Want smoked turkey breasts that are juicy, flavorful and easy to make? This pellet grill turkey is simple to make with a quick dry rub seasoning and this simple method tender smoked turkey that’s so moist it doesn’t need gravy.
When you think of a smoking a turkey breast, you might assume that the turkey meat would be dry from a long, slow smoke. Maybe for some recipes, but this smoked turkey breast recipe delivers deliciously moist, tender flesh every time.
I made this turkey breast on a pellet grill (we have a RecTeq, but Traeger and other pellet grill brands would work as well) for the simplicity and ease it provides by holding the smoking temperature at a constant 225°F without the fuss of monitoring, adjusting and hovering over the grill.
You can still make this smoked turkey breast recipe if you have a gas or charcoal grill or a traditional water smoker. The key for gas and charcoal grills is setting it up for indirect cooking with smoking chips on one side and the turkey breast on the other. Monitoring the temperature takes a little more finesse, but if you’re a grill guru, go for it.
Table of Contents
Why this recipe works:
- There’s no overnight brining needed, just a rub for the smoked turkey breast and a vinegar-based mop sauce.
- Smoking turkey on a pellet grill is easy; its ability to regulate the temperature takes the guesswork and hassle out of smoking and produces stellar results.
- The rub for the smoked turkey breast seasons the turkey without overpowering the meat.
- The mop sauce is easy to make in about 5 minutes.
- You can use the reserved juices as a dipping sauce (they’re THAT flavorful) for the smoked turkey.
- Leftovers make the best sandwiches!
- Turkey Breast – we used a bone-in, skin-on turkey breast (weighing about 8 pounds and untreated with brine or flavorings). I recommend using a turkey breast with skin and bones intact because it helps to keep the meat juicy and adds flavor.
- Dry Rub for Turkey – I’ve included a quick dry rub recipe in the recipe card which uses pantry staples. However, you can also use your favorite BBQ rub for smoking the turkey breast.
- Apple Cider Vinegar – ACV is the base for the mop sauce.
- Lemon Slices – The peel and juice from lemon slices add flavor and act as a tenderizer for the meat.
- Yellow Onion – Acts as an aromatic for the turkey mop sauce.
- Black Pepper – I recommend grinding whole peppercorns in a pepper mill instead of using pre-ground pepper. You’ll get more flavor by grinding it yourself.
- Cayenne Pepper – This spicy chili powder adds a little tingle to the mop sauce, but doesn’t make the meat of the smoked turkey breast spicy.
- Red Pepper Flakes – another dose of heat to season the poultry.
- Brown Sugar – a little brown sugar tames the tanginess of the mop sauce. You can also use white sugar or maple syrup in the mop.
- Kosher Salt – Don’t substitute regular table salt – it’s different. I recommend Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt. If you use Morton’s Kosher salt, you’ll need slightly less.
- Assemble the turkey rub and mop sauce.
- Coat the turkey breast evenly with about ¼ to ⅓ cup of the dry rub.
- Fill the pellet grill’s hopper with wood pellets (you need about 1 pound per hour of cooking). Preheat the grill to 225°F.
- Once the pellet grill reaches the temperature, place the turkey in the center of the grill (I put the turkey breast on a rack to keep it upright) and smoke for 1½-2 hours or until an instant-read thermometer registers 120°F.
- Use insulated grill gloves to transfer the breast to a rimmed baking sheet lined with heavy-duty aluminum foil.
- Liberally brush the smoked turkey breast with the mop sauce and seal the bird in the foil, ensuring it doesn’t leak.
- Transfer the turkey breast back to the pellet grill and continue to cook for an additional 1½-2 hours or until an internal meat thermometer registers about 162°F. (Note: safe internal temp for poultry is 165°F, but carryover cooking will take care of that).
- Remove the breast to a rimmed baking sheet and let it rest for 10-15 minutes before carving.
- We used an 8-pound bone-in turkey breast for this recipe, and the standard rule of thumb is a half hour of smoking per pound of meat. Therefore, our 8-pounder smoked for 4 hours total. If you have a 6-pound breast, it should take 3 hours.
- To keep a bone-in turkey breast upright on the pellet grill, I use a v-shaped roast rack. This keeps it elevated and prevents it from rolling around on the grill.
- If you’re using a standard charcoal, gas grill, or a traditional smoker, be sure to soak your wood chips in water for at least one hour before smoking a turkey breast.
What’s the best wood for smoking turkey?
We like to use oak, applewood, cherry and alder for smoking turkey breasts, but you can also use mesquite for a stronger smoke flavor.
- Try another rub for the smoked turkey breast, like this Creole Seasoning, Famous Kansas City Rub or this Smoky Chipotle Seasoning & Dry Rub.
- Make an herb-based dry rub with dried or fresh rosemary, thyme, marjoram and sage.
- Add aromatics to the turkey cavity, such as chunks of onion, celery, carrots, bay leaves, fresh thyme or rosemary.
The rule of thumb is half an hour of smoking per pound of meat. So 4 pounds should take 2 hours, and 8 pounds will take 4 hours.
Wrap the turkey breast in foil for the last half of the cook. In the beginning, you want to smoke it without foil so the meat can absorb the smoke flavor. Wrapping the meat halfway through smoking will keep the breast meat moist.
