Smoked Turkey Breast

A moist, smoked turkey breast is only a few easy steps away.

Smoked Turkey Breast
Photo: Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox
Active Time:
20 mins
Total Time:
10 hrs 5 mins
8 to 10 servings

With only a handful of autumnal ingredients—apple cider, fresh thyme, and rosemary sprigs to name a few—this smoked turkey breast recipe requires a mere 20 minutes of hands-on time while you let your brine and smoker do the rest of the work, infusing your bird with flavor. For a simple riff on the basic recipe below, try experimenting with other herbs you have on hand like tarragon or oregano.

Why Should I Cook a Turkey Breast Instead of a Whole Turkey?

A whole roasted turkey is a thing of beauty on a holiday table, but frankly, it can be both a lot of work and a lot of meat. If your Thanksgiving or Christmas gathering is a bit smaller, a turkey breast is probably a smarter option. It cooks faster, requires less room in the fridge (and oven), and you won't have leftovers to feed the whole town.

This smoked turkey breast recipe calls for a turkey breast that's 5 3/4 to 6 pounds, which should feed about 8 to 10 people, depending on how hungry guests are. Learn more about how much turkey you need per person.

Do I Need Special Equipment?

For this recipe, you will need:

- a large stockpot or Dutch oven for brining
- a smoker or pellet smoker
- wood or pellets in the wood style you prefer
- an instant-read probe meat thermometer
- turkey and ingredients

How to Prep a Turkey Breast for the Smoker

This recipe gets a good deal of flavor from an overnight wet brine. We use apple cider, salt, sugar, a bit of apple cider vinegar, and herbs like thyme, rosemary, and sage to gently infuse the turkey breast with a subtly sweet but fresh flavor.

If you have another wet brine you prefer, use it. The steps you need to be most concerned about are the smoking ones, which we will cover now.

How to Smoke a Turkey Breast

If you are an accomplished master of the smoker, you will surely know precisely how to cooke a smoked turkey breast. But if this is your first time smoking a turkey breast, these steps will help:

1. Remove the turkey from the brine, and place it on a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet. Use paper towels to dry the skin well. Let the skin dry while you prepare the smoker. Dry skin crisps nicely in the smoker. Soggy skin will still get crispy, but it won't be as snappy as skin that was dry. Discard the brine.

2. Preheat your smoker according to the manufacturer's directions. Regular smokers and pellet smokers are a bit different in prep, so be sure to follow what's best for your particular device. Get the internal temp of the smoker to between 225°F and 250°F. Higher than that and the turkey might begin to burn on the outside before the turkey is cooked internally.

3. Once you get to that 225°F to 250°F spot, let the smoker go for about 15 to 20 minutes to maintain the heat. Then, if you're using a regular smoker, go ahead and put the wood chunks on the coals. If you're using a pellet smoker, they should already be going. Here again, follow the instructions for your smoker.

4. Place the turkey in the smoker, and maintain an internal smoker temp between 225°F and 250°F. For a 5 3/4- to 6-pound turkey breast, it'll take about 3 1/2 to 4 hours to reach 165°F. You can use an instant-read thermometer to check the turkey breast's thickest part, or if you have a leave-in thermometer, you can monitor it during the cook time.

5. Once the turkey's thickest part reaches 165°F, remove the turkey from the smoker. Cover it loosely with aluminum foil, and let it rest at least 10 to 15 minutes, or until you're ready to carve and serve.

What Kind of Wood Should I Use?

We like hickory wood for this recipe. The flavor balances the sweetness of the brine beautifully. But feel free to use pellets or wood that you like. Other good options include maple, cherry, and applewood. Mesquite might be a little strong for the delicate turkey flavor, but it's your bird, not ours.

Frequently Asked Questions

Before you fire up the smoker, take a look at these common questions about smoking turkey breasts:

What temperature do you smoke a turkey breast?

You want to maintain a temperature between 225°F and 250°F inside the smoker. Anything above that will cook the turkey quickly, but you may risk overcooking the outside of the breast before the inside is done.

What is the right internal temperature for a turkey breast?

Set your sights on 165°F. The smoked turkey breast should reach that temperature at the thickest part before you remove it from the smoker.

How long does turkey breast take to smoke?

Plan for about 35 minutes per pound when smoking a turkey breast. For this recipe we estimate a 5 3/4- to 6-pound turkey breast needs about 3 1/2 to 4 hours in a smoker.

Can I put the turkey directly on the smoker's grates?

Yes, no need to use a roasting pan. The turkey breast can go directly on the grates. However, if you'd prefer to use a pan or smoking tray, feel free.

Do I need to flip a turkey when smoking?

No, you do not have to flip a smoked turkey. You can leave it where it is. The heat is coming from the hot air, not flames.

Should I wrap a turkey breast in foil when smoking?

No, you do not have to wrap a turkey in foil. But you can if you want to. It may slow down the cooking temperature and also prevent the meat from absorbing some of they smoke's flavor. But it will protect the skin from burning if you're using a higher smoking temperature.

Can I cut into the turkey right away?

After smoking is complete, be sure to let your turkey sit for at least 10 to 15 minutes before serving for some of the moistest, most delicious slices of turkey breast you've ever had. The smoked turkey will be especially delicious as leftover sandwiches!

Editorial Contributions by Kimberly Holland.


  • 1 (64-oz.) bottle apple cider

  • ¾ cup kosher salt (such as Diamond Crystal)

  • ½ cup sugar

  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar

  • 3 (4-inch) fresh thyme sprigs

  • 2 (4-inch) fresh rosemary sprigs

  • 10 fresh sage leaves

  • 1 garlic bulb, cut in half crosswise

  • 4 cups ice cubes

  • 1 (5 ¾- to 6-lb.) bone-in turkey breast

  • 4 hickory wood chunks


  1. Bring cider and next 7 ingredients to a boil in a large stockpot or 8-qt. Dutch oven over medium-high heat; reduce heat to medium, and simmer, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in ice. Cool completely (1 hour).

  2. Place turkey in brine; cover and chill 5 to 12 hours.

  3. Prepare smoker according to manufacturer's directions, bringing internal temperature to 225°F to 250°F; maintain temperature 15 to 20 minutes. Place wood chunks on coals.

  4. Remove turkey from brine, and pat dry with paper towels. Discard brine. Smoke turkey, maintaining temperature inside smoker between 225°F and 250°F, for 3 ½ to 4 hours or until a meat thermometer inserted into thickest portion registers 165°F.

  5. Remove turkey, cover loosely with aluminum foil, and let stand 10 to 15 minutes before slicing.

Edited by
Kimberly Holland
Kimberly Holland
Kimberly Holland is a writer and editor with 15 years of experience in food, lifestyle, health, and nutrition content. She has been published in Southern Living, Real Simple, Allrecipes, EatingWell, Cooking Light, and other publications.
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