Entree | Field To Table

Smoked Turkey Breast

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Hosting a festive meal or simply craving a savory delight? Discover the art of preparing a perfectly smoked turkey breast, which promises to tantalize your taste buds and leave your guests craving more!

Sliced turkey breast on a wood round.Pin
Smoked Turkey Breast

Why would you want to smoke it?

Smoking a turkey breast infuses it with a rich, distinctive flavor that can’t be achieved through other cooking methods. This technique also imparts a tender, juicy texture, making the meat melt-in-your-mouth delicious.

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Additionally, smoking allows for a slow and even cooking process, ensuring the turkey breast is perfectly cooked without drying out.

Let’s face it: roasted turkey breast can be dried out and tough, even if it’s brined. This smoked turkey breast is one of the best we have ever eaten. We do a quick overnight brine, and it is ready to smoke the next morning to sheer perfection.

Smoked turkey breast is perfect if you have a smaller crowd for Thanksgiving. A six-pound breast will easily serve 12 people, probably more, with all of the side fixings.

What you need

  • Turkey: Choose a breast that is about 6 pounds. Either fresh or frozen turkey will work. If you would like to smoke a whole bird, see our step-by-step How to Smoke a Turkey article.

For the brine

  • Acid: You always need something acidic for a brine. In this case, apple juice or apple cider is delicious, but you could also use apple cider vinegar if you don’t have the others on hand.
  • Sage: You can use fresh or dried sage. Sage has a robust, slightly peppery flavor and is often used to flavor poultry and stuffing. If you are using fresh sage, double the amount that you use.
  • Thyme: Use fresh or dried thyme. Thyme has a unique, earthy flavor with notes of lemon and mint. If you are using fresh thyme, double the amount that you use.
  • Salt: Use coarsely ground sea salt, pink salt, or kosher salt.
  • Pepper: Use black peppercorns. The pre-ground pepper has lost most of its flavor.
  • Water: Add enough water to the brine to cover the breast.

For the rub

  • Sugar: You can use white sugar, but brown sugar will give the meat a better flavor. We like dark brown sugar.
  • Garlic: Use granulated garlic or garlic powder. You could use fresh, pasted garlic and rub it inside and outside the cavity.
  • Onion: Use onion powder. Onion powder provides a depth of flavor that is earthy and a bit sweet, with the quintessential onion sharpness, but without the pungency and bite of raw onions.
  • Paprika: Paprika adds a very mild spiciness that comes from medium-heat hot peppers.
  • Rosemary: Rosemary has a strong, woodsy flavor with hints of lemon and pine. Again, use dried rosemary. If you use ground rosemary, decrease the amount you use by about half.
  • Sage: Sage is the quintessential poultry spice.
  • Thyme: Again, thyme is often used in poultry recipes.
  • Chili powder: Adjust the amount of chili powder used to accommodate your guests’ tastes. If you have a group that loves spicy dishes, increase it and vice versa for guests who can’t tolerate spiciness.
  • Salt: Sea salt or kosher salt.
  • Pepper: Freshly ground black pepper is best. Pre-ground pepper loses its flavor over time.
Ingredients for the poultry rub in a bowl.Pin
Ingredients for the rub.

Essential equipment

  • Smoker: You can use a wood smoker, electric smoker, pellet smoker, or even a grill or oven set up to be a smoker. See the section below. “What if I don’t have a smoker?”
  • Large bowl for marinating: Use any bowl or similar container that you have on hand that is deep enough to accommodate the breast.

How to Make It

Step One

Mix the herbs and salt in a pot with one cup of water. Heat until the salt is dissolved. Add it to a container large enough to accommodate the turkey breast. Use ice cubes to cool it to room temperature.

Add the rest of the brine ingredients, and then add the turkey. Cover it with water if needed.

Place it in the refrigerator overnight. You can brine it for two days, if desired.

Turkey breast in brine with spices.Pin
Place turkey in the prepared brine.

Step Two

Remove the breast for the brine and let it drip for a few minutes.

Brined breast on a piece of parchment.Pin
Remove the bird from the brine and let it drip.

