Learn to grill a turkey breast to be tasty and moist with a brown sugar rub. Turkey is not just for holidays anymore but a summer grille
This will work for a thawed previously frozen turkey breast but better with a fresh turkey breast.
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.
This recipe is for a turkey breast half that is not injected or brined in any manor.
What about other Turkey Breasts?
Yes, you can but with some modifications.
- Full thaw before starting.
- Use a large knife and from the backside, 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.
Warning: NEVER BRINE A PREVIOUSLY BRINED OR INJECTED 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 ¼ cup of salt. I have added a few other flavors with the 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 stay approximately the same. It is not an exact science, so just 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.
♨️How to Grill a Turkey Breast
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. Also, your grill needs to have enough surface are to handle indirect cooking of a turkey breast.
We will be starting with a grill surface temperature of 350°-400° 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 injection 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° (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 at A Beginners Guide to Grill Temperature on a Gas Grill.
While we don't like to rinse any 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.
The turkey must not be in the food danger zone of 40°-140° 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?
This recipe is listed in these categories. See them for more similar recipes.
🖼️Step-by-Step Photo Instructions
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 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 4 ½ 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.
Preheat grill to a grill surface temperature of 350° to 400°. Mix a rub of 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 teaspoon chili powder, ½ 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.
Pat dry then brush with a little oil. Apply the rub.
Grill skin-side down for about 5-8 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 temperature of the grill 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 ¾ to 2 hours). Time will vary by the weight and thickness of the turkey breast and by your grill. DO NOT COOK BY TIME. Remove from heat and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Grilled Turkey Breast
- 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
- 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 ¼ cup each of salt and brown sugar. Crush 2-3 cloves of garlic and add 2-3 bay leaves are optional.
- Trim and clean a 3 ½ to 5-pound turkey breast. Add the turkey to the brine and refrigerate for 3-6 hours.
- Preheat grill to a grill surface temperature of 350° to 400°. Mix a rub of 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 teaspoon chili powder, ½ teaspoon each oregano, and cumin. Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt if you did not brine and 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 5-8 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 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.
My 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 a good serving, it has no seconds nor 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.