You Should Rethink The Ways You're Eating Turkey

You probably know that turkey is good for you. According to the University of Illinois Extension, it's full of protein, vitamins, and minerals. White turkey meat has less fat than dark, and most of that comes from the skin. And if you're not sure which pieces are which, white meat comes from the breast and wings while drumsticks and thighs are considered dark meat. 

But the truth is that turkey has always played second fiddle to chicken, and that needs to change. You might enjoy a traditionally cooked holiday turkey or a slapped together deli turkey sandwich at lunchtime, but does turkey make frequent appearances on your dinner table? Probably not, and that's a shame. We're not saying you should stop eating chicken (or other kinds of meat), but turkey is more versatile than you think and can make meals more interesting if you know how to think outside the box.

So why just stick to the outdated ways of cooking turkey? Don't limit yourself to roasting up a bird once a year at Thanksgiving. There are so many different ways to cook and serve up turkey, with results that are anything but dry and boring. Keep reading for some inspiration to get you excited to enjoy more of this protein-packed poultry.

Stop making turkey sandwiches on white bread

Few foods are as dull as a turkey sandwich on sliced white bread, and you deserve better than that. There are so many great options out there. To kick it out of the park, make your turkey sandwich on a French baguette, a brioche roll, or some sourdough bread. Challah bread would make another excellent choice for a turkey sandwich. It tastes a bit like brioche but is not made with butter. That's because it is kosher, and therefore follows the Jewish rule which states that dairy cannot be eaten with meat. Challah comes in whole loaves and rolls, with or without raisins, sesame seeds, or other accouterments, so take your pick.

Turkey meat also pairs especially well with everything bagels. Gotham Bagels explains that these round wonders have complex flavor profiles that are usually made from seeds, garlic, and dried onions. Together, the seasoning mix creates a nutty, salty texture that fans love. We love the chewiness that bagels offer, but if you can't get your hands on them, you can also buy everything bagel seasoning by the jar and sprinkle some right onto your turkey.

You can also forgo sandwich bread altogether for a wrap instead. Our recipe for a grilled turkey Caesar wrap is easy to make — and extra good if you warm it up in your microwave.

Try different condiments with your turkey

A turkey sandwich made with plain mayo or mustard probably won't tickle your tastebuds, so branch out and try some other condiments. Feel free to get creative, or try some of our suggestions. How about barbecue sauce? Bradley Smoker claims that it has been around since the 1600s, with the first recipes made from lemon and lime juice along with pepper. Mustard and vinegar came later, and the first commercial barbeque sauce came to market in 1909. Heinz started selling it with ketchup and sugar about a decade later, and this is more similar to what we see today. While you can cook turkey with barbecue sauce, it also tastes good on the sandwiches. We recommend warming the sauce and your turkey up separately, taking care not to dry out the meat. 

Classic, creamy horseradish spread also tastes great on a turkey sandwich. Sauce Magazine claims that horseradish also dates back to the 1600s, and the condiment you see today is made with horseradish root and vinegar. Served straight it can be very strong, but you can find versions diluted with mayo and other creamy ingredients. 

And of course we wouldn't forget to recommend cranberry sauce. Imagine thickly sliced turkey breast on fresh challah bread, topped with sweet and tart, whole berry cranberry sauce. Science Meets Food says canned versions were introduced in 1939, but you can also make your own homemade cranberry sauce with the right motivation. 

Melt some gourmet cheese on top

There's nothing wrong with melting American or Swiss cheese on a turkey sandwich, but why not try a cheese that packs more of a flavor punch to take your turkey to the next level? One of our favorites is Gouda and if you can't find it sliced at the deli counter, you can usually find a prepackaged wedge at the grocery store. Castello describes the distinct flavor of this semi-hard Dutch cheese as slightly sweet and nutty, and you can find smoked versions, too. Cheddar and Edam can be substituted for Gouda, but the latter is easy to find in groceries and markets. You're probably already familiar with cheddar and its flavor; Edam is another specialty Dutch cheese that's low in fat with a mild and nutty flavor that gets sharper as it ages (via

Another supermarket staple, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin raves about Monterey Jack cheese, which also tastes great melted on a turkey sammy. It tends toward the mild side, but you can find it made with flavorful ingredients like jalapeño peppers, pesto, dill, and more. Monterey Jack melts well and is sold shredded, sliced, and in blocks. 

You could also try Emmental. It's a hard cheese that also hails from Europe, according to It has holes like Swiss cheese, but offers a mild, somewhat fruity taste.

Make a turkey BLT

Bacon makes anything taste better, including turkey sandwiches. The kitchen experts at Alto Hartley explain that bacon tastes so amazing because when it heats up the fat breaks down to release sweet, buttery flavors. It gets plenty of help from salt as well, but if that's a concern, you can look for low-sodium versions of bacon at the grocery store. And you don't have to make a big mess on your stovetop to enjoy bacon, because it cooks up in minutes inside a microwave, and it can also be made in the oven.

