Smoked Turkey Breast For Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving just isn't complete without turkey. That succulent white meat drenched in gravy is the only way to enjoy the holiday, but just baking or roasting your turkey can get kind of boring after a while. You can roast a bird anytime you want, but Thanksgiving a special occasion and you should treat it as such.
The best option we can think of to really spice up your turkey eating this November would be to smoke it. But how do you go about smoking your turkey? What should you use and what will you need? Fear not, as we're going to answer those questions right now.
What You Need
Which Wood Should You Use?
The wood you choose to use while smoking can depend heavily on personal taste as well as the kind of meat you choose to smoke with. There are many helpful guides online that break down what kind of flavor certain woods give to the meat they smoke, and you can also check our blog for an article on The Most Delicious Smoke Flavors.
For turkey breast, woods like hickory and cherry are good, as are mesquite and peach. Experiment to find out what you like.
There are many ways to brine a turkey, but none of them matter if your container isn't large enough to hold them. These brines will feature about a gallon worth of liquid each, so plan as such. A large bucket or zip top bag will suffice to hold your turkey breast and its brining liquid.
When making your brine, it's important to have a recipe to follow. There are many ways to create an effective brine, but here are three good recipes you can use. All three involve the use of a spice rub, which you can either experiment with on your own to find which flavors you like best on your meat.
No matter which brine you choose, though, it's guaranteed to make your turkey much more delicious. Check out this video on Smoked Turkey 101 and find out the recipe for apple brine and the best gravy:
The first brine involves half a gallon of clean, cold water mixed with a cup of salt, 3/4 of a cup of brown sugar, two large tablespoons of your spice rub of choice. Stir in the dry ingredients until dissolved and fully mixed into the water before introducing the meat.
The second brine is also a gallon's worth, made of equal parts buttermilk and water. Omit the brown sugar and use the same amount of spice rub and salt before mixing together and submerging the turkey breast.
Finally, the third brine features a less traditional cranberry-based brine. Just mix half a gallon of cranberry-pomegranate juice (we use Ocean Spray, but your favorite brand will work, too) with a cup of salt and two tablespoons of the spice rub, mix to combine, and add your turkey.
With your materials gathered, you're now ready to start the process of smoking your turkey breast.
Step 1: Brining the Turkey
While it's technically an optional step, no one should have to suffer the indignity of unbrined poultry. To ensure maximum flavor and juiciness is retained in your smoked turkey, brining is the best option. Mix up your favorite brine (either from the list above or your own recipe) and submerge your turkey breasts in the liquid for at least 10 hours or preferably overnight in the refrigerator.
Step 2: Seasoning the Turkey
Remove your turkey from the brine after an appropriate length of time, rinse thoroughly with clean water, and pat the outside dry. To season your breast thoroughly, pull up the skin attached to your breast and slide your hand underneath, being careful to leave the skin attached by the edges without completely pulling it off.
Once you've done that, spread a few tablespoons of spice rub onto the meat. For extra flavor, you could even mix your spice rub into softened butter, packing that below the skin to help it retain moisture and develop a deliciously succulent and nutty flavor as the butter melts and absorbs into the meat.
After that, apply some olive oil to the outside of the skin, rubbing on spice rub until it forms a kind of paste. Once you've finished, let the meat rest and absorb the spices while you prepare the smoker.
Step 3: Lighting the Smoker
This step will be different depending on what kind of smoker you use. If you use a charcoal smoker, light your charcoal in a chimney before dumping it on top of a pile of unlit charcoal, surrounding with your wood of choice when it begins to smolder. Fill the water pan and set it inside, closing the lid and letting the smoker reach a temperature between 230 and 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Consistency is key.
If you’re completely new a don’t know where to start, don’t worry, we have a helpful tutorial on How To Smoke On A Gas Grill, make sure to check it out!
Step 3: Smoking the Turkey
Once your grill is up to temperature, take your turkey breast and place it skin side down onto the smoker grate (alternatively, use a Bradley rack if available), closing the lid and letting it smoke. It should take about two and a half to three hours to fully cook your turkey this way.
In the meantime, make sure to monitor the smoker's temperature. If it falls too low or gets too hot, make the appropriate adjustments. You might need to add more wood, charcoal, or water as needed if any of them starts to run out, too. About halfway through cooking, flip the breast to evenly cook both sides.
Step 4: Resting the Turkey
Allowing your meat to rest after cooking it helps the meat to relax and reabsorb its juices, as well as let the residual heat evenly distribute and finish the cooking process. You're aiming for an internal temperature of about 160 degrees at the thickest part of the meat before you take it off.
Safe eating temperature for turkey is 165 degrees, meaning you should see the meat climb those extra 5 degrees as it sits out to rest before serving. Though it's tempting, don't think you leave the meat on a bit longer and serve it immediately, as you run the risk of overcooking the turkey and ending up with dry meat.
Step 5: Serving the Turkey
Now that your turkey is perfectly smoked, you can dig in. Serve it up however you like best. Making thick cuts on a slight bias, though, is one of the best ways to serve smoked meat, especially turkey. No matter how it's carved, though, your smoked turkey will taste delicious.
By following these steps, you should have the know how to smoke a Thanksgiving turkey breast like a champ. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, I have a video tutorial on how to smoke a whole turkey! Now that is definitely one way to impress your guests:
If you want to be fully prepared this holiday season, make sure to check out our tutorial on How To Prepare a Turkey!
What did you think of this guide? Have any tips on smoking a bird or any Thanksgiving tricks you'd like to share? Leave a comment telling us about them, and share this article with your friends who haven't yet experienced the amazing flavors of smoked turkey for themselves.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why Should You Brine Turkey?
Brining is optional, but it is our opinion that this step should not be skipped. During the brining process, the turkey absorbs extra moisture. It also takes on the salt from the brine, changing the protein structure of the turkey breast. The combination of salt and extra water helps ensure maximum flavor and juiciness of the finished turkey.
How Long Should You Brine a Turkey?
A whole turkey will take 16-24 hours to brine, but a turkey breast will brine in as little as 10 hours. You can also leave your turkey breast to brine overnight, but don’t allow it to sit for longer than 24 hours. Excess brining time can cause your turkey to be overly salty.
How Long Does it Take to Smoke a Turkey Breast?
A turkey takes about 30 to 40 minutes per pound to cook to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. In a 225 to 250 degree F smoker, this should take about 4 hours. If you are using a meat thermometer, it will be easy to know when the turkey is finished cooking.
What Kind of Wood Should You Use to Smoke a Turkey Breast?
Hickory or mesquite wood will impart a full-flavored smoke to your turkey. Fruit woods (like apple or cherry) give your meat a more subtle mild smoke flavor. Choose a smoke that will complement the flavors of your spice rub and the side dishes for your meal.
How Long Does it Take to Thaw Turkey?
A whole turkey takes a long time to thaw. The general rule of thumb is to allow 24 hours of thawing time for each 4 to 5 pounds of frozen turkey. Most turkey breasts weigh anywhere from 4 to 9 pounds, so it should take 1 to 2 days to thaw your turkey breast.