Genius Recipes

The Genius Secret to Juicy Turkey Burgers (Chicken & Pork Burgers, Too)

Lean but not mean.

June 28, 2023
Photo by Ty Mecham

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Who among us hasn’t been burned by a dry turkey burger before? (Or chicken, or pork, or even beef, that time whoever was in charge of shopping went down a dark path and bought the 98% lean mix.) I had an especially dismal one just recently at the burger joint across the street from my apartment. Fool me, I don’t know, a hundred times?

But I never gave up hope. And I finally found a sure thing for juicy, unreasonably good lean-meat burgers in Niloufer Ichaporia King’s 2007 James Beard Award–winning cookbook My Bombay Kitchen, a memoir and archive of the recipes and techniques from her heritage in the Parsi community in India.

Lean meat, as a rule, needs help, whether from richer ingredients or dry-brining or just a really good marinade. Or—as King does here, inspired by traditional Parsi kebabs—by jamming that meat full of moisture (and flavor) with a mess of herbs, alliums, ginger, and chiles.

There is a greater proportion of vegetable matter here than I’d ever have thought wise to mix into a burger, for fear of lingering chunks of raw ginger, onion, and chile. But every last bit has just enough time to soften and release its bright, herby, spicy vapors and juices into the burgers as they sizzle, fixing both of the problems meat lacking in fat tends to have: severe deficits in flavor and moisture.

Photo by Ty Mecham
Photo by Ty Mecham

In related perks, this means that you don’t have to stress as much about seasoning the meat mix just right, or stopping the second the burger reaches doneness. You have more than enough buffer.

For the rest of dinner, King recommends a simple baked potato and a salad with avocado. Alice Medrich, longtime Food52 columnist and another genius in our midst, who sent me this recipe, likes to involve raita or King’s spicy carrot salad, also from My Bombay Kitchen. Or you could of course put it on a bun, and it will erase the memory of every sad turkey burger you’ve met.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]—thank you to cookbook author and former Food52 contributor Alice Medrich for this one!

What are your tips for the best turkey burgers? Share below!

This article was originally published in 2019 but was updated by our editors in June 2023.
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I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


AntoniaJames July 2, 2023
Adding softened gelatin also helps considerably. As does grated zucchini, a trick I picked up from a Diana Kennedy albondigas recipe published years ago in one of the North (SF) Bay local papers. ;o)
alice November 28, 2019
Perfect balance of crunch (from the onion) and seasoning (especially the ginger!). I smoked the patties in my stovetop smoker and they were excellent.
Nicole I. July 1, 2019
Not every time, but every once in a while I will get a heat in my hands after cutting a jalepeño that will linger; especially after getting my hands wet. You are not alone!
Donna June 27, 2019
I've been watching Food 52 and noticed the "chili burn" issues. For me it's not the chili's, but rather the peeled fresh ginger. Ginger root has oils that get on your skin and causes your skin to have the burning sensation even after you wash your hands. The best way to remedy the burning is to soak your hand (any affected area) in cold milk (we use 1% that works fine). The milk neutralizes the burning from the ginger oils.
Nicki June 9, 2019
So far, the only peppers I've experienced chili burn with have been hatch green chilies. I tried roasting them and peeling the skin- I ignored the part in the instructions that strongly recommended using gloves. That was a mistake! Use the gloves! My hands burned for days.
angelclark March 5, 2019
Hey, this is a fantastic recipe! It came out moist and flavorful as promised. (And of course, you can burn your fingers by handling raw chilis! Well, at least I have.)
Beth G. February 26, 2019
Definitely get chili burn. When I was watching you chop that chili I was thinking, "How can she stand the burn? Doesn't she need gloves?" It made me cringe just watching you touch that chili.
W J. January 23, 2019
After raising a garden full of assorted hot peppers in the 1960s (before you were born, Kristen), I found out about chili burn the hard way. I processed about a bushel and a peck of peppers for canning. I ended up with hands that burned for days and days. This was in the day before we had readily available and inexpensive gloves. Chili hand is real!

Some years later as a chili head, I o.d.'d one afternoon eating chili peppers straight from a jar that an Indian lady co-worker gave me. Did not affect me at the time too much, but OH NELLY! the next couple of days were a terror. After that I developed an allergy to chili peppers, which effectively ended my wanton consumption of hot peppers.

