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Turkey breast shouldn’t be reserved just for those special Thanksgiving or holiday gatherings – it’s a great option for smaller gatherings or even a Sunday family dinner. Of course, one of the best parts about making a grilled turkey breast is the leftovers. They open the door to another delicious turkey-based meal, such as a comforting Leftover Turkey Pot Pie, Cranberry Turkey Salad, or the timeless Turkey Sandwich. Grilling turkey breast is not only incredibly tasty but also can be easy to prepare. For our recipe, we overnight brine our turkey breast to add flavor and keep it from drying out, then grill it over charcoal to get a nice smokey flavor as well as a crispy skin.
Key Ingredients and Substitutions
The turkey breast is the star of the dish and we recommend brining or marinating to get the most flavor.
In the printable recipe below, you can find a complete list of ingredients and measurements.
- Turkey Breast: This is the one ingredient you shouldn’t compromise on, opting for a fresh, high-quality turkey breast. The bone-in aspect adds flavor and helps keep the meat moist during grilling. A 5-6-pound bone-in turkey breast is perfect for a family meal. If using a frozen breast, be sure to thaw it in the refrigerator for several days before grilling.
- Butter: While it may seem like a small addition, butter makes a big difference in the overall taste and texture. It adds both depth of flavor but also helps in achieving that perfect, golden-brown, crispy skin. Olive oil can be substituted for the butter.
- Brine (optional): Our recipe for brine uses salt, sugar, and broth along with a combination of herbs and spices for additional flavor. Brining is completely optional, but it will give you a more flavorful, tender turkey with a crispier skin.
How to Make Grilled Turkey Breast
Here are the quick step-by-step instructions with visuals; you can find the full instructions with the exact ingredients in the recipe card below.
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Pro-tip: If you want to add even more smoky flavor to your turkey breast, you can introduce wood chips to your grill.
Grilling a turkey breast can result in a flavorful and juicy dish that’s perfect for a variety of occasions.
Thawing Turkey Breast
Ensure the turkey breast is fully thawed if it was frozen. For an average 4-5 pound bone-in turkey breast, allow it to thaw in the refrigerator for approximately 24 hours. You can also thaw it using the cold-water method. Additional details and tips are in our How to Thaw a Turkey post.
Brining Turkey Breast
While brining a turkey breast is completely optional it is an excellent way to add flavor and moisture to the meat, ensuring it stays juicy and delicious when cooked. This brining recipe is our go-to for the perfectly grilled or oven roasted turkey.
Grilling Turkey Breast
Prior to grilling, allow the turkey breast to sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the size of the breast.
1. Setup the Grill: Preheat the grill to 375-400℉ and set it up for indirect cooking. For a gas grill, turn off one burner and place the turkey on the side with the burner off. For a charcoal grill, move the coals to one side of the grill and place the turkey on the opposite side. To capture the turkey juices as it cooks position a drip pan or a disposable aluminum pan under the grates where the turkey will sit. Add water to the pan periodically to maintain a moist environment in the grill and to keep the drippings from burning away because you’ll need them to make the best possible gravy.
2. Prepare the Turkey: Pat the turkey dry with paper towels then rub the turkey with the half the butter (¼ cup) including the cavity. Sprinkle the turkey generously with salt and pepper, both on the skin and under the skin. You can also use any optional seasonings of your choice, such as dried herbs, garlic powder, paprika, or any preferred spice.
3. Grill the Turkey: Place the turkey breast, skin side up, on the grill grates directly over the drip pan. Grill the turkey for 18-23 minutes per pound or until the internal temperature reaches 165°F when measured with a meat thermometer. To ensure even cooking, turn and bast the breast with remaining butter occasionally.
4. Rest the Turkey: Once the turkey is done, remove it from the grill and tent with foil. Allow it to rest for about 10-15 minutes. This resting period helps the juices redistribute throughout the meat, ensuring a moist and tender turkey.
5. Serve: Remove each breast from the breast bone and slice it into thick, diagonal slices and serve with homemade gravy made from the drippings.
Grilling a perfect turkey breast, whether over a gas or charcoal grill, is all about perfecting the right techniques. Here are some grilling tips that can help ensure your grilled turkey breast is a hit:
- Preheat the grill. Preheat your grill to between 350°F to 400°F before placing the turkey breast on it. For gas grills, preheat with all burners on high. For charcoal grills, ensure the coals are ashed over and distribute them evenly. This initial high heat helps sear the outside of the turkey breast and create a flavorful crust.
- Use a meat thermometer. To ensure the turkey breast is cooked to perfectly use a meat thermometer. The FDA recommendation for the internal temperature for poultry is 165°F. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat without touching the bone.
- Grill the breast on both direct and indirect heat. Grill the turkey breast using both direct and indirect heat. Start with direct heat to sear the turkey breast, creating a flavorful crispy skin. Then move it to indirect heat to finish cooking evenly.
- Baste or brush the turkey. To keep the turkey breast moist and add extra flavor, baste it with melted butter during grilling. This helps prevent the meat from drying out.
- Allow the turkey to rest. Before slicing the turkey breast, allow it to rest for a few minutes. This gives the juices a chance to redistribute, ensuring a juicy result.
- For charcoal grills, control the temperature by adjusting the air vents. Closing them slightly lowers the heat, while opening them increases it. Be mindful of flare-ups.
- For gas grills, it’s easier to control the temperature. Keep one side on high for searing and the other on low for indirect cooking.
What to Serve with Grilled Turkey Breast
Pairing up the perfect sides with your grilled turkey breast can take your meal from good to great. Here are some ideas to complement your turkey with a dash of deliciousness:
- Gravy: A savory turkey gravy can elevate the flavor of the grilled turkey breast and serve as a delicious dipping sauce.