Step Three

Dry it inside and outside with paper towels.

Drying the bird with paper towels.Pin
Dry it inside and outside with paper towels.

Step Four

Drizzle it with olive oil or melted butter and rub it all around.

Outside of bird drizzled with oil.Pin
Drizzle with olive oil.

Step Five

Mix the dry rub ingredients in a small bowl. Season it well with the dry rub, rubbing it into the meat.

Seasoned bird rubbed with the spice mixture.Pin
Season it well with paper towels.

Step Six

Don’t forget to season the inside of the cavity.

Inside of the cavity seasoned too.Pin
Don’t forget to season the inside of the breast.

Set up your smoker with wood and a container of water. Get the smoker going to a temperature of 225°F/115°C. Place turkey breast directly on the smoker racks. Smoke for 2-3 hours until the internal temperature reaches 165°F/80°C in the thickest part of the breast.

Remove the bird from the smoker. Tent it with aluminum foil. Let it rest for at least 5 minutes.

What wood to use

We prefer apple wood with this recipe. It compliments to apple juice in the brine. You could also use cherry wood. Hickory and more intense woods will overpower the turkey, so stay clear of those.

How to carve the breast halves

  1. Let the Turkey Rest: After cooking, let the turkey rest for about 20 minutes. This allows the juices to redistribute, making the meat more tender and easier to carve.
  2. Use the Right Tools: A sharp carving knife and a sturdy cutting board are essential. A carving fork can also be helpful to steady the turkey.
  3. Position the Turkey: Place the turkey with the breast side up on the cutting board. If the whole turkey is being carved, you may want to remove the leg and thigh first to make it easier to access the breast.
  4. Find the Breastbone: Locate the breastbone, which runs along the top center of the turkey.
  5. Make Your First Cut: Starting at the neck end, make a long, deep (to the bone) cut along one side of the breastbone, following the curve of the bone.
  6. Separate the Breast from the Bone: Gently pull the breast meat away from the bone with your fingers or the carving fork. As you pull, use your knife to cut any connective tissue away from the carcass. Work your way down the rib cage, keeping your knife close to the bone.
  7. Remove the Breast: Once you have fully separated the breast from the rib cage, use your knife to cut through the bottom part, freeing the breast from the carcass.
  8. Carve the Breast: Once removed, place the breast on the cutting board and slice it against the grain for more tender pieces. You can determine the grain by looking at the direction of the muscle fibers.
  9. Repeat for the Other Side: If you need to carve the other breast, turn the turkey around and repeat the process.

What if I don’t own a smoker?

You can still enjoy smoked meats if you don’t own a smoker. You can use your grill to smoke. Set up your grill so that the fire is only on one side. You will place the meat or vegetable on the side of the grill without a direct flame (indirect heat). This is called indirect cooking.

Add soaked wood to a metal tray (we use a disposable foil pie plate or bread pan). Add another metal tray with water. Place water and wood chips on the side of the grill with the fire. Remember to fill the water if it runs out.

You can also create a similar setup for your oven in a pinch or in the winter.

Fun variations

This turkey breast can be brined with citrus, such as orange or lemon. You could use orange juice instead of the apple and then have or quarter an orange and add it to the brine. Use cumin and coriander with the citrus version.

How to store leftovers

  1. Cool Down: Allow the smoked turkey to cool to room temperature. Do not leave it out for more than two hours to prevent bacterial growth.
  2. Slice or Shred: If you have a large amount, consider slicing or shredding the turkey. This makes it easier to store and use later.
  3. Airtight Containers: Place the turkey in an airtight container. If you don’t have containers, you can use heavy-duty aluminum foil, plastic wrap, or resealable plastic bags. If using bags, try to squeeze out as much air as possible before sealing.
  4. Refrigeration: Store the turkey in the refrigerator if you plan to use it within three to four days. Ensure your fridge is at or below 40°F (4°C) to keep the turkey safe.
  5. Freezing for Longer Storage: For longer storage, freeze the turkey. It can be kept in the freezer for up to four months without significant loss of quality. When freezing, label the containers or bags with the date, so you know how long it’s been stored.
  6. Thawing and Reheating: When you’re ready to eat the frozen turkey, thaw it in the refrigerator, not at room temperature. To reheat, ensure it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C) to kill any bacteria.
  7. Avoid Repeated Reheating: Reheat only the amount of turkey you plan to use. Repeated reheating can dry out the meat and increase the risk of foodborne illness.
Sliced smoked breast on a wooden slab.Pin

What to serve with smoked turkey?

