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Smoked Turkey Breast

Smoked turkey breast is one of those dishes that is just as great for a weekend meal as it is for a fancy Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. Those who have smoked turkey breasts like to point out how easy it is to dry them out while smoking. That’s true, but if you follow a few basic rules your turkey breasts will be flavorful, tender and juicy.

Smoked turkey breast inside smoker.

Basic rules for smoking turkey breast

Skin-on, bone-in is the best

Nothing protects the delicate breast meat from drying out during smoking as much as skin and bone. That said, boneless and skinless turkey breasts will do just fine with this recipe as it provides an added layer of protection.

Brining is mandatory

Brining for turkey breasts is a must. It will help the meat retain more moisture during cooking. The flavored brine that I use in this recipe will also make the meat taste properly seasoned all the way through. I always use pink salt (also known as Insta Cure #1 or curing salt) when smoking turkey breasts – it protects the meat from harmful bacteria during long hours of smoking and enhances the color and flavor of the meat.

In general, brining does magic to poultry. I use brine to make roasted turkey breast and roasted chicken breast. I even brine chicken wings before smoking, and they taste fabulous, flavorful inside out and  juicy.

Raw turkey breast inside brine before smoking.

Dry surface for best results

Always dry the surface of the meat before putting it on the smoker. Smoke will not adhere to wet surfaces and won’t penetrate the meat. I dry the meat with paper towels and let it sit at room temperature for half an hour or so while I am starting my smoker. Cold meat will cause condensation in a hot smoker, remember that. There is no need to add dry rub as the meat will be plenty flavorful from the flavored brine and smoke, but I like sprinkling a little bit of paprika and cayenne for some extra color and heat.

Raw turkey breast inside a smoker in a foil pan.

Smoke low and slow

Meat starts to lose water very rapidly at 150F internal. At high heat the outer parts of the meat cook much faster than the center and will lose a lot of water before the center is cooked through. Low and slow cooking will allow the meat to retain most of its water. Shoot for 215F-235F temperature in the smoker.

Keep it moist

I used to smoke turkey breasts on a rack, but now I put them in a tray filled with a ½ cup of chicken broth. I also put some butter on the sides of the tray, which will later melt and get mixed with the broth and the meat juices. This technique comes from one of the BBQ competitions I attended and it works wonders. It helps the meat stay hydrated. You can use the buttery juices as a dipping sauce later on – it’s mouth watering.

Baste

After the meat has absorbed enough smoke, baste it with the buttery juices. No matter skin-on or skinless, both will benefit. Basting will make the turkey breast skin  softer and less rubbery which is always a challenge with smoking low and slow. There you have it, a perfect solution.

Brushing smoked turkey breast with buttery juices.

Do not over-cook

We all know that the USDA recommended target temperature for poultry is 165F. If you pull the turkey breast from the smoker at 160F internal the temperature will continue rising to 165F. So, smoke the breast to 160F internal and let it rest for 5 minutes. Then slice and enjoy that juicy smoked turkey breast.

That said, you can do even better. As I mentioned in sous vide chicken breast post, poultry meat is perfectly safe to eat at lower temperatures if the meat is held at those temperatures for a specified minimum time. For example, turkey is perfectly safe to eat once it reaches 150F and stays at that temperature for a minimum of 4.2 minutes. All you need is a reliable BBQ thermometer and a timing device.

Here is USDA’s time-temperature table for cooking ready-to-eat poultry products for your reference.

TemperatureHolding Time
140°F (60°C)35 minutes
145°F (62.8°C)13 minutes
148°F (64.4°C)6.8 minutes
150°F (65.6°C)4.2 minutes
152°F (66.7°C)2.3 minutes
155°F (68.3°C)54.4 seconds
157°F (69.4°C)34 seconds
160°F (71.1°C)16.9 seconds
162°F (72.3°C)10.5 seconds
163°F (72.8°C)1 second
165°F (73.9°C)1 second

Sliced smoked turkey breast, moist and juicy.

