The sweet caramelized onions are also a great accompaniment to roast pork or wild game. They’re a fantastic addition to grilled cheese sandwiches, too. If you make a double batch of the onions, you can save the leftovers in the refrigerator for up to a month.–Kimberly Schlapman and Martha Foose

Turkey Burger FAQs

How do I know when my onions are caramelized?

The difference between sautéed and caramelized onions is that caramelized onions have been cooked long enough that their natural sugars are coaxed out and everything starts to turn deeply golden brown and jammy. As you continue cooking them, some onions will start to break down, the color will be darker in spots, and you’ll start to notice fond (spots of caramelized sugar and onion) on the bottom of the pan.

You’re done once you get to the point where there’s not much moisture left and you’ve got a pile of deep brown, jammy onions—at least 30 minutes. Taste one to see, your onions should be sweet and velvety soft.

What else can I do with these maple caramelized onions?

Caramelized onions can enhance so many dishes. Stir them into pasta, glam up a plain cheese or beef quesadilla, or even mix them into your ramen.

How do I avoid dry, overcooked turkey burgers?

There are a couple of things you can do to make sure your turkey burger stays moist.

Don’t pack your burger patties tightly. Form them gently just until they come together. Chilling them for a couple hours in the refrigerator before cooking will also help them stick together.

Once they are cooking, use an instant read thermometer to keep an eye on the internal temperature. As soon as they reach 165°F, pull them off the grill so that they don’t overcook.

A turkey burger with maple caramelized onions and cheese on a wooden cutting board.

Turkey Burgers with Maple Caramelized Onions

4.80 / 10 votes
This recipe works well for us because these lean turkey burgers don’t bust my nutrition goals for the family, so I’m happy, and the intensely deep sweetness of the dark, caramelized onions keep my husband from missing a great burger experience, so he’s happy.
David Leite
Servings4 servings
Calories597 kcal
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time40 minutes
Total Time55 minutes


For the caramelized onions

  • About 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the turkey burgers

  • 1 1/2 pounds lean ground turkey
  • 1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing
  • 4 burger-size Cheddar cheese slices
  • 4 store-bought or homemade burger buns, split and toasted


Make the caramelized onions

  • Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring often, until they're softened and beginning to caramelize, 20 to 25 minutes. Add the maple syrup and cayenne and season with salt and black pepper to taste.
  • Cook the onions, stirring frequently, until shimmery and translucent, another 7 to 10 minutes. Transfer the onions to a plate and cover to keep warm. (You can cool, cover, and refrigerate the maple caramelized onions for up to several days. Gently warm them in a covered saucepan over low heat just before serving.)

Make the burgers

  • Meanwhile, place a grill pan over medium-high heat or preheat a gas or charcoal grill.
  • Using your hands, in a large bowl mix the ground turkey, mustard, garlic, egg, parsley, salt, and pepper.
  • Gently form the mixture into four 6-ounce patties, being careful to press the turkey mixture together enough so that the turkey burgers remain intact but not so much they become compact and hard as hockey pucks. Brush each side of each burger with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. (You can cover and refrigerate the turkey burgers for up to 24 hours before cooking. And actually, refrigerating them isn't just a convenient make-ahead trick, it actually helps the turkey burgers hold together better during cooking. So we highly recommend sliding them in the fridge, even for as little as 30 minutes.)
  • Cook the turkey burgers, flipping them once, until cooked through, 6 to 7 minutes per side. (If using a grill pan, you'll probably need to turn the heat down to medium at some point.)
  • Place a slice of cheese on each burger, top with some of the maple caramelized onions, and use a spatula to slide the whole shebang to the waiting buns. (Any leftover maple caramelized onions can be covered and refrigerated for up to 1 month.)

Adapted From

Oh Gussie!

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Serving: 1 burgerCalories: 597 kcalCarbohydrates: 44 gProtein: 55 gFat: 23 gSaturated Fat: 9 gMonounsaturated Fat: 10 gTrans Fat: 1 gCholesterol: 170 mgSodium: 976 mgFiber: 3 gSugar: 17 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2015 Kimberly Schlapman | Martha Foose. Photo © 2015 beall + thomas. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

Turkey burgers are a summer staple meal at my house. I often find turkey burgers a little dull, but these hit the flavor spot with the mix of onions, cheese, and a nice brioche bun. The maple caramelized onions were a great addition. I let the onions caramelize while I assembled and grilled the burgers—I love multi-tasking!

For the initial 25 minutes of caramelizing, I kept adjusting the heat until I got some good color on the onions. I found that closer to medium on my gas range worked better than low, but I kept a constant eye on them to prevent burning. After adding the maple syrup, the onions quickly darkened and appeared caramelized. The onions didn’t stick to the pan and I could scrape up the nice fond from the pan. I used 94% lean ground turkey.

