Learn to grill a turkey breast to be tasty and moist with a brown sugar rub. Turkey is not just for Thanksgiving anymore but a grilled turkey breast can be a summer treat.
Grilled turkey breast will also work for a thawed, previously frozen turkey breast, but is better with a fresh turkey breast.
I started with a recipe I saw last summer in the Chicago Tribune with a brown sugar brine and rub. A good start, but I added some modifications, simplified, and added more details to the instructions.
👨🍳How to make this recipe
- Use a 3-5 pound single-sided turkey breast. If you want to use a two-sided breast, remove any backbone, split the breast bone from the inside, and press flat to butterfly.
- Brining is suggested if your turkey breast has not been brined or injected. Note: most frozen breasts are injected and should not be brined.
- Preheat the grill to a grill surface temperature of 350° to 400°.
- Mix a rub of brown sugar, chili powder, oregano, and cumin. Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt if you did not brine and if you are sure the breast was not injected.
- Brush the breast with a bit of oil, then apply the rub.
- Grill skin-side down for about 5 minutes to get some browning of the skin, then flip and turn off the direct heat on that side of the grill with the meat.
- Place the thick side of the breast towards the heat. Keep the temp of the grill surface from 350° to 375° in the area between the direct and indirect sides. Keep the lid closed and your hands off as much as possible.
- Cook until an internal temp of 165° in the thickest part and several other locations. This will vary by the weight and thickness of the turkey breast and your grill. Generally about 1 ¾ to 2 hours). DO NOT COOK BY TIME ALONE.
- Remove from heat and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.
This recipe is for a bone-in turkey breast half that is not injected or brined, but you can also use a turkey tenderloin, boneless turkey breast, or a whole turkey breast butterflied.
What about whole frozen turkey breasts?
Yes, you can, but with some modifications.
- Complete thaw before starting.
- Use a large knife, remove the backbone, and split through the breast bone from the backside. Break the bone and butterfly the breast by pressing it flat.
- Almost all frozen breasts are injected or brined, so DO NOT BRINE and keep the salt out of the rub.
- The cooking time will vary by total weight and thickness, so watch the internal temperature and cook to 165°. If the skin is getting too brown, you need to tent it lightly with foil.
- You also may need more rub to cover the increased surface area.
🧂Should I brine?
Warning: NEVER BRINE A PREVIOUSLY BRINED OR INJECTED TURKEY BREAST
I'm starting with a brine that is important for a grilled turkey or turkey breast. But I want to say something forcefully, DO NOT BRINE A PREVIOUSLY INJECTED OR BRINED TURKEY BREAST. I will repeat that a few times before we are done.
I suggest a standard turkey brine of 2 quarts of water and ¼ cup of salt. I have added a few other flavors with garlic, brown sugar, and bay leaf, but those are not required.
You can use the brine to introduce other favors that you want. Add some apple cider, perhaps a quartered orange. Go wild. But the most important thing is the salt-to-fluid ratio stays approximately the same. It is not an exact science, so keep it close.
A quick salt note. 1 teaspoon table salt = 1 ¼ teaspoon Morton kosher salt = 2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt.
Refrigerate for 3-6 hours. Be sure to rinse off the brine and pat dry. Also, do not use salt in the rub if you brine.
- You do need a grill surface thermometer. The thermometer in the grill lid is useless. Please DO NOT depend on it. Also, your grill needs to have enough surface area to handle the indirect cooking of a turkey breast. Smaller grills will not work.
- We will brown the skin some, flip the skin up and turn off half the grill and point the thicker side to the heat. We want about 350° (oven roasting temperature) at the junction of the direct and indirect sides.
- While this technique is for this recipe, you can see a fuller discussion of grill surface temperature in A Beginners Guide to Grill Temperature on a Gas Grill.
While we don't like to rinse poultry, the brine should be rinsed off carefully.
Like any poultry, your turkey should be assumed to be contaminated. A frozen turkey breast must be thawed fully according to the package instructions.
For poultry safety, please see Chicken… To Rinse or Not To Rinse?
Yes, use a smoker box or a foil pack with holes. Use the wood flavor you prefer but don't overdo it. Poultry will absorb smoke very well.
Total grill time will be 15-20 minutes per pound but check early. You must have your temperatures correct and use an instant-read thermometer. In addition to weight, the thickness of the breast will affect grilling time.
Yes, it may extend the cooking time some. But I prefer direct exposure to the heat.
A light brushing of your favorite sauce on the skin for the last 5-10 minutes of grilling. If you are planning to do this, keep the rub light.
How To Roast Turkey Breast the Easy Way
Butter Turkey Tenderloin - Pan Seared Oven Roasted with Gravy
This recipe is listed in these categories. See them for more similar recipes.