I recommend using a mop sauce instead of spraying the turkey. Mopping the meat on the foil, then wrapping it in it to trap the mop sauce and turkey drippings is the key to a juicy turkey breast.
This smoked turkey breast recipe makes a very juicy flavorful bird, so gravy isn’t necessary, however, if you want gravy, try this turkey gravy (made with no drippings from neck bones) or this mushroom gravy.
You can make a smoked boneless turkey breast by following the same basic instructions, but adjust your cooking time according to the weight of the turkey breast. Ensure you’re using a skin-on breast.
Storage and Freezing
Keep leftover smoked turkey breasts well wrapped in plastic wrap and aluminum foil in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
To freeze, wrap the meat in 2 layers of freezer paper and store for up to 3 months frozen. Defrost to enjoy.
To reheat the smoked turkey breast and keep it moist, wrap the meat loosely in foil, leaving a little space for steam to collect at the top. Warm in a 350° oven for 15-20 minutes for a whole smoked turkey breast. Note: sliced turkey may take less time to reheat
How to carve bone in smoked turkey breast
Because a bone in turkey breast doesn’t naturally sit up (it flops to one side or another because of the backbone), we use a pair of poultry sheers to remove the backbone (save it for soup), allowing it to rest on a cutting board without wobbling.
Use a carving knife to slice down either side of the breastbone and follow the curve of the ribcage. Transfer the two halves of smoked turkey breasts to a cutting board and slice each one crosswise into ½” slices. Arrange the pieces on a platter to serve.
What our tasters said:
“This is the best smoked turkey breast I’ve ever had. The meat is so juicy and flavorful. I think I’d rather have this for Thanksgiving than a roasted bird.” — Scott
“The meat is perfect. It’s not dry, and the rub does a great job of seasoning.” — Emily
What to serve with:
What to make with leftover turkey:
- Sandwiches – make a club sandwich, turkey reuben sandwich or cheesy panini.
- Green Pea Soup with Smoked Turkey
- Collard Greens and Potlikker
- Southwestern Style Leftover Turkey Casserole
- Turkey Alphabet Soup
More smoker and smoked turkey recipes:
- Brined Smoked Turkey Recipe
- Spatchcock Grilled Turkey
- Smoked Pork Butt
- Smoked Oysters
- Brined Smoked Pork Loin
- Smoked Beer Can Chicken
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Smoked Turkey Breast
- 1 pellet smoker (can also use a gas or charcoal grill set up for indirect smoking, or a water smoker).
- Wood Pellets can use hickory, red oak, white oak, cherry, pecan or apple wood pellets.
- Bucket and Mop
- heavy duty tin foil
- 8 pound turkey breast bone-in, skin-on
FOR THE RUB:
- ¼ cup Diamond Crystal Kosher salt or 3 Tablespoons Morton’s Kosher Salt
- 2 tablespoon black pepper
- 2 tablespoons paprika
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon onion salt
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon dried mustard optional
- 1 teaspoon beer powder optional
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ½ teaspoon celery salt optional
FOR MOP SAUCE:
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- ½ lemon thinly sliced
- ½ small yellow onion thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
- ¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt or 1½ teaspoons Morton’s kosher salt
MAKE THE TURKEY RUB:
- In a medium bowl, combine the ¼ cup Diamond Crystal Kosher salt, 2 tablespoon black pepper, 2 tablespoons paprika, 2 tablespoons chili powder, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 tablespoon onion salt, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon dried mustard, 1 teaspoon beer powder, ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, ½ teaspoon celery salt and whisk together. If there are clumps in the brown sugar or spices, use your clean hands to crush them so the rub is evenly mixed.
MAKE THE MOP SAUCE:
- In a small saucepan, combine the 1 cup apple cider vinegar, ½ lemon, ½ small yellow onion, 1 tablespoon black pepper, ¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper, ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, ¼ cup brown sugar, 2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt. Bring to a simmer over medium high heat until the sugar dissolves. Set aside to cool.
PREPARE THE TURKEY BREAST:
- Remove the turkey breast from the package and pat dry with paper towels.
- Rub about ¼ cup of the rub over the entire breast, patting it so it’s evenly coated and the rub sticks to the meat.
FOR A PELLET GRILL:
- Fill the hopper with wood pellets (it generally burns at 1 pound per hour, so depending on how large your turkey breast is, will determine how many pounds of wood pellets you’ll need).
- Preheat the smoker to 225°F. Once it achieves the proper temperature rest the turkey breast in the center of the grill and smoke for 1½-2 hours or when it reaches 120°F.
- Line a rimmed baking sheet with a large sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil. Transfer the turkey breast to the center of the foil and brush it generously with the mop sauce.
- Seal the smoked turkey and whatever mop sauce has collected in the bottom of the foil so that it’s contained without leaking.
- Return the bird to the grill and continue to smoke until it reaches an internal temperature of 162°, about another 1½- 2 hours.
- Once the proper internal temperature is achieved, remove the turkey from the smoker. Open the foil packet, reserving the juices to sauce the meat and let it rest for at least 10-15 minutes before slicing.
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