With the spring-summer season in full swing and most of us locked at home owing to the current global pandemic, there has never been a better opportunity to improve your grilling game!
Turkey breast is easier to cook and carve than a full turkey and complements almost any side dish, from mashed potatoes to couscous salad. Make a leftover salad with walnuts, cranberries, sliced celery, and mayo, or use it in anything from lasagna and white chili to sandwiches and tacos.
Why should you grill your turkey breasts?
Smoked turkey breasts are a fantastic alternative to roasted turkey, especially in the warmer months; it’s easy to prepare, doesn’t take as long as roasted turkey, and gives a lovely smoky taste from the fire and wood pellets. Make sure to use flavored wood chips for added flavor.
How does a pellet grill work?
To cook ANYTHING effectively on a pellet grill, you must first understand how it works.
To begin, load hardwood pellets into the side hopper. The pellet grill automatically feeds these small wood pellets to a fire pot via an auger mechanism, where they burn up, generating both heat and a smokey flavor.
The pellet grill automatically adjusts the flow of pellets based on the temperature setting, ensuring a uniform temperature throughout the cook.
Bear Mountain Hardwood Pellets are our favorite since they are compatible with most pellet grills and produce a good clean, even burn and smoke flavor.
Instead of constantly going in and out of the house to determine when or whether to add more wood or change the airflow, you program the device and let it do its job.
It’s simply a matter of selecting the right ingredients, selecting the proper temperature, and smoking your turkey breast for the right amount of time.
How to purchase a turkey breast for smoking on a pellet grill
The first step is to select the turkey breast that will be smoked on your pellet grill.
When smoking a turkey breast, larger isn’t always better.
Because chicken is extremely lean, it contains a fraction of the fat in other large portions of meat, such as brisket or pork butt.
So, the larger the turkey breast, the more the outside will be when the inside is finished cooking.
This is good for large fatty chunks of meat because the excess fat helps to keep the meat soft and juicy. The higher the meat temperature on a turkey breast, the more it dries out.
Using a pellet grill to cook bone-in vs. Boneless turkey breasts
If you DO want to prepare a huge turkey breast, look for one that is “bone-in” or a double turkey breast with the breast bone still running down the center.
Because the bone acts as a heat sink inside the flesh, bone-in meat naturally retains more liquids and does not dry out as much.
Purchase a turkey breast that has not been injected.
This is difficult because many mass-market turkey producers now pre-inject their birds with a salt solution so that the meat keeps SOME of its moisture when a regular Joe grills it to oblivion.
We prefer to inject or brine our raw turkey breasts to control what goes on the bird and into our body!
If your turkey breast has already been brined, the label will mention something like “moisture increased with up to X percent solution of turkey broth, sugar, salt,” or something similar.
- 1 cup butter (2 sticks) grass-fed butter, softened
- 1 4-5 lb. bone-in, skin-on turkey breast, thawed
- 1/2 cup paprika
- 1/4 cup kosher salt, fine sea salt, Celtic sea salt, or Himalayan pink salt
- 1/4 cup garlic powder or garlic salt
- 1/3 cup Demerara or brown sugar
- 2 tbsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp. onion powder
- 1 tbsp. ground cumin
- 1 tbsp. dry ground mustard
- 1 tbsp. cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp. rubbed sage
- 1 tsp. dried thyme leaves
- 1 tsp. rosemary (optional)
- 2 cups of wood pellets of choice
- Aluminum foil
- If you’re making smoked turkey breast or roasted turkey, remove the turkey from the fridge 1 – 2 hours before cooking to bring it up to room temperature.
- Thoroughly rinse the turkey breast and blot dry with kitchen paper. At this point, you can rub some softened butter under the turkey’s skin to help it keep moisture as it smokes.
- In a small mixing bowl, mix all of the dry rub spices. Generously sprinkle the spices over the turkey breast, rubbing the seasoning into the chest cavity and on both sides. Any leftover spice rub should be stored in a closed jar for later use.