🖼️Step-by-Step Photo Instructions
Brining is an excellent idea if your turkey breast is not injected or previously brined. Start with a brine: 2 qt. of water and add ¼ cup each of salt and brown sugar. Crush 2-3 cloves of garlic and add 2-3 bay leaves.
Trim and clean a 3 ½ to 5 pound turkey breast. This is about 4 ½ lbs. of turkey breast. Add the turkey to the brine and refrigerate for 3-6 hours. Rinse the brine off the turkey breast carefully and pat dry with paper towels.
Preheat the grill to a grill surface temperature of 350° to 400°. Clean and oil grill grates well. Mix a rub of 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 teaspoon chili powder, ½ teaspoon each oregano, and cumin. Add 1 teaspoon of kosher salt if you did not brine or if you are sure the breast was not injected.
Pat dry, then brush with a bit of oil. Apply the rub.
Grill skin-side down for about 5 minutes to get some browning of the skin, then flip and turn off the direct heat on that side of the grill with the meat. Place the thick side of the breast towards the heat. Keep the grill's surface temperature from 350° to 375° in the zone between the direct and indirect sides. Keep the lid closed and your hands off as much as possible.
Cook until internal temp of 165° (about 1 ½ to 2 hours). Time will vary by the weight and thickness of the turkey breast and by your grill. Please check the temperature early. DO NOT COOK BY TIME. Remove from heat and let rest for 10 minutes before then slice and serve.
Grilled Turkey Breast with Brown Sugar Rub
- 3 ½-5 pounds fresh turkey breast - may use a thawed frozen
The Brine- Only if not injected or previously brined
- 2 qts water
- ¼ cup table salt
- ¼ cup brown sugar - optional
- 2-3 cloves crushed garlic - optional
- 2-3 bay leafs - optional
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt - only if not brining and not injected
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- ½ teaspoon oregano
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- 2 teaspoons oil
- Brining is an excellent idea if your turkey breast is not injected or previously brined. Start with a brine: 2 qt. of water and add ¼ cup each of salt and brown sugar. Crush 2-3 cloves of garlic and add 2-3 bay leaves.
- Trim and clean a 3 ½ to 5 pound turkey breast. This is about 4 ½ lbs. of turkey breast. Add the turkey to the brine and refrigerate for 3-6 hours. Rinse the brine off the turkey breast carefully and pat dry with paper towels.
- Preheat the grill to a grill surface temperature of 350° to 400°. Clean and oil grill grates well. Mix a rub of 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 teaspoon chili powder, ½ teaspoon each oregano, and cumin. Add 1 teaspoon of kosher salt if you did not brine or if you are sure the breast was not injected.
- Pat dry, then brush with a bit of oil. Apply the rub.
- Grill skin-side down for about 5 minutes to get some browning of the skin, then flip and turn off the direct heat on that side of the grill with the meat. Place the thick side of the breast towards the heat. Keep the grill's surface temperature from 350° to 375° in the zone between the direct and indirect sides. Keep the lid closed and your hands off as much as possible.
- Cook until internal temp of 165° (about 1 ½ to 2 hours). Time will vary by the weight and thickness of the turkey breast and by your grill. Please check early. DO NOT COOK BY TIME. Remove from heat and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Your Own Private Notes
- Only brine if the breast is not injected and not pre-brined. Warning: NEVER BRINE A PREVIOUSLY BRINED OR INJECTED TURKEY BREAST
- Do not add the salt to the rub if you brine or the breast was injected.
- The brine can be modified for other flavors. See the post for some suggestions.
- A quick salt note. 1 teaspoon table salt = 1 ¼ teaspoon Morton kosher salt = 2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt.
- To do this right, you need to check the grill surface temperature with a surface thermometer and use an instant-read thermometer to determine the endpoint. Do not try this without both of those thermometers.
- Remember, the minimum safe internal temperature for turkey is 165° in the thickest part of the breast. I check 3-4 points before removal.
- While this recipe is for a fresh non-injected breast, you can adopt a whole, previously frozen breast. Please see the discussion in the post above.
- I'm using a serving size of ½ pound. That will be a good serving; it has no seconds or leftovers built-in like my normal turkey recipes.
To adjust the recipe size:
You may adjust the number of servings in this recipe card under servings. This does the math for the ingredients for you. BUT it does NOT adjust the text of the instructions. So you need to do that yourself.
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Originally Published May 1, 2012. Updated with expanded options, refreshed photos, and a table of contents to help navigation.
I am picking up a fresh 5-10 pound bone-in Turkey Breast from Whole Foods on Wednesday and grilling it on TG Day, Thursday. We plan to eat around 5 PM. When should I start the brining? I truly like the idea of a rub that browns. Also would like a Cajun flavor, if possible (any suggestions?). My Weber Grill is not large, and has just two long burners, so I can turn off the one near the front and point the thick side to the back burner. Do I cook until the thickest part is 165*? I assume no pan under the Turkey, so no way to collect any drippings for a gravy?
