Ground Turkey vs Ground Beef | Spaghetti & Turkey Meatballs

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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

Large Bowl

Wooden Spoon

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Simmering Sauce

Rolling Meatballs


  1. We absolutely love spaghetti around here. Our boys, the wife and I, we all enjoy a piping hot plateful of ‘ghetti! And there is always room for a healthier version. And I think you just sold me on this one! Thank you!

  2. These turkey meatballs are to die for. So tasty and sooooo moist because they are braised in the quick tomato sauce which I followed from this site. So nice. Thank you for a great recipe!

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