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How To Tell When Ground Turkey Is Done

Check out these tips on cooking with ground turkey and how to tell when ground turkey is done and ready to enjoy!

turkey loaf sliced on a black board

Are you looking for a great alternative to ground beef? Fresh ground turkey is a perfect substitute because it is a leaner option with a comparable amount of nutrients and protein to ground beef. 

Lean meat is important because it has health benefits, like lowering the risk for heart disease, that dark meats like raw beef don’t offer.

Though it may be a great alternative to ground beef, it can be tricky to tell when the meat is fully cooked. Most people, myself included, are used to cooking ground beef. And want to apply the same techniques for cooking ground beef to ground turkey.

Cooking ground turkey requires a slightly different approach than ground beef. Since ground turkey is leaner, it cooks faster than ground beef. If you’re used to grilling beef patties, you might be prone to overcooking lean ground turkey. On the other hand, there’s a high risk of undercooking the meat.

The most reliable way to tell when ground turkey is done is with a thermometer. Looking at the color and texture can also help determine if the meat is cooked.

If you’re one of the many people who have questions about preparing ground turkey, keep reading for all the best tips on cooking ground turkey.

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overhead picture of slices of turkey loaf

How long should you cook ground turkey?

How long ground turkey takes to cook depends on the cooking method. Three common ways to prepare ground turkey include baking it, grilling it, or cooking it in a frying pan.

Every recipe uses different methods and heat settings, so I recommend following the estimated cooking time for the recipe you are following.

In general, though, ground turkey takes about 15 minutes to cook on medium-high heat.

How can you tell if ground turkey is done with a thermometer?

A thermometer is the best way to tell if ground turkey is fully cooked. To measure the temperature, insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the meat. For example, if you are making turkey burgers, the thermometer would go in the center of the patty.

If the inner temperature of the meat is less than 165 degrees Fahrenheit, it is not safe to eat. Continue letting the turkey cook until the whole turkey reaches 165 degrees.

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plate with slices of ground turkey meatloaf

How can you tell if ground turkey is done without a thermometer?

The only way to know if ground turkey is fully cooked is with a food thermometer.

If you don’t have a meat thermometer on hand, looking at the color and texture of ground turkey can give some clues about whether the meat is fully cooked.

Cooked ground turkey should be a light brownish color. Sometimes it can even appear a bit gray or white. Unlike dark meat like beef, the brownish color will be very light, more like a tan or caramel color.

If the texture of the meat is still a bit mushy, that can also be an indicator that it is undercooked. Alternatively, if it has a crumbly texture, it may be a sign you have overcooked it.

What color should ground turkey be when cooked?

Raw ground turkey is usually a light pink color and turns a light brownish color when it is cooked. It may also appear gray or white in the parts that did not have direct contact to heat.

Unlike cooked ground beef, which is a dark brown, ground turkey will be a very light brown on the outside and white on the inside.

If you are cooking the ground turkey, there should be no leftover pale pink coloring. To check if the turkey is cooked, cut into the thickest portion of the meat and check if it is uniformly colored. If there are any signs of the original pink coloring, then the meat needs to cook longer.

The only exception to the pink rule is if the meat was smoked before being ground. If that is the case, then it might still have a pinkish color, but it will differ from the pink of raw ground turkey.  

ground turkey meatloaf sliced on a black board

Is it okay if ground turkey is a little pink?

In general, cooked ground turkey should not have any pink spots. If you are making something a bit denser, like ground turkey meatballs or meatloaf, some pink might remain in the center, but it should be much lighter than the raw pink color.

If there is some pink coloration, it should be very light and evenly spread in the center. Large areas of pink might mean the ground turkey is still raw.

When in doubt, you can always check the temperature to see if the ground turkey is cooked. Eating undercooked meat can put you at risk for food poisoning. Harmful bacteria grow in raw meat and remain there until the meat reaches a safe temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

If the internal temperature of the meat registers as at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit, then it is safe to eat, even if it has a bit of pink.

How do you tell if raw ground turkey has gone bad?

The easiest way to know if raw ground turkey has gone bad is by smelling it. If it has a sour smell or any unpleasant odor, it is best to throw it away.

The texture is another indicator. Ground turkey that has gone bad might feel sticky or gooey to the touch. If the ground turkey has any sort of slimy texture or leaves a slimy residue, do not eat it.

If the turkey has a more dull color than it did before, that may also be a sign it has gone bad.

Ground turkey spoils quickly at room temperature because the harmful bacteria can multiply at fast rates. Don’t leave ground turkey out at room temperature for more than two hours. It will harbor bacteria that will make it unsafe to eat. 

When storing it in the fridge, make sure it is in an airtight container so bacteria cannot multiply. If you bought the raw turkey from the store, look at the expiration date on the package to know its shelf life.

If you are ever in doubt about whether your ground turkey is good or not, it is always better to take caution and throw the meat away. Raw poultry has a high risk of foodborne illness, so if there is any off smell or other signs of spoilage, do not risk it.

plate with slices of ground turkey meatloaf

What can you make with ground turkey?

Like ground beef, ground turkey is a versatile meat that can be used in so many different ways.

I love grilling ground turkey patties on the grill in the summer. In the winter, ground turkey is great to use in a hearty meatloaf. I also love adding some olive oil to a pan and cooking up some ground turkey tacos. 

Other dishes you can use ground turkey for include lasagna, chili, stuffed peppers, sloppy joes and more. You can also easily add spice and flavor by seasoning the raw meat with chili powder, garlic powder, or black pepper to make your ground turkey taste even more flavorful.

Ground turkey is great for switching up weeknight meals. In most cases, you can easily substitute ground turkey in your favorite recipes, like taco pasta salad, for a lean protein version of your most beloved meals.

There is pretty much an endless list of easy ground turkey recipes you can make, which is why learning how to cook ground turkey is so valuable. It is also a great way to add lean meat to your diet.

ground turkey on a blackboard with yellow banner with text

Looking for more information on storing and cooking with ground turkey? Check out my Ground Turkey Guide for all best tips and tricks!

More Ground Turkey Articles

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slices of cooked ground turkey

Learning how to cook ground turkey for the first time can be challenging, but once you become familiar with the process, you’ll be a pro in no time.

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