Do It Like a Pro: Smoking a Turkey Breast on a Pellet Grill

August 22, 2022

I have been witness to smoking a turkey breast on a pellet grill since I was a little girl. It was my family's favorite way of preparing turkey. Due to this, I have picked up my fair share of tips and tricks over the years.

Here is your guide to getting this recipe just right!

Smoking a turkey breast on a pellet grill

How to Smoke Turkey Breast Using a Pellet Grill?

If you aren't too familiar with using a pellet grill to smoke meat, don't worry - I'm here to help!

To start with, make sure that there are enough of wood pellets in the hopper. It is always a good idea to top this up so that you will have enough of wood chips for the duration of the smoke.

If you run out in the middle of the cook, then you will need to stop, refill the hopper, prime the pellet grill and then start smoking again. Needless to say, you don't want this!

brushing a whole turkey

Now, if the hopper was emptied out during the last cook, then you will have to fill the hopper, start the grill, and then prime it before you get started.

In case the hopper had some pellets in it, then you can choose your temperature setting and fire up your pellet grill.

As you are aware, no two pellet grills are the same. Due to this, you should always read the manufacturer's instructions for that particular make and model before getting started.

This will show you whether you should use the Smoke function that comes with the pellet grill or if you should choose your own temperature setting. With some grills, the grill temp for the Smoke setting is a bit too low. Under these circumstances, you may need to use the regular setting at a lower temperature.

You then close the lid, allow the pellet grill to preheat and then begin to smoke. It is as easy as that!

Dry Brining vs. Injecting the Turkey Breast

Before you smoke a turkey breast, I want to talk to you about prep methods.

As you are aware, turkey breast is a rather delicate piece of meat. Due to this, it is prone to drying out during the smoking process. To avoid this, you can choose to brine the turkey breast or inject it.

I will walk you through each of the methods so that you have a better idea of which one may be right for you.

With dry brining, you sprinkle kosher salt on the surface of the turkey breast and let it sit for several hours. Not only does this method help the turkey breast to maintain moisture but it also dries out the surface, resulting in a crispy skin as it is smoked.

As for injecting, here the turkey breast is injected with a marinade that can be made of stock, melted butter, spices, herbs, and other assortment that you like. This is done shortly before you smoke the turkey breast.

There are two advantages here. First, there is no downtime - you can smoke turkey breast shortly afterwards. The other benefit is that you get to inject both moisture as well as flavor into the meat.

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How to Dry Brine Turkey Breast?

Lay the turkey breast on the work table. Take a pinch of kosher salt between three fingers. Raise your hand several inches above the turkey. Then, sprinkle the salt. Make sure that the salt is evenly distributed everywhere.

Flip the turkey breast over and repeat the process. Place turkey breast uncovered in the refrigerator overnight or until the skin is dry to the touch.

How to Inject a Turkey Breast?

Make up your desired marinade - you will need 0.1 ounces per 5lbs of meat. A good marinade to try for this smoked turkey breast recipe is:

  • 1/4 cup of melted butter
  • 1/4 cup of oil
  • 1/4 cup of water
  • 3 tbs. of Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbs. of fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. of garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. of onion powder
  • 1 tsp. of dried thyme
  • 1 tsp. of dried sage
raw turkey bird

Place the raw turkey breast on your work table.

Siphon some of the solution into your injection. Then, plunge it fairly deep into the turkey breast and release the solution. Take the injector out and repeat this action at equal intervals.

Traeger Smoked Turkey Breast Recipe

Ingredients

  • 5lb. bone in turkey breast

Dry Rub

  • 1 tbs. of smoked paprika
  • 1 tbs. of chili powder
  • 1 tbs. of garlic powder
  • 1 tbs. of onion powder
  • 1 tsp. of kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. of black pepper
Smoked Turkey Breast recipe

Method

Step 1

Mix the ingredients of the dry rub in a bowl and set aside.

Trim any excess skin from the turkey breast.

Then, cover the turkey breast completely in the rub. Make sure to apply some under the skin as well.

Place in the refrigerator uncovered for between 1 hour to overnight.

Step 2

Take the turkey breast out of the the refrigerator about 30 minutes before smoking.

Preheat the pellet grill to 225 F.

Step 3

Place turkey breast in the pellet smoker.

Close the lid and smoke turkey breast until the probe reads an internal temperature of 160 degrees F.

Take out of the pellet grill and rest for 20 minutes before slicing.

Choosing the Right Turkey Breast

The key to a great smoked turkey breast recipe is choosing the best turkey breast for the job. This is actually a lot harder than you might think.

These days, turkey breasts are processed quite a bit. As such, they may be pre-brined or already be injected with various ingredients. All of these additions can mess with the taste and texture of your smoked turkey breast.

Due to this, make sure to head to a butcher that only deals with fresh, unprocessed turkey breast.

The other tip that I want to give you is to always buy bone in turkey breasts. I know that boneless turkey breast is easier to prep and cooks faster. However, it doesn't taste nearly as good.

The bones add flavor and also moisture to your smoked turkey breast. As such, you should always go for the bone in instead of the boneless turkey breast. You will be better off for it!

a meal with turkey

Finally, I want to talk to you about size. If you are feeding a greater number of people, I'm sure your go-to move is to choose a large turkey breast. The issue, though, is that large cuts take longer to smoke and depending on their shape, may cook unevenly too.

I would suggest that for the sake of time and flavor that you choose a smaller size turkey breast and buy two instead of one or however many you will need. This will ensure that you enjoy delicious white meat when you are done!

Choosing Your Rub Ingredients

I really do like the dry rub that I have used for this smoked turkey breast recipe. That being said, you should feel free to use one that you like. I know that some people enjoy a BBQ rub to make the turkey breast feel more like a barbecue item.

