Not your grandmother's turkey

Poultry producers stress versality, health benefits of big bird

Poultry producers stress versality, health benefits of big bird

September 21, 2005|by KRISTIN WILSON

Eating turkey conjures images of big, traditional holiday meals complete with stuffing, cranberry dressing, mashed potatoes and plenty of gravy.

But promoters of the big bird want consumers to start thinking about the meat in a lighter, more every-day way.

Turkey products in the form of burgers, sausages, filets and steaks are increasing in sales every year, say those connected with the industry.

For Ross Smith, that's good news.

Turkey has been essential to his family since 1929. The Smith family business, Hillside Turkey Farms, in Thurmont, Md., now raises about 140,000 turkeys every year.

Between 1929 and 1972, while his parents ran the farm, "all they did was process the turkeys and sell them around the holiday time," Smith says.


When he took over the business in 1972, he started marketing his all-natural turkeys as a year-round protein source.

Thirty-three years later, Smith and his son-turned-business partner, Brian, still see sales increase every year, he says.

The Smiths' experience parallels the national trend of rediscovering turkey as a lean meat that can be prepared without hours of roasting and basting.

"We have a lot of doctors that recommend us," Smith says. Especially, he adds, among "people that have had heart attacks and want to lower their cholesterol."

That's because turkey's white breast meat is a super-lean form of protein. Smith's ground breast turkey meat is 100 percent fat free, he says.

The National Turkey Federation is seeing ground turkey take off in popularity as consumers discover it in their grocery stores, says Sherrie Rosenblatt, spokeswoman for the National Turkey Federation. "(Consumers) are using (ground turkey) for not only turkey burgers but in spaghetti sauces, in tacos, in chilis - in a variety of different ways as the leaner, less fat, higher protein product that they can serve their family," Rosenblatt says.

Ground turkey can be used as a lower fat substitute in recipes that call for ground beef or pork, says Mary Ann Oyler, family and consumer sciences extension educator with Penn State Cooperative Extension in Franklin County.

"It's a healthy alternative to the ground beef or ground pork and it's generally lower in fat," she says. To substitute, cooks should use the same quantity of ground turkey for ground beef, but be aware that the recipe might turn out drier, Oyler says, since there is less fat in turkey.

It also is important to cook turkey completely. When cooking ground chicken or turkey, the internal temperature of the meat must reach 165 degrees, Oyler says.

Ground chicken is another lower fat meat that can be substituted in classic ground beef recipes, says Bill Roenigk, vice president of the National Chicken Council. To find the lowest fat version, look for ground breast meat chicken, he suggests.

"Ground chicken is trying to catch up with ground turkey," he says. "It is a more delicate meat. You will get a different taste."

"Ground chicken is relatively new to consumers, Roenigk says, noting that the ground version of poultry products hasn't caught on in all markets yet. Cooks might need to experiment. Ground chicken, for instance, doesn't hold together as well as a classic beef burger or turkey burger.

For more ground turkey recipes, go to

Szechuan Turkey Chili

1 1/2 pounds ground turkey

1 teaspoon canola oil

1/2 cup red bell pepper, diced

1/2 cup green bell pepper, diced

1 cup yellow onion, diced

1 tablespoon garlic, minced

1 tablespoon fresh ginger root, peeled and minced

1/2 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce

1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes

1 15-ounce can kidney beans, drained

8 ounces tomato sauce

1/2 teaspoon five spice powder

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 tablespoons chili powder

1 teaspoon wasabi powder

2 tablespoons Asian chili paste

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon sesame oil

8 cups cooked sticky rice

2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted

Brown turkey in canola oil and drain the drippings into a stock pot.

In the drippings, saut the peppers, onion, garlic and ginger. Do not brown.

Add soy sauce, tomatoes, beans and tomato sauce. Bring to a boil, reduce heat.

Return cooked turkey to the stock pot. Stir in spices, salt and sesame oil. Simmer for 1 hour over low heat.

For each portion, spoon 1 cup sticky rice into a large shallow bowl. Press rice sides of bowl. Top with chili. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Serves 8.

- This recipe, developed by Chef Instructor Larry Weiss of Huntington, N.Y., was the winning soup recipe in the National Turkey Federation's "Turkey with a Twist" recipe competition.

All-American Turkey Burgers

1 pound ground turkey

1/2 cup onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 cup ketchup

1/8 teaspoon pepper

4 kaiser rolls, sliced

4 leaves lettuce

4 slices red ripe tomato

4 thin slices onion

Preheat charcoal grill for direct-heat cooking.

In medium bowl, combine turkey, onion, garlic, ketchup and pepper. Evenly divide turkey mixture into 4 burgers, approximately 3-1/2 inches in diameter.

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