Ground beef was king when I was growing up. “Where’s the beef?” was the catchphrase of the day and when you found the beef it was what’s for dinner. The only turkey I knew of was the bird on the table at Thanksgiving or the cold cuts on the sandwich in my lunchbox. Fast forward a couple decades and (ground) turkey is a kitchen staple, in heavy rotation on my family’s dinner menu. Often marketed as a healthier alternative to ground beef, ground turkey has made its way to burger buns, pasta sauces and those meatballs up there. Ground turkey and beef are used interchangeably in many recipes – how many times have you seen 1 lb ground beef OR turkey? – but there are a few distinct differences you should look for.
Ground Turkey vs Ground Beef
One of the biggest differences between ground turkey vs ground beef is flavor. Beef has a big, distinctive taste that pairs well with bold herbs, spices and sauces. On its own, ground turkey is pretty bland. Its mild flavor easily takes on the taste of any herbs, spices, and sauces you mix in.
Nutritionally, ground beef is higher in protein, iron and potassium than ground turkey, which is also high in protein, potassium and vitamin A. Ground beef has less fat overall but ground turkey has less saturated fat (the fat we should limit). Here’s where things get tricky.
In order to take advantage of ground turkey’s lower levels of saturated fat, you have to make sure you’re buying LEAN ground turkey or ground turkey breast. Dark meat tastes better (to me) because the extra fat it contains equals more flavor but choosing white meat is how you can take advantage of the saturated fat savings.
Spaghetti & Turkey Meatballs
My kitchen tends to lean more towards poultry – chicken and turkey – with red meat thrown in every once in a while. Whether I’m making burgers, browning ground meat to bulk up a pasta sauce or making meatballs, I always look for lean ground turkey first. This is where all that culinary schooling comes into play. I season my ground poultry so well, no one misses the beef!!!
Take these turkey meatballs, for example. Breadcrumbs and an egg serve as a binder and Parmigiana Reggiano, basil, oregano, and garlic powder boost the flavor to an other-worldly level of yum. A quick simmer in a batch of my Quick Tomato Sauce and you’ll have homemade meatballs on the table in under an hour!
Mix your meatballs as gingerly (and minimally) as possible. Check out my meatball making tips here.
Don’t remove the lid from the pan once you’ve added the meatballs. You need the steam that builds up inside the pan to make sure the meatballs are cooked through.
Sauce Pan with Lid
- 1 batch Quick Tomato Sauce
- 19-oz ground turkey
- 1/4 cup breadcrumbs
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiana Reggiano
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 3/4 pound spaghetti, cooked according to package directions
- Heat tomato sauce in large saute pan with lid over medium heat until it simmers.
- Combine turkey, breadcrumbs, cheese, egg, basil, oregano, garlic powder, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Use your hands or a wooden spoon to mix gently until evenly mixed. Shape turkey into 1-inch meatballs.
- Carefully place meatballs in sauce. Cover and continue simmering until meatballs are cooked through, 10-12 minutes.
- Place cooked spaghetti in serving platter or bowl. Top with sauce and meatballs. Serve with additional cheese, if desired.