Can Turkey Burgers Be Pink in the Middle and Still Be Safe?

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roasted pumpkin turkey burger with tomatoes and pesto

Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell whether your meat is fully cooked or not. This is especially true when it comes to ground turkey, which is pale in color to begin with. Can turkey burgers be pink in the middle and still be safe to eat?

Can Turkey Burgers be Pink in the Middle?

Yes, it’s fine if turkey burgers still have some pink in the middle. Your primary concern is to cook the meat to a safe internal temp of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. When it reaches this temperature, the bacteria that cause food-borne illness are destroyed. Use a calibrated meat thermometer to make sure the turkey burgers are fully cooked.

About Ground Turkey

Ground turkey is usually considered a healthier alternative to ground beef. In addition to being an excellent source of protein, vitamins, and minerals, it’s lower in saturated fat.

In terms of fat content, there are several different types of ground turkey available. A blend that’s marketed as 93 percent lean will probably contain all white meat, whereas an 85 to 15 percent lean-to-fat ratio indicates a blend of white and dark meat.

Leaner versions are a better choice if improved health is your goal. However, be forewarned that lean ground turkey has a hard time holding its shape on the grill. You can offset this problem by mixing a raw egg or two into the meat before forming it into patties.

Turkey has a mild flavor profile that serves as a nice backdrop for bolder ingredients, like capers and olives. You can blend minced shallots and herbs into the ground meat along with Dijon mustard, Worcestershire, and Tabasco sauce to make an impressive full-flavored burger.

raw turkey burgers cooking on an indoor grill

Why Is Ground Turkey So Sticky?

Forming ground turkey into patties can be a tricky prospect, especially for beginners. The meat tends to fall apart as you handle it, and it can break into pieces on the grill as well. Even worse, raw ground turkey sticks to your hands, which is frustrating. Why is that?

Experts suggest that the grinding process releases a protein called myosin. Because myosin is a naturally sticky substance, it makes the meat more difficult to handle.

Also, all raw meat tends to stick to surfaces once it’s exposed to heat. That’s why we have to oil our cooking grates before putting anything on the grill. Don’t skimp on this step when making turkey burgers, or you could run into difficulty when it’s time to flip them over.

Can Turkey Burgers Be a Little Pink?

Let’s assume you’ve grilled your turkey burgers for the prescribed amount of time, and they’re browned and crisp on the outside. When you cut into the meat, though, you see hints of pink inside. Does that mean the burgers are undercooked?

Not necessarily. While you do want the meat to be opaque throughout, it’s not unusual to see some pink shading in a fully cooked turkey burger. It’s more important to make sure the meat has reached the correct internal temperature (see below) than to rely on color alone as a sign of doneness.

If you’re making smoked turkey burgers, it’s natural for the meat to turn pink. The smoke causes a chemical reaction that results in a reddish color. This is known as the smoke ring, and it’s often visible just beneath the surface.

Can You Eat Turkey Burgers Medium-Rare?

cooked turkey burger

No. All poultry needs to be cooked to at least 165 degrees before it’s safe to consume. Although it’s permissible to serve ground beef burgers at medium or medium-rare, it isn’t safe to do the same with ground turkey.

Why the difference? It has to do with the nature of the meat itself. Dangerous bacteria like salmonella can be found on the skin of many animals, but the meat from turkeys and chickens is not as dense as beef. That means the bacteria can penetrate deeper into the flesh, so you need to cook it past a certain temperature in order to kill off the bacteria.

What’s more, it’s best to cook all ground meat to at least medium-well. When the meat is ground, the bacteria are no longer contained on the surface, but distributed throughout. Heating the meat to a safe temperature is the only way to ensure that these bacteria are completely destroyed.

What Happens If You Eat Undercooked Turkey?

Consuming undercooked poultry could lead to salmonella, a type of food poisoning. Symptoms include diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramping. The illness could be evident as soon as 12 hours later, or it could take up to 3 days to manifest itself. In any case, the symptoms usually last for 4 to 7 days.

If you suspect that you’ve contracted salmonella or another form of food poisoning, contact a medical care provider. Symptoms will usually resolve themselves within a few days, but emergency care may be necessary in extreme cases.

How To Tell When a Turkey Burger is Done

When it comes to raw poultry, you have to be certain that the meat is cooked before you dig in. There’s only one concrete way to find out, and that’s by using a calibrated meat thermometer.

When the turkey burger reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s safe to eat. You should always insert the probe into the thickest portion of the burger in order to ensure that it’s cooked throughout. The edges will finish cooking before the center, so don’t rely on those temps or you could wind up serving burgers that are still too rare in the middle.

There are a few other tests you can perform to check for doneness, but it’s best to use them in conjunction with the thermometer, and not as substitutions. First of all, you can press against the center of a patty with your thumb. If the meat is hot to the touch, there’s a good chance that it’s cooked through.

You can also check the clock when putting the burgers on the grill. The patties should cook for 5 to 6 minutes per side over medium heat. Add 2 to 3 minutes per side if the burgers were frozen to begin with. When they’re done, the outsides will be a nice golden-brown color, with crispy edges.

Finally, try pricking the patties with a fork or inserting a small sharp knife into the centers. The juices should run clear, even if there’s still a pink tinge to the meat. If the juices are still reddish in color, it’s best to return the burgers to the grill.

Final Thoughts

As long as you’ve cooked your turkey burgers to at least 165 degrees, there’s no need to worry. At these temperatures, the bacteria that cause food poisoning will be destroyed, even if the meat still looks a bit pink in the center.

Happy grilling!

Darren Wayland Avatar


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