Learn the easiest way is to cook a turkey breast in an oven to perfection with moist meat and crispy skin. A turkey breast is an excellent alternative to a full-size turkey for smaller households or supplemental white meat at a larger Thanksgiving feast.
This turkey breast recipe is the logical and straightforward way to get the crispy skin with tender and juicy meat that everybody desires. For the novice cook, a whole turkey looks like a daunting task. And if you don't want or need all that meat, go smaller with a less intimidating choice.
Roasted turkey breast in an oven seems to scare many home cooks. Since it's frequently the center of a holiday feast, it seems to impress many as a huge deal to get it right—but it is so easy to get a moist and tender turkey with crispy skin.
Let's not make an easy thing hard. Cooking a turkey breast is something anybody can do. But people have lots of questions and worries. This guide will help you through those doubts. You don't need to read every section, but the information is there if you have problems.
The Four Easy Steps Anybody Can Do
- Thaw a frozen turkey breast and trim for cooking.
- Season as desired. Brush with butter or oil.
- Cook at 350° until an internal temperature of 165° and tent if getting too brown. You need a meat thermometer to get this right.
- Rest tented for 15 minutes before carving and make gravy while resting.
I love turkey, and this is a solid lower 5. It is not filet, and it is not that "Martha Stewart" turkey breast. So not a high 5. You do get something for all that work.
🦃Turkey Breast - Buying and Preperation
We can not walk into most American grocery stores and buy a fresh turkey breast, especially half of a breast. We will discuss what we usually have available.
I'm talking about that skin-on bone-in rock-hard frozen whole turkey breast you picked up at your local supermarket. They are injected with a brine solution and flavor enhancers already.
Let's look at that label. It is telling you this breast is "pre-brined" or "injected." It will be moist and favorable if you don't screw it up.
Some packages will include things like the neck or a gravy packet. They are there to make it weigh more, and you pay more. Toss them. You could have used them to make a broth gravy, but that gets you into the "spending all day in the kitchen" zone.
How much turkey to buy per person?
½ pound to 1 ¼ pound per person—a wide range, and both are correct. The number of servings is not the same as how much to buy. Many people will eat more than one serving, and most of us want leftovers.
If I'm only addressing how much turkey per serving, the ½ pound is about right. That is a good-sized slice of turkey.
But I buy a minimum of ¾ pounds per person, but if you want leftovers, then 1 pound to even 1 ½ pound per person is what I'm buying.
How to thaw a turkey breast?
The preferred method is to thaw in a refrigerator. Place the unopened breast on a tray in the fridge for 1½ to 2 days or until thawed. If you have a breast over 8 pounds, it may take longer.
That is the official recommendation, but it always seems to be a day or two longer for me. So plan ahead and do not open the sealed package.
NEVER thaw the turkey or any other meat at room temperature. It is not safe.
Quicker Water Method to Thaw a Turkey Breast
Place the unopened turkey breast in cold tap water for 3 to 5 hours. Change water every 30 minutes to keep the turkey in the safety zone, which is less than 40°F.
Brining Turkey Breasts
If you are sure you have an uninjected and not previously brined turkey breast, brining it is a good thing. But that would be an unusual finding in most American markets.
But the real answer is almost for sure, no. You can not brine an injected turkey breast, or you will have a salt lick. So, let's not fight it. I don't care what other recipes say, don't do it.
How to brine a turkey breast?
If you are sure your turkey is not injected or brined, you can add a simple brine of 1 gallon of water, 1 cup of salt, and ½ cup of sugar for 12 to 24 hours would be good.
See my How to Brine a Turkey for a complete guide for more details.
👨🍳How to Cook a Turkey Breast
Remove the back bone and spread the ribs.
The turkey breast needs to sit in the roasting pan with the breast up for best results. You can use a v-shaped rack, but most people don't have one.
To get the breast to set in the pan correctly, the spine needs to be removed and the remaining rib section butterflied out to support the breast.
Place in a roasting pan with a rack.
For a smaller breast (less than 7 pounds), a 9 by 13 cake pan works well. For larger turkey breasts, a full-size roast pan is a good choice.
Whatever pan you choose, it should have sides, and if you plan on gravy, then a metal pan is best.
The Rack: I suggest a pan with a rack of some type to lift the turkey off the pan's surface, but it is not absolutely necessary.
There is not the volume of drippings you have with a whole turkey. If you do not have a rack, then a good spray of PAM on the pan.
Brush with oil or butter.
Most recipes use butter. I feel primarily by default, which is just "the way it is done." Arguing against butter is like arguing against bacon. But I want crisper skin. According to 52 Food, you will get that with oil more than butter.
Moisture is the enemy of crispy, so a good pat dry with paper towels and using oil and not butter, which is 20% water. Clarified butter is another option.
Season with a sprinkle of salt.
Just a sprinkle of salt, but many recipes use a variety of fresh or dry herbs—thyme and rosemary are common. Some will also add some garlic or onion.