Steve in Denver
Dan Mikesell AKA DrDan
Welcome to the blog.
With a two-burner grill, it is very hard (near impossible) to get good control of indirect heat for a turkey beast- there is just not enough room.
If you know your grill well, fine. But you would need to have accurate grill surface temperature monitoring and preferably along with meat internal temperature monitoring — preferably continuous and remote. If not remote, every time you open the grill hood the temp will go all wacky.
Brining would be like this recipe as long as you are positive they did not inject the breast. You should butterfly the breast to even out the thickness some. You can use any rub you like but I don't have a cajun rub.
I would probably skip the initial skin down browning and just grill indirect at about 350 until 165 in the thickest (and all) parts. If you want to brown the skin a bit more at that point, flip the meat and turn up the grill for a few minutes.
Pan under the turkey breast—no, you would get anything anyway.
Amount of time—Very dependent on the size and thickness of the breast and how well you can control the grill.
Honestly, I wouldn't try this for an important meal without a trial run or two beforehand. There is just too much that can go wrong on a small grill.
I would suggest the https://www.101cookingfortwo.com/how-to-roast-a-turkey-breast-the-easy-way/ which is very reliable and you can season as you want.
Hope that helps some.
I have a small group of meat eaters for Thanksgiving. Local butcher is preparing a half turkey for me (brined). It will be about 6-7 lbs. Would this recipe work where I pick up with the rub? I promise not to brine.
Dan Mikesell AKA DrDan
I'm going to assume by "half turkey" you mean cut in half from the neck to the tail leaving one side of the breast, a wing, thigh, and leg. Please correct if that is wrong but my comment will be based on that.
You have a complicated piece of meat:
1) It all needs to reach 165+ to be safe.
2) The breast meat needs to be 165 and not much more or it starts to dry rapidly.
3) The thigh and leg need about 180 or a bit more for tenderness.
So just direct cooking like this recipe is probably not going to work well. I would suggest combining this recipe with the indirect cooking technique on my grilling a whole chicken recipe. https://www.101cookingfortwo.com/grilled-whole-chicken-on-a-gas-grill/ where the thigh/leg are closer to the heat source during cooking to cook to a higher final temperature. I'm about 80% sure it will work for you but haven't tried it, of course, but can't think of any thing else.
Check out that indirect technique and let me know what you think. It really is the only way I can think of that would work well and once you see the concept o the indirect method, it won't be that hard.
1/4 cup kosher salt for brine - is that Morton’s or Diamond Crystal.
Dan Mikesell AKA DrDan
All Kosher or coarse salt references on this site means Diamond Crystal.
1 teaspoon table salt = 1 1/4 teaspoon Morton kosher salt = 2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt
I prefer Diamond but I have to buy 3 pound boxes now. They cut back on the consumer market and the one pounders are no longer made. I shed a tear but I just reload my 1 pounder.
I doubt many smaller households want to buy masses of salt.
Salt is almost always a to taste thing except in something like brine and probably should not be changed much in baking.
I have a 13 pound bone in turkey breast (I didn’t pick it out, lol). I love the fact that it’s bone in, I usually cook them that way. I would love to do it on the grill, but is it possible to do a turkey breast that large on the grill, even after it’s spatchcocked? Thanks.
Dan Mikesell AKA DrDan
Welcome to the blog.
That is a big turkey breast. The issue will be the thickness and getting to a safe internal temperature. I would not be following this technique or at least the first part of browning the skin. It will need to be spatchcocked and cooked indirectly.
Also, thicker meat needs lower temps and longer times for the heat to penetrate. I know that seems backward but you need the inside done without overcooking the outside.
You will need a large grill surface that allows the spatchcocked breast to be on the indirect side away from the direct heat. Keep the thicker part of the meat towards the direct side.
If you want a guess, big grill, 300°-325° grill temp, 3-4 hours (total guess). The rub is fine or just oil. You are cooking to a final internal temperature of 165°—so as long as it takes. Tent with foil if getting too brown.
Hope that helps.
I have not tried yet,but will.
When I do, I will spatchcock the breast first.
Welcome to the blog.
Hope it works well for you.
Thanks for the note.
I would just like to say, I followed this recipe even putting it on the grill for 15 minutes to char the skin a little, then I put it in the electric smoker and smoked for 4.5 hours at 225 with apple wood and it's just about the best turkey I have ever eaten. Thanks so much!
I have made this recipe several times. I highly recommend it! Gina
Great recipe! Gave this a trial run for a family potluck and it passed with flying colors!
Thanks for the note. Grilling some turkey was a "bucket list" thing for me.
I have made this recipe twice within the last three months and it is fabulous. The first time I cooked it on the grill and today I smoked it in my smoker. Both ways are delicious!
Outstanding turkey breast recipe. Thank you so much!! Delicious!