Smoking a turkey breast is generally going to be very similar to smoking a whole turkey. A lot of the same rules apply, just a few will be moderated so the turkey doesn’t get overcooked while smoking it. Sometimes smoking a whole turkey is just plain unnecessary especially if you only have a couple of people eating.
The better alternative is to basically either cook the breast of the legs depending on your preference. There are a couple of precautions to take ahead of time so the turkey breast doesn’t dry out so stick around and see how we do it.
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Supplies you will need
You are going to want to make sure you have everything you need before you start smoking your turkey breast. The last thing you want is to run out of something or not have it during the cooking process.
Turkey Breast- most turkey breasts will be around the same size. There are not any that are too big to smoke. Make sure the turkey has been fully defrosted before preparing it.
Pellet Smoker- make sure you have a smoker that you are comfortable using to start. You will be able to smoke a turkey breast in any smoker as long as you are applying indirect heat but a pellet smoker is among the easiest to use.
Drip Pan- this is the pan that will catch all the juices and drippings from the turkey breast as it cooks. If you don’t have one, there is a chance the fat will drip onto the heat source and cause a flare up. This is something you don’t want to happen as it can cause the temperature to rise and sometimes burn the outside of the turkey breast.
Fuel Source- make sure you have plenty of fuel before starting the smoking process. You don’t want to run out of wood, pellets, charcoal or propane during the smoking process.
Thermometer- the best type of thermometer to use when smoking a turkey breast is going to be an instant-read thermometer. Do not use those pop-out thermometers that come with the turkey breast as they will not be accurate enough to gauge the internal temperature of the turkey breast.
Preparing the Turkey Breast for the Pellet Smoker
The first thing to do is to make sure that the turkey breast has been fully defrosted. Once it has been, remove it from the plastic wrapper. Sometimes, turkey breast will also have some netting tied around it, so make sure to remove that as well. A gravy packet may come with the turkey or some seasoning too. So, decide if you wish to use those later or use the rub or marinade as well.
Next, the turkey has to be flavored with seasoning and a way to keep it moist. Brine is not necessary when smoking just the turkey breast. You can if you choose but what you need is either a marinade or an injection and then a dry rub for seasoning. We like to use the flavor injector because it seems to be a better result than a marinade and also keeps the turkey breast moist during the smoking process.
Dry Rub for Smoked Turkey Breast Recipe
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 2 tbsp. Kosher salt
- 1 tbsp. Coarse ground black pepper
- 1 tbsp. Garlic powder
- 1 tbsp. Onion powder
- 1 tbsp. Paprika
- 1 tsp. Cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp. Ground coriander
- 1 tsp. Ground mustard
- 1 tsp. Ground cumin
- ½ tsp. Sage (optional)
A premade dry rub is always an option. I use the Lawry’s chicken & poultry rub with a sprinkle of sage or poultry seasoning added.
Mix all ingredients in a bowl until fully incorporated. Make sure the turkey has been dried with a towel and there are no damp surfaces. Rub all the outside surfaces and the inside cavity of the bird generously with the rub until fully covered.
Seasoned Butter Injection Recipe
- ½ cup chicken broth
- 3 tbsp. Butter
- Juice and zest of 1 lemon
- 1 tsp. Black pepper
- 1 tsp. Garlic powder
- ½ tsp. Salt
In a small saucepan, add all ingredients and heat over medium heat until the butter has melted. Stir constantly while cooking then remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool down to room temperature. Add the mixture to the flavor injector and inject about 1-2 teaspoons worth into various spots all over the turkey until all the liquid is used up.
Type Wood Pellets to Choose
There are many different types of wood to choose from, and each type will add a different flavor profile to your turkey breast. Most pellets will be offered in a wide range of different wood flavors or at least the main ones which you can never go wrong with.
Hickory- many people like to think that hickory is the best wood to choose from when smoking a turkey because of its rich flavor and subtle barbeque notes. This wood will not be too overpowering or underwhelming as well. Because of these factors, hickory is our number one choice for smoking a turkey breast.
