Smoked Boneless Turkey Breast

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Anyone who’s ever cooked any sort of turkey, wild or domesticated, knows that the breast meat can get dry in a hurry. Smoked boneless turkey breast chief among them.

That’s because a boneless turkey breast doesn’t have the breastbone to protect it from drying out. Fear not, however, I’ll show you how to go about it.

Boneless smoked turkey breast
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

The end goal is that tender, juicy turkey breast, smoky, maybe a touch sweet, but you don’t want it dry as the Sahara, or with the thinner, tail end of the breast turned into jerky.

I do this with two techniques: First, slice off the triangular tail end, and use that for another recipe, like maybe turkey parmesan, and just smoke the thick part. Here’s how you cut it:

A boneless turkey breast cut in half
Photo by Hank Shaw

The second technique is to brine or salt cure the meat: That’s the secret to fantastic smoked boneless turkey breast.

And while you can get away with not brining a store-bought turkey, smoking a wild turkey breast requires a salt brine. Period. If you are not familiar with what brining does, it uses the power of salt and osmosis to slightly denature the proteins in the meat, swelling them with salty moisture and trapping more liquid in the meat than it would otherwise be able to contain.

So when you cook it, and you get the inevitable moisture loss that heat causes, there was already so much moisture in the brined meat to begin with that it remains juicy.

I use what is called an equalization cure for my “brine,” which is not really a brine. It’s dry salting. You do this by weighing the turkey breast in grams — yes, you need a scale — and then weighing out 1.5 percent of that weight in kosher or sea salt. Add to this some brown sugar (that weight need not be exact) mix and massage into the turkey breast.

Ideally you’d vacuum seal it and set it in the fridge for at least 3 days, and really up to a week or more — this cure will not make the turkey breast too salty, unlike other ways of brining or salt curing.

Once you have that set, you need to dry the turkey breast to form what’s called a pellicle on the surface of the meat. A pellicle is a thin sheen or skin of denatured proteins that, when it dries out a bit, becomes tacky. This allows smoke to adhere to the meat far better then if you put wet meat into a smoker. This is an important step in smoking ignored by a lot of amateurs. Don’t be that guy.

I like smoking over fruit woods (cherry in this case), but you can use whatever. Oak, hickory, walnut, beech, alder, mesquite… Whatever you want will be fine, only no conifers! Pine pitch and turpentine are not good eats.

To give the turkey one last punch, I paint it with something sweet. I used honey here, but maple syrup, birch syrup, agave nectar, a fruit syrup or even molasses would work. Why do this? Um… is there a person on earth who doesn’t like the combination of sweet-salty-smoky-meaty?

I didn’t think so.

Finished smoked boneless turkey breast
Photo by Hank Shaw

I generally use a smoked boneless turkey breast as lunch meat, for sandwiches. But if that’s not your thing, make a meal out of it and serve your smoked turkey warm. Maybe with a gravy. You can also slice, then roughly chop, your smoked turkey for the meat in turkey tacos.

Once made, this will keep about a week in the fridge, and it freezes well.

Boneless smoked turkey breast
4.79 from 51 votes

Smoked Wild Turkey Breast

To trim, I slice off the thin triangle of turkey breast that lays over the tail end of the breast -- you will notice that all bird breasts have a thick and a thin end, and you are trimming the turkey's breast so you have, more or less, a big cylinder of meat that smokes better. 
Course: Appetizer, Cured Meat, Main Course
Cuisine: American
Servings: 6
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 4 hours
Total Time: 4 hours 20 minutes

Ingredients 

  • 1 skinless turkey breast, trimmed (see note above)
  • kosher salt (see note above)
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup honey, maple syrup or other syrup

Instructions 

  • Mix together the salt and sugar. Massage the mixture into the meat and, ideally, vacuum seal it. If not, put the salted turkey into a freezer bag. Set in the fridge for at least 3 days to cure. 
  • Remove the turkey breast from the bag and set it in the fridge, uncovered, for an hour or three to form the pellicle, a sheen that allows the turkey to take on smoke better. Turn the turkey over a few times while you do this. Don't skip this step!
  • Smoke the turkey slowly at about 200ºF until it reaches an internal temperature of about 160ºF -- this takes about 4 hours with my smoker. Let the turkey smoke undisturbed for an hour, then paint it with honey every 45 minutes or so until it's done. When the turkey is ready, take it out of the smoker and set it on a rack. Paint it one more time with the honey and serve any way you like it: Warm for dinner, or cold for sandwiches.

