Let's learn to grill a half turkey beast to be moist with brown sugar rub. Just follow these easy step by step photo instructions for a great grilled turkey breast.
Editor's Note: Originally Published May 1, 2012. Now updated with more detailed instructions and updated photos. Plus a discussion of previously frozen turkey breasts.
This has been on my cooking "bucket list" for several years. So a smile came on my face when I found a half fresh uninjected turkey breast at our local market
So what to do with my prize? Straight grilling? That would be nice and easy with great taste, but it deserved more.
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 lots of modifications plus I simplified and added more details to the instructions.
Almost a 5. I'm a "turkey guy" meaning there is almost no turkey recipe I don't love. This one is worth some love.
Other Turkey Recipes
Pro Tips: Recipe Notes on Grilled Turkey Breast
Brining the Turkey Breast
I'm starting with a brine which I think 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'm suggesting a fairly standard turkey brine of 2 quarts of water and 1/4 cup of kosher salt. I have added a few other flavors with the garlic, brown sugar and bay leaf.
You can use the brine to introduce other favors that you want. Add some apple cider, perhaps a quarted orange. Go wild. But the most important thing is the salt to fluid ratio stay approximate the same. It is not an exact science, so just keep it close.
A quick salt note. 1 teaspoon table salt = 1 1/4 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 the salt in the rub.
The grill surface temperature is important, and we are going to use some indirect grilling also. Do not fear it is not hard. But you do need a grill surface thermometer. The one in the grill lid is useless. Please DO NOT depend on it.
We will be starting with a grill surface temperature of 350-400 degrees over the entire surface.
That is a bit lower than we usually do chicken (450), but due to the thickness, it needs to be lower. Yep, I said that right, thicker meat needs lower temperature and longer time to allow the heat to penetrate but that also leads to more drying so a brine or injuction is needed here.
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 degrees (oven roasting temperature) at the junction of the direct and indirect side.
While this technique is for this recipe, you can see a fuller discussion of grill surface temperature at Beginner’s Guide to Grilling on a Gas Grill.
What about other Turkey Breasts?
Yes, you can but with some modifications.
- Full thaw before starting.
- Use a large knife and from the back side, split completely through the breast bone. Break the bone and butterfly the breast by pressing flat.
- Almost all of these 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 lightly with foil.
- You also may need more rub to cover the increased surface area.
Like any poultry, your turkey should be assumed to be contaminated. A frozen turkey breast must be thawed fully according to the package instructions.
The turkey must not be in the food danger zone of 40-140 degrees for more than 2 hours. Lots more details in my complete guide to frozen turkey breasts listed in the next section.
For poultry safety please see Chicken… To Rinse or Not To Rinse?
If your turkey breast is not injected or previously brined, brining is an excellent idea. Start with a brine: 2 qt. of water and add 1/4 cup each of kosher salt and brown sugar. Crush 2-3 cloves of garlic and add 2-3 bay leaves.
Trim and clean a 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 pound turkey breast. This is about 4 1/2 lbs. of turkey breast. Add the turkey to the brine and refrigerate for 3-6 hours.
Rinse the brine off the turkey breast carefully.
Preheat grill to a grill surface temperature of 350 to 400. Mix a rub of 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 teaspoon chili powder, 1/2 teaspoon each oregano and cumin. Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt if you did not brine or if you are sure the breast was not injected.
Rinse the breast well, pat dry then brush with a little oil. Apply the rub.
Grill skin side down for about 8- 10 minutes to get some browning of the skin then flip and turn off the direct heat the side of the grill with the meat. Place the thick side of the breast towards the heat. Keep the temp of the grill 350 to 375. Keep the lid closed and your hands off as much as possible.
Cook until internal temp of 165 (about 1 3/4 to 2 hours). Remove from heat and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Grilled Turkey Breast
- 3 1/2-5 pounds fresh turkey breast
The Brine- Only if not injected or previously brined
- 2 qts water
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 2-3 cloves garlic - crushed
- 2-3 bay leafs
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt - only if not brining and not injected
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 2 teaspoons oil
- If your turkey breast is not injected or previously brined, brining is an excellent idea. Start with a brine: 2 qt. of water and add 1/4 cup each of kosher salt and brown sugar. Crush 2-3 cloves of garlic and add 2-3 bay leaves.
- Trim and clean a 3 1/2 to 5 pound turkey breast. This is about 4 1/2 lbs. of turkey breast. Add the turkey to the brine and refrigerate for 3-6 hours. Rinse the brine off the turkey breast carefully.
- Preheat grill to a grill surface temperature of 350 to 400. Mix a rub of 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 teaspoon chili powder, 1/2 teaspoon each oregano and cumin. Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt if you did not brine or if you are sure the breast was not injected.
- Rinse the breast carefully, pat dry then brush with a little oil. Apply the rub.
- Grill skin side down for about 8- 10 minutes to get some browning of the skin then flip and turn off the direct heat the side of the grill with the meat. Place the thick side of the breast towards the heat. Keep the temp of the grill 350 to 375. Keep the lid closed and your hands off as much as possible.
- Cook until internal temp of 165 in the thickest part and several other locations. Generally about 1 3/4 to 2 hours). Remove from heat and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.
- Only brine if the breast is not injected and not pre-brined.
- 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.
- To do this right, you need to check the grill surface temperature and to use an instant-read thermometer to determine the endpoint.
- 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 1/2 pound. Will a good serving, it has no seconds nor leftovers built in like my normal turkey recipes.
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.
Nutrition is generally for one serving. Number of servings is stated above and is my estimate of normal serving size for this recipe.
All nutritional information are estimates and may vary from your actual results. This is home cooking, and there are many variables. To taste ingredients such as salt will be my estimate of the average used.
Originally Published May 1, 2012.