Turkey is synonymous in the US with the holidays, and it’s typically an oven-roasted bird that sometimes comes off as a little chalky and dry. But let me introduce you to the roasted turkey’s better and tastier cousin, smoked turkey breast.
Don’t wait until Thanksgiving to taste this juicy, smoky, and herbaceous turkey breast. Here’s how I make smoked turkey breast with a Traeger pellet grill, with a wet brine, compound butter, and my favorite smoking technique below.
Where to buy turkey breast
We all know that buying turkey can be a little tricky to find outside of the Holiday months of November and December, but I was surprised to see a constant supply of turkey breast at my local Sprouts market. Throughout the year, they consistently sell bone-in and skin-on turkey breast, thighs, and ground meat.
You may be able to find raw turkey breast at grocery stores like Gelson’s or smaller butchers, too. A trick to helping find raw turkey breast faster without calling stores or visiting multiple locations is to use InstaCart as a search tool.
Brining the turkey breast before smoking
Just like when I roast my Thanksgiving turkey in the oven, I also like to use a brine here to get tender pieces of turkey. Especially since you’ll be smoking the turkey for long periods, you want to prep your bird for as much moisture and flavor as possible. I used an overnight wet brine for this recipe, including cold water, kosher salt, brown sugar, and aromatics like fresh rosemary, garlic, onion, peppercorns, and a bay leaf.
Herb compound butter
I also like to make and coat the turkey breast with compound butter right before smoking to help retain moisture and add more flavor. My compound butter is a combination of fresh herbs like oregano, sage, thyme, rosemary, and parsley with savory spices like ground mustard, onion powder, garlic powder, and smoked paprika. Make sure you have softened butter because it’s easier to mix together. I also like to peel the skin from the meat so I can butter in between and on top of the skin–this allows for ultimate flavor.
What temp to smoke turkey breast
Low and slow is best when smoking poultry to prevent it from drying out, but evenly cooking it. I preheat the smoker and cook at 225 °F until the internal temperature of the turkey breast (the thickest part) measures 165 °F at the thickest part of the breast.
Then, I crank the heat to 400 °F until the turkey breast reaches 175 °F internally. The last part of smoking at higher heat creates a crispier skin and takes about 10 minutes.
How long does it take to smoke a turkey breast?
Smoking a turkey breast at 225 °F takes about two hours total in the smoker for a two-pound bone-in, skin-on turkey breast. There’s also an additional 10-15 minutes of higher smoking time at 400 °F to crisp up the skin at the end of cooking.
The timing may be reduced if you use a boneless or skinless turkey breast. But overall, it does take a while so you may want to consider smoking more than one breast at a time.
Type of wood to smoke for turkey breast
Since I use a Traeger smoker, I specifically use wood pellets. I also recommend using maple or pecan pellets or chips when smoking poultry (like smoked chicken thighs) because you don’t want to overpower the flavor of chicken or turkey with bolder smoke flavors like hickory. Check out my other post, covering the best wood for smoking meat.
Should you smoke a turkey breast skin side up or down?
There are different recommendations for positioning turkey breasts in the smoker, but I like placing the turkey breast skin side up to prevent the skin from sticking to the grill. It will come out looking better in the end.
Sides to serve with smoked turkey
Turkey goes great with traditional mashed potatoes, or even my favorite garlic smashed potatoes if you’re feeling fancy. If there’s extra room on your smoker you could throw whole corn on the cob in foil since the turkey will be in there a couple hours. If there’s no room you can boil or just microwave corn on the cob for a side too.
If you have lots of smoked turkey left over, and of course the bones, you could use all of this to make a delcious Vietnamese rice porride, or cháo gà.
For more smoker ideas check out my recipes:
- smoked salmon
- smoked chicken thighs
- best wood for smoking
- pork baby back ribs
- smoked beef ribs
- smoked turkey legs
Smoked Turkey Breast
- 6 tbsp kosher salt
- 6 c cold water
- 4 tbsp brown sugar
- 8 cloves garlic smashed
- 5 whole peppercorns
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary
- 1 small yellow onion
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 lb turkey breast skin-on and bone-in
- 4 tbsp unsalted butter softened
- 1 tsp fresh thyme minced
- 1 tsp fresh rosemary minced
- 1 tsp fresh sage minced
- 1 tsp fresh oregano minced
- 1 tsp fresh parsley minced
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp onion powder
- ½ tsp smoked paprika
- ½ tsp ground mustard powder
- large bowl
- plastic wrap
- knife and cutting board
- measuring cups and spoons
- paper towels
- sheet pan
- cooling rack
- Combine the ingredients for the wet brine in a large bowl enough to submerge the turkey breast. Whisk the ingredients until the salt and brown sugar have dissolved.
- Place the turkey breast in the wet brine bowl.
- Cover with plastic wrap and place the bowl in the fridge for 12-24 hours.
- Remove the turkey from the brine and place it on a cooling rack and sheet pan. Use paper towels to thoroughly dry the turkey breast. Let the turkey breast sit on the counter to come to room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
- After warming up the smoker on "smoke" setting, preheat the smoker to 225 °F.
- In a bowl, combine the compound butter ingredients until incorporated.
- Separate the skin from the meat almost all the way to the edge and add some compound butter inside.
- Cover the turkey breast with compound butter thoroughly, including in between the skin and flesh.
- Place the turkey breast skin-side up on the smoker and cook until it the internal temperature reaches 165 °F. I like to use a wireless thermometer to monitor cooking, then spot-check with an instant-read thermometer in a few places to double-check before pulling the turkey out. Take the temperatures at the deepest part of the turkey and near the bone.
- Once it reaches 165 °F, raise the temperature to 400 °F and cook for an additional 15 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 175 °F. The goal here is to crisp the skin while the turkey finishes cooking.
- Transfer the turkey breast to a cutting board and let rest for another 10 minutes before serving. Carve it away from the bone as cleanly as you can, then slice to serve.