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Here’s an easy-to-follow smoked turkey breast recipe on a charcoal grill, gas grill, pellet grill, or smoker.
This is a recipe for preparing a whole, bone-in turkey breast weighing anywhere from 5 to 8 lbs.
Smoking a turkey breast has a few advantages over smoking a whole turkey, most notably is the fact you don’t need to worry about the leg sections being done at the same time as the breast meat.
That’s why a smoked turkey breast is a great option for Thanksgiving or any other holiday gathering.
And smoking a bone-in turkey breast has a few advantages over smoking a boneless turkey breast.
Leaving the turkey breast attached to the bone has the advantage of shielding a lot of it from the heat, resulting in a juicier smoked turkey breast.
And if you’re smoking a whole, bone-in turkey breast, you can stand it upright on the grill grate, allowing the smoke and heat to pass all around it.
There are a few things you can do to ensure that your turkey breast turns out moist and juicy.
One of the most important steps is to dry brine or salt your turkey breast before you smoke it to retain optimal moisture.
What about Turkey Thighs? Yep, you can smoke them. Here’s how to smoke turkey thighs.
Smoked Turkey Breast Brine
Although you can certainly brine your turkey breast in a solution consisting of 1 gallon of cold water with 1/2 cup of salt for 4 to 6 hours, I prefer to dry brine or pre-salt my turkey breast.
Dry brining your turkey breast is not only easier than submerging it in a wet brine, the turkey breast will taste of turkey, and not turkey that is moist because of the tap water it has retained.
When you dry brine or rub salt on a turkey breast, the salt will pull moisture out of the breast which will then be reabsorbed back into the breast over time.
The liquid that is pulled out of the breast will form a concentrated brine with the salt which is then reabsorbed back into the meat.
The salt in this brine will dissolve the muscle proteins in the turkey breast, allowing for more moisture retention.
To dry brine the breast, apply salt on top and underneath the skin.
For a 6 to 8 lb bone-in turkey breast you can rub each breast with 1 to 2 teaspoons of salt on top and underneath the skin and let it rest for 4 hours up to 24 hours.
What if the turkey breast you bought is already pre-basted or injected with broth solution?
Yes, you can still smoke a pre-basted turkey breast, although a natural breast with no additives is ideal.
With a pre-basted, bone-in turkey breast you are fine to sprinkle the skin with a little salt (1 teaspoon for the entire outside) as well as any seasonings you prefer.
The Butter Question
You will see a lot of recipes that have you rub butter all over the turkey and underneath the skin.
Will this help your turkey breast turn out juicier in the end? Not necessarily.
The best thing you can do for your turkey is to pre-salt it at least four hours ahead.
You can throw all the butter in the world at your turkey breast but unless its muscle proteins are somewhat dissolved through the brining process it is an exercise in futility.
How Long Does It Take To Smoke a Turkey Breast?
The amount of time it takes to smoke a whole, bone-in turkey breast depends on its size and the ambient pit temperature of your smoking chamber.
I’ve found that a 6 to 8lb whole, bone-in turkey breast will take 3 to 4 hours to cook at a smoking temperature around 275°F.
Can you smoke a turkey breast at the standard low-and-slow barbecue temperature of 225°F?
Whenever you smoke meat there is a delicate balance between the ideal amount of smoke absorption and the amount of moisture lost.
You want a smoking temperature that allows enough time for smoke penetration, but not too much time resulting in a dry end result.
Smoking a turkey breast at 225°F adds unnecessary cooking time as the lean breast meat doesn’t need to break down like tougher pieces of meat such as a brisket or pork shoulder.
And the longer the time spent in the smoker, the more moisture your turkey breast will lose.
A smoking temperature of between 275°F and 325°F will give your turkey breast plenty of time to absorb smoke while not drying out.
Crispy skin is difficult to achieve at the lower end of that range, so if you must have crispier skin you’ll want a smoking temperature closer to 325°F.
Here is the link to the USDA’s guidance on smoking a turkey.
At What Internal Temperature is Smoked Turkey Breast Done?
When you’re smoking a turkey breast you’ll need to pay attention to its internal temperature throughout the smoking process to ensure you don’t overcook it.
The USDA states that all poultry must be cooked to a minimum safe internal temperature of 165°F.
However, the destruction of harmful pathogens such as Salmonella can be achieved by a combination of both temperature and time working together above an internal meat temperature of 130°F.
The USDA has stated that poultry products need to achieve a 7-log reduction of Salmonella to be considered safe to eat. This 7-log kill rate equates to a survival rate of one pathogenic cell out of 10 million cells.