Smoked Turkey Breast

4.88 from 8 votes
Print Pin Rate
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 4 hours
Brining: 4 hours
Servings: 4 servings
Author: Victor

Ingredients

  • 1 turkey breast
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1 stick of butter cut into thin pats
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 12 tsp cayenne optional

For the turkey brine:

  • 1/2 gallon water cold
  • 1/4 cup salt about 73 g
  • 1 1/2 oz Cure #1 about 43 g, corresponds to 40 g of pure salt
  • 1 1/2 oz sugar brown or white (about 43 g)
  • 2 large carrots peeled and cut into pieces
  • 2 medium onions peeled and cut into pieces
  • 5 garlic cloves peeled and cut in half
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 Tbsp black pepper corns

Instructions

  • Bring 2 cups of water to boil in a small pan. Add the salt, sugar and Instacure and stir to dissolve. Add the rest of the ingredients and remove from heat. Cover and let cool, then mix with the rest of the water. To chill the brine faster, substitute some water for ice.
  • Place the turkey breast in brine and keep refrigerated for 4-8 hours.
  • Remove the breast from brine and pat dry really well. Leave at room temperature for 30 minutes or so to dry further.
  • Meanwhile, pre-heat your smoker to 225F (shoot for 215F - 235F range) and get that good thin and blue smoke going. If not sure if the smoke is good, smell it - if it smells good then it's a good smoke. I highly recommend cherry wood as it gives the meat a beautiful color and a sweet smoky flavor. I avoid apple wood as it gives barely any flavor or color.
  • Add the broth to a large aluminum or foil baking dish, then arrange butter pats on the inside walls of the dish. Carefully place the breast into the dish. Sprinkle with some paprika and cayenne pepper.
  • Place the dish on the smoker over indirect heat and smoke for about 3-4 hours, depending on the temperature and the size of the breast, until internal temperature hits 160F. Start basting the breast with buttery juices after about 2 ½ hours, every half an hour or so. Do not add any more wood chips/chunks after you start basting.
  • When done, remove the breast from the smoker and let rest for 5 minutes before slicing and serving. Use the pan juices as a dipping sauce, it’s delicious.

Notes

Cure #1, also called pink salt #1 or Prague Powder is available from local sausage supply stores or online, for example here: Hoosier Hill Farm Prague Powder Curing Salt. Make sure it is Cure #1, not #2. Cure #2 is used for making dry cured meats and sausages, like salami, sopressata and similar.

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24 comments

Jerry November 29, 2019 - 12:12 am

Hi! I won’t say I followed the recipe exactly, but it was more about following your process. I was a believer in brining, but made sure the surface was dry. Used the chicken broth and butter method. Took it out at 162, left it sitting before carving. Just those little things made this my proudest smoked turkey breast ever!

Reply
Victor @ Taste of Artisan November 29, 2019 - 2:14 am

Thank you for the feedback, Jerry. I am very happy to hear that I was able to help. Please, check out my other recipes, I hope you can find more useful information here.

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La November 22, 2019 - 5:00 pm

I have always wanted to smoke turkey as good as you get from the store, well today I did it, using your recipe.
Thank you so much.
Now I want to step up my game and smoke a whole turkey, for the holiday.
I have a young 13 lb turkey.
Please help.
Thanking you in advance.

Reply
Victor @ Taste of Artisan November 22, 2019 - 6:23 pm

You are very welcome, glad that you liked it so much.
>
Smoking a whole turkey should be very similar. You will need to brine longer, Stanley Marianski (meat smoking guru) recommends 1-2 days for under 10 lb and 2-3 days for 10+ lb turkeys in his book, I laid out his guidelines in my how to brine chicken post. His recipes tend to be on the saltier side, including sausages, salami, etc. I like less salt than he recommends, so I tend to err on the lower end of his recommendations or go even lower sometimes.
>
Say, he recommends 1-2 days for whole chickens but I find 8-12 hours enough for me, and 1 day absolute max. I would go about 1.5 days max for a 13 lb bird. Also, the wings will get quite salty (for may taste at least) after this much time in brine. I would remove the turkey from the brine after about 4 hours, dry the wings with paper towels and tie ziploc bags on them to prevent from getting more brine in them, then continue brining.
>
Finally, I would suggest butterflying/spatchcocking the turkey before smoking, this allows for a much more even heating and smoke penetration. The inside part will be nicely colored and smoky, if you raise it a little. I now spatchcock all my turkeys and chickens, smoked, rotisserie, roasted. Hope this helps.

