Juicy Turkey Burgers with Harissa Aioli #SummerSoiree

This entry is part 46 of 55 in the series Food Network

Grilled Turkey Burgers with Harissa Aioli; 2014 Jane Bonacci, The Heritage Cook

Hot summer nights chasing fireflies with my cousins. Playing hide and seek while mom made dinner. The smell of burgers cooking on the barbecue, filling the neighborhood with mouthwatering aromas. These are the memories of the summers in my youth. 

When I was young, all the dads in the neighborhood were masters of the grill – whether they knew how to cook or not. It was their domain and they proudly donned their aprons and brandished their spatulas with aplomb. Mom made all the rest of the meal, but it was my dad who got the applause when the meal came to the table.

Grilled Turkey Burgers with Harissa Aioli; 2014 Jane Bonacci, The Heritage Cook

Cilantro & harissa seasoned turkey burgers hit the hot grill

Unfortunately, more often than not, the burgers were overcooked, dry and needed a massive slathering of ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise to choke them down. Of course we didn’t know any better so we thought they were wonderful.

Grilled Turkey Burgers with Harissa Aioli; 2014 Jane Bonacci, The Heritage Cook

Turkey burgers are delicate; handle them carefully so they don’t fall apart.

When I grew up, I discovered how burgers were supposed to be cooked and that they could actually be tender, moist and flavorful without a ton of condiments needed. Never press your burgers down on the grill with a spatula – that just forces all the wonderful juices out and can cause flare ups. And don’t overcook them. Use an instant read thermometer to know when they are done. It may seem like a hassle, but you will get consistently great results and no risk of serving undercooked poultry to your guests!

When I told The Artist that today’s topic for the Food Network’s Summer Soiree was burgers, he asked me to use something other than beef for a change of pace. I also had some leftover fresh cilantro and wanted to find a way to use it. Hmmm, what meat goes well with cilantro … Turkey burgers it is!

Grilled Turkey Burgers with Harissa Aioli; 2014 Jane Bonacci, The Heritage Cook

Harissa is beautiful and delicious!       Plate by Kate Freeman

The Artist loves when I use North African seasonings and asked if I would flavor the burgers with harissa. Harissa comes in either a paste or ground powder form. The paste is usually very hot, so be careful if you decide to go that route.

Each dry harissa blend is different and varies from shop to shop. Mine has just enough spice to give a little kick of heat, but not so much that it burns out my palate. Mine came from Whole Spice in the Oxbow Public Market in Napa. You can order the same one online, or use any brand that you can find locally. Always taste a little to judge the heat level. A recipe is only a guideline for seasonings, so adjust the amount you use in your recipes to suit your personal tastes.

Grilled Turkey Burgers with Harissa Aioli; 2014 Jane Bonacci, The Heritage Cook

Harissa Aioli

I added harissa to some mayonnaise along with garlic to create an aioli. This is simply a fancy way of saying a flavored mayonnaise. If you’ve been reading this blog very long, you know I like to layer flavors. Season the burger with harissa and add to the aioli. The more the better for The Artist. I love how it magnifies the flavor and creates a blast to your taste buds, making everything taste better!

Grilled Turkey Burgers with Harissa Aioli; 2014 Jane Bonacci, The Heritage Cook

Beef naturally has fats that help keep it juicy during cooking, but turkey is trickier because it is so lean. It helps a lot to add some form of fat to your turkey burgers, which will help protect your burgers from drying out. I used a combination of some of the harissa aioli and olive oil to keep the turkey moist and tender. Another trick is to use dark turkey meat – it has more natural flavor and moisture!

Grilled Turkey Burgers with Harissa Aioli; 2014 Jane Bonacci, The Heritage Cook

When forming your patties, make sure you keep them all the same size and thickness. This will help them cook at the same rate. And always press an indentation into the top of each one. When the inevitable bulging occurs during cooking, your final patties will fill in the indentation and wind up flat instead of rounded.

Grilled Turkey Burgers with Harissa Aioli; 2014 Jane Bonacci, The Heritage Cook

The bun in the photos is a beautiful brioche that The Artist got to enjoy. I ate mine wrapped in lettuce for the gluten-free version. I love the extra crunch and the lettuce helps keep my fingers clean. You can also use gluten-free hamburger buns if you and your kids want a more traditional burger.

I hope you will give these healthier burgers a try. The Artist and I will be fighting over who gets the last patty for lunch tomorrow, LOL!

Grilled Turkey Burgers with Harissa Aioli; 2014 Jane Bonacci, The Heritage Cook

Gluten-Free Tips:

The turkey burgers are naturally gluten-free, but always check the labels on your seasoning blends to guarantee no gluten ingredients or cross-contamination exist.

