Making a juicy and flavorful roasted turkey breast does not need to be difficult, and the key is in the dry brine method. To make a dry brined turkey breast you only need a few simple ingredients: salt, pepper, sugar, an unadulterated turkey breast, and time. My step-by-step instructions walk you through the entire process so you too can make the juiciest turkey breast you've ever had!
I have spent countless years trying to perfect the Thanksgiving turkey.
I've tried various brining and roasting methods, using the entire bird, and while they've all been pretty good, I find myself going back to a dry brined turkey breast, time and time again.
It never disappoints, is super easy, and if you're feeding a smaller group, it's almost a no brainer.
After discovering the dry brine technique, I almost never wet brine a turkey anymore.
Wet brining takes up too much valuable refrigerator real estate and offers no advantages over the dry brine technique.
How does a dry brine work?
Every now and then, I like to infuse sciency bits into my recipe posts. Cooking is more of an art than baking, which is usually more scientific.
If you're into geeking out on culinary topics, be sure to read my homemade pizza dough post where I dive deep into hydration levels, protein percentages, and more.
Dry brining is another corner of the culinary world where science comes into play.
By salting any meat, in our case the turkey breast on all sides, water is drawn out of the turkey breast through osmosis and also out of the air which then pools back onto the turkey.
The salt crystals then dissolve in that water and create a flavorful briny mixture.
In turn, the turkey reabsorbs that briny mixture back into itself, flavoring the whole breast and making it juicier than you can imagine!
Other benefits of dry brining include decreased cooking time and way crispier skin than a wet brine.
I told you it does not need to be difficult!
A word on commercially pre-brined turkey breasts
Take a stroll through the poultry section of any given supermarket during the holiday season and you're sure to notice that most turkey breasts and full turkeys are pre-brined.
Why do turkey sellers do this? Quite simply, pre-brining adds water weight; water weight equals profit.
Depending on the brand of Turkey (Jennie-O, Cargill, Tyson, Perdue, Shadybrook, etc.) they will all have a different solution percentage.
The solution often contains turkey broth, sugar, sodium, vinegar, and natural flavorings. I've seen some breasts with a 15% solution and some with 3%.
Sodium amounts fluctuate greatly too. Some can be as high as 600mg of sodium per 4 ounce serving while some will be only 80mg.
If you do buy a turkey breast in solution, it will most likely not need much of a dry brine at all. I wouldn't recommend dry brining any turkey breast that has more than 200-250mg sodium per 4 ounce serving.
Your best bet is to find a non-adulterated turkey breast from a butcher, a small local farm, or a premium grocery store, such as Whole Foods or Wegmans.
How to make the best roast turkey breast
- Mix together 2 tablespoons of kosher salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, and 1 tablespoon light brown sugar. Pat dry the turkey breast with paper towels and season all over with the salt mixture. Try to get the salt under the skin and onto the breast. Season on all sides but use the majority of the mixture on the top of the breasts since they are the thickest and will take the most time for the brine to penetrate. Place the turkey in the refrigerator for a minimum of 24 hours (better at 48 hours). A tray and wire rack setup works well for this but a large plate with the breast facing up would be fine too. That would save a bit more room in the fridge.
- After 24-48 hours the turkey will be brined. Water will have accumulated from the bottom of the turkey. Make sure to let the turkey rest for 1 hour at room temperature prior to cooking. Preheat the oven to 450f and set the oven rack to the middle level.
- Set up a roaster pan and rack and thoroughly dry the turkey skin with paper towels. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil onto the turkey skin and rub it all over to evenly coat. Pour a half cup of chicken stock into the bottom of the roasting pan. Roast the turkey breast for 30 minutes at 450f then turn the heat down to 300f and continue cooking for 50-70 more minutes (exact time will depend on weight, use an instant-read thermometer to check). When checking the turkey, if the pan is dry, add a half cup more stock. You want just a little stock to keep the turkey breast moist and to collect the drippings.
- Check the breast a couple of times during cooking and once it hits 155f to 160f, it's done.
- Remove the turkey breast and place it on a large cutting board. Tent it with foil, and let it rest for at least 20 minutes, where it will rise in temp by another 5-10f. Make sure to save the pan drippings for turkey gravy.
- To carve the rested turkey breast you'll need a carving fork and a large knife. Remove each breast by sliding and cutting down the breastbone. Come in from the side with the knife or turn the breast on its side to fully detach the breast with your knife. Repeat for the other breast.
