Ground turkey versus ground beef is a battle for the ages.
While some wouldn’t dare use ground turkey in their chili recipe, others have been substituting turkey for beef since before it was cool.
From burgers to casseroles to tacos, there’s no doubt that both types of meat are delicious, versatile, and convenient for whipping up quick and tasty meals.
Compared to ground beef, ground turkey is typically considered the healthier option due to saturated fat content. But you may be surprised at how closely these two stack up otherwise.
Here’s the tale of the tape on ground turkey versus ground beef in terms of nutritional value, health benefits, and when to reach for one over the other.
Besides color, both types of meat look pretty similar in their ground form. Ground meat is, well, ground meat… right?
However, the differences between them come from what’s inside. Let’s compare head-to-head. Below compares 3 ounces of lean ground beef versus 3 ounces of lean ground turkey, both 7 percent fat.
|Ground beef||Ground turkey|
|protein||25 g||23 g|
|fat||8 g||9.9 g|
|saturated fat||3.3 g||2.5 g|
|cholesterol||76 mg||88 mg|
|sodium||73 mg||76.5 mg|
|iron||2.7 mg||1.3 mg|
|zinc||5.9 mg||3.2 mg|
|vitamin B6||.4 mg||.4 mg|
|vitamin B12||2.4 mg||1.6 mg|
As you can see, both are actually pretty darn comparable. Ounce for ounce, ground turkey has slightly more calories, fat, cholesterol, and sodium compared to ground beef. However, ground beef has more protein, iron, zinc, and B vitamins.
Saturated fat is where they differ (though not by a ton), and that’s usually why turkey generally gets more “healthy” points than beef.
Both ground turkey and ground beef are excellent sources of protein, which can help control appetite, boost metabolism, and increase muscle mass.
When it comes to comparison, taste is completely subjective. If we’re the judges, a lean ground turkey burger going up against an 80/20 beef burger in a taste competition is probably going to have a tough time.
Objectively speaking, beef has its higher amount of fat content to thank for its juiciness and powerful flavor profile.
While a hot-off-the-grill burger is probably its most popular use, ground beef is also excellent in tacos, meat sauces such as bolognese, meatballs, meatloaf, chili, baked pasta dishes (hello, lasagna), stuffed peppers, and Shepherd’s pie.
Making a case for ground beef
Generally, if you’re looking to make a recipe that will really benefit from a meat’s fat content and flavor — such as classic Italian meatballs or a juicy summer burger — opt for ground beef.
Additionally, if you’re looking to add more protein, zinc, or iron to your diet, beef outshines turkey by a bit. Ground beef also contains fewer calories and less cholesterol.
Ground turkey contains less saturated fat than ground beef while losing nothing in the cookability area.
In fact, ground turkey is so popular because it’s a great paleo option for those looking for “leaner” versions of their favorite meals. It’s especially delicious in tacos, stuffed vegetables, sauces, and casseroles.
Making a case for ground turkey
In dishes where seasonings, spices, or sauces are the primary sources of flavor, ground turkey is more than serviceable. If you’re looking for comparable texture to ground beef and don’t mind a more mild flavor profile, turkey is your best option.
If you like your meat to have a higher fat content, ground turkey can dry out quicker while cooking than something like 80/20 ground beef. But if you’re cooking with the lean versions, both are pretty comparable.
Besides the makeup and versatility of both types of meat, choosing between the two might come down to personal preference. Here’s a lightning round to help you decide:
Opting for a bolder, richer, or more savory profile? Go with beef. (Think: tender meatballs in a wine-spiked tomato sauce.)
Looking for a lighter flavor where the meat doesn’t overpower the other ingredients? Turkey is your best bet. (Think: crunchy and refreshing Asian-inspired lettuce wraps.)
Less fat = less moisture, and ground turkey can get dry quicker than higher fat ground beef. To prevent this, pay extra attention to cooking temps when using ground turkey, or try cooking with a batch that has a higher fat percentage.
Since ground turkey has less saturated fat than ground beef, it’s a good idea for heart health.
One small study found that eating foods high in saturated fat increases the risk factors of heart disease by raising “bad” LDL cholesterol.
If your goal is weight management, try cooking with 99 percent fat-free ground turkey. Fat-free turkey is the leanest and lowest-calorie option.
Choosing between these two versatile ground meat options mostly comes down to your flavor preferences. Otherwise, they’re fairly comparable across the board outside of long-term heart health benefits (ground turkey) and iron content (ground beef).
Need dinner inspo ASAP? Try our favorite nutritious ground turkey recipes or high protein breakfasts made with leftover beef.