Harmful pathogens in meat start to die at a temperature of 130°F. The longer the amount of time a piece of meat spends above that temperature, the more pathogens that will die.
This 7-log kill rate of pathogens is achieved instantly at a temperature of 165°F.
The same level of pathogen destruction is also achieved by maintaining the internal temperature of your turkey breast above 150°F for 5 minutes. (4.9 minutes in the table below)
You can only take advantage of this process known as meat pasteurization if you have an accurate meat thermometer and have made sure you’ve found the lowest internal temperature point in your turkey breast.
Pulling the turkey breast off the smoker at an internal temperature of between 152°F to 157°F allows for a margin of safety as well as a juicy end result.
What’s the best way to monitor the internal temperature of your turkey breast while it cooks? Great question.
Where to Insert a Temperature Probe Into a Turkey Breast?
The best way to monitor a turkey breast on a smoker is with a dependable Bluetooth or WiFi meat thermometer with multiple probes that can track both the ambient smoking temperature as well as the internal temperature of your meat.
And the best place to insert a temperature probe into a turkey breast is near the neck opening, halfway down the breast, close to, but not touching the breast bone.
Smoking a turkey breast by itself with no legs attached gives you the advantage of also inserting a temperature probe low along the side of the breast at a point where the legs used to be.
Insert your probe as shown in the picture below, starting along the side, inserting it pointing towards the front (or neck opening) at an angle until you hit the breast bone, and then draw the probe back a bit.
Best Woods For Smoking Turkey Breast
The best woods for smoking turkey breast are milder woods such as apple, pecan, or cherry wood. Although you can certainly use whatever wood you prefer.
A combination of apple and cherry wood can yield great results.
How much wood should you use while smoking a turkey breast? Start with a fistful of wood chunks on top of some lit charcoal to begin and then add half that amount each hour until it’s finished.
Injections and Marinades for Smoked Turkey Breast
Should you use any injections or marinades to flavor your smoked turkey breast? You certainly can but I actually like the unadulterated flavor of a juicy turkey breast that’s been perfectly smoked with wood.
Injections and marinades were invented to mask dry turkey breast meat.
If you allow your brine plenty of time to do its work and pull your breasts from the smoker at the aforementioned temperatures there is no need to inject it with chicken broth, apple cider, bourbon, or any other concoction.
That’s the great thing about bbq and smoking, there is no right or wrong way, it’s what you like that counts.
Can You Smoke a Turkey Breast on a Gas Grill?
You can smoke a turkey breast on a gas grill. All you need to do is set your grill up for indirect heat by turning on the burners on one side only.
If you have a bbq thermometer that has multiple probes you can set a probe on the cool side using a grate clip and monitor the ambient temperature, shooting for a temperature between 275°F and 325°F.
You can then place a foil packet of wood chips or chunks over the burners on the hot side to achieve smoke. Make sure to poke enough holes in the foil to let the smoke escape.
Smoked Turkey Breast
- Smoker, Pellet Grill, Gas Grill or Charcoal Grill
- Wood Chips or Chunks
- 1 8 to 10 lb Whole Bone-In Turkey Breast
- 3 tsp Kosher Salt
- 1 tsp Black Pepper
- 1 tbsp Vegetable Oil or Olive Oil
Optional Seasonings and Rubs
- 1 tsp Dried Thyme
- 1 tsp Onion Powder
- 1 tsp Garlic Powder
Optional Seasonings #2
- 1 tbsp Poultry Seasoning
- Thaw the turkey breast in the fridge for 3 days or in a cold water bath, changing the water every 30 minutes until thawed.
- Trim the turkey breast, getting rid of the excess skin from the neck area, the nubs of meat and skin by the arm joints and chest cavity.
- Season the turkey breast on top of the skin and underneath with salt and pepper. Let it rest in the refrigerator for 6 hours up to 24 hours.
- Prepare your smoker or charcoal grill for indirect cooking at a chamber temperature of 275 degrees Fahrenheit.
- When you're ready to smoke, apply the oil to the skin of the turkey breast and place it upright on the grill grate. Insert a temperature probe (or two if you have it) into the deepest part of the breast and place another probe inside the smoker to track the ambient pit temperature. Close the smoker and throw a fist-sized amount of wood chips or chunks on the charcoal. Add half a fist of wood chips or chunks each hour thereafter.
- Smoke the turkey breast until it reaches an internal temperature of anywhere between 152 to 157 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Let the turkey breast rest on a cutting board for 15 to 20 minutes, then slice and serve.