These recipes are great side dishes to serve with turkey!

What to do with turkey leftovers

  1. Turkey Sandwiches or Wraps: Use sliced turkey in sandwiches or wraps. Add your favorite cheese, lettuce, tomato, and a spread like mayonnaise or cranberry sauce for a delightful meal. One of favorites to use is Cranberry Maple Butter.
  2. Turkey Salad: Chop the turkey and mix it with mayonnaise, mustard, celery, onions, and herbs to make a turkey salad. Serve it on bread, crackers, or over a bed of greens.
  3. Charcuterie: Make a fun holiday-themed charcuterie board with your smoked turkey as the centerpiece!
  4. Turkey Soup or Stew: Simmer chunks of turkey in broth with vegetables like carrots, celery, and potatoes for a comforting soup or stew. Adding rice or noodles can make it more filling. This Mexican-inspired Turkey Soup is a family favorite.
  5. Turkey Tacos or Quesadillas: Shred the turkey and use it as a filling for tacos or quesadillas. Combine with cheese, sautéed onions, and peppers for a tasty Mexican-inspired dish.
  6. Turkey Pot Pie: Mix chopped turkey with vegetables a creamy sauce, and top with a pie crust or biscuits for a hearty pot pie.
  7. Turkey Pasta: Add turkey to your favorite pasta dish. It goes well in creamy sauces, tomato-based sauces, or tossed with olive oil, garlic, and vegetables.
  8. Turkey Fried Rice: Stir-fry rice with chopped turkey, vegetables, soy sauce, and eggs for a quick and easy meal.
  9. Turkey Casserole: Combine turkey with ingredients like pasta, rice, vegetables, and a binding agent like cream or a can of soup. Top with cheese or breadcrumbs and bake. Try our Turkey Spaghetti Casserole.
  10. Turkey Breakfast Hash: Mix diced turkey with potatoes, onions, peppers, and seasonings. Cook until crispy and serve with eggs for a hearty breakfast.
  11. Turkey Omelette, Quiche, or Frittata: Add chopped turkey to omelettes, or frittatas along with vegetables and cheese for a protein-packed breakfast or brunch.

Recipe FAQs

What temperature should you cook the turkey breast?

Your turkey should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F/80°C. Use a good quality meat thermometer and check the temp in the thickest part of the breast,

Should I let the turkey rest?

Absolutely! After smoking, you should always rest the meat to allow the juices to redistribute. Rest the turkey tented with aluminum foil for about 5 minutes.

Do I need to use a brine?

No, you don’t need to brine, but the apple adds a delicious sweetness, and the salt becomes distributed into the meat more effectively.

Do I need to use a rub?

Technically no. But practically, yes! Smoking meat adds flavor, but the spice rub and the marinade will add the bulk of the flavor to your food. Plain smoked meat will be dull and flavorless. There is more to smoking than just putting your food into the smoker. The rub will also alter the texture and appearance to make it more appealing.

Can you make turkey gravy

Technically the answer to this question is yes. You can make turkey gravy with canned or frozen turkey stock. The sad part is that it is never as good as the gravy you get from a roasted turkey, because you can’t brown it like you can in the roasting pan with the juices. They are also more concentrated.

Smoking your next turkey will be the start of your favorite Thanksgiving meal ever. Wait until you hear the praise from your guests. You end up with a tender and juicy turkey breast, and the clean-up is a breeze. There are no roasting pans to slave on with this bird. Give it a try and let us know what you think!

Whole smoked turkey breast on a white platter with garnishes.Pin
Smoked Turkey Breast

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe today.

Enjoy. And have fun cooking!

