The Home Cook's Guide to Ground Turkey

By Kristen Mccaffrey on

This is the ultimate guide to ground turkey! Learn how to use this healthy lean protein, why its good for you, how to prepare it, and plenty of delicious recipe ideas.

Everything you ever wanted to know about ground turkey including amazing recipes, nutritional info, health benefits, how to store and prepare it, and more. Just looking for recipes? Here are 44 Healthy Ground Turkey Recipes to check out all with nutritional info and points.

Have you always wanted to know how to pick, purchase, store, prepare, and cook ground turkey? I can help with that. Let this be your guide to ground turkey, a delicious and nutritious poultry option, including delicious recipes on how to cook and eat it.

What Is Ground Turkey?

This may come as a surprise to no one, but ground turkey is, well, turkey that's been ground up. Like beef, but with turkey. It makes a great substitute for ground beef in almost any recipe. I love ground turkey because it's easy to prepare, it's flavorful, inexpensive, and I know it's a good choice to include in my recipes to make them healthier.

Is Ground Turkey Better for You Than Ground Beef?

Ground turkey is healthier than ground beef. It contains less saturated fat, calories, and cholesterol than lean ground beef. Be sure to check the packaging though, some turkey is made with dark meat, which tends to have more fat in it than ground turkey breast. Ground turkey is also an excellent source of lean protein and vitamins B-6 and 12. Dark meat turkey will have more essential nutrients, but it will also have more fat.

Ground turkey on a cutting board with an onion and knife.

What Does Ground Turkey Taste Like?

To me, ground turkey is very flavorful on its own, but it also does a great job of taking on the flavors of whatever you happen to be making. From tacos to chili and from burgers to squash boats, ground turkey will absorb the spices, oils, and other flavors you are cooking with and deliver tons of flavor. You won't even miss the beef one bit!

The Nutritional Makeup of Ground Turkey

According to the USDA, one four-ounce serving of ground turkey contains 220 calories, 19 grams of protein, 17 grams of fat, 0 carbs, 0 grams of fiber, and 0 grams of sugar. However, in that same serving you'll also be getting calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C. For comparison, the same serving size of ground beef can contain upwards of 349 calories and 30 grams of fat.

Because there are so many varieties of ground turkey and beef from which to choose (white meat, dark meat, a combination of both, or chuck, lean, sirloin, round, etc.), you'll need to read the packaging and check into that specific brand's nutritional information for the most accurate counts.

Ground turkey chili in two wooden bowls with beans, tomatoes, onion, and cilantro.

Eight Health Benefits of Ground Turkey

Turkey is an excellent option when it comes to lean protein and it has tons of great health benefits. Here are all the reasons ground turkey should be a part of your diet.

  • Ground turkey is low fat. By now you know that ground turkey is often the lower-fat option when choosing between ground beef or turkey. Turkeys are generally a leaner animal. When you are trying to lose weight or maintain your weight, choosing a lower-fat lean meat is a good option. Just be sure to check the labels before purchasing. Remember, all fat isn't bad — be sure to leave plenty of room in your diet for healthy fats, like those found in avocados, nuts, and salmon.
  • It's low calorie. If you're watching your calorie intake as well as your fat intake, then many types of ground turkey are a lower calorie option than ground beef. That can mean the difference between one turkey taco and two. A very important difference, if you ask me!
  • It's high in protein. Look to ground turkey when you're searching for a great source of protein that's also low in fat and calories. The USDA recommendation for protein intake is based on body weight, but roughly equates to 54 grams a day for a 150-pound female or 71 grams a day for a 195-pound man. With 19 grams of protein per serving, you can achieve your desired protein intake easily (turkey tacos...hint, hint), plus benefit from all the other goodness that eating turkey brings.
  • Ground turkey is a good source of niacin. Niacin (also called B3) is a water-soluble vitamin that plays an important role in our bodies. It helps produce energy from the fat, carbs, and proteins we eat. It also helps your glands and liver function by producing hormones and helping to clean out your liver.
  • It's helpful for your metabolism. Among other things, the compound choline found in turkey is an essential nutrient that is required to aid in the smooth running of your metabolism. It's also necessary for the development of of your brain, your muscle movements, nervous system, and much more!
  • Ground turkey is good for your heart. You can thank selenium for that. This trace mineral has been shown to help prevent cardiovascular disease, as well as keep thyroid problems, dementia, and certain kinds of cancer at bay. It also helps your immune system function and can aid in fertility for both men and women.
  • It keeps your bones strong. The calcium found in ground turkey can help keep your bones strong and aid in the prevention of osteoporosis. Calcium is an important mineral that your bones cannot do without. It is also responsible for contracting your muscles, making new bone tissue, and helping your blood to clot.
  • Is Ground Turkey Bad for Your Cholesterol? Since lean ground turkey has less fat than lean ground beef, using ground turkey would be a better choice if you are watching your cholesterol. In general, the less saturated fat a meat has, the better it will be for your cholesterol levels. As always, be sure to read the labels to make sure you're getting the saturated fat content you're looking for.

