Tired of tough, dry turkey breast? Then you've got to try this Citrus Brown Sugar Smoked Turkey Breast. It's seriously easy to make and the most tender, juicy turkey breast you'll ever eat!
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A long time ago I worked as a manager at a BBQ restaurant. While it wasn't my favorite working experience by any stretch of the imagination, I seriously enjoyed the first couple weeks of training when they trained me in the smoke house. Every day I was basically elbow deep in raw meat and learning to use these huge smokers. It was a pretty incredible introduction to smoking foods and my biggest take away from this job was a love for all-things-smoked.
Now it's been several years since I left that position, and while I always wanted to own a smoker and get back into it, I never pulled the trigger. So when the opportunity to try a smoker came about, I got a little excited and a little intimidated. It had been so long since I had smoked anything and I really don't remember much of what I had learned.
One thing I do remember from my brief stint as a BBQ Connoisseur (ha!) is that once a week, this place would make smoked turkey breast. Now I tend to be a give-me-all-the-dark-meat kind of gal. But smoked turkey breast is different. I'm talking about the most tender, juicy turkey breast you'll ever taste! I mean, smoked turkey in general is a total win. But smoking a turkey breast is the best and one of the easiest way to get meat that everyone will fight over! I am making this on Thanksgiving, no question!
Tips for how to smoke a turkey breast
- Brine it the night before- I didn't really grow up brining meat, but this is definitely an amazingly simple way to get the most flavorful and tender smoked turkey breast. And it takes less than 10 minutes of your time and the rest is just sitting in the fridge letting the brine work it's magic!
- Rinse and pat dry- do this the next day before you intend to cook the turkey breast. You can even pat it dry that morning and leave it in the fridge uncovered, just be sure you don't have things around it that can accidentally touch it and try to store it on the very bottom shelf to try and avid cross contamination.
- Rub it down well- The first time I tested this recipe, I used one of my favorite, store-bought rubs. And while it was tasty, it was also super salty and spicy. So I came up with my own super-simple dry rub and mixed it with softened butter. I then rubbed it all over the outside of the split turkey breast, but I also made a point to rub it under the skin as well. It's so easy, just pull the skin up, gets some of the butter/spice rub mixture on your fingers and get them all up in there. Trust me. Extra flavor is always a good idea!
- Rest the meat before cooking- Although you don't need to bring the meat to room temperature, I like to take it out of the fridge a good 20 minutes before cooking to take the extra chill off.
- Split Turkey Breast will cook faster-this is also a great option if you're cooking for less people or want to have some extra smoked meat to supplement a smaller whole turkey (hello Thanksgiving!). That said, I plan to make this soon with a whole turkey breast and I will update the post with the cooking time for that as well.
- Monitor your temperature- Even though I've found the temperatures to be pretty much spot on, I love being able to use the probes that came with my Traeger Wood Fired Grill. They plug right into the grill and stay in the meat the entire time. With the push of a button, you're able to see the correct internal temperature without having to open the grill and risk losing heat.
- Rest the meat after cooking- Resting the meat after cooking is so important because it allows for crossover cooking and lets the juices redistribute within the meat. I pull the turkey breast off before 160 degrees and 165 degrees and I let it sit for 10-15 minutes before carving.
- Don't fear the pink ring- One thing I remember from my time in the BBQ industry was that people would often be concerned that they would bit into their meat and it would look pink. Now, I'm not talking about raw chicken or in this case turkey. But when meat is properly smoked, it gets what's called "the pink ring" or a "smoke ring" This is a ring of pink is a chemical reaction caused by the gasses from the wood pellets and the pigment in the meat. This is a sign of moist meat and good smoking! Consider it your Badge of Smoked Meat Honor.
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Citrus Brown Sugar Smoked Turkey Breast
- 8 cups water, divided (4 cups to simmer + 4 cups ice water)
- ½ cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup brown sugar
- ⅓ cup kosher salt
- 1 orange, cut into eighths
- 1 lemon, cut into quarters
- 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 split turkey breast, around 2 ½ pounds
- 4 Tablespoons salted butter, softened
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
- Traeger Apple or Hickory Wood Pellets
- In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, combine 4 cups water, apple cider vinegar, 1 cup brown sugar, kosher salt, orange, lemon, thyme and bay leaf.
- Simmer for 5 minutes stirring periodically until the sugar and salt have dissolved.
- Remove from heat and stir in 4 cups ice water. Cool at room temperature.
- Once it's almost cool, remove the split turkey breast from it's packaging and submerge it in the brine.
- Cover and refrigerate over night.
- Remove the pot from the refrigerator. Rinse the split turkey breast and dispose of the brine.
- Pat the split turkey breast dry with paper towel. Set aside to rest for 20 minutes.
- While the split turkey breast rests, combine salted butter, onion powder, poultry seasoning, lemon zest and 1 Tablespoon brown sugar. Mix well.
- Rub the butter mixture all over outside of the split turkey breast and if there is skin, pull up the skin and rub it underneath as well.
- Fill the hopper of the Traeger Wood Fired Grill with your wood pellets of choice (I tested this with both apple and hickory and both were fantastic!) and set the dial to Smoke with the lid open. After 10 minutes you should see smoke.
- Close the lid and set the dial to 300 degrees to preheat. It should take around 10 minutes.
- Once the grill has reached the temperature, place the split turkey breast onto the rack.
- Plug the probe into the grill (below the dials) bring it through the slot to the right of the dials and place the probe into the thickest part of the turkey breast, being careful not to touch the bone.
- Close the lid and smoke for approximately 2 hours, or until the internal temperature reaches between 160-165 degrees. Keep a close eye on this as it could go quicker and start checking the temperature after an hour and a half.
- Remove the split turkey breast from the grill and place it on your cutting board, tented in foil. Rest for 10-15 minutes.
- While the turkey breast rests, close the lid and switch the dial to Shut Down Mode. After 10 minutes turn it off and unplug it. Cool completely before cleaning and covering.
- Slice the turkey breast and serve immediately.
If you tried this recipe please comment and rate it 🙂 I love hearing your feedback and answering your questions!
Serve this smoked turkey breast with:
- French Onion Mashed Potatoes
- Garlic Green Beans
- Cranberry Sauce with Diced Cherries and Shallots
- Cheesy Garlic Knots
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