These Juicy BBQ Turkey Burgers with Harissa Aioli are full of flavor and a touch of heat. Turkey is a terrific alternative when you’re looking for a healthier burger option. You’ll love them!
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 of my youth.
When I was young, all the dads in the neighborhood were self-proclaimed 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 a flourish. Mom made all the rest of the meal, but it was my dad who got the applause when the meal came to the table.
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.
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!
Here are some pointers:
- Never press burgers down on the grill with a spatula – that just forces all the wonderful juices out and can cause flare ups.
- Remember that you can move the burgers to a cooler part of the grill if needed to get the centers cooked once the outsides are well browned.
- And don’t overcook them. Use an instant read thermometer to know when they are done. Insert the thermometer through the side of the burger for the most accurate results.
When I told The Artist that today’s topic 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!
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.
I added ground harissa to some mayonnaise along with garlic to create an aioli. I also used the harissa to season the burgers. 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!
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!
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 with your thumb into the top of each one. During cooking, the edges shrink first, forcing the center of the burger to bulge, but by pressing and indentation in the raw burgers, your final patties will fill in the indentation and wind up flat instead of rounded.
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 Juicy BBQ Turkey Burgers with Harissa Aioli burgers a try. The Artist and I will be fighting over who gets the last patty for lunch tomorrow, LOL! And be sure to check out all the links below the recipe for more amazing BBQ ideas!
Key Ingredients for Juicy BBQ Turkey Burgers with Harissa Aioli:
- Harissa seasoning (I used dried ground powder)
- Olive oil
- Ground turkey, preferably dark meat
- Cilantro or parsley
- Sliced cheese, hamburger buns, lettuce leaves, tomato slices
It may seem like a hassle to use a thermometer, but you will get consistently great results and no risk of serving undercooked poultry to your guests!
What is the best thermometer to use?
My personal favorite instant read thermometer is the Thermapen from Thermoworks. It is and investment, but there is nothing faster or more accurate and once you get used to using it, you’ll wonder how you lived without it! It is perfect for you wish list for the holidays or your birthday. And I use mine for all kinds of meats, breads, candy making, etc. Anytime you need to monitor the temperature of the foods you are cooking, it will take care of you!
If you get flames when you are grilling over a charcoal fire, no need to squirt them with a water bottle. Just close the lid and the lack of oxygen will snuff out the flames and you won’t lose the heat of your fire and lengthen your cook time.
How to make Juicy BBQ Turkey Burgers with Harissa Aioli:
- Make the Aioli: Whisk together all the aioli ingredients; cover and refrigerate until needed
- Make the Burgers: Mix the aioli, olive oil, harissa, and coriander with the ground turkey, cilantro, shallots, salt and pepper; divide and pat into burger patties and refrigerate 15 minutes
- Preheat the grill and rub the grates with an oiled paper towel
- Cook the burgers 4 to 6 minutes per side, flipping carefully (the burgers can be delicate); top with cheese and melt under the broiler if desired
- To Serve: Smear the insides of the buns with the aioli, add a lettuce leaf to the bottom and top with a burger; add a slice of tomato if desired and set the aioli covered bun on top; serve immediately
Kitchen Tools I Use to Make This Recipe (affiliate links):
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.
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise (Lite or low-fat is fine)
- 2 to 3 tsp dry Harissa seasoning
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder
- Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 tbsp Harissa Aioli (from above)
- 2 tsp olive oil
- 1 tsp dry harissa seasoning (gluten-free if needed)
- 1/4 tsp ground coriander, optional
- 1 lb ground turkey, preferably dark meat (it’s moister)
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, stems discarded, leaves finely chopped, or parsley
- 1 shallot, peeled and very finely minced
- 1/2 tsp kosher or sea salt and
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 4 slices of cheese, such as cheddar, white cheddar, Havarti, or Monterey Jack
- Hamburger buns (gluten-free if needed)
- Harissa Aioli (from above)
- Green lettuce leaves, rinsed and patted dry
- Slices of ripe tomato
- Make the Harissa Aioli: 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: Line a baking sheet with parchment. In a large bowl, whisk together the aioli, olive oil, harissa and coriander. Add the ground turkey, cilantro, shallots, salt and pepper. Mix together with your hands until everything is evenly blended. Divide the meat mixture into fourths and working with 1/4 at a time, form them into patties. Place the patties on the prepared baking sheet, press a divot with your thumb in the center of each, and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes, while the grill heats up.
- Preheat a gas grill on high or build a hot charcoal fire. Scrub the grates clean then wipe with a paper towel dipped in vegetable oil. (Use tongs to hold the paper towel.)
- Place the burgers 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 unless you start to get flare-ups. Putting the cover on the grill will stop the flames by shutting off the oxygen.
- Cook the burgers about 4 to 6 minutes per side, carefully slipping a metal spatula under them and flipping in one quick motion. They are done when an instant read thermometer registers 163°F when inserted through the side 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. If you want to melt the cheese a bit more, you can always put the burgers under the broiler for a couple of minutes.
- To Serve: Lightly toast the hamburger buns if desired. Generously smear the inside of both top and bottom halves of buns with the harissa aioli. Place a lettuce leaf on the bottom bun. Top with a burger on the lettuce. Add a slice of tomato and set the harissa-coated bun on top. Serve immediately.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 942Total Fat: 75gSaturated Fat: 22gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 46gCholesterol: 221mgSodium: 1588mgCarbohydrates: 16gFiber: 3gSugar: 2gProtein: 53g
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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This post was first shared in June 2014. The article was updated in 2020.