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Ground Turkey

I made a pasta sauce with ground turkey and I did not like it all. It was so dry and tasteless. Has anyone had success with this in sauce? I am trying to use it due to a health condition of a family member who cannot eat food high in iron, so regular ground beef is not an option.

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  1. Did you use white meat or dark meat? Dark meat is the way to go.

    4 Replies
    1. re: chefj

      White meat, and lean said the package.

      1. re: chefj

        Dark meat, while tastier, is much higher in iron than white ... so would defeat the purpose.

      2. Maybe turkey meatballs with some added seasonings and moisture would be an improvement in the sauce. I do like ground turkey in sloppy Joes, chili, and tacos.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Tara57

          when using lean ground turkey breast, i agree. for moisture and flavor, i cook some onion and puree it, then mix it with the meat with salt and pepper, sometimes herbs.

          1. re: Emme

            Me too. I have a recipe I love, adapted from the Joy of Cooking, for turkey meatballs. I add a piece of bread soaked in milk, plus sauteed onion and various spices (and maybe an egg? it's been a long time since I made them, actually), then simmer in chicken stock. This probably doesn't meet the low-iron test, though.

            1. re: Kitchen Imp

              You cannot completely remove iron from the diet, red meat is high in iron, but turkey is not.

        2. For pasta sauce, try Italian sausage made with turkey. For other ground beef subs, give ground thighs (or not just ground breast) a try. If you drain it after browning, the end result will not have much more fat that starting with lean, but it will taste much better.

          1 Reply
          1. re: mpjmph

            dark-meat turkey is fairly high in iron - possibly disallowed by the friend's diet.

            Dark-meat turkey is consistently recommended as a higher-iron food for those who need iron in their diet.

          2. I actually really enjoy the taste and nutrition benefits of 99% ground turkey breast when I am trying to save a few grams of fat to make room for my bacon and eggs in my morning omelette :) I have used it in many things from the simplest addition of just salsa to tacos, chili, buffalo dip, etc. I don't mind the dryness per se, but with simple add-ons like salsa or mustard it can be much drier than usual ground meats. I use it routinely in tacos and have with the addition of seasoning after a good simmer in water and addition of cheese and salsa that I don't find it dry at all. A recent favorite is to c I think the trick is to cook it on lower heat vs the usual medium to high heat used to brown and saute grown meat and I often had a tsp or two of water while it's cooking and stir the meat around pretty regularly. On a daily basis, I find it makes a quick healthy meal and you can combine it with multiple different condiments and toppings. My recent favorite lunch has been ground turkey breast mixed with Frank's red hot sauce, sauteed mushrooms and blue cheese. So, usually I just saute it on low and add whatever flavors suit my mood. However, I do know that a lot of people just don't like the texture and no matter what it's too dry and flaky and in these situations the 93% dark/white meat ground combination is a great substitute and also fairly low fat compared to higher % fat ground beef like 90% lean and lower. As it works best in meals with a lot of moisture/liquid, I imagine that you since you didn't like it in pasta sauce perhaps you should go with the higher fat ground turkey. I will admit that people try to substitute it for beef, but I don't think that works too well as it has a very different texture and flavor and so I primarily use it when I actually want to taste turkey. If you are trying to watch calories/fat, the 96% beef offers a little bit more flavor but is also incredibly lean and nearly the same calories.

            1 Reply
            1. re: fldhkybnva

              It is not about the calories, my husband cannot eat foods with iron in them due to a high iron count. So I have been trying to use ground turkey. I think you are suggesting the meat needs to be cooked with some moisture as did Tara57 and as well I need to have a different mix of fat as others have mentioned as well. I have been buying the lean so will be on the lookout for the dark meat mix.

            2. I use ground turkey a lot (Jennie-O, and Foster Farms mostly). Hardly miss the beef except a burger now and then. Give yourself time to get use to it. Especially since it sounds like a change that you made remissly. It's wonderful in bolognese, sloppy joes, meatballs, and my personal favorite lettuce wraps. I think you'll learn to like it once you let the beef go. :)

              3 Replies
              1. re: letsindulge

                Unfortunately we do not have a lot of options in Canada on ground turkey. We do not have the two brands that you have mentionned. We do have to let the beef go but sometimes we are not always successful, we ate surf and turf last weekend but most times we steer (no pun intended) away from the beef.