I'm a traditionalist and want my turkey that is just turkey, and this is just a basic turkey breast recipe, so feel free to "decorate" it as you wish.
Cooking turkey breast in a 350° oven.
Adjust the oven rack lower, so the turkey is in the center of the oven.
The best oven temperature to cook a turkey breast is 350°. But 325° can work, but it will take a bit longer, the skin will not be as crisp, and potentially can dry a little more. 375° is too high, and you will cook the skin very rapidly.
A frequent recommendation is to start high at 425° and turn down the temperature to 325° immediately or in 20-30 minutes. This is to get the browned skin. I don't see it as needed since you will just end up tenting longer. 350° is a much better choice
Should I use convection?
You are cooking to a final internal temperature, so yes. Adjust the oven temperature down 25° and watch for excessive browning of the skin.
Cook to 165° internal temperature.
Rotate 180° halfway through cooking. Tent lightly near the end of cooking if the skin is browning too much.
According to the USDA, a turkey breast or a whole turkey needs to reach 165° internal temperature in the thickest part to be safe and fully cooked. That will give you a safe, moist, and tender turkey.
Stop right at 165°. Some will recommend stopping at 160° and assume the breast will reach 165° during the rest. It probably will, but I prefer to know I'm serving safe food. For more turkey safety points, see my Thanksgiving Food Safety post.
Tent with Foil and Rest for 15-20 Minutes
It is best to wait for 15-20 minutes after cooking to cut into the turkey breast. This allows time for the fluid to reabsorb into the meat cells and makes for moister and more tender meat.
Tent the turkey breast lightly with aluminum foil during the rest period. And that is when we make our gravy.
⏰How Long to Cook a Turkey Breast
16-20 minutes per pound is a reasonable estimate in a 350° oven. So a 7-pound breast will take about 2 hours. This assumes a fully thawed turkey breast and accurate oven temperature.
Cooking time is very dependent on the thickness of the meat. Larger turkey breast will be towards the lower end of that range. And smaller breasts will be at the longer end of that range.
Remember, you are cooking to a final temperature and not by time alone.
Turkey Breast Cooking Time by Weight (estimated for planning only)
|Weight of Turkey Breast||Approximate Cooking Time|
|5 to 6 pounds||1 hour 30 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes|
|7 to 8 pounds||2 hours to 2 hours 15 minutes|
|9 to 10 pounds||2 hour 15 minutes to 2 hours 30 minutes|
👨🍳How to Make Turkey Gravy
Of course, you want gravy, but the most common way to make gravy uses a roux. For the 4 cups of gravy, that would require ½ cup of fat. You don't have that amount of pan drippings here, but we will use any available pan juices and supplement some turkey or chicken stock or broth.
In this recipe, I suggest a slurry method to make the gravy. Whisk about ½ of the liquid with about two tablespoons of flour for every cup of gravy wanted. Pour into boiling fluid and mix slowly. More details at How To Make Gravy at Home
I rarely find turkey broth in the store, so I usually use Penzeys turkey base, but chicken broth will work well.
🍽️Leftover Turkey Breast
What to do with leftover turkey?
We always make extra gravy for leftovers. Cut up some turkey and reheat in the gravy (it may need a touch of water). Serve over leftover mashed potatoes, sausage dressing, or just by itself.
Also, we love Leftover Turkey Tetrazzini.
Storing Leftover Turkey
You can refrigerate cooked turkey for 3-4 days. It can be frozen for about 3-4 months. The gravy made with flour can be stored the same way.
No, it is not safe. The stuffing would need to get to 165° to be safe, and the meat would have way overcooked and dry turkey.
No, turkey breast should be oven-roasted uncovered. The skin needs to be exposed to a 350° oven for about 1 ¾ to 2 hours to brown well. That is about the cooking time for a small 5 to 7 lbs breast.
If your breast is bigger, the meat will not be done when the skin is nicely brown. You need to tent lightly with foil when the skin is nice—an easy fix.
Basting is not needed. I like to rotate the breast once during the roasting to account for any oven hot spots, and I brush it with oil simultaneously—a 50-year habit that is not needed.
Yes, or you will under-cook (dangerous) or overcook (dried out). The "popup" timers are notoriously inaccurate.
No. Some breast meat may still be slightly pink when fully cooked, but it is still safe to eat if the temperature has reached 165° with a reliable thermometer.
Some turkey meat will be pinker if from an older bird with more myoglobin which can cause a mild pink color. Also, smoked turkey is frequently pink. There are other causes, but this is not science class—see the USDA for more discussion.
📖Side Dish Recipes
In addition to the mandatory mashed potatoes and peas at our table, here are our favorite holiday dishes.
See Thanksgiving Menu Planning Time for my complete holiday recommendations updated yearly.
This recipe is listed in these categories. See them for more similar recipes.
