The Key to Making Smoked Turkey Breast

Thanksgiving or not—cooking a smoked turkey breast and serving with copious amounts of side dishes is a big enough meal to make anyone thankful.

Turkey breast is a deceptively easy item to cook. Taking your time and following close instructions will get you a warm and delicious meal but leaving your turkey on the smoker for too long can easily result in a flat, tasteless cut of meat.

We’ll be going over a detailed recipe for smoked turkey breast, tips on how to avoid that dry flavor, and different ways to season and finish off your labor of love.

 

smoked turkey breast

Smoked Turkey Breast

Ingredients

    • Boneless turkey breast
    • Salt
    • Seasonings
    • Black pepper
    • Garlic
    • Dry or wet rub
    • Butter

Instructions


Making a good smoked turkey is all about prep time, so starting the day before you plan to serve the meal is a must to give the turkey enough time to brine.

If you’re not already familiar with the brining process, don’t worry—we’ll be going through it step by step.

A good brine is a simple mixture—a blend of saltwater and optional herbs and spices to soak in your meat, provide much-needed moisture, and prepare the meat for the hot and dry smoking process.

To start making your brine, keep a ratio of about four tablespoons of salt per liter of water. Whether you’re cooking one breast or several, make sure you’ve got enough to cover the meat entirely beneath the brine. If you need to, test out your measurements beforehand with water.

Mix the salt and water into a large pot and bring up to boiling. Add in some black pepper, crushed garlic, and any other seasonings you’d like to try out before turning off the heat.

We’ll let this sit for an hour before loading into a fridge to cool down.

You’ll need this brine to cool to avoid prematurely cooking the meat.

Once you’ve finished brine preparation, pull out your turkey breast. If you’ve purchased from the store, consider leaving the netting on to make the rest of this process a bit easier.

Drop the breasts into the brine, cover, and leave overnight in a refrigerator.

On the day of your meal, get started by rinsing and drying off your turkey. Don’t be afraid to wait a little bit to make sure the turkey is dry enough for the next part of the process.

To get ready for the smoker, we’ll need to make the outside of the turkey moist and wet, and we can do this either with butter or oil.

We recommend melting butter and coating the turkey liberally across all sides and into every section you can find.

Don’t be afraid to use an entire stick of unsalted butter if necessary.

If you’re planning on putting on a rub—wet or dry—now is the time to do so. Remember that the smoking process will drain the turkey of a lot of the flavors we’re putting on now, so be liberal and make sure you’ve covered everything that you can.

We’re about to start using our smoker—so make sure you’ve got yours heated up to around 250 degrees. It may be a good idea to oil your smoker as well to prevent the meat from sticking to the metal.

Once you’re finished with your rub and seasoning, place the turkey on the smoker and keep a close eye on it as it smokes for about four to five hours. Keep a cup of melted butter or oil close by and baste every half hour or so.

Neglecting to baste or going too light on the butter earlier in the process is a good way to get a dry turkey, so keep working at the turkey as much as you can.

Your turkey is done once the outside turns a dark brownish hue (depending on which rub you’ve used) and once the internal temperature holds fast at about 165 degrees.

In the interest of your safety, keep an accurate thermometer handy to check before taking the turkey off of the smoke.

Just because the smoker is over the correct temperature doesn’t mean the inside of the turkey is.

Once it’s done, remove your turkey carefully and let rest for a few minutes before cutting into it. Remove any netting that remains on the turkey, cut out your slices, and if you’ve done the process right, you should be greeted with a warm, well-seasoned turkey that’s high in flavor and low in dryness.

Review

    • Prepare a brine and allow your turkey to soak overnight
    • Coat your turkey liberally with butter and other seasonings
    • Baste with butter or oil about every half hour to lock in moisture
    • Make sure the internal temperature reaches 165 before removing from the smoker

Variations and Meal Ideas

With or without skin, dry rub or wet—there are many options available to anyone who wants to make a smoked turkey breast without sticking to the basics. So much of smoked turkey breast is in the prep—so we’ll be going over a few ways you can bring out different flavors in your turkey to satisfy the palate of any occasion.

The Perfect Brine


Smoked turkey breast starts with brine. Since you’re spending so long allowing your turkey to soften and soak, why not take advantage of this time to try out a few new flavors?

Traditional brines have pepper and garlic or stick to salt and water but try changing up your soaking schedule depending on what the occasion is.

For Thanksgiving, a sweeter brine is best—so try adding apple cider, orange peels, or brown sugar to offset all that salt.

Planning and making your other dinner items with the same ingredients will also help match the sweetness of your turkey to the rest of your meal.

For a herbal turkey, add rosemary, garlic, bay leaves, and maybe a touch of basil to accent the meal with a little bit of flair.

For either option, making the brine remains the same—heat to near-boiling, stir in your ingredients, and let cool off. You may not get the perfect brine on the right turkey but keep honing down your portions and ingredients to have total control over the taste of the end result.

Rubs & Skins


While the inside of your turkey is dependent solely on the brine, the crust of your smoked turkey breast is limited to the rub you choose and whether or not you’ve removed the skin.

If you’re going for a crispier crust, try a dry rub that’s salty and zesty and leave the skin on. While it’s smoking, baste with butter or try out a mixture of butter and brown sugar. When the turkey is finished, a final sprinkling of brown sugar, salt, and pepper will help solidify the flavor.

A more backyard-friendly option requires you to remove the skin—so keep twine handy to wrap your breast back up if removing the netting makes things easier to work with. A wet rub is going to give you a little more control over your taste—but at a cost. Instead of basting with butter, you’ll need to baste with wet rub liberally and often to keep up the flavors.

Each choice of rub (or choosing not to use rub at all) is going to have a big impact on the visual impact and taste of your turkey, so choose wisely.

Stuffing Your Turkey


If you want a little more control over the flavor of the meat, you may want to try tying together two breasts and stuffing more ingredients within the turkey itself.

A frozen stick of unsalted butter in the middle of your turkey breast will help baste and moisten your meal over time—but you’re not limited to butter alone.

You can mix your butter with rub, spices, pepper, or herbs and allow the smoker to melt the mixture together while cooking.

We don’t recommend trying this out on your first try, but for experienced smokers, it may be worth taking a little more time to get the portions right and getting that little bit of extra control over the flavor of the meat. If that doesn’t work, try purchasing apple wood or a changing your smoker settings to avoid drying out the meat.

Wrapping Things Up


Smoked turkey breast goes great with other foods traditional to Thanksgiving, so try serving your turkey breast with mashed potatoes and lots of greens. If you’ve mixed in apple cider or vinegar with your brine, serving with a glass of cider will help tie the meal together.

Whatever you to, spending enough time preparing your meat and keeping a close eye on the moisture will give you the best chance for a great turkey breast. Many of our tips here transfer over to other meats as well, so remember to brine your white meats, keep basting, and keep on smoking.

 

Featured image: CC BY 2.0, Jackie Finn-Irwin via https://www.flickr.com.

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