Eric Akis: Burgers with a southern twist

Eric Akis

During a spate of warm and sunny weather, I spent a lot of time outdoors, including cooking dinner on my barbecue. Burgers were on the menu and I decided to give them a southern-style twist.

I also opted to make my patties with ground turkey, instead of the ground beef I most often use. I thought it would be more receptive to the types of flavourings and toppings I wanted to use, and I was correct.

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To make the patties I mixed the ground turkey with spices such as chili powder and cumin, and hot pepper sauce, and bound the meat together with egg and bread crumbs.

Before shaping the meat into patties, I lightly moistened my hands with water. Doing that creates a barrier between the meat and my hands and prevents the meat from sticking to them.

My turkey patties took about eight to 10 minutes to cook. The best way to gauge doneness is to insert an instant-read thermometer through the side of the patty until it reaches the centre. Ground turkey is completely cooked when it registers a food-safe 165 F (74 C) or above.

Beyond the seasonings in the meat, the other southern-style twists I gave my burger were to top the patties with Monterey jack cheese. It melts beautifully and tastily slides down and clings to the sides of the patties.

I also topped the patties with homemade guacamole, which can be prepared an hour or two before needed. The mashed, lime-favoured avocado base, and the bits of tomato, onion, garlic and cilantro mixed into it, all nicely complement the taste of the turkey and the cheese. So did the sautéed slices of poblano pepperI also sandwiched between the burger buns.

If you don’t have a barbecue or indoor grill, in my recipe I give you the option to cook the patties in a skillet on the stovetop.

Serve my southern-style turkey burgers with cold beer, margaritas, iced tea or lemonade, and pretend it’s a summer day. I know it’s still March, but it never hurts to dream!

Southern-style Turkey Burgers with Guacamole

These full-flavoured burgers see chili-spiced patties made with extra lean ground turkey. Once cooked, they are topped with Monterey jack cheese and sandwiched into buns with poblano peppers and onion, and freshly made guacamole.

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: eight to 10 minutes

Makes: four servings

1 Tbsp olive oil, plus some for the grill

1 small to medium poblano pepper, halved, seeded and thinly sliced (see Note)

1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced

500 grams extra lean ground turkey

1 large egg, beaten

1/4 cup dried bread crumbs

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 tsp chili powder

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco, or to taste

1/2 tsp salt

4 slices, or 1 cup grated, Monterey Jack cheese

4 hamburger buns, split and warmed

4 leaf or butter lettuce leaves

1/4 cup mayonnaise, or taste

• guacamole, to taste (see recipe below)

Heat the oil in a skillet set over medium heat. When hot, add the poblano peppers and onions and cook and stir until tender, about five minutes. Remove pan from the heat and set it aside for now.

Preheat barbecue or indoor grill to medium, medium-high heat. Place the ground turkey, egg, bread crumbs, garlic, chili powder, cumin, hot pepper sauce and salt in a bowl and mix to combine.

Moisten your hands very lightly with cold water. Divide and form the turkey mixture into four, 3/4-inch thick patties. Now make a deep dimple in one side of each patty, which should prevent it from overly puffing during cooking.

Lightly oil the bars of your grill. Grill the patties four to five minutes per side, or until entirely cooked through and the temperature reaches 165 F (74 C) in the centre of the patty when tested with an instant-read meat thermometer.

Top each patty with a slice of cheese (or 1/4 cup of grated cheese) and cook one minute more, or until the cheese is melted.

Spread the buns with mayonnaise. Top each bottom bun with a lettuce leaf. Now divide and set some poblano peppers and onions on each bottom bun. Set a turkey patty on each bottom bun, top with guacamole, to taste, set on top buns and serve.

Note: Dark green poblano peppers are available in the produce department of most supermarkets. They have a mildly spicy, richer flavour than green bell peppers, although the latter could be used in this recipe if you can’t find a poblano pepper.

Eric options: If you don’t have a barbecue or indoor grill, you could also pan-sear the patties. To do so, place 2 Tbsp olive oil in a large skillet set over medium to medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add the patties and cook four to five minutes per side, or until entirely cooked through. Now top with the cheese, cover and cook one minute more, until cheese is melted.


Freshly made guacamole makes a very tasty topping for turkey burgers. Once you’ve spooned some on the burgers, serve any leftover guacamole with tortilla chips for dunking. This recipe could be doubled or expanded even further.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: none

Makes: about 1 1/4 cups

1 medium ripe avocado

1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice

2 to 3 tsp finely chopped jalapeño pepper, or to taste

1/4 cup finely chopped ripe tomato

2 Tbsp finely chopped red onion

1/2 tsp finely chopped garlic

2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

1/4 tsp ground cumin

• salt to taste

Cut the avocado in half lengthwise, pull it apart and remove the pit. Scoop out the flesh into a medium bowl. Add the lime juice and, with the back of fork, mash the avocado until it is somewhere between chunky and somewhat smooth. Mix in the remaining ingredients and its ready to spoon on your burgers.

Eric’s options: You can make the guacamole an hour or two before serving. Tightly cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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