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Adrian November 20, 2019 - 3:09 pm

Can you inject as well as brine

Reply
Victor @ Taste of Artisan November 20, 2019 - 3:42 pm

Are you thinking of injecting the brine solution? If so, it would be pointless IMHO as you’d still need to allow a fair bit of time for the injections to equalibrate. Might as well just brine. If you want to inject, say, herb infused butter, after brining, that will work. Just make sure to account for the salt in the brine.

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Mark December 30, 2018 - 8:46 pm

Incredible! I could not be happier with the results of my smoking.

Reply
Sal December 22, 2018 - 11:06 am

I’ve got a really early morning to get the turkey brined before going into the smoker. Can I make the brine the night before and then put the turkey in the next morning?

Reply
victor December 22, 2018 - 2:21 pm

Yes, and it’s better that way as they brine will be nice a chilled for you. I tend to make it the same day so I have to cool it down with the right amount of ice.

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John November 21, 2018 - 6:23 am

In the recipe it says on the brine 1 1/2 oz sugar and 1 1/2 oz 43 g of Cure #1 is this a mistake?

Reply
victor November 21, 2018 - 9:32 am

It’s 1 1/2 oz or 43 grams.

Reply
SANDY PENWELL October 22, 2018 - 1:56 pm

smoked the turkey breast on our pelet grill yesterday. It was delicious. we did not do brine but will next time. Thanks for great directions.

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victor October 23, 2018 - 8:55 am

Definitely try brining your turkey breast next time. It does two things – the seasonings will penetrate all the way inside and will make the meat much more flavorful, and the meat will be more juicy. I find that two hours is quite enough for small to medium size turkey breast, while 3-4 for large ones. Start with 2 hours and see how you like it. It’s best to slightly under-salt than to over-salt.

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Andrina Mathew September 11, 2018 - 8:57 am

So nice and yummy, I am loving it.

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Marko April 18, 2018 - 6:48 pm

How do you tell if you need to brine for 4 hours vs for 8 hours? Size?

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victor April 18, 2018 - 6:53 pm

Yes, size is one factor that I look at. Taste is another thing. I guess it will take some trial and error to find out if you like your turkey breast saltier or less salty. I like mine less salty so I stay on the lower end, 4-6 hours depending on size.

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Marek March 18, 2018 - 10:11 am

Hey Vic, loved your turkey recipe. Made it yesterday with my favorite pecan wood. It turned out great, and the skin was edible thanks to the butter baste I guess- why haven’t I thought of that? LOL. All the best!

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victor March 18, 2018 - 10:44 pm

Glad to hear it, Marek. Turkey skin is to make tough and rubbery, but in this recipe it comes out pretty good.

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yl February 18, 2018 - 9:54 pm

Thanks. The turkey breast turned out great – nice color, great flavor and very juicy, just like on your photos. This was my first time using cherry wood for smoking and I liked it a lot. The breast was devoured in less than 30 minutes. I wish I had smoked more than one. Looks like I will be making more next weekend.

Reply
victor February 18, 2018 - 9:55 pm

That’s great to hear. Thanks for leaving your feedback.

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yl February 18, 2018 - 10:06 am

That turkey breast is looking really good. I am smoking one today using this recipe. Hope it turns out like yours.

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victor February 18, 2018 - 10:06 am

Good luck! Let me know how it turns out.

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John M. February 12, 2018 - 9:24 pm

I smoked a couple of turkey breasts last weekend using your method and they came out pretty darn good. Moist and juicy, like on your picture. I’ve always smoked turkey breasts skinless and they would turn out a little dry, which I thought was due to turkey breasts being lean meat. I’ll be smoking only skin on breasts going forward.

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victor February 12, 2018 - 9:28 pm

Totally. Skin helps achieve moister meat for sure. I’ve done skinless in the past and you can make them pretty moist too but it involves covering the pan with foil after about an hour of smoking and letting the meat come up to temperature. The breasts don’t taste as smoky to me when done this way and don’t have the same nice color.

Reply