This post was created in partnership with the National Turkey Federation. All thoughts and opinions are always my own.
Juicy turkey breast that is brined, cooked in the smoker and finished with a honey-brown sugar glaze with a hint of bourbon, because that makes everything just a little better. Oh, and that glaze on the smoky turkey is delicious!
There are so many ways to cook a turkey. Some are definitely standouts that "wow" a crowd, and this is definitely one of those recipes. While your traditional turkey might be made in the oven, let's change things up with a new concept this holiday.
Going with the breast only has some great advantages. It cooks faster and more evenly, and it's great for a smaller gathering when you don't need to feed a crowd or don't need too many leftovers.
What You'll Need
- Turkey - Go with a bone-in breast (double breast) with the skin on, which is fairly easy to find. If possible, buy fresh, but frozen will work great, too. Avoid pre-brined or "enhanced" turkey since we want to brine the turkey ourselves.
I usually look for a 5 to 8-pound double breast, which will feed 4 to 6 people, and leave plenty for leftovers. But if you want a smaller or larger breast, the recipe will still work.
If using a whole bird (which is great too), you can spatchcock the turkey for faster, even cooking in the smoker.
- Brine - a simple brine of water, salt, sugar and peppercorns will do the trick of keeping the turkey juicy and delicious.
- The Glaze - honey, brown sugar, butter, cider vinegar, mustard and bourbon.
- Wood Chips or Pellets for smoke - Applewood or cherry wood smoking chunks or pellets.
- Remote thermometer to monitor the temperature remotely and an instant-read thermometer to verify.
- High-temp basting brush for bsting on the glaze.
How to Smoke Turkey Breast - Basic Steps
- Brine the breast for about 8 hours for a juicy, flavorful result.
- Cook in the smoker at 250° F for about 2 hours using indirect heat and a water drip pan in place, or until the internal temperature reaches 160° F.
- Make the glaze while the turkey is smoking. A combination of honey, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar for some tang, a little bourbon for a caramel flavor and, of course, some butter to round it out. Brush it on the turkey 2 to 3 times during the last 30 minutes of cooking.
- Rest it uncovered for at least 20 minutes or longer to allow the juices to redistribute before slicing. Enjoy!
- The Brine Is Key - A turkey brine (a simple combination of water, salt and sugar) brings out the turkey flavor and helps keep it super juicy.
- Use the right smoke: apple, cherry or hickory. Nothing too heavy.
- Monitor the temperature remotely with a Thermoworks smoke alarm thermometer or Signals.
- Don't overcook it! Remove the breast at a lower temperature to allow for some carryover cooking. I pull mine at around 160° F and the temperature continues to rise to 165° F while it rests. If you cook in a higher temp smoker, then pull the breast even sooner (more like 155°).
- Remove the breast from the bone for easy slicing is my preference, but you can totally slice while it's still on the bone.
- Save the bones and make turkey stock.
Frequently Asked Questions
It will take approximately 20 to 25 minutes per pound for a bone-in breast at 250° F. Mine are almost always ready to pull right around the 2-hour mark. However, it's really about cooking to an internal temperature, not the cooking time that determines doneness.
A number of variables including the size and starting temperature of the breast, smoker temperature, humidity and more cause fluctuations in the cook time. Always use an instant-read probe thermometer to check for doneness.
Brined turkey will cook slightly more quickly than non-brined meats.
Keep the smoker temperature between 225 and 250° F. Too hot and it can dry out the meat.
For turkey, I recommend using apple or cherry wood for smoking. These give a subtle sweetness. These also pair wonderfully with the honey-glaze and don't overpower the turkey. Hickory is another option, but avoid mesquite or other strong flavors like oak.
Sides That Go Great!
- Creamy Mashed Potatoes
- Green Beans
- Sausage and Sourdough Stuffing
- Crispy Roasted Brussels Sprouts
- Sweet Potatoes with Maple Miso Butter
- Croissant Bread Pudding with a Bourbon Raisin Brown Sugar Sauce for dessert, or make some smoked bread pudding right alongside the turkey.
More Delicious Turkey Recipes
Check out all the creative ways to cook a turkey!
Smoked Turkey Breast with Honey Glaze
- 5 to 8 pound bone-in turkey breast
- 1 Tbsp. butter or canola oil
For the brine
- 8 cups water
- ½ cup Diamond kosher salt
- ⅓ cup sugar
- 1 tsp. peppercorns
- ⅓ cup honey
- ¾ cup packed brown sugar
- 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
- ¼ cup bourbon (optional)
Brine the turkey
- Make the brine by adding 2 cups of boiling water in a large container with the salt, sugar and peppercorns. Stir to dissolve completely, then add a combination of 6 cups of cold water and ice.
- Place the turkey breast in the brine and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight
- Remove the turkey from the brine, rinse and pat dry with paper towels.
Make the glaze
- While the turkey smokes, make the glaze. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, add the glaze ingredients and stir to combine and dissolve. Bring to a simmer and reduce the heat to low, continuing to cook until the glaze has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Smoke the turkey
- While the breast comes to room temperature, prepare the smoker according to the manufacturer’s instructions for indirect cooking with a water drip pan in place. Add wood chunks (or pellets) and bring the temperature to 250° F.
- Rub room-temperature butter or canola oil all over the turkey, then place in the smoker.
- When the internal temperature of the breasts reaches about 130° F (about 90 minutes in), glaze the turkey and repeat after 15 more minutes.
- Remove the turkey at 160° F, as it will continue to rise at least 5° to finish at 165° F. Verify with a probe thermometer.
- Rest for 20 minutes before slicing and serving with a drizzle more of the glaze.
- If your turkey breast is pre-brined or "enhanced," then you will want to skip the brining as it can come out too salty.
Thanks to the National Turkey Federation for sponsoring this recipe and helping to make this site possible!