Types of Ground Turkey

One thing you may notice when perusing the meat section of your local grocery store is just how many varieties of ground turkey there are. White meat, dark meat, 80/20, 93/7, fresh, frozen, patties, sausage, ground turkey can come in so many different options it can be confusing.

First of all, ground turkey can be either white or dark meat. The leaner options (99% lean) will be made with all (or mostly) white (breast) meat. This option tends to be drier when cooked because it is so lean (most of the fat has been trimmed out). Therefore, it's best to add some fat back in (oh the irony, right) when cooking with it. About a tablespoon of olive oil per pound of turkey should do the trick.

A typical package of turkey (with the 93% label on it) is a combination of white and dark meat and will contain more calories and fat than the all white-meat version. It will be darker pink in color and can contain both ground meat and skin.

Frozen ground turkey is all dark meat and can contain as many calories and as much fat as ground beef. Pre-pattied turkey burgers and pre-made turkey sausages can be convenient, but can also contain additional ingredients you might not want. Be sure to read the label to know exactly what you're purchasing. For most recipes, you can use the 93% to 95% versions as a beef substitute and the recipe should taste and look just fine.

And, finally, if you want to be 100% sure of what's in your ground turkey, you can purchase a turkey breast (or other turkey sections) and grind it yourself in a food processor.

Turkey ranch burgers on a bun with lettuce, tomato, and ranch dressing.

How to Choose Ground Turkey

When choosing ground turkey, other than checking the label to be sure it's the right kind of white/dark mixture you desire, check the sell-by date. Sure, yogurt might be okay a week past its prime, but I take no chances on meat. If you're not going to eat it by the sell-by date, then I'd recommend freezing it for future use. Once it's thawed, cook and eat it that day. Don't wait — if it looks grey (even a little), or smells bad, throw it out.

How to Store Ground Turkey

I shouldn't have to say this, but store ground turkey in the fridge if you're going to eat it within three days (or by the sell-by date) or freeze it if not. You should thaw ground turkey in the fridge on the lowest shelf (in case of leaks) in the original packaging.

Frozen turkey will taste best if eaten within three to four months of being frozen, though it's fine to freeze for longer. Turkey that's been thawed in the fridge can keep for one to two days in the fridge before being cooked. If you've thawed it in the microwave or cold water, you need to be prepared to cook it right away.

If you have leftovers, put those into the fridge within two hours of cooking them and store those in the fridge for up to four days. If you freeze your leftovers, those will keep for up to four months.

If your ground turkey looks grey, smells sour, or feels slimy, it's not good. Not good at all. When in doubt, throw it out.

How to Cook With Ground Turkey

Ground turkey still remains one of my favorite ground meats. It is easy to cook, stores well, and is so flavorful. That being said, I do tend to save leaner types of ground turkey for recipes that are saucier (soups, meat sauces, tacos) and either use a less lean type or add fat to 99% lean for "drier" recipes (hamburgers, stir-fries, casseroles).

Even though you can swap out beef for turkey in any of your favorite recipes you're looking to lighten up, I still create recipes specifically around ground turkey. It's so easy and delicious — try it for yourself!

Turkey apple burger on a bun with a slice of apple on top.

Burgers, tacos, chilis, oh my! If you're looking for a straight-up burger, taco, or chili recipe using ground turkey, you've certainly come to the right place. In no particular order, my favorite recipes include: 

Turkey sausage and broccoli pasta on a plate with a fork and blue napkin.

With pasta. Pasta can be a heavy dish in and of itself, might as well try to lighten it up with ground turkey (or better yet, try zoodles or spaghetti squash boats). No matter what you're in the mood for, one thing is for sure — you won't miss the beef!

Spinach tortellini soup with ground turkey in two bowls with spoons.

In soups. Ground turkey is great to add to soups because of its nice, meaty flavor and also because you won't notice a dry texture to the turkey if you're using the super lean variety. Plus, nothing warms you up on a cold day like a nice, hot bowl of soup.

Ground turkey and vegetable stir fry with Sriracha on top.

Stir-Fries. And, finally, no recipe roundup would be complete without a few stir-fries, am I right? They're delicious and so easy to make with just about any protein and veggies you have on hand. My favorites include this:

Ground turkey recipes and guide including soup, pasta, burgers, and stir fries.
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