A tribute to healthier eating, these turkey burgers are easy to put together and make a delicious meal. The additional maple syrup adds an underlying and quite satisfying sweetness to the onions, but I must say I would be just as satisfied with onions caramelized without the addition of the syrup.

Using a nonstick skillet helped ensure that nothing got stuck or burned. As the onions cook, they take on a beautiful color and I think some good advice would be to let them go as long as you can while preserving a deep caramel color, as they only get better.

I mixed the burgers while the onions were sautéing and opted to make them indoors on a grill pan. The 12- to 15- minute timing was spot-on, and the end product was delicious. My husband loved the mustard! Next time I’d play around with some other ingredients, like sautéed red peppers or spinach and a bit of feta. Really, these burgers are a good base for adding anything that suits you.

These burgers could easily be prepped in advance—perhaps some chilling in the refrigerator would make them hold together just a bit better. The onions could be made days in advance and reheated in a skillet or the microwave.

At some points, while making these turkey burgers, I was convinced that they were going to be a disaster, but in the end, they came out pretty good, and we enjoyed them. The sweet and spicy flavor of the onions added something distinctive and helped counteract the ground turkey’s blandness. 7 minutes after the addition of the maple syrup and cayenne, the colors had deepened, and the onions were shimmery and translucent.

Typically I mix light and dark meat when working with ground poultry, as all-white meat can be way too dry when cooked, but I wasn’t been able to find any dark-meat ground turkey when I was at the store and decided to use only the breast meat. Oddly, even with only 1 egg and 1 tablespoon mustard to moisten it, the raw mixture was very wet and sloppy to work with. In addition, the patties themselves were huge, bigger than I would typically make them.

They shrunk a bit as they cooked and were less monster-sized for serving, but they were mighty big at the time they were formed. I used parsley in the meat mixture and would do that again. It adds a little something to meatloaves and turkey meatballs.

The sliced Cheddar I grabbed in the store turned out to be hickory-smoked, and that was very good on the finished burgers. Due to scheduling constraints, I prepared much of this recipe ahead of time, so all I had to do when I got home was cook the patties, reheat the onions briefly, and assemble everything. The resting time in the refrigerator helped firm the patties up, so they were less floppy and held together fine for grilling.

Even though the cheese had been sitting out of the refrigerator for a while, my slices were still solid and cold when they went on the burgers. There wasn’t enough residual heat from the just-cooked patties and the rewarmed onions on either side of the cheese to melt it at all. Since the buns had gotten a little drier in the oven than I wanted, I reheated the complete burgers in buns in the microwave for about 20 seconds on high, and the cheese and bun softened and everything in the package worked together a little better. I’ll make these again.

These turkey burgers are great if you want to try leaner burgers without compromising flavor. Ground turkey can be bland and dry, but the garlic and mustard add depth, and the egg keeps the patties moist. The salty Cheddar goes well with the sweet caramelized onions and a little heat from the cayenne.

More good news: There isn’t that much work involved here. The onions don’t take long to caramelize, and the maple syrup seemed to speed up the process during the last several minutes. The onions became darker and shinier in no time without sticking to the pan. You can enjoy these burgers in the winter months as well. Just cook the patties in the frying pan and toast the buns under a broiler for a matter of seconds.

What a fabulous harmony of flavors! I love this turkey burgers recipe which is a relatively quick and easy dinner to get on the table and yet is packed full of flavor. When I’m looking for a satisfying meal made from start to finish in about an hour, this is one of my go-to recipes, I’ve made it at least half a dozen times.

Served along with a salad and some roasted potatoes, this meal was better than any restaurant version I’ve had. I’ve always opted to cook the patties in my cast iron pan out of convenience, and the patties get a nice brown sear every time while still remaining moist inside.

When mixing the ingredients together, keep mixing till well incorporated and they will loosely bind. Quick refrigeration before forming the patties does the trick although I have never chilled these overnight. The caramelized onions really make this and are well worth the effort. Last night we added avocado to our burgers, all I can say is, amazing! You know a recipe is good when your family is still talking about how outstanding the burgers were even hours after the meal.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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Recipe Rating


  1. 5 stars
    This is more of a question than a comment! I have not had much luck over the years with ground turkey or ground chicken. The meat seems to be very “wet” and difficult to work with. I always end up putting the meat in spaghetti sauce. Is there a way to solve this problem, so i can make burgers without adding breadcrumbs to absorb the “wetness”?
    Thank you for any suggestions/comments! Mary M. Largo, FL

    1. Mary, ground turkey can be very wet to work with, and you want to keep as much moisture as possible to keep those burgers nice and juicy. There are a couple of things you can do to help. When you are forming the patties, use wet or even oiled hands and don’t spend a lot of time handling the meat. Just shape the patties quickly and put them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Then chill the burgers in the fridge for an hour or so before cooking. This will help to firm them up a bit.