A whole turkey for Thanksgiving? Nope, not this year! What if I told you that you could have all the juicy and delicious turkey that you could handle without having to cook a whole bird? Would you be interested?
I'm trying something new in the interest of minimizing the time and effort it takes to put Thanksgiving dinner on the table, but without sacrificing any flavor. I want to make things as easy and painless. Oh, and I want it all to take about two hours to make everything. For this to happen, roasting or smoking a whole turkey just isn't feasible.
Cooking a whole turkey can be a little intimidating, and it can get quite expensive when you pick out one of those premium organic free-range birds that live a happy life before arriving in your kitchen. You can get just the breast and I promise that you will get the same smells in the house and the breast will taste just as good (or better) than if it was part of a whole roasted turkey.
If you are intrigued by this concept, then brining and roasting a turkey breast is totally for you.
Pick out a turkey breast that has the bone in and the skin on. Try to be selective and get one where the skin covers most of the breast. The skin helps protect the meat from drying out, and isn't the skin the best part anyway? Having the bone still attached will help keep it even juicier.
Reasons to Roast Turkey Breast Instead of a Whole Bird
If you always roast a whole turkey and will never change, then by all means, keep doing that. If you are on the fence between cooking a whole turkey or just the breast, here are some reasons to just roast the breast.
- Time: Roasting times are dramatically reduced when only roasting the breasts. Mine cooked in about an hour and a half.
- Leftovers: As wonderful as leftovers can be, if you are at a vacation house or going on vacation after Thanksgiving, then leftovers aren't needed and a lot might get wasted.
- Cost: The cost of a stand-alone turkey breast is significantly less than buying a whole bird.
- Perfectly Cooked: Since the breast cooks faster than the other parts of the turkey, it can easily get overcooked when trying to fully cook the dark meat. When only cooking the breast, you have complete control to perfectly cook it.
- Carving: Removing the breast from the bone and slicing it might take all of 2 minutes, whereas carving a whole bird could take 10 to 15 minutes.
- Extra Oven Room: Roasting just the breast gives you extra room in the oven for your stuffing/dressing, desserts and other sides that normally have to wait when the whole oven is taken up by a big turkey.
How to Brine a Turkey Breast
Brining a turkey is an essential step that ensures juicy meat with tons of flavor. A brine can be as simple as water and salt; but we're adding plenty of fresh herbs and garlic along with the salt to infuse those amazing herby flavors in every bite.
The breast should brine between 2 and 4 hours. You can definitely brine it the day before or in the morning, then remove it from the brine bath and rinse it.
- Bring half of the water to a boil and add it to the ingredients, letting it steep for at least 5 minutes to extract the flavors into the water. Add the remainder of the water and ice so it is no longer warm.
- Place the turkey breast and the brine in a bag, then into a bowl to refrigerate while the brine does its thing.
- Remove from the brine, rinse and pat dry.
How to Roast a Turkey Breast
After brining, the roasting itself is super simple. Just rub on some butter and thyme. No need to season it further, as it has already been seasoned with the brine.
We're going with a two-stage roasting process. Start off at high 450° F for 30 minutes to brown the skin, then reduce the oven to 350° F until the center of the breast meat is at 155° F on your probe thermometer.
The two temperature stages get you that beautiful skin and flavorful outside, while evenly cooking the inside.
Do note that a brined turkey cooks faster than if it wasn't brined, so be sure to check the temperature frequently and use an instant-read probe thermometer. Rest it for 15 minutes before slicing and serving.
How Long to Roast It?
A 4-pound half turkey breast will take approximately 90 minutes to cook.
Tools & Equipment Used
- Slicing knife for making those perfect slices
- Wireless probe thermometer to monitor the internal temperature
- Thermapen instant-read thermometer to verify temperatures
Herb Roast Turkey Breast
- 4 cups water
- ½ cup Diamond kosher salt
- 3 Tbsp. honey
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 rosemary sprigs
- 4 thyme sprigs
- 4 fresh sage leaves
- 4 garlic cloves (smashed)
- 6 black peppercorns
- 1 4-pound half turkey breast (bone-in and skin-on)
- 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
- 2 tsp. thyme leaves
Making the Brine
- Boil half of the water (2 cups) and combine with the other ingredients in a medium bowl.
- Whisk to dissolve salt and honey, and let steep for 5 minutes.
- Add the remaining 2 cups of cold water to cool down the brine. You can add a few ice cubes to cool it down quicker.
- Place the turkey breast in a large Ziplock bag and fill with the brine, seal, place in a large bowl (to prevent spills) and refrigerate for 2 to 4 hours.
- Remove the breast from the brine and rinse thoroughly, then dry with paper towels.
Roasting the Turkey Breast
- Preheat oven to 450° F.
- Let the breast sit out for 30 minutes to 1 hour to temper and come to room temperature to promote even cooking.
- Place the turkey breast in a roasting pan with a rack.
- Rub the breast all over with butter and the thyme leaves, being sure to get some under the skin.
- Place the turkey in the middle rack of the oven and roast for 20 to 30 minutes at 450° (or until it is golden), then reduce the heat to 350 °F for the remainder of the cook.
- Remove from the oven when the internal temperature reaches 155° F (about 90 minutes total), as there will be carry-over cooking which will continue to rise to 165° F.
- Rest on a cutting board for 15 to 20 minutes before slicing and serving.
- Recipe can easily be doubled to use two half breasts.
- Always use an instant-read probe thermometer to verify the internal temperature reaches 165° F.
- Brined turkey will cook slightly faster than unbrined meats.
More Thanksgiving Recipes
- Kale Salad with Roasted Sweet Potatoes and an Apple Cider Vinaigrette
- Sausage and Sourdough Stuffing
- The Creamiest Mashed Potatoes
- Perfect Green Beans
- Pumpkin-Pecan Bread Pudding
- Apple-Rhubarb Crumble
This post was originally published on November 8, 2017 and was last updated on October 21, 2020 to include updates and more useful information.