There's arguably no better way to enjoy turkey and bacon together than on a turkey BLT. We vote for pork bacon and sliced turkey, but turkey bacon could be an option. You can go the more basic route and make a BLT with turkey bacon and no turkey meat. According to the Cleveland Clinic, turkey bacon has less fat than pork bacon, but it is still high in sodium. It's easy to find low-sodium turkey bacon, though. However you plan to build your turkey BLT, we suggest adding a more interesting lettuce like, romaine or red leaf. Add beefsteak tomatoes if you can get your hands on some, or just buy whatever else is in season. Some flavored mayonnaise will also help elevate the flavor, just be sure you're not adding too much extra salt to your BLT.

Serve it with guacamole

Guacamole is a great way to bring turkey back to life. It's full of healthy fats and the creaminess counteracts the dryness you often get with this particular poultry. A typical guacamole uses a ripe, mashed avocado as the base, often with ingredients like chopped onion, fresh garlic, tomato, and jalapeños added in. Sprinkle in salt, lime juice, and cilantro and you'll have a tasty, classic guacamole, whether you like it smooth or chunky. 

Mexicali Blue advocates for turkey and guacamole sandwiches and we can't argue with that. Or if you don't feel like making guac, simply slice an avocado and lay it on top of your turkey. Either way, we suggest leaving off the cheese. Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health notes that one whole avocado contains 22 grams of fat (mostly monounsaturated, the healthy kind), so including a slice or two of cheese could make your sandwich a bit heavy. 

One thing to keep in mind when it comes to avocados is that the flesh turns brown so quickly after this fruit ripens. Compound Interest explains that avocados contain an enzyme (polyphenol oxidase) that causes this effect when exposed to oxygen. To delay browning in cut avocados and guac you can apply lemon juice to the flesh, leave the pit in whole avocados, cover the exposed halves tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerating your avocados. But you'll still only have a few days before your avocado starts morphing into brown sludge.

Whip up a turkey salad

If you have leftover turkey, try transforming it into a delicious salad. The turkey adds protein and a soft chewiness that complements crunchy veggies, cooked pasta, and other ingredients. You'll need to cut the turkey up into pieces and can mix it with mayo or another creamy condiment for moistness and flavor. Or if you have some good grilled turkey, that can be tossed in without any dressing up. For added flavor and freshness, throw in some herbs like fresh or dried parsley, oregano, and chives, or spice it up with cayenne pepper or chili powder.

Another idea is to add cooked turkey to your favorite creamy pasta salad recipe, gently mix it in, and fold it into lettuce wraps. Turkey chunks also do well in mixed green salads with added veggies and your favorite dressing. 

But if you ask us, the best turkey salads are made with big pieces of white and dark meat, plenty of mayo, chopped dried cranberries, finely diced onion, some grapes, and chopped pecans or walnuts. You can add lemon juice and sour cream for tartness to balance out the sweet fruits. Follow this recipe from Mashed, and serve a big scoop in a salad, on sliced bread, on a roll, or even a fresh, flaky croissant. Is that last one messy? Yes. Will you care? Nope.

Brine your bird to add tons of flavor

Brining is akin to marinating, and is a great way to add flavor to a whole turkey or turkey pieces bought in your grocery store, while also making it more tender and juicy. Both dry and wet brining start with the same basic ingredient: salt (via Inquiring Chef). For a wet brine, start with ¼ cup of salt (Kosher preferred) for every gallon of water and soak the turkey in the solution (refrigerated) for 24 hours. If you don't have that much time to spare, just increase the amount of salt. You can also add sugar, maple syrup, and other spices for more unique flavors. To dry brine a turkey, just rub the salt and spice mixture all over the outside of the turkey and let it rest in the fridge for 24 hours.

The USDA is all for brining turkey, but emphasizes that safety precautions should be followed. Don't wash off the raw turkey beforehand, as that can spread bacteria. Do sanitize the surface you'll be working on and wash your hands. Place the turkey in a brining bag or large, sealable container, and mix up the brining ingredients. Make sure your turkey is completely covered before putting it in the fridge. And when you're ready to cook the bird, carefully place it in your sink to let the excess brine drain off — but don't rinse the turkey. Afterward, clean your sink with hot, soapy water.

Make a pot of turkey chili

Modern chili recipes can be traced back to Texas and the American West, where they were originally known as "bowls o' red" (via Wonderopolis). Conventional chili recipes usually call for beef, tomatoes, spices, and beans. Other meats like pork and lamb, or some combination, can be used. And turkey can also be used to make a great chili. But there are a few things to know.

Ground turkey makes especially good chili, but we suggest using dark meat instead of ground turkey breast if possible, because it has more fat and tastes better. Just be careful when cooking ground turkey since it dries out faster than beef. You'll also need to add more seasonings to achieve the ideal chili flavor, and consider some ingredient additions to make your turkey chili taste more traditional. Leftovers Then Breakfast suggests adding Worcestershire sauce. 