- Cranberry Sauce: A classic Thanksgiving condiment, cranberry sauce, complements the turkey with its sweet-tart flavor.
- Dressing (or Stuffing): A classic dressing made with your choice of bread, herbs, vegetables, and seasonings, creates a comforting side that pairs perfectly with the turkey. Or put a Southern twist on it with some cornbread dressing.
- Sweet Potato Casserole: Sweet potato casserole, with a delicious blend of roasted sweet potatoes, brown sugar, cinnamon, and a crunchy pecan or marshmallow topping, adds a touch of sweetness and warmth to your plate.
- Herb-Roasted Potatoes: Roasted, grilled, or mashed potatoes seasoned with herbs like rosemary, thyme, and garlic make a hearty and satisfying side for grilled turkey breast.
- Grilled Vegetables: Fire up the grill for an assortment of colorful vegetables like bell peppers, zucchini, eggplant, and asparagus. Season them with olive oil, herbs, and a sprinkle of parmesan for a healthy and flavorful side.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Make-Ahead: You can prepare and grill the turkey breast a day or two in advance. After grilling, allow it to cool to room temperature. Then, tightly wrap the turkey breast in plastic wrap or aluminum foil to keep it moist. Store it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to serve.
How to Store: Store any leftover grilled turkey breast in an airtight container in the refrigerator. If you’ve seasoned the turkey breast with a sauce, it’s a good idea to separate the turkey from the sauce to prevent it from becoming soggy. It will stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days. It can also be stored in a freezer-safe container for up to 3 months.
How to Reheat: When you’re ready to enjoy your grilled turkey breast leftovers, there are a few ways to reheat it while maintaining its tenderness:
- Microwave: Place the turkey on a microwave-safe dish, cover it with a damp paper towel, and heat it in short 30-second bursts at a medium-low setting to prevent it from becoming overcooked and dry.
- Oven: Preheat the oven to 325°F. Wrap the turkey breast in aluminum foil to retain moisture and warmth. Place it on a baking sheet and reheat for about 10-15 minutes or until it’s warmed through.
- Skillet: Slice the turkey into thin pieces. Heat a skillet with a touch of oil or butter over medium heat and sauté the turkey slices for a few minutes on each side until they’re heated and lightly browned.
Recipe Tips and Notes
- Thaw the turkey breast properly. If you’re using a frozen turkey breast, ensure it’s fully thawed before grilling. Thaw it in the refrigerator, allowing approximately 24 hours of thawing time for every 4-5 pounds of turkey.
- Brine or marinate the turkey breast. To enhance its flavor and moisture retention it is recommended to brine marinate turkey. A brine with salt, sugar, and herbs can work wonders. Ensure the turkey is brined or marinated in the refrigerator for food safety.
Frequently Asked Questions
Grilling time can be depend on a couple of factors including the grill’s temperature and the size of the breast. For small 3-4 pound breasts it takes approximately 60 to 90 minutes. For medium 5-7 pound breasts it will take about 1 ½ to 2 ½ hours. For large 8-10 pound breast it will take around 2 ½ to 3 ½ hours. Regardless of the size of the breast, the internal temperature should reach 165°F.
To get moist turkey you should brine the turkey overnight as well as sear the turkey on high heat before moving it to indirect heat to continue cooking. Basting the turkey breast with butter, oil, or a marinade while its grill will also help maintain moisture and help it from drying out.
It is not necessary to tent or cover the turkey with foil while it is grilling.
Yes, allowing the turkey to come to room temperature helps it cook more evenly.
To prevent the turkey from sticking to the grill make sure the grill is pre-heated and the grates have been cleaned. Also, lightly brushing the turkey with oil or butter will create a barrier between the meat and the grill gates. Finally, when you first place the turkey on the grill, resist the urge to move or flip it immediately. Allow it sear and develop grill marks on one side before attempting to turn it. It should naturally release from the grates when it’s ready to flip.
It is a personal preference. Bone-in breasts produce a more flavorful and juice grilled turkey so we opt for the bone-in.
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Grilled Turkey Breast
This recipe may contain paid affiliate sales links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Please see my full disclaimer policy for details.
- Wood or Gas Gril
- Aluminum Pan
- Basting Brush
- 4-5 pound turkey breast, bone-in with skin
- ½ cup butter, softened
- salt and pepper
- Preheat the grill to 375-400℉. Set up your grill for indirect cooking. For a gas grill, turn off one burner and place the turkey on the side with the burner off. For a charcoal grill, move the coals to one side of the grill and place the turkey on the opposite side.
- To capture the turkey juices as it cooks position a drip pan or a disposable aluminum pan under the grates where the turkey will sit. Add water to the pan periodically to maintain a moist environment in the grill and to keep the drippings from burning away. Save the drippings to make gravy.
- Thoroughly dry the turkey with paper towels. Rub the turkey with the half the butter (¼ cup) including the cavity.
- Sprinkle the turkey generously with salt and pepper, both on the skin and under the skin. You can also use any optional seasonings of your choice, such as dried herbs, garlic powder, paprika, or other preferred spices.
- Place the turkey breast, skin side up, on the grill grates directly over the drip pan. Grill the turkey for 18-23 minutes per pound or until the internal temperature reaches 165°F when measured with a meat thermometer. To ensure even cooking, turn and bast the breast with remaining butter occasionally.
- Once the turkey is done, remove it from the grill and tent with foil. Allow it to rest for about 10-15 minutes. This resting period helps the juices redistribute, ensuring a moist and tender turkey.
- Slice the grilled bone-in turkey breast into thick, diagonal slices and serve with homemade gravy made from the drippings.