Another comment. I noted that you cracked the egg on the side of the bowl. The American Egg Board, years ago, -- yes, Virginia, there is an American Egg Board -- as well as Jacques Pepin recommend that eggs be cracked on a flat surface to avoid pushing bits of shell into the egg. Using a sharp edge does just that as it often results in bits of shell in the egg and increases the chance for contamination with anything on the surface of the shell.
And finally, I have to add that my mother often added things to burgers as it helped to stretch the meat, though this was decades before anyone ever heard of a turkey or chicken burger. We did not have ginger nor cilantro available in those days of yore, but anything else such as celery, peppers, and onions etc. were game for inclusion. If things were really tight, tomato sauce and catsup were added and we had sloppy joe's decades before the Manwich came to be.
Jaye B. January 23, 2019
You'd have to want & like all these extra flavors in your burger because now it's no longer a burger except for the shape.
Eric B. January 19, 2019
For moisture in your lean burgers - mushrooms. Raw, finely minced, 2 oz. per pound ground meat/pultry. Blend in with the rest of the stuff before forming. Second key - don’t overcook. Shoot for an internal temp of 160F, and let carryover heat handle the rest.
Chris G. January 16, 2019
It is possible to affect your whole digestive tract with the "chili burn!" I had a recipe for salsa, from a book put out by the Krueger Pepper Gardens, family owned U-Pick Farm in Central Washington, (City of Wapato). I passed it along to a neighbor, and she made the salsa. From cleaning and handling the chili peppers and making salsa she affected her digestive tract from mouth to the "end." It was at least 25 years ago, but I think she ended up in the hospital for a while! I felt really bad about it! She had sampled the cooked end product and had no problems. Until that time I had no idea that chili peppers could do that to anyone! It has been a long time since I made that recipe, don't remember which variety of chili it called for but I think it was milder than a Jalapeno. Still have the book but have not seen it in a while!
jeff January 16, 2019
I've had MAJOR chili burn issues on the finger tips, under the nails, as well as all over my hands. After not being able to sleep, I searched online until I found this remedy, and although the burning had set in, it helped in a big way. As hot as one can stand, run your hands or the affected area under hot water (as hot as you can take it), and then scrub (yep, it hurts) with a hand/vegetable scrubber using mild dish soap. This opens up the pores of the skin and then the soap acts like a "de-greaser" on the capsaicin. It did not feel great, but the after effect, and some cool water to soothe, allowed the burn to subside and me to sleep. Future handling: using rubber gloves with hot peppers :-) Ahh!
Clare M. January 19, 2019
We live in of chili! I can tell you that the heat can vary from different types, so in order to avoid any issues I always wear disposable gloves to handle, peel, chop, etc. When chopping I can get a pretty good idea of how hot they are..some will start burning my lips even though I’m just chopping! Best remedy for too hot of a bite: Milk.
M S. January 16, 2019
This is a lovely finding by Kristen. Have cooked it for years. The recipe in the book is accompanied by a recipe for cutlet sauce. Just tried it recently and it is a knockout. Use of the sauce opens up other opportunities for sides for Kristen's dish. Alice Waters lived near NIK and had dinner at her home numerous times. Loves the book "My Bombay Kitchen".Alice's daughter Fanny also loves NIK's recipes-some sweet ones that I do not get into.
Cat January 16, 2019
This is an awesome demo!! Thank you! I run a little cooking centre for home cooks WAY up in northern Canada...and I do mean WAY up here (beside Alaska). I did not know about Niloufer Ichaporia King and her genius award winning cookbook! (cue my shame as I am a chef and should know about all the genius women chefs in our world). I've just ordered it off and am excited to cook this burger recipe. If I teach this in a class I will, of
course, give props to Ms. King and yourself for sharing this recipe with us. In springtime we harvest spruce tree tips (buds) and use them in place of fresh herbs like rosemary or greek oregano - they are brilliant! I'll be adding spruce tips to this recipe to give a northern Canadian flair to this beautiful dish!
Sandra L. January 16, 2019
Yes ,I have experienced chili burn.Cutting fresh jalapenos, my skin on my fingers and under neath my nails was on fire for hours.I tried scrubbing it of with different soaps .Nothing helped.
CarlaK January 16, 2019
Very surprised by all the people who have experienced chili burn on their hands. I have never handled chilis for cutting without wearing gloves because of the potential of forgetting what you just did and then rubbing your eye. Talk about pain and burn!!!
MOMMAK75 January 16, 2019
Genius move: use the plastic bag you put the peppers in to begin with to HOLD the pepper while cutting it!

No more hand burn.

You're welcome.
Elaine January 16, 2019
There's a second trick here for keeping the burgers from drying out--the egg that binds the moisture during cooking. Sounds like a great recipe!
Lindsay S. January 16, 2019
I get the chile burn on my hands too - especially when handling poblanos for some reason. I sometimes use a ziplock bag over my hand in lieu of a glove, or just say F it and throw the peppers in a food processor.
Nell M. January 16, 2019
Yes I've had this problem sometimes and sometimes not. It has been bad enough to keep me awake too.