We've all probably experienced it at one time or another: terrible turkey burgers. Bland, tough, dry, you name it—they usually don't have a lot going for them, which is unfortunate because I often find myself drawn to them as a healthier alternative to a burger. But then, I ask myself, what are the odds that this burger will stand above the rest? Probably slim to none, and I'm not about to waste a meal on a bet I'll most likely lose—gambling is clearly not my thing.
After my success and minor obsession with chicken burgers, I decided to tackle another lean meat and see what I could do to change its fate. I went with a similar approach: pack it full of flavor boosters. I happen to love strong, fresh herbs, so the idea of combining parsley, mint, dill, and cilantro in one fell swoop sounded fantastic. The addition of cheddar, dijon, sautéed onions, and avocado sealed the deal.
I happen to find chopping herbs therapeutic, but I will say that they are the most time-consuming part of this recipe, even though it only took me 20 minutes overall— pretty ideal for a weeknight meal. The leftover herbs can easily go into a salad or marinade for another meal.
I decided to try making this two ways: first by adding milk-soaked breadcrumbs for moisture and to help bind, and again not using them all to see if there was a difference. Yes, the first batch did have more moisture, but the non-breadcrumb burgers held up just fine. In general, when preparing the burgers, it's important not to overhandle the meat as it'll lose moisture and toughen up in the process. (See more of our better burger tips here). The absence of the breadcrumbs also makes it slightly healthier, but not so much so that you should skip it purely for health reasons. Feel free to play around with a small tester burger to see which you prefer, or even try soaking the breadcrumbs in almond milk and skip the cheese if you're dairy-free.
If you're a dairy fan, you can try my friend's go-to move of inserting small cubes of cheese directly into the ground meat so every bite has a burst of cheesiness. While the turkey was resting, I quickly cooked some shallots in the same skillet for extra flavor on top, though sautéed mushrooms or even quick-pickled cucumbers and shallots would work well, too.
Overall, I was incredibly happy with the way the turkey burgers turned out—bright, refreshing, and packed with flavor. The cheddar added extra flavor and moisture, while the turkey juice-infused shallots took the flavor even further, and the avocado provided a final touch of creaminess. I'm not exactly rushing to start ordering turkey burgers out, but from now on, I'll be defending them on my home turf.
When deciding whether to buy turkey thighs or breast meat, you should know that the thighs have a bit more flavor but the breasts are leaner, so the decision is more about what you're looking for out of your dinner. I opted for thighs, but the recipe is full of flavor-boosting herbs and cheese, so you might not be able to detect too strong a difference in flavor. Just don't skip the cooking the shallots in the skillet, as they soak up the flavor of the turkey burgers and add an extra oomph to the toppings. Adding tomatoes or using spinach or bibb lettuce instead of arugula is another excellent option.
Note: Another quick time-saver is using a Microplane or similar grater for the onion and the garlic. Grate them right into the mixing bowl to cut down on the mess.
- 1 pound ground turkey thigh meat
- ½ cup flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
- ½ cup cilantro, roughly chopped
- ¼ cup fresh dill, roughly chopped
- ¼ fresh mint, roughly chopped
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ cup breadcrumbs pre-soaked in 1/4 cup of milk
- 1 medium clove garlic, grated on a microplane grater (about 1 teaspoon)
- ½ small red onion, grated on the large holes of a box grater (about 1/2 cup)
- ½ cup cheddar cheese, grated
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 shallot, thinly sliced
- 1 avocado, thinly sliced
- Arugula, for topping (optional)
- Dijon mustard
- 4 whole wheat, potato or regular burger buns toasted
Combine turkey, parsley, cilantro, dill, mint, cumin, soaked breadcrumbs, garlic, onion, and cheese in a large bowl and toss gently until homogenous. Form into four patties slightly larger than buns and season with salt and pepper.
Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add burgers and cook, turning occasionally, until well-browned on both sides and center of burger registers 155 to 160°F on an instant read thermometer, about 10 minutes total. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to rest.
Add shallots to pan juices with a pinch of salt (adding another 1/2 tablespoon of oil, if needed). Cook over medium heat until softened, about 3 minutes. Top burgers with shallots and dress buns with arugula and Dijon. Transfer burgers to buns and serve with sliced avocado.