even steak sauce. A drizzle of olive oil mixed in if you're ok with a little healthy fat.

              There are many great recipes written specifically for ground turkey. Before trying to adapt a ground beef recipe, check out what's available. I have made Giada DeLaurentiis turkey stuffed veggies (zucchini and peppers) and Ina Garten's turkey meatloaf. Both were really fabulous. Giada has many recipes using ground turkey.

              1. When I use ground turkey for meatballs I add in some spicy turkey or chicken sausage also to give more flavor. Ina Garten has a decent turkey meatball recipe--it's part of an Italian wedding soup recipe, but I've used them in marinara sauce. I also like her turkey meatloaf.

                For turkey burgers, I add in some mashed/pureed white beans to help keep them moist.

                3 Replies
                1. re: liamsaunt

                  I have a good recipe for turkey meatballs which uses a little bit of rendered pancetta. I think you're right that a little bit of fat helps.

                  1. re: ChristinaMason

                    I think what what I'm really having a hard time with is giving up all that flavorful fat I've been taking for granted.

                  2. re: liamsaunt

                    "When I use ground turkey for meatballs I add in some spicy turkey or chicken sausage also to give more flavor." Great idea! Or, I can even substitute a good turkey or chicken sausage for the meatballs, assuming it's not chock full of fat.