How To Tell if a Turkey Burger is Done: Think Beyond Pink

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grilled turkey burger with salad and mayo

If you’re used to grilling ground beef patties, it can be disconcerting to make the switch to ground turkey. For one thing, you need to take the texture difference into account. For another, the pale color can make it difficult to tell when the meat is done. Here’s how to tell when a turkey burger is done without resorting to guessing games.

How To Tell if a Turkey Burger is Done

You can check to see if a turkey burger is done by using an instant-read thermometer. Alternatively, you can check the color of the juices that run out of the patty when it’s pierced with a fork, press your thumb into the center of the patty to test the temperature, or time the process so the meat cooks for at least 5-6 minutes per side.

About Ground Turkey

Turkey burgers are a healthier alternative to beef patties because the meat is lower in fat and calories. It’s also a great source of protein, in addition to being rich in vital nutrients like selenium and potassium.

Before purchasing ground turkey for your burgers, check the fat content on the label. A ratio of 93 percent lean to 7 percent fat is common, but it’s also possible to find a mixture that’s 99 percent lean.

While we recommend 85 percent lean ground beef for hamburgers, a leaner blend is in order when it comes to white meat like turkey. The increased fat content in 85 percent lean ground turkey is often due to the fact that it contains a great deal of dark meat. This means that the end result won’t have the same health benefits as the leaner product.

That said, the dark meat also yields a more flavorful burger. If you’re keeping the seasonings simple and you don’t mind the higher fat content, go for an 85 percent lean blend. When using leaner meat, make sure to offset the mild flavor with bold seasonings. Dijon mustard, Tabasco, and Worcestershire sauce are all good bets.

No matter which type of ground turkey you buy, it’s crucial to cook the meat to a safe internal temperature. If it’s undercooked, the meat may still harbor bacteria that can lead to food poisoning, not to mention dangerous viruses like bird flu.

What Is Considered a Safe Temperature For Turkey Burgers?

turkey burger on the grill

All white meat, including ground turkey, should be cooked to a minimum of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. At this point, it’s safe to consume even if the meat is still slightly pink inside (see separate section below for more details).

Remember that the meat will continue to cook slightly when it’s taken off the heat. That means it’s permissible to remove turkey burgers from the grill when the thermometer registers 160 degrees. However, you should test them again when they’ve finished resting, just to make sure they’ve reached the 165-degree threshold.

Some chefs prefer to wait until the turkey burger has reached an internal temp of 180 degrees before serving it. While this won’t cause any harm, we don’t recommend it when dealing with very lean ground turkey, as the burger might be unpleasantly dry as a result.

Can You Cook a Turkey Burger to Medium-Rare?

Absolutely not. While it’s usually permissible to cook ground beef to a lower temperature, poultry needs to reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees in order to kill off any potential bacteria. Never consume a turkey burger that’s been cooked to a medium or medium-rare temperature.

How To Tell if a Turkey Burger is Done: 4 Easy Methods

#1 The Thermometer Method

The most reliable way to test meat for doneness is with a high-quality instant-read thermometer. When the temperature reads 165 degrees, the turkey burger is safe to eat.

You should always insert the thermometer into the thickest portion of the patty. The edges of the turkey burger will cook faster than the centers. If you take the temperature from around the edges, there’s no guarantee that the rest of the burger will be fully cooked.

You’ll need to calibrate the thermometer on a regular basis to be sure that it’s reliable. To do this, fill a tall glass with ice water, than stick the business end of the thermometer into the water. Be careful not to let the sensor touch the bottom or sides of the glass.

Wait 30 seconds, or 2 minutes if it’s a dial-style thermometer. If the temperature reads 32 degrees Fahrenheit, it should be accurate. You can adjust dial-style thermometers by turning the nut located on the rear of the dial, but inaccurate digital thermometers will need to be replaced unless you’re willing to take the difference into account every time.

#2 The Juice Test

If you don’t have a meat thermometer on hand, you can use a more rudimentary method to test the turkey burgers for doneness. Just slice into the meat with a small, sharp knife, or pierce it with a fork. Take a close look at the juices that run out of the patty. If they’re clear, then the meat is done.

On the other hand, if the juices look pink or red, then you’ll need to leave the burger on the grill for a bit longer. Keep testing every 2 to 3 minutes until the juices run clear. Again, you should always perform this test on the thickest part of the burger to ensure accuracy.

What If The Turkey Burger Is Pink In The Middle?

If there’s still a slight pinkish tinge on the inside of the burger, don’t worry. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the meat is undercooked. In fact, if you’re making smoked turkey burgers, the pink color is all but inevitable. As long as the internal temperature of the meat reaches 165 degrees, it’s safe to consume.

#3 The Touch Method

This method is recommended only if you’re a seasoned griller who can tell the difference between raw and cooked meat through touch alone.

Press your thumb into the center of the turkey burger. If it feels cold and has a flesh-like texture, then it needs to keep cooking. If it feels warm to the touch, it still needs to cook for a bit longer. If it’s uncomfortably hot and the patty feels firm and springy, then it’s likely done.

#4 The Time Test

uncooked turkey burgers

As an alternative, you can time the process to ensure thorough cooking. Fresh raw turkey burgers should cook over medium heat for 5 to 6 minutes per side. We would suggest keeping the lid of the grill closed as much as possible to lock in the heat. If the meat still doesn’t appear to be done, let it cook for another 5 minutes.

If the patties were frozen when you put them on the grill, cook them for 8 minutes per side. When they’re done, the turkey burgers should be browned on both sides and slightly crispy.

The Bottom Line

There are several ways to test a turkey burger for doneness, but we prefer to rely on the thermometer whenever possible. As long as you have a calibrated thermometer, it’s the most accurate method, and therefore the best way to avoid disappointment—or worse, a food-borne illness.

Best of luck, and happy grilling!

Darren Wayland Avatar


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