                1. re: Ruthie789

                  Ruthie, I'm wondering about a butcher or poultrerer. A butcher who does mostly beef, veal and perhaps some lamb won't want to have to clean his grinding equipment for turkey, but one who has ground poultry or makes poultry sausages might. I'm thinking of the great Fernando's (formerly Zinman's on Roy in the Plateau. I've also seen ground poultry at Supermarché PA (avenue du Parc, Fort, and on Samson in Laval). Don't you live in the West Island? You might try Adonis.

                  1. re: lagatta

                    Jennie O and Foster farms are not available in Montreal. I do buy some ground meat at the butchers. Lately we have been eating red meat although my husband is not supposed to at all. We have to get back on track.

              2. Its very easy to overcook, I add it to things later than I would a higher fat meat and sometimes also add some kind of oil or fat to it. For instance, if I'm making turkey burgers I add coconut oil and some water when I incorporate the spices and chopped onions and then watch it to make sure I pull them out of the hot pan as soon as they are done.

                2 Replies
                1. re: weezieduzzit

                  I did overcook it in retrospect, I had the darn sauce in the slow cooker all day.

                  1. re: weezieduzzit

                    I keep seeing the necessity of moisture, you have added coconut oil and water to yours. I have never tried the coconut oil, keep seeing it but am hesitant to purchase and not use.

                  2. Ground turkey is a serious mainstay around here. I always have several packages in the freezer - both supermarket brands & local free-range when I can get it.

                    First off - I NEVER buy ground turkey breast. It always ends up dry & tasteless regardless of what you do with it. Buy the regular - always.

                    You can use it for anything you used to use ground beef for. If it turns out wonky, you've overcooked it, just as would happen if you overcooked ground beef. (Frankly, I wouldn't put ground turkey OR ground beef in a slow cooker.) The only thing I do differently with ground turkey is to add a dab or two of extra-virgin olive oil, since ground turkey really doesn't have any natural fat.

                    Oh - & my pasta sauce with ground turkey is to die for.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Bacardi1

                      Please advise why no to the slow cooker for ground meats..if combined in a tomato sauce.

                      1. re: Ruthie789

                        I've never slow-cooked it in a tomato sauce, but find that ground meat just really isn't suited to slow cooking. It just gets all the life sucked out of it. Slow cooking was meant for & works best for larger cuts of meat than ground.

                    2. The 93% lean ground turkey works out very well for me in chili and tacos, and I would imagine in a tomato based pasta sauce too.

                      The 99% lean breast is way too "squeaky".... That is the best way I can describe it. I avoid it.

                      8 Replies
                      1. re: iluvcookies

                        Unfortunately I know exactly what you mean by too "squeaky". ;-)

                        1. re: Bacardi1

                          I just crakced up at squeaky!! The mr. is a fan of lean ground turkey, and you hit the nail on the head.

                          1. re: alliegator

                            First time I made turkey burgers was during a time when my then BF (who is now my DH) was working out heavily and needed lots of lean protein. I wasn't an accomplished cook at that time and still had a lot to learn. I will never forget those squeaky burgers.

                            Of course neither will he, and occasionally he will ask for a burger, hold the squeak.

                            1. re: iluvcookies

                              Haha! I'm chuckling out loud. Ground turkey made it's way into my life because my husband is a workout fiend as well. I'm amazed at what passes as a good meal for him, and just make something yummy for me.
                              Glad you worked the squeak out of those burgers :D

                              1. re: iluvcookies

                                I never buy ground breast-meat turkey. Try making turkey burgers from non-breast meat. No squeaks.

                                1. re: Bacardi1

                                  I haven't used ground turkey breast since, and I don't plan to either.

                            1. re: C. Hamster

                              Preference variety is an interesting thing - I don't find it squeaky at all and think it has a lot of natural flavor :)

                          2. Definitely use dark meat. You probably won't find this in most supermarkets, which generally carry a blend from the whole turkey or white-meat only. I get it from a small independent grocery with a good meat department where they grind their own.

                            1. I use ground turkey instead of ground beef in my chili. With lots of beans (I use a mix if red kidney, pink kidney, and black), great seasonings, and a few cans of crushed tomatoes.... It is BANGING and our Sunday football guests love it! (and ask to take leftovers home)

                              I've also used ground turkey with beans, onions, garlic, etc as a burrito filling over cilantro-lime rice. My husband adores them.

