The Only Turkey Burger Recipe You’ll Ever Need

turkey burger in a bun with lettuce and bacon

Southwest turkey burger | Nikelle Murphy / Culture Cheat Sheet

At the beginning of this year, my husband and I decided we would try to forgo purchasing red meat for at-home dinners. We chose this partially for health reasons, and partially for environmental motivations. We still will order beef when we’re out to eat, but wanted to see if it was possible to live mostly without red meat in our everyday diets.

The short answer: It is. Our self-initiated food challenge means substituting ground beef with turkey, and choosing meals that emphasize poultry, pork, and seafood instead of beef. But even though part of our decision was to cut back on the downsides of red meat (like increased cholesterol, a higher risk of heart disease, and more), there are a few vices I won’t give up as I make substitutions. One of them, unfortunately for my health, is bacon. Another is occasionally making a burger at home that I actually want to eat, that doesn’t feel like I’m skimping on flavor or cheating myself out of a satisfying meal.

With that in mind, I went searching for a turkey burger recipe that would be great for weekend meals when we really wanted a hearty sandwich. They’re made from scratch, which means I can adjust the seasonings based on what I have in the pantry and on the flavors I want to emphasize. They’re also topped with bacon and cheese. Nutritionists probably wouldn’t approve of those additions, but my tastebuds certainly do. At the very least, I’m eating a burger that’s a tiny bit leaner than a beef version would be. In fact, even if (or when) we incorporate beef back into our at-home rotation, these turkey burgers have cemented their place in my Google docs folder of favorite recipes.

Southwest Turkey Burgers

Turkey burger with bacon and lettuce on a roll

Southwest turkey burger | Nikelle Murphy / Culture Cheat Sheet

I’ve adapted this southwest turkey burger recipe from Rachael Ray, pumping up the spices and seasonings a bit for an extra punch. If you prefer a milder heat, you can seed the jalapeño and cut back on the hot sauce, skipping the spicy mayonnaise spread altogether. In addition, I use a hearty bunch of cilantro, but you can substitute parsley or another herb if you prefer it. (Using fresh herbs in this case elevates the freshness factor overall, but the rest of the seasonings are dried.)

The trick to this recipe is getting the veggies-to-ground-turkey ratio correct. I push the limits, because more onions, red peppers, and herbs means more flavor. But once you get the ratio in the right place, where the meat binds together without falling apart as you form and cook the patties, you can feel free to add whatever ingredients you like. Use this as a starting point, then take it as a license to get creative.


  • 4 slices bacon
  • 1 pound ground turkey breast
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • ⅓ red onion, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • ½ red bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1  jalapeño pepper, finely chopped (can be seeded to reduce heat)
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons hot sauce (I use Frank’s, but choose your favorite)
  • 2 teaspoons grill seasoning blend (I used McCormick Montreal Chicken, but any version is fine)
  • Vegetable oil or olive oil, for drizzling
  • 4 slices Monterey or pepper jack cheese
  • 4 crusty kaiser rolls, split

For spicy spread:

  • 3 to 4 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 2 teaspoons hot sauce

Directions: To make the burgers, add the garlic, red onion, cilantro, bell pepper, and jalapeño pepper into a medium bowl. Mix to combine, then add in ground turkey. On top of the meat, sprinkle over the dried thyme, cumin, hot sauce, and grill seasoning blend. Mix all the ingredients together until well combined.

With your hands or a burger press, shape into four patties of even thickness. (Tip: To help the burgers stay together, stack on small squares of waxed paper and refrigerate for 15-20 minutes before cooking.)

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook bacon until desired crispiness; then set aside. You can choose to leave a small amount of the grease in the pan for cooking the burgers, or clean the pan and use olive oil for the burgers.

Over medium heat, cook burgers in the covered skillet for about 5 minutes on each side. When about 1 minute remains on the second side, add the cheese on top, then recover the skillet to allow it to melt.

In a small bowl, mix the mayonnaise and the hot sauce for the spicy spread. Serve burgers on the buns with the spread, along with bacon, lettuce, and other desired toppings.

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