5 Mistakes to Avoid with Ground Turkey

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Kimberley Hasselbrink)

Ground turkey is a versatile ingredient that can be rolled into meatballs, shaped into burgers and meatloaf, and crumbled into sauces. And in the right form, it proves to be the lean, lighter alternative to ground beef. It has the potential to make for a flavorful meal, as long as it’s used correctly.

1. Using ground turkey with the wrong fat content.

Ground turkey can be notorious for its dry texture and bland flavor, but just like ground beef, ground turkey can be purchased with different ratios of meat to fat. Consider what you’re cooking before deciding on the ratio that’s right for the recipe.

Follow this tip: Be sure to take a look at the label or talk to your butcher before buying. Ground turkey breast is the most lean, while ground thighs and drumsticks contain dark meat and have a fat percentage that’s closer to beef. Packages that are simply labeled “ground turkey” can be a mixture of both white and dark meats. Lean meat works well in sauces, while darker meat is best for burgers and meatballs. Don’t hesitate to ask your butcher to freshly grind a mixture of breast and thighs to create a preferred mix.

2. Not seasoning the meat enough.

Seasoning the meat well is a must when cooking with ground turkey. Leaner ratios of ground turkey are missing on the flavor boost from a higher fat content, so they need some extra help in the flavor department. Without a good sprinkle of salt and pepper (or any other herbs and spices), ground turkey cooks up bland and flavorless.

Follow this tip: Seasoning is especially important when the turkey is the star of the plate, like with burgers, meatballs, and meatloaf. Before you start cooking, be sure to season the ground turkey well with salt and pepper. Also consider including dried herbs and spices for additional flavor. If you’re cooking meatballs or meatloaf, pinch off some of the seasoned mixture and cook it in a skillet to taste. Adjust seasoning accordingly.

3. Handling the meat too much.

Whether you’re making burgers, meatballs, or meatloaf, it’s best to keep the meat handling to a minimum. It has a direct impact on the texture of the finished recipe: When over-handled, the meat compacts and the result is a tough finished product.

Follow this tip: When mixing the ingredients and shaping meatloaf, burgers, and meatballs, handle the meat as little as possible. Lightly oiled hands and a soft touch is all you need to prevent sticking or pushing too much air out of the mixture. You’ll be rewarded with a more tender bite.

4. Cooking the meat too long.

Because of its low fat content, ground turkey isn’t very forgiving when it’s cooked for a few minutes too long. When overcooked, ground turkey quickly gets dry and crumbly, and loses its flavor.

Follow this tip: Keep on eye on the time as you cook, and keep an instant-read thermometer handy. To prevent dry meat, cook ground turkey until it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F.

5. Undercooking ground turkey.

While some foods cooked with ground beef — especially burgers — are perfectly delicious when served medium-rare, the same doesn’t apply with ground turkey. This is one meat that must be cooked all the way through.

Follow this tip: When cooking with ground turkey, it should always be cooked through until it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F.