- Sprinkle the rubbed sage and dried thyme over the turkey and set aside.
Brining is a popular way to prepare turkey breasts.
At its most basic, this is simply soaking the turkey breast in a combination of salt, water, and aromatics overnight.
But what exactly does it do? The salt naturally enters the meat overnight, flavoring it and helping it retain moisture throughout the cooking process.
Is it necessary to brine your turkey breast before smoking it?
If you have a stored turkey breast injected with a brine solution, skip brining it home. It will have no effect.
On the other hand, if you have a natural turkey breast free of additives, you might brine it.
DRY brining is a great way to avoid the hassle of wet brining!
However, dry brine your turkey breast is far easier to accomplish identical results.
Coat the inside and exterior of the rinsed and dried breast with pepper and kosher salt and place it in the refrigerator overnight on a drying rack and put on top of a baking sheet.
Before cooking, use a moist paper towel to remove any excess salt accumulated outside the pan, and then season with all of your non-salt herbs and seasonings.
You get all the perks of moisture retention and salt penetration from dry brining without dealing with a large bucket of salty raw turkey water when you’re through!
Another advantage is that the salt dries up the skin overnight, making it brown and crisp much better on the pellet grill than otherwise.
Injecting your turkey breast
Injecting your turkey breast with a slaty, delicious solution is a final, more surgical option for adding salt and moisture-retaining qualities.
If you apply this to a previously injected bird, as mentioned above, your turkey breast will become extremely salty.
You can flavor the turkey breast with melted butter, cajun spices, turkey stock, favorite BBQ rub, and any other herbs and spices you choose.
You do not need to dry the chicken overnight if you prefer to inject it. A simple BBQ or pepper seasoning, light salt on the outside, and some injection on the inside can help season and keep the flavor of your turkey breast.
Remember that injecting the turkey breast adds WEIGHT, so it will take much longer to cook on the pellet grill, everything else equal.
But if you’re okay with it, go ahead and inject. Place the turkey breast in an aluminum pan to collect the runoff and inject at varying depth levels every 2-3 inches across and across the surface of the meat.
Allow the injection to spread throughout the turkey breast for about 1-2 hours before grilling it on the pellet grill.
Seasoning the exterior
If you’ve previously dry brined the meat, don’t add any more salt to the exterior, but you can sprinkle some herbs or a light salt BBQ rub if you want.
If you only injected the turkey breast, you can use a saltier rub on the skin at this time, or even a cajun or spicy seasoning if you would like some bolder flavors for your turkey breast.
Cooking the turkey breast
- With the lid open, set your smoker to the “SMOKE” setting.
- After around 4-5 minutes, the wood pellets should have ignited, and you should notice a lot of smoke coming from your grill.
- Increase the grill temperature to 300°F – 325°F and close the lid; preheat for 10 – 15 minutes.
- When the grill is hot, place the seasoned turkey breast on the grill grate.
- Cook for roughly 134 hours with the cover closed. Keep in mind that grilling times will vary according to the weight of the turkey breast.
- Continually check the internal temperature of the turkey breast with a meat probe put into the thickest area to ensure that it is not undercooked or overcooked. Continue to baste the turkey with melted butter to maintain the skin crisp and flavorful. The melted butter also keeps the chicken breast from drying out.
- Remove your turkey from the grill, place it on a chopping board, and cover it loosely with aluminum foil when the meat probe reaches an internal temperature of 165°F when put at the thickest part of the breast.
- Allow the smoked turkey breast to “rest” for 15 – 20 minutes before carving and serving. Do not omit this stage since it allows the meat juices to redistribute, resulting in soft and juicy turkey.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste, cut your turkey breast, and serve!
- To save time, prepare the turkey with the dried herbs and dry spice rub while your grill is heating up.
- Why make one smoked turkey breast when you can make two?! Save the second cooked turkey breast for another time to avoid starting from scratch.
- The leftover turkey breast meat is tasty, soft, and oh-so-juicy. Use this turkey to make delicious sandwiches, white chili, lasagna, salad, tacos, burritos, and other dishes!
