I’ll show you how to roast a turkey breast for those times when a whole turkey is just more than you need. A turkey breast yields plenty of juicy meat, enough drippings for a fabulous gravy, and bones to make a turkey soup the next day!
A roast turkey breast is perfect for smaller gatherings of 6 or less
We’re just 4 for Thanksgiving this year, so there’s no way I’m going to make a whole turkey. What? And be eating leftovers for weeks? Nope, I’m on to Christmas cookies on Friday and I need to save some room 😉 In fact in preparation for all the holiday treats that are going to be flowing through my kitchen next month I’ll be subsisting on cozy soups, and this breast will make one heck of a turkey soup.
Next year (now that has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?) I’m going to tackle the full on rolled stuffed turkey breast. And I can’t wait.
The benefits of cooking a turkey breast vs the whole bird
- Cooking just the breast means that you will get perfectly cooked and juicy turkey. You won’t have to over cook the breast in order to get the dark meat done. For white meat lovers this is epic.
- You don’t need a special roasting pan, a turkey breast will fit in a standard dutch oven or braising pan.
- There is less waste if you’re feeding a smaller crowd.
- If you choose a whole bone in turkey breast you’ll still have leftovers, and a carcass for making soup.
- No matter which format you choose, a turkey breast is quicker to cook and much less complicated to carve.
- Most grocery stores carry turkey breasts all year long, so you can enjoy healthy turkey more often.
How to choose a turkey breast
Turkey breasts come in different configurations:
- A FULL BONE-IN TURKEY BREAST is what I used. It’s about 7-8 pounds, and looks somewhat similar to a regular turkey, minus the wings and legs. It yields a lot of meat, as well as bones for making stock later. This type of turkey breast gives the most traditional ‘look’ to your meal, and is large enough to still provide leftovers. It has a stuff-able cavity, too. You can find frozen pre-marinated turkey breasts anywhere from 5-9 lbs during the holidays in most large grocers and food retailers. Full bone in turkey breasts are perfect for groups of 6 or less. Allow 1 pound per person with a bone in full turkey breast.
- A FULL BONELESS TURKEY BREAST is both breasts, with the bone removed. This will cook a little quicker due to the absence of bone, and will be easier to carve. Again, boneless full breasts are ideal for groups of 6 or less.
- A SINGLE BONE-IN OR BONELESS BREAST is ideal for 2-4 people.
Tips for cooking the perfect juicy turkey breast
- THAW IT! Make sure your turkey is thawed. Switch a frozen bird to the refrigerator 2-3 days beforehand to insure it will thaw completely, and then, according to the USDA, your thawed turkey will be ok for another 2 days in the fridge.
- MAKE SURE IT’S DRY. Rinse your turkey but be sure to pat it nice and dry. Dry turkey skin will crisp up nicely in the oven.
- SKIN SIDE UP Place your breast skin side up in your pan.
- RUB WITH BUTTER & SEASON Rub all over with soft butter, and then season well with salt and pepper. You can add a spice or herb blend if you like, but I find this isn’t necessary.
- ADD LIQUID Add 1/2 cup chicken broth to the pan to give your drippings a head start.
- PREHEAT! Preheat the oven to 450F but turn it down to 325F immediately after sliding the turkey in.
- BASTE Baste the turkey every 20 minutes or so to get a nice crisp browned skin.
- 20 MINUTES PER POUND The approximate rule is to cook the turkey 20 minutes per pound. This is just a guide.
- USE YOUR THERMOMETER After an hour and a half check the deepest part of the breast with an instant read meat thermometer. When it reads 165F it will be done. If your breast is smaller or larger than mine, your cooking time will vary, so use that thermometer!
- COOK TO 165F If you’ve stuffed your breast, make sure the center of the stuffing reads 165F as well.
- LET IT REST for 20 minutes before slicing. This helps the turkey carve more neatly, and the meat becomes nice and juicy.
To make quick drippings gravy
- After removing the breast from the pan, return the pan with all the drippings to the stove. Add a 15-ounce can of chicken broth and bring to a boil, using a silicone spoon or spatula to scrape down all the good brown bits from the bottom and sides of the pan.