You can also add more herbs instead of spices into the mix - the options are endless.

As I have already mentioned, though, it is a good idea to make sure that the marinade and the rub match up, if you are injecting your turkey breast. If you aren't, then this will not be an issue for you.

I would, however, think of the rest of the food or side dishes that you are serving alongside the smoked turkey breast. This will help you decide what flavor profile will work best with these items.

Getting Your Rub to Stick

Now, I know that it can be a bit tricky to get your rub to stick to the surface of the turkey. As such, it can be tempting to apply something on the skin and meat to help the binding process.

I know that some people will brush on vegetable oil or melted butter to get the spices to stick. Personally, I don't like doing that with turkey breast, particularly if you have already used a dry brine.

This is because you have worked quite hard to get the skin dry so that it can crisp up during the smoking process. Adding any kind of oil or fat to the mix can compromise this.

If you do want to use some kind of binding agent, I would tell you to use the bare amount of oil or butter possible.

How Long Should You Let the Rub Sit?

Now, this is entirely up to you. Not everyone likes to prep their turkey breast a full day before they plan on smoking it.

If you are in a bit of a rush, then I would suggest leaving it on for at least an hour. If you can, though, overnight is best. This gives the flavors a bit more time to be absorbed into the surface of the turkey meat.

I have always found that the turkey flavor can be helped along, which is why I like to let the spices sit for a bit longer.

Remember to always keep the turkey breast in the refrigerator uncovered. The cool air in the fridge helps to dry out the skin further, ensuring it will be nice and crispy later on.

turkey breast

Taking the Turkey Breast Out Before Smoking

It is always best to smoke a turkey breast that is as close to room temperature as possible. This allows the meat to cook more evenly and faster too.

At the same time, you can't keep the turkey breast out on the counter for too long due to the risk of air borne illness. This is why I like to take the meat out about half an hour before it is meant to be cooked on the pellet grill. It is a good idea to cover the turkey breast as well.

Choosing Your Wood Pellets

For that gorgeous smoked flavor, you need to choose the right wood chips for your pellet grill. You do have to be careful when making your choice for smoked turkey breast.

In general, turkey breast has a tendency to be rather mild, almost bland. As a result, it is quite easy to overwhelm the natural flavor profile of the meat. If you do this, you will only be able to taste the wood in your smoked turkey breast.

Your best options here are fruitwoods such as cherry, apple, pecan, and maple. Alder is used quite often for smoked turkey breast as well. These woods only offer a subtle amount of smoke and their sweetness complements the taste of the white meat.

Personally, I would advise you against going anything stronger than the woods mentioned above. If this is too mild for you, though, I would suggest oak. Hickory and mesquite are just too strong here. What's more, if you use too much, your smoked turkey breast will end up tasting rather bitter.

In case you are set on using something a little stronger, I would only use a handful or so of those pellets and then top the rest off with apple or cherry. This will help to balance out the flavors.

Firewood Below Grill

Choosing Your Cooking Temperature

In general, you have to be careful when cooking smoked turkey breast. As I have mentioned, it tends to dry out as it is white meat.

It is due to this that I prefer smoking the turkey breast at 225 F. A lot of people will go up to 275 F or even higher but this is a mistake. Yes, your smoked turkey breast may cook faster but there is also a greater chance of it ending up dried out.

Considering how much time and effort you put into your smoked turkey breast, you certainly don't want this to happen.

One of the reasons that some people like to increase the temperature on their pellet grill is because they want smoked turkey breast with a really crispy exterior.

For the most part, brining the meat should do the trick. If you still don't want to take any chances, though, you can try taking your pellet grill temperature up to 300 or even 350 F for the first hour.

Then, lower it to 225 degrees F and continue cooking. If you do decide to do this, make sure to track the internal temperature of the turkey breast with a meat thermometer throughout to ensure that the meat isn't cooking too fast.

How Long Will Smoked Turkey Breast Take?

This is a popular question but it is difficult to give a definitive answer. This is because there are a lot of different factors that can determine the smoking rate of your turkey breast.

Still, I know that you need at least a ball park figure as a guide. I would say that it may take between 30 to 45 minutes per pound for your smoked turkey breast to cook all the way through.

At the end of the day, though, the internal temp is the only way to determine the rate at which your smoked turkey breast is cooking and how long it will take for it to be done. Thus, make sure to track this.

When is Smoked Turkey Breast Done?

This is another question that doesn't have an easy answer. As you will have noticed in the recipe, I have asked you to take the smoked turkey breast off the heat at 160 F.

If you were to read government guidelines, though, you would find that an internal temperature of 165 degrees F is required for turkey breast. So, what gives?

Well, as you are aware the best smoked turkey breast needs to be juicy and tender. However, cook it all the way up to 165 degrees F and you will end up with a rather dry piece of meat.

This is due a process that is known as carryover cooking - it is where the temperature of the meat continues to rise even after it is taken off the heat. Thus, the smoked turkey breast can be up to 10 degrees warmer once it is done resting.

There are some who like to take the turkey off the heat at around 150 degrees F. This ensures that the meat is as juicy as possible. Now, I can't recommend this for safety reasons but this may be something that you want to try out nonetheless.

Oh, and when you are checking for doneness, make sure to place the meat thermometer in the thickest part of the breast. You should also keep the end of the probe at least one inch away from the breast bone to ensure that you don't get a false reading.

Wrapping It Up

Making smoked turkey breast on a pellet grill is a breeze! And now that you know the right way to go about it, you can make the best ever dish. Pretty soon, this is going to be your favorite way of preparing turkey breast!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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