- Now working quickly so that the breast doesn't get cold, cut slices across the long part of the breast.
- Depending on the number of guests, leaving one breast uncarved will keep it warmer and give a nicer presentation. Serve with gravy and your favorite sides and enjoy!
- Use kosher salt. Kosher salt prevents clumping, which allows the salt to be more evenly distributed into the meat.
- Pat dry the turkey breast with paper towels before applying the brine and before roasting. Don't worry. The salty briny flavors will have absorbed into the meat so you're not removing those flavors by drying the bird before roasting.
- Dry brine the turkey breast for a minimum of 24 hours, but 48 hours works even better. For thicker meats, the brine needs time to work itself all the way through.
- Leave the turkey breast uncovered in the fridge. This will help crisp the skin even more.
- Skip all the herbs and other flavors. Besides the kosher salt, the only other ingredients we're using are pepper and sugar. It's all you need. In fact, you really just need kosher salt.
- I highly recommend you use an instant-read thermometer when making a turkey. Not only is it an indispensable kitchen tool, but it can go a long way to making sure your turkey breast cooks perfectly. Cooking time can be a bit shorter with a dry brine, but having the thermometer takes the guesswork out of it.
- Save the pan drippings! Though a turkey breast won't have as many drippings as a whole turkey, there will still be enough to make a tasty turkey gravy.
Holiday and other Fall menu items
If you grew up in an Italian-American household as I did, you expect to see lasagna on the Thanksgiving menu, usually served as the first course.
In addition to that, some of our tried and true holiday and Fall recipes are listed here. Which are your favorites?
- Baked macaroni and cheese - With a to-die-for panko breadcrumb topping.
- Italian stuffed mushrooms - These are great for any holiday as an appetizer or side dish.
- Roasted garlic mashed potatoes - Fluffy and airy with riced potatoes, roasted garlic, butter, and milk.
- Honey balsamic brussels sprouts - Roasted until charred and tossed with balsamic vinegar and honey.
- Sage and onion stuffing - This stick-to-your-ribs side is the perfect complement to Thanksgiving turkey!
- Baked artichoke hearts - These artichoke hearts are baked with seasoned bread crumbs and are the perfect EASY side for the holidays.
- Baked butternut squash pasta - Like baked ziti, but with a creamy butternut squash sauce. Outrageously good!
- Sausage and apple stuffed acorn squash - All the flavors of Fall stuffed into acorn squash.
And what Fall gathering would be complete without a simple and refreshing drink that can be made in bulk?
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We would love to hear how you did and it’s nice to show others as well. Thanks!
- 1 6-8 pound turkey breast bone-in
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 cups low sodium chicken stock divided, will most likely not need all of it
dry brine (mix together)
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
- Pat dry the turkey breast with paper towels and season all over with the dry brine mixture. Try to get the salt under the skin and onto the breast. Season on all sides but use the majority of the mixture on the breasts since they are the thickest and will take the most time for the brine to penetrate. Refrigerate uncovered for at least 24 hours but preferably 48 hours.
- Remove turkey 1 hour before roasting. Preheat oven to 450f and set the oven rack to the middle level. Place the turkey breast on a roasting pan and wire rack setup and pat dry very well. Rub 1 tablespoon of olive oil onto the skin and pour a half cup of chicken stock into bottom of the pan.
- Roast turkey for 30 minutes, then turn the heat down to 300f. Continue cooking until the turkey registers 155-160f in the thickest part of the breast (should take approximately 50-70 minutes longer). When finished cooking place turkey breast on a cutting board and tent with foil for 20 minutes before carving.
- To carve, remove breast by sliding knife down breast bone and by cutting under the breast. Cut pieces to ¼" thick across the length of the breast. Enjoy!
- The sodium amount is for a fresh turkey breast with no added sodium solution. If using a turkey breast in solution only use 1 tablespoon of kosher salt. This is provided that the sodium level is less than 200mg per 4 ounce serving. Anything higher than that, no salt should be used.
- Use kosher salt to allow for a more even salt distribution.
- Pat dry the turkey breast with paper towels before applying the brine and before roasting.
- Dry brine for a minimum of 24 hours.
- Leave the turkey breast uncovered in the fridge.
- Use an instant-read thermometer for accurate temperature readings.
- Make sure to let the turkey breast rest for 20 minutes prior to carving.
- Leftovers can be saved for up to 3 days and can be reheated in the microwave.