How to Correctly Brown Ground Turkey in a Skillet

Available fresh or frozen, in bulk or in patties, ground turkey is a versatile alternative to other ground meats. It's generally a leaner option compared to ground beef. But the leanness can make the ground turkey dry and lacking flavor if you're not careful. Browning ground turkey the right way makes your turkey burgers and ground turkey crumbles flavorful.

How to Correctly Brown Ground Turkey in a Skillet (Image: Wiktory/iStock/GettyImages)

Basics of Ground Turkey

If you're using ground turkey as a healthier alternative to red meat, be sure to check the label for the lean-to-fat ratio. Different brands and different products within the same brand range in fat content from nearly fat free, 98/2, to a fat content of 85/15, which rivals ground beef or pork. As with other ground meats, the percentage of fat in the ground turkey affects the way the meat cooks.

No matter how you cook your ground turkey, always cook it to a safe internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a meat thermometer to check the temperature.

Preparing Ground Turkey

If your ground turkey is frozen, let it thaw completely before cooking. The safest way to thaw ground turkey is in the refrigerator. You can also put it in a sealed plastic bag and submerge it in cold water.

If you're making turkey burgers yourself from bulk ground turkey, be careful not to work it too much, as it can get tough and dense. Make the patty about 1/2-inch thick with uniform thickness for even cooking.

Preparing the Skillet

When you're ready to start browning ground turkey, place the skillet over medium-high heat. Heating the pan first helps lock in the moisture in the ground turkey. You can also use an electric skillet set to about 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Add a small amount of oil to the hot skillet. Just a thin coating on the bottom of the pan is enough. Since turkey is on the dry side, the oil helps keep it from sticking to the pan.

Increase or decrease the amount of oil depending on the fat content of the turkey product. The higher the fat content, the less oil you need. Use an oil with a high smoke point to create a crisp outer layer on the meat without scorching it. Coconut, grapeseed and peanut oils are suitable choices.

Cooking Ground Turkey Patties

Place the patties in the prepared skillet. Make a slight indentation about 1/8-inch deep in the center of each patty with your thumb or the back of a teaspoon to keep the patties flat during cooking. Cover the skillet with a loose lid or spatter screen so you can keep an eye on the meat. When the patties develop a browned crust on the bottom, flip them and cook the other side.

Pre-formed ground turkey patties are conveniently sized so that when both sides are browned, the meat is done. Depending on the fat content of the patties, cooking time averages about three to four minutes per side. You can use an instant-read meat thermometer to check the interior temperatures of the patties. Ground turkey patties don't require a resting period so you can serve them immediately.

Browning Ground Turkey in Bulk

Break apart the ground turkey into the pan to make crumbles. Cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid, using a wooden spoon to stir every few minutes to break apart any large clusters while browning ground turkey. Very lean ground turkey tends to cook together in a block. A potato masher works to quickly separate chunks into small, uniformly sized bits while cooking.

Adjust the heat to prevent scorching, if necessary. Depending on the fat content of the ground turkey product, you may need to add moisture. Use plain water or try other liquids that add flavor to the final dish. Experiment with broth, mirepoix liquid, wine or herbal tea, or add drained juice from a jar of salsa to spice things up.

Reduce the heat and continue stirring until any extra liquid disappears. The bulk ground turkey crumbles are done when they are no longer pink. It takes about 10 minutes depending on fat content and cooking temperature.

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