You can also follow our own turkey chili recipe, which calls for pulled turkey meat. Sart with heated oil, and saute some chopped green peppers, onion, garlic, and jalapeño. Once that is simmering, spices, tomato paste and sauce, diced tomatoes, and chicken or vegetable broth go in next. Let it all simmer for about 10 minutes and then add your beans of choice (we suggest red kidney beans), along with cooked, pulled turkey. Let the chili simmer for another 20 minutes on low heat, serve it up in bowls and finish with sour cream, shredded cheese, cilantro, or any other topping you desire. 

Go for a turkey breast roast

If you eat a lot of boneless pork loins, it's time for a change. A boneless turkey breast roast is just as easy to cook, and often comes prepackaged with added flavor. Butterball sells an all-natural, minimally processed turkey breast that comes in a liquid solution of sea salt, sugar, vinegar, and white pepper. It even comes with a gravy packet. These are good to have for a simple, small dinner, or if you're having a holiday meal and everyone is clamoring for more white meat. And besides that, you now have plenty of ideas about what to do with the leftovers.

Honeysuckle White points out that bone-in turkey breast roasts are larger than boneless ones, and can taste better. The bones inside work to retain more moisture because the breast cooks slower. Whether bone-in or boneless, many turkey breast roasts can be cooked in their packaging. But no matter which version you buy, make sure it's completely thawed before cooking. If you forget to take it out of the freezer, you can speed up the defrosting by placing the turkey breast roast (in its packaging) in a large pot filled with cold water. After 30 minutes, pour out the liquid and refill the pot with fresh cold water. You'll have to do this several times until the turkey is completely thawed. 

It's also worth noting that turkey breast roasts take very well to brining before being cooked. 

Go Italian with turkey Parmesan

For a simple family dinner, companies like Honeysuckle White sell turkey breast cutlets, and these can be used like chicken cutlets in a variety of ways. It's not always easy to find them in grocery stores, but you can check with the meat department. They're on the thinner side and may need to be patted down with clean paper towels to remove excess moisture. If you cook turkey cutlets plain, they'll be pretty bland – just like chicken cutlets. But one of the best ways to prepare them is to make turkey Parmesan.

You can basically swap in turkey cutlets for any chicken parm recipe. This Italian-American dish became popular in the 1950s, and is relatively simple to make, yet very delicious. The cutlets should be about 1 inch thick, dipped in flour, dredged in an egg wash, and coated with bread crumbs. You can sear the breaded cutlets in a skillet before finishing in the oven, or put them straight in, until they are fully cooked, making sure to flip halfway through. Pour on your favorite tomato sauce, top it with mozzarella and Parmesan cheese, and cook for another five minutes or so until the cheese is lightly browned and bubbly.

Make a mini Thanksgiving meal

You don't need to wait for the holidays to make a minimalist Thanksgiving meal with any kind of turkey meat (although deli turkey breast won't be quite as good as fresh, roasted meat). The idea here is to serve up some roasted turkey with mashed potatoes, green beans, and other Thanksgiving-inspired sides. Of course, cranberry sauce is highly recommended. You can also do a hot, open-faced turkey sandwich. But whatever you do, make sure to coat your turkey with plenty of gravy. 

ButcherBox claims that the tradition of meat gravy traveled here from Europe. Like other gravies, turkey gravy can be homemade from pan drippings, bought in jars, or created from mixes. Of course, nothing beats pan drippings, but if you didn't cook a whole turkey, you'll have to choose one of the other options. ButcherBox claims that mixes are better since they contain fewer preservatives. And the next time you have fresh leftover turkey gravy, be sure to stick it in your freezer for your next mini Thanksgiving meal.

Try some turkey shawarma

Shawarma is a common and beloved street food across the Middle East. Basha's Shawarma notes that it is made with marinated sliced meat — usually lamb, beef or chicken — that is prepared with spices like paprika and cumin and then layered onto vertical spits to be slow roasted for hours. 

You might not see turkey shawarma on that many menus in most Middle Eastern countries, or the U.S. for that matter, but it's actually a wildly popular street food in Israel. The Taste of Kosher explains that it's usually made with boneless, skinless turkey thigh meat that's cooked on skewers, similar to Greek gyro.The shawarma is typically served with pita, hummus, and perhaps tahini sauce. Lettuce, onion, pickles, and other vegetables can also be added. 

If you want to try out turkey shawarma yourself, you can simply skewer some raw turkey pieces and grill them – we won't tell. For a more authentic taste, look for a shawarma seasoning to add to your meat. The Spice House sells one that is made with cardamom, cloves, sumac, coriander, cumin, and other tasty warming spices. You can add some olive oil to the seasoning to create a marinade, use it as a dry rub on your meat, or just mix it into your hummus, tahini, or sour cream for a spicy, flavorful condiment.