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Turkey Breast - Bone-In

Originally posted: 11/02/2004
Last updated: 02/21/2014

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Summary
  • Buy a regular (non-enhanced), 5-7 pound bone-in turkey breast. Don't use a self-basted turkey when brining.
  • Brine for 8-12 hours, then air-dry overnight in the refrigerator.
  • Apply your favorite rub inside and out (optional).
  • Smoke at 325-350°F until 160-165°F in the breast.
  • Let rest for 20 minutes before carving.

Lighting charcoal briquettes for the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker

Two bone-in turkey breasts after barbecuing

Americans prefer white meat over dark meat when it comes to turkey, so a whole, bone-in turkey breast may be the right choice for your Thanksgiving table or for any other time of year.

A bone-in turkey breast consists of both breast portions, along with the skin, ribs, and part of the backbone, weighing 4-5 pounds and as large as 8 pounds. You will commonly find bone-in turkey breasts at the supermarket throughout the year, usually packaged as shown in the photo below.

A variation of bone-in turkey breast is called "hotel-style" turkey breast. In this version, the wings are left intact and the neck and giblets are usually included. It weighs 7-9 pounds and costs less per pound, but is harder to find in stores.

Here's how I brined and cooked two bone-in turkey breasts on October 24, 2004.

As always...click on any of the pictures to view a larger image.


Buy A Natural, Bone-In Turkey Breast

Whole, bone-in turkey breast
Photo 1
       

Choose a bone-in turkey breast weighing 5-7 pounds.

When buying a turkey for brining, choose a regular turkey, not a self-basted bird that's been injected with a solution of salt and other flavorings. Read the fine print on the label—you do not want a turkey that says, "Contains up to X% of a solution to enhance juiciness and tenderness..." See Turkey Selection & Preparation for more details.

I bought two turkey breasts weighing 4.74 pounds and 4.85 pounds, one of which is shown in Photo 1.

If you use a self-basting turkey breast, skip the brining and air-drying steps described below.

Brine The Turkey

Two turkey breasts in brine solution
Photo 2
       

Trim away any areas of excess skin or scrappy material around the body cavity, rinse thoroughly inside and out, and pat dry with paper towels.

Brine the turkey 8-12 hours using this recipe posted by Keri Cathey on The Virtual Weber Bulletin Board.

Apple Juice Turkey Brine
1 gallon apple juice, chilled
1 cup Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt
1/2 cup honey
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
Mix in a non-reactive container until dissolved. Makes 1 gallon of brine. Substitute 3/4 cup Morton Kosher Salt or 1/2 cup table salt for Diamond Crystal.

Put the turkey in the brine breast side down. Place a heavy plate or bowl on top to keep the bird submerged, if necessary.

Since brining does not preserve meat, the turkey and the brine solution must be kept below 40°F throughout the entire brining process.

This photo shows the two turkey breasts and brine in a 4-gallon food-safe plastic bucket.

Air-Dry The Turkey

Air-drying turkeys in refrigerator
Photo 3
       

After brining, rinse the turkey and pat dry with paper towels. If you have the time, place on a rack over a rimmed baking sheet and allow to air-dry 8-12 hours in the refrigerator. This helps create crispy skin during cooking.

Fire The WSM

Firing two Weber chimneys
Photo 4
       

Fire-up the cooker using the Standard Method—one full Weber chimney of hot Kingsford charcoal briquettes in the charcoal bowl, followed by another full chimney of unlit Kingsford, allowing all coals to become fully lit before cooking.

If you have two chimneys, you can fill and fire both simultaneously, as shown in Photo 4.

Foil The Water Pan

Foiled water pan
Photo 5
       

Cover the inside and outside of the water pan with wide, heavy duty aluminum foil. Place the pan inside the cooker, but leave it empty.

Season The Turkey...Or Not

Holiday turkey barbecue tipsRemove the turkey from the refrigerator at the same time you start firing-up the cooker. Let it sit at room temperature until ready to go into the cooker.

At this point, you can sprinkle the turkey breast with your favorite rub inside and out, or just cook it as-is. If you decide to rub, a very thin coat of vegetable oil on the skin will help the rub to stick better. Since the meat has already been seasoned by the brine, be careful to use a rub that's not too salty.

I applied a small amount of canola oil and a modest sprinkling of Tony Chachere's Original Creole Seasoning to one turkey breast and left the other one unrubbed.

Smoke The Turkey

Cherry smoke wood
Photo 6
Turkey goes into the cooker
Photo 7
Turkey at the end of cooking
Photo 8
   

When all the coals are covered with gray ash, place 2-3 medium-sized chunks of dry cherry wood or other mild smoke wood on the coals.

Assemble the cooker and place the turkey breast-side up on the top grate. Set the three bottom vents to 50% open. Open the top vent fully and leave it that way throughout the entire cook.

Adjust the bottom vents to maintain a temperature of 325-350°F measured at the lid. Cook the turkey until it measures 160-165°F.

There's no need to baste or rotate the turkey during the cooking process.

Here's how the cooker temperatures and vent settings went during my cook:

Time Lid Temp Vent 1 % Vent 2 % Vent 3 %
11:25am - 50 50 50
11:45am 315 100 100 100
12:00pm 330 100 100 100
12:15pm 345 100 100 50
12:30pm 342 100 100 50
12:45pm 342 100 100 50
1:00pm 340 100 100 50

Serve The Turkey

Turkey after 30 minute rest
Photo 9
       

Remove the turkey from the cooker and let rest for 20 minutes before carving. Do not cover with foil, as this will cause the skin to go soft.

In this photo, the turkey on the left was sprinkled with rub, and the one of the right was not.

See Turkey Selection & Preparation for carving tips.

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