Fruit (cherry, apple, peach)- these types of wood will, of course, add fruity flavors to your turkey. They will also be very subtle and at times underwhelming which works very well with poultry and fish.
Mesquite- This wood will be the strongest of them all in terms of smoke density and flavor. It can be very easy to overpower your turkey with smoke flavor when using mesquite. In other words, a little bit goes a long way.
Maple- this wood will add a lot of sweetness to the bird without a lot of the smoky flavor you want when smoking a turkey.
Oak- this type of wood is one of the more common woods to use when smoking meats, but it doesn’t work too well with poultry as it can be a very thick and dense smoke like mesquite.
The Smoking Process in a Pellet Smoker
Load the pellet smoker up with pellets completely. Then turn it on and preheat the smoker to 300 degrees. Once the smoker has reached a temperature of 225 degrees, place the turkey breast in the smoker, breast side up, then continue to preheat the smoker to 300 degrees.
Place the drip pan underneath the grate below the turkey breast and fill it up with some water. The water will evaporate over time, and you can refill it if you want but it will keep the inside of the smoker nice and moist so there is not too much dry heat.
Continue to smoke the turkey for however long it needs to be in the smoker. Turkey needs to reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees. To reach that temperature, it will all depend on the weight. At 300 degrees, the turkey breast will need to smoke 20 minutes for every pound of raw turkey.
At about an hour before the turkey is supposed to be done, begin to start checking the temperature with an instant-read thermometer. Place the thermometer between the meat and the breastbone. Once the temperature has reached 157 degrees, the turkey can come out of the smoker.
Remove from the smoker and allow the turkey to rest for at least 20 minutes. Because of the carryover cooking, the temperature will continue to increase to a final internal temperature of 165 degrees during the resting time. Cut the turkey breast against the grain and serve.
- Make sure never to overcook the turkey breast. The turkey breast’s internal temperature should be 165 degrees, but try to never go over that. White meat tends to dry out easily and quickly when overcooked. Try pulling the turkey breast out of the smoker when it hit 155-160 degrees, then cover with foil and allow the meat to carry over to 165 degrees from the residual heat.
- A flavorful brine will help the turkey breast before smoking it. It will help to keep the meat moist while smoking it and prevent it from drying out.
- To save on time, prep the turkey with seasonings and butter while the pellet smoker heats up.
- If you use a milder flavored wood with a lighter smoke, you won’t run the risk of overpowering the turkey breast’s natural flavors. Some of these woods will be fruitwoods and nut woods like apple, peach, cherry, and pecan.
- Instead of opening the pellet smoker to check the internal temperature with a meat thermometer continually, invest in a digital probe thermometer. This thermometer can stay in the turkey breast during the entire smoking process giving you accurate readings without losing any smoke or heat from the smoker. This will also put less work and stress on your pellet smoker.
Smoking turkey breast is a great alternative to a whole turkey, and it doesn’t take as much time or effort to smoke a turkey breast in a pellet smoker. As long as you let the pellet smoker do all the work and keep an eye on your temperatures, you will have no trouble at all.
Keep in mind that a turkey breast cooks much faster than a whole turkey.
When smoking a turkey breast, should it be placed breast up or down?
Smoke the turkey breast side up. This will keep the meat from drying out during the smoking process. You can also place it on a pan to collect all the juices that fall off the breast if you wanted to baste the meat while it is smoking every so often.
Should you wrap turkey breast in foil during the smoking process?
This all depends on the smoker and the temperature you are smoking it at. It is not necessary for lower temperatures, but it can prevent the turkey from drying out and lock in moisture for higher temperatures. Sometimes it is wise to wrap the turkey breast in foil for the last leg of the smoking process or when it comes out of the smoker to keep it from drying out or overcooking.
Should I brine the turkey breast before smoking it?
Yes. Brining will keep the turkey breast from drying out and lock in moisture within the meat. However, if you buy a frozen turkey that has been pre-brined or has been injected with a sodium solution, you should not brine the turkey, or it will be too salty.