- Mix 1/2 cup whole milk with 1/4 cup flour and blend with a whisk or fork until no lumps are left (don’t worry if you do have a few lumps, we’ll be straining the gravy later.)
- Once the broth has come to a boil, turn the heat down a bit and slowly add the milk/flour, whisking constantly so it doesn’t lump. Whisk continuously until the gravy thickens, which should be almost immediately as it comes back to a gentle boil. Let it cook for a couple of minutes. I like to add a bit (1/2 tsp or so) of gravy browning to enhance the color and flavor.
- Season the gravy with salt and pepper to taste.
- Strain before serving.
What to serve with turkey breast
appetizers and soups
- Green Bean Casserole
- Sweet Corn Spoonbread Casserole
- Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Honey and Sage
- Cauliflower Gratin
- French Potato and Onion Gratin
- Creamed Brussels Sprouts
- Wild Rice Salad
- Roasted Apple and Radicchio Salad
- Kale and Butternut Salad
- Wheat Berry Salad with Beets and Feta
sauces and relishes
How to Cook a Turkey Breast
- 7-8 lb bone in turkey breast
- 4 Tbsp butter, soft
- salt and fresh cracked black pepper
- 3 clementines or small tangerines, halved (optional)
- 1/2 cup chicken stock
- 15 ounces chicken broth or stock ( a little less than 2 cups)
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1/4 cup flour (use a little less for a thinner gravy)
- salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
- gravy browning like Kitchen Bouquet (optional)
- Preheat oven to 450F
- Rinse your turkey breast and pat dry with paper towels. Place it in a roasting pan and rub the butter all over the surface, and then season well with salt and pepper. Place the cut clementines in the cavity. If there is no cavity, place them around the turkey.
- Put it in the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 325F. Roast for about 2 hours and 30 minutes, or until an instant read thermometor reads 165F when inserted into the center of the breast. Start checking the temperature after an hour and a half just to be sure. If your breast is smaller than 7 pounds it will take less time. I like to baste the turkey every 20 minutes or so. Cover loosely with foil if your skin seems to be getting too dark too soon.
- Remove from the oven and set the turkey on a cutting board. Remove the clementines and discard. Save the drippings in the pan to make gravy (recipe below.) Let the turkey rest for 20 minutes. This allows the juices to redistribute in the meat.
- Carefully remove each breast from the bone. Follow the breast bone with your knife to separate each half. Don't worry if there is still some meat left on the bone, you can remove that by hand. Thinly slice each breast.
To make gravy
- Heat the drippings and any bits and bobs left in the pan on the stove top. Add the can of chicken stock and bring to a boil, being sure to scrape up all browned bits from the bottom and sides of the pan. I find a silicone spoon or spatula to be helpful here.
- Meanwhile mix 1/2 cup milk (or water) with 1/4 cup of flour. Whisk or stir well until there are no lumps. (Don't worry too much, we'll strain the gravy at the end anyway.) Slowly wisk the flour mixture into the bubbling gravy, whisking continuously. The gravy will thicken almost immediately. Turn it down to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper to taste. I often add a touch of gravy browning (Kitchen Bouquet) to enhance the flavor and color.
- Strain the finished gravy before serving. Check seasonings one more time. Makes about 2 cups.
notes and variations
- If you are starting with a frozen turkey, plan to take it out of the freezer and place it in your refrigerator 2-3 days in advance to allow it to safely thaw.
- Remember to adjust the cooking time to the weight of your turkey breast. Mine took 2 1/2 hours, but every turkey and every oven will be different. I strongly encourage the use of an instant read thermometer, then there will be no guessing ~ when it reaches 165F in the deepest part of the breast, it's done.
- If, despite your best efforts, your turkey is still partially frozen when you're ready to roast, be sure to allow extra time for it to cook through.
- A fully frozen turkey can be safely cooked, but it will take up to 50% longer.
- Cover the turkey loosely with foil if the skin seems to be browning well before it's done. I generally don't have this problem, but it's good to keep in mind.