- Use pecan, apple, hickory, oak, or pecan wood pellets to provide delightful mild flavors that won’t overshadow the natural flavor of your meat.
How to inject the turkey breast
Let’s look at everything you’ll need to inject a turkey breast. The injection recipe involves the following ingredients:
- melted butter
- oil and water
- Worcestershire sauce
- spices (thyme and sage)
- lemon juice
- garlic salt and onion salt
You want to poke as many holes in your turkey as possible while injecting as much into it. This is accomplished by inserting the needle and moving it in multiple directions through the same hole.
Rubbing a turkey breast
Substitute room temperature or moderately melted butter all over the turkey and the skins.
To make the turkey breast rub, combine all of the following spices: You will need:
- garlic salt
- onion salt
- seasoning salt
- and fresh ground pepper
- chili powder
Mix the spices and rub them into the breast the same way as the butter. Make sure to get it into the nooks and crannies, underneath the skin, and on top.
NOW! Allow the ingredients from the injection of turkey breast rub and sauce to marinate in this lovely bird. We’ve prepared this several times and recommend marinating it for at least 24 hours, but at least 1 hour if you’re pressed for time.
How to clean your pellet grill
Pellet grills are easy to use as long as they are carefully maintained between cooks.
After using your grill, take the time to clean the grates. Remove any remaining residue from the interior of the lid. Scrape down all of the other parts as well to eliminate any debris.
Use a suitable bristle-free grill brush at all times.
Don’t forget to brine your grease chute and thermometer.
Finally, vacuum away any ashy residue that has remained in the grill. After that, rinse and reassemble.
Cookoutpal’s grilling experts answer your questions
How long will it take to grill a turkey breast at 225°f?
Smoking turkey in a smoker at temperatures ranging from 225°F to 250°F should take between 3.5 and 4 hours. A thermometer put into the thickest portion of the breast should read 165°F-170°F by then.
The turkey is now safe to serve and eat; remove off the grill rack, cover superficially with foil, and rest for 10-15 mins before cutting.
How long should a turkey breast be grilled per pound?
We suggest 35 minutes per pound for the juiciest and most tender turkey. To keep the skin crisp, baste the breast with plain or flavored butter every hour or so, and refresh your wood chips after about 2 hours of cooking.
Before slicing and serving, your turkey breast should be at least 165-170°F in the thickest section for safe consumption.
Is it better to smoke a turkey breast side up or side down?
Breast side up is the best way to smoke a turkey.
Lay the turkey on the cooking rack, breast up, and side away from the direct heat. This way, your turkey breast will be moist and tender without drying out.
If your breast won’t remain upright on the grill rack, wad up 2-3 feet of aluminum foil and partially push it into the turkey’s chest cavity to make a “stand” that will hold your breast steady.
Should you brine your turkey breast first before grilling it?
While it is not fully necessary, we recommend brining your turkey breast for 24 hours before grilling if you have the time.
Brining adds flavor and keeps the turkey stay moist while grilling. 4 quarts cold water, 1 cup packed Demerara or brown sugar, 1 cup kosher salt, and two tablespoons. Whole black peppercorns should suffice for a 4-5 pound turkey breast.
How do you know when a turkey breast on a pellet grill is done?
Check the temperature of the turkey breast for doneness regularly.
When your turkey breast reaches an internal temperature of 165°F on an instant-read thermometer, it is ready to eat.
If you don’t already have an instant-read thermometer, it’ll be difficult to tell when that turkey breast is fully done cooking on the pellet grill.
Allow the turkey breast to rest for 15-30 minutes before slicing and serving to ensure that the juice stays where you want it.
Wrapping it up
We hope you enjoyed this tutorial on grilling a turkey breast on a pellet grill and learned something new for your next grilling session. This smoked turkey breast recipe is ideal for entertaining guests during Thanksgiving and other special occasions, as well as potlucks and social gatherings.
We love this recipe because there will be enough leftovers for delicious dinners throughout the week!