What You Should Know Before Substituting Ground Turkey For Ground Beef

If you're a fan of eating the thickest, juiciest hamburgers, well, you're probably the type that has never had a good turkey burger. Turkey burgers, not to mention ground turkey in general, have the unfortunate reputation of being the less delicious substitute for ground beef. Anyone who wants to make a healthy version of their ground beef-based dish usually goes straight for the ground turkey, but in many cases, it just doesn't taste quite as good.

While they look pretty similar when raw and both are types of ground meat, ground turkey isn't a foolproof substitution for ground beef. Whether it's because you're trying to cut calories or simply because you don't have any ground beef left in the freezer, there are a number of reasons why you'd want to use turkey instead. It can be done effectively, but here's what you should know before substituting ground turkey in a ground beef recipe.

Ground turkey isn't always healthier

Contrary to popular belief, there isn't much of a nutritional difference between ground turkey and ground beef. Healthline shares that unless you're substituting 100% lean ground turkey for an exceptionally fatty batch of ground beef, it isn't worth the swap — they're really that similar. Though ground turkey is known to be the healthier of the two, the main difference is that ground beef is slightly higher in protein. In terms of calorie counts and fat percentage, however, they are nearly identical.

It's important to note, however, that regardless of having comparable fat percentages, the two contain different types of fat. The type more commonly found in ground beef — saturated fat — is slightly worse than that of turkey. As Healthline explains, any food high in saturated fat, including ground beef, puts you at risk for heart disease, which is generally why turkey is considered the better dietary option.

It's hard to make ground turkey and beef taste similar

In terms of flavor and texture, there aren't many similarities between ground turkey and ground beef. Ground turkey is a much drier, chewier protein than its bovine-derived competition (via Eat This, Not That!). It also contains a mix of only light and dark meat, whereas ground beef comes from a wide variety of cuts, such as chuck or sirloin, all of which are naturally juicier than turkey.

Because they're so structurally different, the best way to make ground turkey taste more like ground beef is to use the juiciest cut available. That means you'll have to buy 85% fat ground turkey, or ground turkey made with only dark meat, according to Eat This, Not That! This higher-fat turkey will do a slightly better job at preserving the integrity of your recipe. However, no matter the percentage of fat, your dish will still end up tasting pretty different from the original.

Ground turkey cooks differently than ground beef

Some substitutions require little to no recipe adjustments aside from the ingredient itself, but that won't be the case if you plan on using ground turkey instead of ground beef, Kitchn states. Though both are ground meats, that doesn't mean they cook the same way. Compared to ground beef, there isn't much room for error when cooking ground turkey, because it can easily dry out fast, lose flavor, and be reduced to a crumbly mess. Ground beef on the other hand tends to be more forgiving, so if you're following a recipe that calls for ground beef, you'll need to adjust the cooking time and temperature accordingly.

Food Network explains that ground turkey needs to reach a higher internal temperature than ground beef. Ground turkey is done at 170 to 175 F, while ground beef is at 160 F. Ten degrees might not sound like much, but it will make a significant difference in the outcome of your dish.

Ground turkey requires more seasoning than ground beef

If you've ever swapped out tofu for meat, you know that it's basically a blank slate — you have to add a lot of extra seasoning in order for it to have any sort of flavor. The same principle applies to ground turkey. eHow explains that it's much easier to disguise ground turkey in dishes where the beef isn't the main flavor profile like in a pasta sauce, for example. However, if the meat is the main ingredient, like in a burger, you'll need to amp up the seasoning to accommodate for its natural blandness.

eHow recommends Worcestershire sauce, ground black pepper, sea salt, as well as pungent spices such as garlic powder, onion powder, and chili powder. Just make sure you're adding more of these seasonings than the amount you'd typically add to ground beef. And if you really want to bring out the meaty flavors of the ground turkey, eHow also suggests using the grill to add a smoky flavor in addition to the extra seasoning.