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The Dreaded Turkey Burger

January 27, 2016

When I was a kid, mom did most of the cooking. Dad had a few dishes he made. He had a deft hand for seasoning tuna salad, and mom could never make it quite right, even when using the same ingredients. He was also the one who got me hooked on putting Heinz ketchup into Kraft Mac and Cheese.

After my parents got divorced, there were a few staple dinners we would eat on the weekends when we stayed over at Dad’s place. None of them were particularly good. But I had the sense that divorce was expensive, and there just wasn’t that much money for better food. Although this could have just been some kind of attempt to eat healthier options.

I remember the boneless skinless chicken breasts marinated in Italian salad dressing that were baked in the oven. There were canned chopped clams that he tossed with pasta and oil. And of course, there were the turkey burgers. Those I will never forget. For a couple of reasons.

First, they were bad. No, scratch that, they were awful*. The meat was hard, dry, and gray. The texture was crumbly, the flavor was bland, and the only vaguely redeemable thing about them was that they were supposed to be healthier for you than ground beef.

Which brings us to our second reason. All those health claims were a totally exaggerated. Turkey was seen as a leaner meat, but few were aware of how much turkey skin and fat were being ground into the mix. So there we were, a subset of American eating substandard ground meat in an attempt to have a more healthful diet, but in reality were doing more harm than good.


It’s been almost thirty years since I’ve had a turkey burger. I had no desire to try them again. No culinary curiosity. No pangs of remembrance to fulfil. If I went for the rest of my life never having tried a turkey burger again I would be fine.

Do you see where this is going?

Last night I had a turkey burger. And no, I didn’t order it. The burger was brought to me as part of a tasting menu. This was the Official Yelp Event where over fifty of us went to Burger 21 to sample half of the standard burger menu. That’s 10 burgers. In two hours. And one of those was a turkey burger.

Dear lord, that thing was exponentially better than I had ever expected.

For starters, the meat wasn’t gray, hard, or bland. It was white, tender, and juicy. There’s clearly some incredible technique that goes into making these patties. Lots of Yelpers agreed that the texture was more similar to a crab cake than anything resembling a turkey burger.

And you know what, I might even get it again someday. Not because it’s healthy, but because it’s delicious. I can barely believe it.

Here’s the thing. Sometimes it’s great to be on tasting panels, because they can expose you to new tastes that if left to your own devices you might skip. For those of you who were able to make it onto the guest list, I’m glad you got to experience this with me. For those who missed it, there’s always next time.

Of course, Burger 21 will gladly sell you one should your curiosity get the best of you. Just remember that for full effect you’ll want to go in with the same low expectations and skepticism that I had for the dreaded turkey burger.

If you do, I’d love to hear what you think.

* Dad’s turkey burgers weren’t always bad. Memory is a funny thing. All of this was such a long time ago. But I think the ones I describe above represent the times the turkey burgers were overcooked. The more I think about it, I do recall a juicier version of the patty served on toasted english muffins as well.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 27, 2016 10:50 am

    I really love turkey burgers. [] This week I’ve been hooked on the Trader Joes turkey burgers that come frozen, the ingredients are turkey, kosher salt, rosemary extract. I pan fry them with some veggies and they’re surprisingly flavorful and moist. Easy dinner.

  2. January 27, 2016 4:50 pm

    I’ve mixed nicely gelled stock into ground turkey with good results before.

  3. January 27, 2016 5:03 pm

    I talked to the Manager at Burger 21 after the event. I feel the same way about their chicken burger as you do about their turkey; It’s better than any I can remember having. So I asked him how they’re made, and he graciously spilled the beans. I didn’t ask about the turkey burger, but my guess is the two are made similarly. They’re not life changing, but they’re good enough that it’s worth trying to duplicate at home. And now that I know their secret, I’m going to do exactly that.

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