Can you substitute ground chicken for ground turkey—or vice versa? Will you be able to tell the difference? And are there any specific health benefits to choosing either one? Read on to find out.
Ground Chicken vs Ground Turkey
Ground chicken and ground turkey have more similarities than differences, although there are a few key points that distinguish them from one another. If cost is an issue, ground chicken tends to be cheaper than ground turkey. It’s also easier to find ground chicken that’s made of all white meat and therefore lower in fat.
Ground Poultry: An Overview
While ground beef has been popular for more than a century, ground poultry has gained a lot of traction in recent years.
Poultry is an excellent source of protein, with the benefit of being much leaner than beef. So it’s no wonder that health-conscious consumers are opting for ground chicken and turkey over ground chuck.
About Ground Chicken
As the name suggests, ground chicken is chicken meat that’s been fed through a grinder or food processor to give it a soft, malleable texture. When it’s processed, the meat resembles either a coarse paste or long, string-like tubes.
Ground chicken is usually made from a blend of white and dark meat, including a bit of skin to ensure that the mixture has sufficient moisture. There may be some products available that consist of only white meat, but these tend to be overly dry when cooked.
When ground chicken is raw, it’s a pale pink color. As the meat cooks, it turns white and opaque, though it can be fully cooked and still retain a hint of its original pink color.
The flavor profile of ground chicken is very mild, so it can serve as a nice template for many other ingredients. It can be spicy, savory, or sweet, depending on the recipe you have in mind.
About Ground Turkey
Like ground chicken, ground turkey can be made of white meat alone, or a mixture of both white and dark meat cuts—usually the drumsticks and thighs. When it’s processed, it has a paste-like consistency and a slightly sticky texture.
Turkey tends to be sold at a higher price point than chicken. As such, you can expect to spend more on ground turkey than you would on ground chicken.
This is another heart-healthy alternative to ground beef or pork, but its flavor is slightly bolder than that of ground chicken. Depending on what other ingredients you use, though, it may be difficult to tell the two ground poultry products apart.
Ground Chicken vs Ground Turkey: Breaking It Down
In this section, we’ll go into more detail about what these two products have in common—and also how they differ from one another.
When the food processors are creating ground chicken, they typically use a mixture of breast and thigh meat with a bit of skin for moisture. Unless the product is specifically labeled as “ground chicken breast,” it’s safe to assume that this is what you’re getting.
Ground turkey consists primarily of excess thigh and drumstick meat, along with some fat for texture. You can expect there to be some breast meat included as well.
Because commercially raised chickens don’t get a great deal of exercise, and also because the product consists primarily of breast meat, ground chicken has very little flavor on its own. It benefits from bold seasonings, but it will be bland if you eat it plain.
Ground turkey doesn’t have what you would call a bold flavor profile, but the muscle cuts that are used in its composition get more of a workout than chicken breasts. So it will usually have a stronger taste than ground chicken.
Unless you’re buying a product labeled “ground turkey breast,” which will be made up entirely of white meat, expect to pay more for ground turkey than you would for ground chicken.
Chicken is readily available year-round, while turkey is widely regarded as a holiday treat. As such, the larger birds are placed in a higher price bracket.
At first glance, it’s nearly impossible to discern ground chicken from ground turkey. Their appearances may vary slightly, but that depends more on the manufacturer than on the properties of the meat itself.
It’s no easier to tell the two apart when the meat is cooked. Both will transform from a translucent pale peachy-pink color to white and then light brown, depending on how long you leave them on the heat.
In short, while it’s easy to tell whether you’ve browned up ground beef or ground poultry, chicken and turkey are pretty much identical in this state.
Here’s another category in which ground chicken and ground turkey are pretty much locked in a virtual tie.
Both chicken and turkey are great sources of protein. They’re also low in fat, particularly the type of saturated fat that health-conscious diners tend to be wary of. As for nutrients, they contain vitamins B6 and B12, as well as niacin, zinc, phosphorous, and selenium.
There are a few instances in which ground turkey wins out over ground chicken in terms of nutrition, and vice versa. For example, turkey is higher in zinc, selenium, and vitamins B3 and B12, while chicken contains more potassium, vitamin B2, and monounsaturated fat.
While ground chicken has roughly twice as much potassium as the same amount of ground turkey, it’s also higher in cholesterol. In short, while there are pros and cons to each choice, we think it all balances out—enough so to declare this round a toss-up.
You can use ground chicken to make meatballs, chicken burgers, or chicken meatloaf. Turkey is similar enough to be used in the same recipes. In fact, if a recipe calls for ground chicken, feel free to substitute ground turkey, or vice versa.
These products can be used in stir-fries, noodle dishes, casseroles, or meat sauces. Both make wonderful sandwiches and taco fillings. In fact, the possibilities are practically limitless.
It’s even permissible to use either of these types of ground poultry as stand-ins for ground beef or pork. While those two red meats have stronger flavor profiles on their own, substituting chicken or turkey will still lead to delicious—and leaner—results.
How To Tell if Ground Poultry is Cooked
Although you can tell at a glance whether ground chicken and turkey are approaching doneness, there’s only one way to be sure whether they’ve finished cooking.
All ground meat products need to cook to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill off any potential bacteria. At this temperature, the bacteria that cause food poisoning are destroyed in mere seconds.
In fact, you should cook turkey and chicken to 165 whether the meat is ground or still in its whole muscle form. The flesh of these animals is less dense than beef or pork, so any bacteria can make its way deeper beneath the surface.
Although these bacteria will die off at lower temperatures, the process takes longer. For example, at 145 degrees, it will take about 9 minutes to destroy all the potential bacteria.
To make sure your ground poultry products have cooked to a safe temp, use a well-calibrated instant-read thermometer. When the unit displays a readout of 160 degrees, you can remove the meat from the heat and let carryover cooking take care of the rest.
The Bottom Line
While there are subtle differences between the two, we feel comfortable using ground chicken and ground turkey interchangeably.
Either one can be substituted for ground beef or pork, whether you’re looking for a leaner alternative or just a different flavor profile. Try keeping a supply of both products in the freezer so you can experiment with various recipes.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!