Turkey Smash Burger. Rey Lopez for The Washington Post/food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post

I couldn’t remember the last time I ate, let alone cooked, a turkey burger. I vaguely recall my mother making them once during my childhood, probably drawn to the ground poultry for its purported nutritional benefits compared with beef. (However, “when the lean meat-to-fat ratio of ground beef and ground turkey is the same, their nutrition profiles are very similar,” dietitian Carolyn Hodges wrote for EatingWell. More on fat content later.)

Regardless of when it happened, I know for sure that the experience stuck with me, and ever since, I’d been convinced that turkey burgers weren’t something I enjoyed eating. They were dry and bland, and that was all I needed to know.

As much as I knew I disliked turkey burgers, I know how much I enjoy a challenge. So, armed with more than a decade of culinary know-how, I decided to see whether I could create a turkey burger that didn’t make me long for beef. Lucky for you, dearest reader, I did.

The key that came through as I tested these Turkey Smash Burgers was that although you’re substituting one for the other, you can’t just directly swap turkey for beef without making other alterations in the quest for burger excellence.

For a standard beef hamburger, you can achieve greatness by forming the ground meat into a thick patty, making an indentation in the middle, sprinkling it with salt and pepper, and cooking it in a hot skillet or on a grill until the burger reaches your desired doneness. Try the same with turkey and you’ll see why I stayed away from it for so many years. The two primary issues are flavor and dryness.

On the flavor front, I find that beef simply has much more of it. To compensate when using turkey, I mix soy sauce and garlic powder into the ground poultry for a boost of umami. In addition, I suggest grabbing the fattiest ground turkey you can find to help keep the patties moist and to enhance flavor. “Fat coats the tongue, allowing various aromatic compounds to stay in contact with our taste buds for longer periods of time, intensifying and prolonging our experience of various flavors,” Samin Nosrat wrote in “Salt Fat Acid Heat.”


Perhaps those bland turkey burgers of my youth were made from 99 percent lean ground meat. But in developing this recipe, I was able to find 85 percent lean ground turkey at my local grocery store, resulting in turkey burgers that not only were good, but that I also craved. (I also tested with 93 percent lean ground turkey, and the burgers still turned out great.)

In addition to fat content, another contributing factor to the dryness of turkey burgers is fully cooking them to the appropriate temperature for safe eating. While the Agriculture Department recommends that ground beef be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 160 degrees for safe consumption, in practice, many people are fine eating hamburgers that are less than well-done. But when it comes to ground turkey and poultry in general, you risk salmonella poisoning, which can cause serious illness, if it doesn’t reach an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees.

With turkey burgers of a standard thickness, it’s easy to see how you can dry them out when they’re cooked until they reach the proper temperature throughout.

The fix? Smash them. As is the case with just about any meat or seafood, it’s easier to evenly cook a thinner piece vs. a thicker one.

However, you don’t want to smash them in the pan – as you might with their beef brethren – because ground poultry is rather sticky and prone to clinging to a spatula. Instead, I suggest using wet or oiled hands to form the patties. (Alternatively, you can press them between two squares of parchment or wax paper. This makes it easy for you to transfer them to the skillet, but the paper is extra waste.) Once smashed, the turkey burgers are ready to be cooked in your kitchen – or outside on a grill – and dressed however you like.

I was formerly a turkey burger hater, and I’m ready to eat my words. Moist and full of flavor, these are hands down the best turkey burgers I’ve ever had.


Wet your hands with cold water or lightly rub them with oil to prevent sticking when forming the patties. Rey Lopez for The Washington Post/food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post

Turkey Smash Burgers

Active time: 25 minutes

Serves 2-4 (makes 4 burger patties)

These turkey smash burgers, moist and delicious, won’t make you miss the beef. Ground turkey gets a boost of umami from soy sauce and garlic powder. The key to this recipe’s success is using ground turkey with the highest amount of fat you can find, and making the patties thin so they cook through without drying out. Enjoy them with your favorite toppings and a side of chips or fries.

Make ahead: The raw patties can be formed and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 day in advance.

Storage note: Refrigerate for up to 4 days.



1 pound ground turkey, preferably 85 percent lean

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon neutral oil, such as peanut, canola or vegetable, plus more as needed


4 slices cheese, such as sharp cheddar, American or pepper jack (optional)

2 to 4 hamburger buns

Mayonnaise, mustard, sliced tomatoes, lettuce and other toppings of your choice, for serving (optional)


In a large bowl, gently mix together the turkey, soy sauce, garlic powder and pepper until evenly combined. Work the meat as little as possible to ensure tender patties. Divide the turkey mixture into four portions about 4 ounces each. (Wet your hands with cold water or lightly rub them with oil to prevent sticking.) Flatten each portion into a disk about 5 inches in diameter and 1/4 inch thick.

In a large (12-inch) cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Working in batches, add the turkey patties to the skillet and cook, adjusting the heat as needed until browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip, top with the cheese, if using, and cook until browned on the other side and the turkey is cooked all the way through (it should register 165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer), 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a platter, scrape the skillet to remove any browned bits or melted cheese, add more oil if needed, and repeat with the remaining patties.


Add 1 to 2 of the cooked burgers to the bottom of each bun, follow with your favorite toppings and cover with the bun tops. Serve hot.

Substitutions: Instead of ground turkey, you can use ground dark meat chicken. Gluten-free? Use tamari instead of soy sauce, and lettuce or gluten-free bread instead of a bun with wheat.

Variations: To cook these on a grill, prepare it for direct heat. If using a gas grill, preheat to high (500 degrees). If using a charcoal grill, light the charcoal or wood briquettes; once the briquettes are red hot, distribute them under the cooking area for direct heat. For a hot fire, you should be able to hold your hand about 6 inches above the coals for 3 or 4 seconds. Have ready a spray water bottle for taming any flames. Place a large cast-iron skillet on the grates directly over the fire and cook the burgers with an open grill lid as directed.

Nutritional Facts per serving (1 burger and bun), based on 4 | Calories: 342; Fat: 20 g; Saturated Fat: 5 g; Carbohydrates: 16 g; Sodium: 452 mg; Cholesterol: 88 mg; Protein: 26 g; Fiber: 2 g; Sugar: 3 g

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