Cooking Turkey Breast:
How to Cook a Perfect Breast
Cooking turkey breast is the perfect option if you love turkey but don't want --or can't eat-- a whole bird.
A turkey breast recipe is great for smaller families for Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas dinner, and it's also wonderful if you just want to have something special but don't want to spend hours slaving over a whole turkey. It's also an ideal option when you have guests --like my ultra picky father, for instance-- who simply prefer all white meat. And unlike the trouble and work involved in making a whole turkey, cooking turkey breast is a lot simpler in both the preparation and the clean up, too
Still, there are some people who always prefer the whole bird. Visit my Holiday Turkey Headquarters for recipes for both whole turkeys, and breasts and drumsticks.
Methods of Cooking Turkey Breast
As with a whole turkey, there are a lot of different ways to go about making a perfect turkey breast with all the fixings.
Think about all the ways you've heard of to cook turkey. Well, you can use all the same methods when cooking turkey breast, and (because they're smaller and easier) even more. Here are some great options for roasting a turkey breast for the holidays:
- Oven roasted turkey breast (very traditional and easy)
- Grilled turkey breast
- Rotisserie turkey breast (for great crispy skin)
- Smoked turkey breast (an entirely unique flavor profile)
- Crock pot turkey breast (saves oven space)
- Deep fried turkey breast (for very moist meat and very fast cooking times)
The method you choose depends a lot on your time constraints and what your family enjoys. For the purpose of this page I'll go on assuming you're a traditionalist-- and that the traditional roast turkey breast is going on your table. But for some recipes and ideas for other methods of cooking a turkey breast, visit my Holiday Turkey Guide!
Supplies for Oven Roasting Turkey Breast
There are a few items, most of which you have in your kitchen, that you'll want to pull together before making your turkey breast.
The turkey. Of course you need a thawed turkey breast (make sure it's completely thawed, preferably using the refrigerator method, but also using any of the turkey thawing methods here).
The recipe. Cooking turkey breast so that it's juicy and flavorful is just as much about the recipe you choose as it is about how long or where you cook it. So choose a recipe with plenty of herbs, flavorings, and anything that calls your name. You can find some great recipes for roasting turkey and turkey breast right here at Divine Dinner Party.
The "odds and ends." You also need aluminum foil to tent the breast while cooking, a baking / roasting dish that's big enough to leave airspace on all sides of the turkey breast (this is for even cooking), butter or oil, liquid for the bottom of the roasting pan, and a meat thermometer. If you buy a turkey breast with a pop-up timer, that's fine... but be aware that these can fail or misfire. A good
meat thermometer ensures that your meat is done the way you want it every time.
You'll find more ideas and instructions for cooking turkey breast here.
Cooking Turkey Breast: Step by Step
1. Rinse and Dry.
Just like you would do with a whole bird, you want to rinse your turkey inside and out then pat it dry with paper towels.
2. Flavor the Breast. At this juncture you can inject the bird with various flavorings of marinade, put buttered herbs under the skin, or sprinkle the bird inside and out with dry herbs (or a combination of the three). One of my favorite options? Using both a turkey marinade injection into the meat and softened butter under the skin to achieve as much moisture and flavor as possible. It's awesome this way. But you can do what you like.
Note: Injecting a Marinade into a Turkey Breast. In making your turkey marinade make sure to use finely powdered herbs and smooth liquids so that the injector won't clog. Put a little marinade throughout the turkey breast toward the middle of the meat.
Find some recipes for turkey injections and instructions for injecting a turkey here.
3. Get Cooking. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Position the turkey breast so that the meaty side is up in the roasting pan. Add some water, white wine, or chicken stock to the bottom of the pan (you will want this to keep the bird moist, for basting, and for gravy).
4. Cover. When cooking turkey breast, some cooks cover their turkey breast completely with aluminum foil while others simply tent it. Both yield a moist turkey, but it's harder to remove the foil from a completely wrapped breast if you want to brown and crisp the skin. Tenting makes that last step much easier. So... that's what I'd advise.
5. Time It. Cooking turkey breast requires about 20 minutes per pound to cook (15 minutes per pound in most convection ovens). During the last 20-30 minutes is when you want to remove the foil for that picture-perfect turkey. You will know it's done when the thickest part of the breast reaches 165 degrees.
Find more turkey cooking time guidelines here.
6. Rest, Carve, and Serve. Remove the turkey breast from the oven, put the aluminum foil tent back over it and let it sit for 15 minutes before carving. This redistributes the juices in the meat.
During this waiting period you can make your turkey gravy from the drippings and juices left in the baking pan YUM! If you're really time challenged you can use a pre-bought gravy and add some of the turkey juices to it for richer flavor.
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