                              I don't like ground turkey when it is on its own (burgers, meatballs, meatloaf) but it is great in dishes where you can really bump up the flavor like chili.

                              1. I have experimented with ground turkey. I found that the dryness comes from the finely ground turkey losing its water. Like all muscle meat, there is a significant amount of water, but turkey has less fat, which is why I wanted it. I tried using the meat in preps like meatballs, burgers, and meat sauce. In sauce ground turkey was a tasteless addition and thus of no merit. Burgers cooked out the natural water and became hard, as did meatballs. Adding chopped onion in significant quantity helped the burgers, but meatballs then fell apart and the burgers became fragile.

                                My solution was to add panko, about a half cup per pound of meat, and dehydrated minced onion (not onion powder), about 1/4 cup per pound of meat. These additions absorbed the turkey juice that otherwise would cook out and fully rehydrated during cooking while binding the meat into shape. Spices, black pepper, salt, etc. can be mixed into the raw mix as desired. Then just brown the meatballs and finish cooking in sauce, or cook the burgers until done.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: therealdoctorlew

                                  Since my husband doesn't eat red meat, I use ground turkey in any & all recipes calling for ground beef/pork/lamb, etc. Make burgers, meatballs, meatloaf all the time. No problems with dryness, falling apart, or anything else. Go figure.

                                  In any recipe where a little fat would be welcome, I simply add a small dollop or two of extra-virgin olive oil. Burgers are generously mixed with Worcestershire sauce. Meatloaves & meatballs always have an egg or two. Everything comes out moist & delicious. Even though I do eat red meat, I certainly don't miss it via subbing ground turkey.

                                  1. re: therealdoctorlew

                                    Dehydrated minced onion can improve any burger - in Mtl you can find it in bulk at Anatol on St-Laurent near the Jean-Talon Market (just south of Milano). You can combine some fresh chopped onion (I like red onion for that, as it is milder).

                                    1. re: lagatta

                                      Agreed spices are required when using turkey or chicken. For me it masks the taste somewhat.

                                  2. I've realized "lean" is a marketing term. When I send my husband to the grocery store, I tell him to look at the percentage of fat on the nutrition label...should say 10 or 12% for fat.

                                    For those not in Canada, Butterball (I think) used to make a 10% fat version for Costco but no more. This was great in terms of moisture & leanness. Now I only find 12% everywhere :( Also, I pressure cook to make it really soft.

                                    Lastly, just made great Thai lettuce wraps the other night with poached chicken breasts but I think I'm going to try ground turkey next time. I think it will be easier when I need to make it in a large volume.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: ceekskat

                                      Pressure cooking might be an option as I am considering a purchase. Thank you for your suggestion.

                                    2. You could also try ground chicken, which I much prefer to ground turkey. I make my own by grinding boneless, skinless chicken thighs (cheap and easy to find) in either the meat grinder or the food processor (if I am being lazy and just want to buzz up a small amount quickly).

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: biondanonima

                                        I was going to say the same thing. For some reason, I just don't like ground turkey, but ground chicken (even the pre-packaged stuff) seems more tender to me.

                                        1. re: katecm

                                          It must have a higher fat content if it is more tender. Have tried it but don't like the taste so much.

                                        2. re: biondanonima

                                          I have only purchased ground chicken prepackaged, am having a bit of struggle with the taste but do like the chicken thighs and use them quite often.

                                        3. Hi Ruthie,

                                          You may want to check out this resource about iron sources of different foods/cuts of meat when considering suggestions, since it's the reason that you are making the switch to turkey breast.


                                          Perhaps mushrooms might make a good swap in? They do have a little iron, and the Vitamin C in the tomato sauce would enhance the absorption of the non-heme iron in plant foods.....but it might be something to discuss with the dietitian or doctor.

                                          You could also just make an amazing pasta primavera- not close to pasta with meat sauce, I know, but to many (and perhaps your husband?) delicious in its own right.

                                          10 Replies
                                          1. re: 4Snisl

                                            Thank you for that link, it is very considerate of you. I am in the preliminary stage of adapting to this change of diet. One change has been to give up my cast iron pan, sob, sob.
                                            I did make a lemon based pasta which I got from Christine Ferrare which we both enjoyed. I am having a hard time embracing both turkey and chicken, its almost as if I want to mask the taste, I really do not like either, but will keep plugging away. The main issue for turkey is the dryness, but mushrooms would certainly provide moisture.