🖼️Step-by-Step Photo Instructions
Fully thaw the turkey breast before proceeding. Preheat the oven to 350° with a rack set at the lower third of the oven. No convection is needed here.
Remove any bags of things. Cut out the backbone if present—a heavy knife or kitchen shears are needed. If a popup timer is present, pay no attention but do not remove it.
Break back the rib sections to have a flat bottom to set on a rack. The weak point is about an inch from the breast bone on each side. Use a knife if needed. You can skip this if you are using a V-rack.
Cut back any extra skin like the neck area—pat dry with paper towels.
Place a rack in an appropriate size pan. You can skip the rack if you don't have one. For a large 7+ pound breast, use a full roasting pan. For the smaller breast, a cake pan will do. Spray the rack and pan with PAM. Place the breast on the rack and spread the rib sections to stabilize the breast.
Give it a bush with vegetable oil or melted butter. You can give it a sprinkle of kosher salt at this point.
Place in oven. Leave it alone for 1 hour, rotate 180° and brush with oil or butter. Check the color at about 1 ½ hours to 2 hours; if the skin becomes too brown, tent lightly with foil while finishing roasting to prevent further browning.
Roast until an internal temperature of 165° in the thickest part. This will be between 16-20 minutes per pound usually. Variability is caused by the thickness of the breast, the starting internal temperature of the breast, and your oven.
Remove from the oven and tent. The internal temperature will rise about 5 degrees when tented—tent for about 10 minutes before carving.
While the turkey is resting, whisk 2 cups of turkey or chicken broth with ½ cup of flour. Add 2 cups more broth to the roasting pan and any drippings present. Place over medium-high heat and bring to boil.
Decrease the heat to medium and slowly add the broth-flour mixture while continuously whisking. Add most of it and add more later if needed. Add salt and pepper to taste. Once thickened, cook an additional few minutes.
Slice and serve hot.
How to Cook a Turkey Breasts - The Easy Way
- 5-8 pounds turkey breast
- 1 tablespoon oil - or butter
- ½ cup flour
- 4 cups broth - turkey or chicken
- salt to taste
- theFully thaw the turkey breast before proceeding. Preheat the oven to 350° with a rack set at the lower third of the oven. No convection is needed.
- Remove any bags of things. Cut out the backbone if present—a heavy knife or kitchen shears are needed. If a popup timer is present, pay it no attention but do not remove it.
- Break back the rib sections to have a flat bottom to set on a rack. The weak point is about an inch from the breast bone on each side. Use a knife if needed. You can skip this if you are using a v-rack.
- Cut back any extra skin like the neck area—pat dry with paper towels.
- Place a rack of the appropriate size pan. For a large 7+ pound breast, use a full roasting pan. For the smaller breast, a cake pan will do. Spray the rack with PAM. Place the breast on the rack and spread the rib sections to stabilize the breast.
- Give it a bush with vegetable oil or melted butter. You can give it a sprinkle of salt at this point.
- Place in oven. Leave it alone for 1 hour, rotate 180 degrees, and brush with oil or butter. Check the color at about 1 ½ hours to 2 hours—if the skin is becoming too brown, tent lightly with foil while finishing roasting to prevent further browning.
- Roast until the internal temperature of 165° in the thickest part. This will be between 16-20 minutes per pound usually. Variability is caused by the thickness of the breast, the starting internal temperature of the breast, and your oven.
- Remove from oven and tent. The internal temperature will rise 5 degrees.
- Tent for about 15 minutes before carving.
- While the turkey is resting, whisk 2 cups of turkey or chicken broth with ½ cup of flour. Add 2 cups more of broth to the roasting pan and any drippings present, place over medium-high heat and bring to boil.
- Decrease the heat medium and then slowly add the broth-flour mixture while continuously whisking. Add most of it and add more later if needed. Add salt to taste. Once thickened, cook an additional few minutes.
My Private Notes
- Never thaw at room temperature. Place the unopened turkey breast on a tray in the refrigerator for 1½ to 2 days, or until thawed.
- To thaw faster, place the unopened breast in cold tap water for 3 to 5 hours. Change water every 30 minutes to keep the turkey cold under 40 degrees for safety.
- You can brine if you are absolutely sure your turkey has not been injected or previously brined.
- Use a 350° oven. Lower the rack to have the breast in the center of the oven.
- Brush with either oil or melted butter.
- Use a meat thermometer and remove it from the oven when the internal temperature is 165° in the thickest part.
- Use foil to tent the breast in the oven if the turkey is getting too brown and use foil again after removing from the oven.
- After removal from the oven, tent and let the breast rest for 15 minutes before cutting.
- Cooked turkey and the gravy are good refrigerated for 3-4 days and may be frozen for 3-4 months.
- Nutrition is calculated on ½ pound servings and ⅓ cup of gravy.
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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Editor's Note: First Published March 25, 2018. Updated with expanded options, refreshed photos, and a table of contents to help navigation.