Notes

Once made, the smoked turkey will keep in the fridge for a week or so, and can be frozen (vacuum-sealed is my preference) for up to a year.

Nutrition

Calories: 92kcal | Carbohydrates: 25g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 1mg | Sodium: 3mg | Potassium: 22mg | Sugar: 24g | Calcium: 8mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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108 Comments

  1. Love your recipes and books. I’ve done this twice now and am curious what I’m doing wrong regarding cook time. Mine is much longer than it seems everyone else’s is. I have an electric smoker and a digital thermometer with two probes. I use one inside (the native temperature is not accurate) and the other probe in the thickest part of the meat/breast. At 200-205 degrees (with water pan) the jake my son shot took about 7 hours to hit 160*F and the big tom I got took 11 hours! I double checked temps as accurate with a separate thermometer as well. I’ve sampled the jake and the smoky salty sweet taste is there and it isn’t dry but I’d expect a shorter time might have retained even more mositure. Any idea where I could have gone wrong?

    1. Jeff: Not sure, but smoking is an art, not a science, so it could simply be that your local conditions are such that it took that long to get there. Good on you for using the internal thermometer!

  2. This is the best smoked turkey recipe I’ve ever used. Been using it now for 3 years and everyone that try’s it loves it. No one can believe I that wild skinless turkey breast can be this perfect.

    1. Gib: Definitely not a whole turkey. It will work with bone-in breasts, though. It might need an extra hour to smoke, and an extra day to brine.

  3. Hank, I made this recipe with a whole turkey breast that I brined for 4 days. I didn’t cut off the end or the tenderloin because the shape was pretty uniform. It was excellent- I smoked it in a little charcoal grill. I’m new to smoking and I put the turkey directly over the coals at first- one side came out totally charred but it was still delicious. Sliced thin its like the best turkey from a deli ever. My whole family ate it up. Thanks!

  4. Hello, I’m trying this recipe, smoking next weekend and have a quick question. After sitting in the salt mixture for a week, and before I let it sit to create the pellicle, do I rinse the salt mixture off the turkey breast?

  5. What’s up man. Just finished mine today and unfortunately it was extremely salted (like the salt was still in the meat). Any chance you know where I went wrong or how to fix for a future turkey??

    1. Craig: Not sure on this one because that equalization cure is the foolproof way to cure meat without it getting too salty. Are you sure you measured the weight of the meat, then 1.5% of that weight in salt? If so, then the only possibility is that you are very sensitive to salt, so I’d go 1% salt by weight next time.

      1. I know exactly what went wrong. After reading your comment I realized I used 15% and not 1.5%. That explains it ? thanks again. Smoking another one this weekend and looking forward to doing it right this time.

  6. Hey Hank, I have a homegrown turkey in the fridge and it is big. Comically big. I’m thinking I’ll add the appropriate amount of cure #1 to the brine due to long, low temp smoke time, do you see any possible issues with that?
    Thanks, Jeff.

  7. The flavor and moisture content we’re on point but for whatever reason the exterior of the turkey was extremely tough. I followed the recipe exactly with the exception of using hot hone. I will try to tweak it next time and hopefully get a better result.

  8. Hank,
    Love this recipe. I made it for my boys last year with a turkey I harvested and they ate it all up. They have been asking me all year when I will make some more. I just harvested a turkey last weekend and I am smoking two breasts as we speak. Highly recommended! Thanks!