More people have started using ground turkey, as it is leaner compared to ground up beef or pork. This lowered fat content is better for those who are becoming more conscious of what they eat. It’s also a versatile meat that can be shaped into meatballs, burgers, and meatloaves. It can even be crumbled on top of dishes to add some much needed texture. However, if you handle ground turkey incorrectly, the results could potentially be disastrous. Here are the five common mistakes you should avoid when working with ground turkey.
Under-seasoning the Meat
The first mistake you hopefully never get to experience as a cook is not putting enough seasoning on the meat. As mentioned before, ground turkey is leaner, which means that it also has less flavor compared to, say, ground beef or pork. Be sure to season the ground turkey well with salt and pepper, even if you are adding other herbs and spices to the mix. A good amount of salt and pepper, complete with the right proportions of herbs and spices if the recipe calls for it, will make the flavor of the meat shine in any given dish.
What you can do to avoid this is to take a little bit of the seasoned mixture and cook it. This is ideal if you’re making a meatloaf or a burger with the ground turkey, since no one would ever know that you pinched off a little bit of the meat. Cook this small amount of meat, then taste it. Adjust the seasoning as needed. In most cases, even if you feel like you’re already adding too much seasoning, you’ll have to put even more – especially since there is less fat on the meat to make up for the lack of seasoning. However, you shouldn’t overdo it, as it’s easier to fix a dish without enough seasoning compared to fixing an over-seasoned one.
Choose the Right Fat to Meat Ratio
Similar to our tip about seasoning, you should also use ground turkey with the appropriate fat content for what you’re cooking. If you buy ground turkey that’s pre-packed, you’ll probably end up with a random ratio of fat to meat content. The manufacturers of these packaged meats don’t really mind if the amount of dark meat and white meat is consistent in their products. This is why it’s better to buy your meats from a trusted source, or better yet, go directly to your local butcher shop and ask for their help.
If you go to your butcher, you could ask them to whip you up a fresh batch of your preferred mix. You can add as much thigh or breast meat as you want, which means you’ll be in control of both the flavor as well as the texture of the final product. The best part is you’ll be sure that the ingredients you’re getting to use are as fresh as can be. A leaner mix – one with more white breast meat than dark thigh meat – works better when crumbled and scattered in a sauce. On the other hand, a darker blend with more thigh than breast meat is better when you’re cooking up some burgers and meatballs. You could even ground up your own blend with the right tools.
Handle Your Ground Turkey as Little as Possible
The next mistake you could be making with your ground turkey is handling it too much. Much like how an overworked dough develops gluten and becomes tough, the same happens to ground up turkey. If you mix and compact this ingredient too much when you’re making a burger or a meatloaf, the end product could be a tough and chewy mess. This happens because all the air is being pushed out of the mixture you’ll be cooking, making your mixture dense.
To keep this from happening, keep your touch light. Handle the meat as little as humanly possible. Once you’ve formed a shape reminiscent of a burger or a meatball – stop. There’s no need to smooth out the edges, especially since the whole thing is going to shrink down once it gets heated up. This superficial beauty will come at the cost of the unnecessary compacting of the meat. Use lightly oiled hands as well in order to keep the ground turkey from sticking to your hands. You can also add a bit of oil to your work surface to prevent it from sticking there.
Don’t Over- or Undercook
Wrong cook times can also ruin your dish. Let’s kick off this discussion by talking about why you shouldn’t overcook your ground turkey. Because it has such a low-fat content, leaving ground turkey cooking for a little while too long may cause it to become dry and crumbly. This will also cause the turkey to lose its flavor even if you seasoned it perfectly before you put it in the pan or in the oven.
It’s also a mistake to undercook ground turkey because this meat should always be cooked until you reach an internal temperature of 165º F. You shouldn’t serve ground turkey medium rare under any circumstances. You should always cook this meat through. Not cooking ground turkey to the recommended internal temperature could cause it to have an unappetizing flavor and texture. It may also cause some of your dinner guests to fall ill, which of course is something you don’t want to happen.
Never Mix Hot and Cold
The fifth mistake cooks commonly make with ground turkey is not browning it before putting it into their dish. If you put the meat directly into a cold pan, it will “water out,” meaning it will lose all of its juiciness, resulting in a rather dry dish. If you add meat to a cold pan, or if you add cold meat to a hot pan, you’ll notice a lot of liquid coming out of the meat. This is what helps make a dish succulent. You shouldn’t let these juices escape.
To prevent this from happening, never mix hot and cold. You should never put cold meat into a searing hot pan, nor should you put thawed meat into a pan that hasn’t been brought up to the proper temperature. As much as you can, don’t overcrowd your pan as well. You’ll be better off cooking in batches than cooking a lot in a single go. If you can, make use of cast iron cookware, as this is one of the best materials in terms of retaining moisture.
Now you know what to avoid when preparing a dish with ground turkey. Your ingredients should be seasoned well and have the right fat-to-meat content. You should also prevent over-mixing as well as over or undercooking your food. Lastly, you shouldn’t let those precious turkey juices escape. They’re already scarce in the first place, so make every drop count.