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Sliced turkey breast on wood with sliced apples and fresh cranberries.Pin

Smoked Turkey Breast

Discover the art of preparing smoked turkey breast, which promises to tantalize your taste buds and leave your guests craving more!
See Step by Step Photos Above!Most of our recipes have step by step photos and videos! Also helpful tips so that you can make it perfectly the first time and every time! Scroll up to see them!
5 from 1 vote
Print Pin Rate
Course: entree, Main Course
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 3 hours
Marinating time: 12 hours
Total Time: 15 hours 20 minutes
Servings: 12 servings
Calories: 125kcal
Author: Beth Neels
Cost: $20

Ingredients

  • 1 turkey breast

For the brine

For the dry rub

Instructions

  • Mix the herbs and salt in a pot with one cup of water. Heat until the salt is dissolved. Add it to a container large enough to accommodate the turkey breast. Add ice cubes to it to cool it to room temperature.
    1 Tablespoon coarse kosher salt or sea salt, 2 Teaspoons whole black pepper, 1 Tablespoon dried thyme, 1 Tablespoon sage, dried
  • Add the rest of the brine ingredients, and then add the turkey. Cover it with water if needed.
    4 Cups apple juice, water, 1 turkey breast
  • Place it in the refrigerator overnight. You can brine it for two days, if desired.
  • Remove the breast for the brine and let it drip for a few minutes.
  • Dry it inside and outside with paper towels.
  • Drizzle it with olive oil or melted butter and rub it all around.
    olive oil
  • Mix the dry rub ingredients in a small bowl. Season it well with the dry rub, rubbing it into the meat.
    3 Teaspoons garlic powder, 3 Tablespoons brown sugar, 3 Teaspoons onion powder, 2 Teaspoons paprika, 1 Teaspoon rosemary, 1 Teaspoon thyme, 1 Teaspoon sage, 2 Teaspoons chili powder, 1 Teaspoon salt, ½ Teaspoon black pepper
  • Don’t forget to season the inside of the cavity.
  • Set up your smoker with wood and a container of water. Get the smoker going to a temperature of 225°F/115°C. Place turkey breast directly on the smoker racks. Smoke for 2-3 hours until the internal temperature reaches 165°F/80°C in the thickest part of the breast.
  • Remove the bird from the smoker. Tent it with aluminum foil. Let it rest for at least 5 minutes.
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Notes

What wood to use
We prefer apple wood with this recipe. It compliments to apple juice in the brine. You could also use cherry wood. Hickory and more intense woods will overpower the turkey, so stay clear of those.
How to store leftovers
  1. Cool Down: Allow the smoked turkey to cool to room temperature. Do not leave it out for more than two hours to prevent bacterial growth.
  2. Slice or Shred: If you have a large amount, consider slicing or shredding the turkey. This makes it easier to store and use later.
  3. Airtight Containers: Place the turkey in an airtight container. If you don’t have containers, you can use heavy-duty aluminum foil, plastic wrap, or resealable plastic bags. If using bags, try to squeeze out as much air as possible before sealing.
  4. Refrigeration: Store the turkey in the refrigerator if you plan to use it within three to four days. Ensure your fridge is at or below 40°F (4°C) to keep the turkey safe.
  5. Freezing for Longer Storage: For longer storage, freeze the turkey. It can be kept in the freezer for up to four months without significant loss of quality. When freezing, label the containers or bags with the date, so you know how long it’s been stored.
  6. Thawing and Reheating: When you’re ready to eat the frozen turkey, thaw it in the refrigerator, not at room temperature. To reheat, ensure it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C) to kill any bacteria.
  7. Avoid Repeated Reheating: Reheat only the amount of turkey you plan to use. Repeated reheating can dry out the meat and increase the risk of foodborne illness.
See the article above for more important suggestions, tips, and tricks.

Nutrition

Calories: 125kcal | Carbohydrates: 14g | Protein: 15g | Fat: 1g | Saturated Fat: 0.3g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.4g | Monounsaturated Fat: 0.4g | Trans Fat: 0.01g | Cholesterol: 35mg | Sodium: 920mg | Potassium: 290mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 11g | Vitamin A: 312IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 38mg | Iron: 1mg
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