Grilled Turkey Burgers with Harissa Aioli
Yields 3
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Harissa Aioli
  1. 1/2 cup mayonnaise (Lite or low-fat is fine)
  2. 2 to 3 tsp dry Harissa seasoning
  3. 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  4. Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Turkey Burgers
  1. 2 tbsp Harissa Aioli (from above)
  2. 2 tsp olive oil
  3. 1 tsp dry harissa seasoning (gluten-free if needed)
  4. 1/4 tsp ground coriander, optional
  5. 1 lb ground turkey, preferably dark meat (it’s moister)
  6. 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, stems discarded, leaves finely chopped
  7. 1 shallot, peeled and very finely minced
  8. 1/2 tsp kosher or sea salt and
  9. Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  10. 4 slices cheese, such as Cheddar, white Cheddar, Havarti, Monterey Jack, etc. (leave off for dairy-free)
  11. Hamburger buns (gluten-free if needed)
  12. Harissa Aioli (from above)
  13. Green lettuce leaves, rinsed and patted dry
  14. 4 slices ripe tomato
Make the Harissa Aioli
  1. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the ingredients. Whisk until smooth and evenly colored. Cover and keep in the refrigerator until you put the burgers on the grill. Set the bowl on the counter to warm up slightly.
Prepare the Turkey Burgers
  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the aioli, olive oil, harissa and coriander (if using). Add the ground turkey, cilantro, shallots, salt, and pepper. Mix together with your hands until everything is evenly blended. Divide the meat mixture into thirds and working with 1/3 at a time, form them into patties. Press a depression in the center of each patty. Place the patties on a parchment-covered baking sheet and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes. This will help them hold together better when you put them on the grill.
  2. Preheat the grill on high or build a hot charcoal fire. Wipe the grates with a paper towel dipped in olive or canola oil. (Use tongs to hold the paper towel and keep your hands from getting burned.) The oil on the grates will help keep the delicate turkey burgers from sticking quite as badly.
  3. Remove the burgers from the refrigerator and place on the grill, directly over the heat. If you are using a gas grill, close the lid and reduce the heat to medium-high. If using charcoal, leave the lid off. If you start to get flare-ups, putting the cover on the grill will stop the flames by shutting off the oxygen.
  4. Cook the burgers about 4 to 6 minutes per side or until you've got some good grill marks. Carefully slip a metal spatula under each one and flip them over gently. They are done when an instant read thermometer registers 160°F when inserted horizontally into the center of the burger. Transfer to a clean baking sheet, top each burger with a slice of cheese, and tent with foil to keep warm and finish cooking. If you want to melt the cheese a bit more, you can always put the burgers under the broiler for a minute or two.
  5. Lightly toast the hamburger buns if desired. Generously smear the inside of both sides of buns with the Harissa aioli. Place a lettuce leaf on the bottom bun. Place a burger on the lettuce. Add a slice of tomato and set the second aioli-coated bun on top. Serve immediately.
The Heritage Cook ® http://theheritagecook.com/

Create a New Tradition Today!

This recipe is part of Food Network’s weekly Summer Soiree. See the links below for more inspiration and great recipes!

Dishin & Dishes: Grill Basket Stuffed Slider Burgers
Weelicious: Mexican Chicken Sliders
Devour: 5 Sizzling Burgers
Virtually Homemade: Grilled Greek Turkey Burger
Napa Farmhouse 1885: Green Chile and Bacon Burgers
Red or Green: Grilled Marinated Eggplant Burgers (Spicy)
The Heritage Cook: Juicy Turkey Burgers for Every Cookout
Taste With The Eyes: Chicken Burger Caesar Club Sandwich
Cooking With Elise: Super Smashed Burgers
Domesticate Me: Bacon and Smoked Cheddar Cheeseburger Sliders with Jalapeno Relish
Swing Eats: Shrimp Burgers with Sriracha Aioli on Bibb Lettuce
Daily*Dishin: Jalapeno Feta Bison Burgers
FN Dish: 5 Ways to Bring on the Burgers

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  1. says

    I finally settled on a turkey burger recipe a year or two ago that we like but I think I’ll have to give yours a try. We like turkey burgers every now and then, just for the taste. It’s not a “I’ll eat it because it’s healthy” thing, we really like them.

    • Jane Bonacci says

      We like them too Chris – my husband like the change of flavors. The harissa seasoning (not the paste) is so good in these and the aioli is truly addicting! I hope you enjoy these!!


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