Sometimes you just want to cook a turkey breast instead of a whole 20-pound bird. Heck, I am with you! I like to cook up enough turkey to make a few sandwiches and not deal with a week’s worth of leftovers!
I think turkey is one of the best meats to put on a smoker. Turkey takes up the smoke flavor nicely and will be typically be done in two hours when smoked at 225F. The only downside to cooking a turkey on the smoker is that the skin is going to come out rubbery.
Let me show you how I tackle this cut.
How to Smoke a Turkey Breast
The general steps for smoking this cut are:
- Brine the bird for 8-12 hours
- Season with a savory poultry seasoning
- Smoke at 225F for approximately 90 minutes with a mild wood such as apple or maple.
- Cook for about 90 minutes until an internal temperature of 165F is reached.
Let’s look at each of these steps a little closer.
Turkey Breast Brine
Brining the turkey is going to bring flavor into the meat and help keep it juicy while cooking.
My brine recipe is simple:
- 1 quart water
- 1/3 cup salt
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
For this cook I was working with a 2.5 pound breast. I put the breast in a 1 gallon Ziplock bag, poured in the brine, placed the bag in a baking dish (just in case it leaked) and let it rest in the refrigerator overnight.
I get the best results when I brine for at least 8 hours. If you are short on time you can skip the brining step but your turkey will not be as awesome as mine 🙂
Right before you are ready to fire up your smoker remove the breast from the brine, rinse it under cold water and pat dry with paper towels.
Season With a Savory Blend
I think savory flavors like marjoram, thyme, rosemary really compliment turkey. You will not need to add any salt to the bird as it picked up plenty of that while it was brining.
For this cook I used McCormick’s Poultry Seasoning. It is important to make sure you add seasoning UNDER the skin. The seasoning on top of the skin looks pretty but it is the seasoning under the skin that is going to really flavor the meat.
Smoke at 225F with a Mild Wood
I like to smoke breasts at 225F for a couple of reasons.
There is almost no internal fat or collagen in a turkey breast so you have to treat it completely different than a piece of meat like a chuck roast or a brisket. While fatty cuts can handle Hot and Fast cooking, leaner cuts tend to “tighten up” and get tough at higher temperatures.
The low temperature also gives the bird more time on the pit to soak up smoke flavor.
How long does it take to smoke a turkey breast at 225F? It took this 2.5 pound breast 90 minutes to reach 165F. Larger breasts (4-5 pounds) will take up to three hours.
And speaking of smoke flavor…I am a big fan of using mild, sweet woods like apple and maple for poultry. Stronger woods like hickory or pecan can easily overwhelm the flavor of the bird.
Cook to an Internal Temperature of 165F
Once the breast hits an internal temperature of 165F it will be safe to eat and will still be juicy. Usea digital thermometer and know when the meat is done…don’t guess!
One of the reasons I love to smoke just the breast instead of a whole bird is you don’t have to worry about the breast overcooking and drying out while the thighs and drumsticks get to their target temperature of 185F.
My Favorite Turkey Breast Sandwich
Leftover turkey sandwiches are one of my favorite holiday meals. I have picked up a few tricks over the years that can elevate a turkey sandwich into something sublime.
Tip #1: Ciabatta rolls are outstanding. The inside of the roll is slightly sweet, light and airy while the exterior gives a great chew. This is a roll that can truly support an amazing sandwich. If Ciabatta rolls aren’t your thing that is okay but just make sure that you are using some type of bread that is of he same high quality as the turkey.
Tip #2: Cream cheese is a secret weapon. A big slather of cream cheese onto the bottom bun partners extremely well with the smoked turkey. This is another reason why I like using a robust roll like Ciabatta for these sandwiches as it is easy to spread the cream cheese. If cream cheese isn’t your thing the you can still elevate your turkey sandwiches by adding a layer of cranberry sauce (there is ALWAYS leftover cranberry sauce).
Tip #3: Be serious about your mustard. Seriously, do not underestimate what a really good mustard can do for a sandwich. There is no need to go with plain yellow mustard when there are so many other GREAT options available. I go for Mister Mustard Sweet Hot.
I finish the sandwich off with some lettuce, Swiss cheese and a few slices of bacon. Life is good.
If you enjoyed this article then check out my free online barbecue class, the Brisket Boot Camp!