a turkey burger on a bun with bacon, red onion, and havarti cheese. a second burger is visible out of focus behind it to the right.

really good turkey burgers

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TW: some discussion of diet culture

Back in 2013, the most exciting cooking Jimmy and I did involved trekking down to the slopped, grassy run behind our apartment building where we had a mini grill set up.

Cornish game hens, sausages, chicken thighs, veggies — you name it, we (okay, mostly Jimmy) were grilling it. Except for turkey burgers. Every time I suggested turkey burgers he told me he “just didn’t like them.” But he also couldn’t remember the last time he’d tried one. So I set out to change his mind.

In exchange for teaching me how to grill, Jimmy promised he would try a turkey burger. Why was I so obsessed with turkey burgers? I liked them, of course, but also I was still learning to shake off the grips of diet culture and thought turkey burgers were a “good” food that was “healthier” than whatever else he was grilling.

I use air quotes not because turkey burgers aren’t “good” or aren’t “healthy” — but because now I know better than to ascribe moral values to food, and I know that healthy means different things to different people. But I digress.

a close up of a turkey burger on a bun topped with bacon, red onion, and havarti cheese.

Jimmy showed me how to start a charcoal fire and the importance of keeping half of the grill cool and the other hot. And I shaped ground turkey into patties (with some other seasonings too, I’m not a heathen) and we grilled them and they were good.

Not great, but good for our cooking skills at the time. Good enough that Jimmy conceded that turkey burgers were not the dry, tasteless patty he had anticipated. He was willing to give them another try.

It was when we began frequenting Gary’s Turkey Burger stand at the Baltimore Farmer’s Market and Bazaar every Sunday that we truly saw the potential of a turkey burger.

Gary’s towering turkey patties topped with BBQ sauce, thick slices of cheese, and sweet caramelized turkey bacon were everything you don’t expect turkey burgers to be. Moist, tender, juicy, packed with lots of flavor. Lines for Gary’s began as early as 7 a.m. You’d have to put your name down on a list, and return 30 minutes later to pick up your order. Waking up early to be there was worth it.

It was in that wait time that we learned some secrets of a quality turkey burger straight from the master himself. Things like adding curry powder to the meat mixture and brushing the patties with BBQ sauce while they sit on the grill. In the winter months, when the market was closed, we’d make our own versions of Gary’s burgers.

uncooked turkey burgers on a grey cutting board. each burger patty has a thumbprint indent on the surface.

Now, look, I can’t tell you if eating these turkey burgers will make you a good person (though if you make them and post a photo on Instagram and tag me, I will think you’re a good person). But I can tell you they are just really good turkey burgers.

They taste good and I like eating them because I like them. That’s it. That’s the whole story. But if you’ve been suffering through dry, crumbly turkey burgers because you feel like you should, I’m here to show you just how tasty they can be.

cooking tips

The recipe I’m giving you today is more about technique than anything else. Flavor-wise, think of it as a solid foundation.

From here, you can take it and adapt it to suit your personal tastes. That said, there are a few steps of the process that should not be skipped.

  • Unlike beef burgers, turkey burgers must be cooked all the way through. No medium rare, pink centers here.
  • Do not add salt to the turkey mixture. Salt removes moisture from the meat and can make your burgers tough instead of tender. Add salt to the outside of the burger patty right before putting it on the pan.
  • To make any seasoning adjustments to your turkey burger before shaping the mixture into patties, cook a teaspoon of it in a skillet (salt the outsides) and taste it.
  • After you shape the patties, use your thumb to create an indentation on each of the flat sides. The meat expands while it cooks, and this will help the patties stay flat instead of bowing outward.
  • If you want to add BBQ sauce, use a silicone basting brush to apply it in the last minute of cooking, after each side of the patty has cooked. This works best if you’re cooking them on a grill. It does work on a cast iron, but can get a bit messy.

other Baltimore-inspired recipes:

a turkey burger on a bun with bacon, red onion, and havarti cheese. a second burger is visible out of focus behind it to the right.

really good turkey burgers

The Practical Kitchen
This really good turkey burger recipe is more about technique than anything else. From here, you can take it and adapt it to suit your personal tastes. See notes for suggestions.
NOTE: Unlike beef burgers, turkey burgers must be cooked all the way through. No medium rare, pink centers here.
0 from 0 votes
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 10 mins
Total Time 30 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 4 burgers

Ingredients
  

  • ½ medium onion, small dice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ tsp freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 sprigs rosemary, minced
  • tsp curry powder
  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • 2 tsp salt, divided (for the outside of the burger patties)

optional

  • ¼ cup BBQ sauce for basting (see notes)
  • ¼ cup thinly sliced red onions
  • 4 slices cheese of your choosing
  • 4 slices bacon

Instructions

  • Combine onion, garlic, rosemary, pepper, and curry powder together in a large bowl. Add the turkey last and mix with your hands just until evenly combined. Do not overmix.
  • Divide turkey mixture into quarters (use a kitchen scale if you want to be precise) and shape into balls.
  • Flatten each ball into a patty ¾"-1" thick, approximately 4" wide.
  • Use your thumb to make indentations on the flat sides of each patties to help them stay flat while cooking.
  • Heat 1-2 TBSP oil in a cast iron pan over medium heat. You'll know it's ready when a droplet of water flicked into the pan sizzles and evaporates immediately.
  • Generously salt the outside of each patty before placing it in the pan. Holding the patty in the palm of your hand, sprinkle salt over the side facing up, then place the patty salt-side down in the skillet. Repeat for each patty. Cook 5 minutes.
  • Just before flipping the patties, salt the tops. Then flip and cook an additional 4-5 minutes on the second side.
  • Serve on your favorite burger buns with your favorite burger toppings.

Notes

  • If you want to add BBQ sauce, use a silicone basting brush to apply it in the last minute of cooking, after each side of the patty has cooked. This works best if you’re cooking them on a grill. It does work on a cast iron, but can get a bit messy.
  • If adding cheese, place it over the top of each patty in the last 30-60 seconds of cooking and cover the skillet.
  • If adding onions, soften them in the pan after flipping the burgers, then place them on top of the cheese while it melts to secure them in place.
  • To make any seasoning adjustments to your turkey burger before shaping the mixture into patties, cook a teaspoon of it in a skillet and taste it.
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