                                            1. re: Ruthie789

                                              You know, maybe making meatballs that are a high proportion of "filller" (e.g. shredded/chopped low-iron vegetables, soaked breadcrumbs, etc.) with some of the lean turkey or chicken could work....keep it moist plus stretch out the meat.

                                              Good luck, and let us know what works! My condolences on the cast iron pan. :(

                                              1. re: 4Snisl

                                                I was thinknig that, too. I usually only use ground meat for something like this. Add it into a sauce and it's delicious, or coat in panko and pan-fry for added texture.

                                                Although this ground chicken recipe is incredible if you like light Thai flavors (in other words, not a soupy curry). I don't even bother with the fried shallots and garlic. http://www.loveandoliveoil.com/2010/0...

                                                1. re: 4Snisl

                                                  Thank you for your condoleances during my grieving process.

                                                  1. re: Ruthie789

                                                    Can you use a coated cast iron? Le Creuset is super expensive but I love my Mario Batalis. You get the beautiful heat distribution without the food touching iron.

                                                    1. re: katecm

                                                      Yes I think I can and I did purchase one. I hope that the iron does not seep through the enamel. The only thing that I do not like about it is that the food does not release like cast iron. It was my first purchase after my husband`s diagnosis of hemachromatosis.. It does carry the heat really well so we are adapting to it. Thank you for the support!

                                                      1. re: Ruthie789

                                                        I don't think you will have a problem with iron seeping through the enamel--and the enamel itself is not reactive.
                                                        Now I knew that regular cast iron does contribute a trace of iron to food cooked in it, but I never would have guessed it was enough to bother someone with your husband's condition. I hope he is well otherwise :)

                                                        1. re: Ruthie789

                                                          My chemistry professor in graduate school laughed at the idea of absorbing iron into blood from cooking in an iron skillet. Said it would not pass into the blood because the iron from the skillet would be to large to get into the blood. Evidently it would just pass through and be excreted. That was 45 or so years ago! Might be worth researching in case he was right!!

                                                  2. re: Ruthie789

                                                    I don't know about the iron content of pork, but I enjoy ground pork much more than chicken or turkey - have you looked into that?

                                                    1. re: biondanonima

                                                      I have, but do not use or eat much pork. I know it will give better moisture for sure.

                                                2. It took us some time to adjust to the differences in ground turkey, too. Have found that upping the seasoning helps, since the meat is so bland, as well as adding in some good tasting fat. Just had turkey burgers with a goodly pour of toasted sesame oil in the mix, and it was well received. Good luck with your health and these changes!

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: pine time

                                                    It does take time to adapt to things and sometimes we just have to grin and bear it. Many recommendations about adding moisture and seasonings. I also thank you for your kind thoughts.

                                                  2. I used to use dark ground turkey till I learned it's made with skin & other not so healthy components. Then I switched to ground turkey breast and did have the dryness problem, plus it wasn't as tasty. What are you gonna do?

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: thymeoz

                                                      Moisture and seasonings and an added source of fat.

                                                    2. I use ground turkey breast in many recipes - you do have to be careful not to over cook it. I usually splash a little EVOO in the pan as it's heating, then add the meat. I cook until just browned, then add whatever other ingredients I'm using - red sauce, salsa, etc.

                                                      Skinnytaste.com has a some really terrific turkey meatball recipes. I've made her swedish meatballs, as well as the spaghetti and meatballs.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: jujuthomas

                                                        I will definitely give skinnytaste.com a try. Thank you.

                                                      2. I would like to thank all for your help. I will try again using your suggestions. I appreciate your kindness.

                                                        1. Marcella Hazan's Bolognese recipe has you cooking the meat (I used turkey) with milk. It makes an enormous difference and does keep it sweet and moist.

                                                          3 Replies
                                                          1. re: happybaker

                                                            That`s interesting. It`s like adding cream to meatloaf which I do.

                                                            1. re: Ruthie789

                                                              Excellent! So you are familiar with the technique - go! Run! Do!

                                                              And enjoy : )

                                                              1. re: happybaker

                                                                Thank you again, had not thought about it for turkey.

                                                          2. Lean turkey grind benefits from bread crumbs. They hold on to moisture and make the end product more tender.