A roasted turkey breast is great for anyone wanting to chow down on some prime turkey meat without having to make the commitment to a whole bird.
One thing we love about turkey is how versatile it is. You can roast a whole bird for the holidays and feed a crowd. Then, you get to enjoy leftovers for a couple of days after that. But what if you have more turkey than you can eat in just a few days?
What we love to do is freezer up leftover turkey (or chicken) in recipe-sized portions in zipper bags in the freezer. Then, we can pull it out when we want to make homemade soup, casseroles, sandwiches, and more. Or you can just cook a turkey breast and avoid leftovers.
We’ll go through a whole how-to when it comes to roasting up the perfect boneless turkey breasts that don’t feel like you’ve just taken a bite out of the Sahara desert. Toss in some fresh herbs and melted butter and you’re in business with this turkey breast recipe.
Rolled boneless roast turkey breast
If you’ve traveled anywhere over the holidays then you’ll know how much of a hassle it can be to set up a cooking station in somebody else’s kitchen and we cannot imagine trying to get a whole turkey done when you aren’t in a familiar space.
This rolled boneless roast turkey breast is an amazing alternative to a whole bird given you have some time to get this dish done correctly. It is ridiculously easy to make and really doesn’t use any special ingredients that you wouldn’t already have in your pantry right now.
Why boneless turkey breast?
Unless you have a giant box freezer or a completely empty standing freezer the likelihood is that you aren’t going to be able to buy and store a whole turkey so fresh is probably what you’ll want to get. The other issue with frozen turkey is that they often have brines or preservatives injected into them to increase their shelf lives.
You can quite easily purchase a whole boneless or butterflied turkey breast.
We would always recommend skin-on for a few reasons but mainly for texture and moisture retention (if you can’t find skin on, you might want to skip the crisping stage to tent your turkey with some tin foil to reduce moisture loss during the cooking process).
If you can only find frozen turkey breast then don’t worry just make sure to safely thaw it out and allow it to reach room temperature before continuing with this recipe.
The easiest way to thaw it out would be to leave the unopened package in a bowl or sink filled with water for 1 to 3 hours changing the water every half hour. The cooler water has higher thermal conductivity than room temperature air and reduces the likelihood of bacteria forming drastically.
How many people can you feed with just the turkey breast?
This wholly depends on how heavy a turkey breast you choose to purchase. The good news is you’ll be getting more meat from a boneless 3 pound turkey breast than a bone in breast due to the fact that we’re omitting the bones.
If we say that each person will eat at least a half pound of turkey then you should easily be able to serve a 3 pound breast between 6 people.
If you’re trying to make it stretch and you’re having a few more people over for thanksgiving than you originally planned for then we would recommend serving more sides with your turkey to pad the plate.
If you can find a larger boneless breast this will always be better, people usually love to overindulge on the turkey.
Rolling the turkey breast
Firstly, why do we roll the turkey breast? Simply to make the shape of the meat more uniform and ensure that you cook the whole cut evenly. There’s nothing worse than burnt turkey ends.
We only used one half of the turkey breast for this recipe and we didn’t need to butterfly it.
You’ll want to ensure that you have the skin of the breast facing upwards and then wrap/tuck the lateral sides into the center underneath itself. Place some kitchen twine underneath your folded/rolled breast and tie a few knots wrapping around the breast.
If you want to, you can butterfly or flatten the breast to a ½-inch thickness and then just roll it like your camping tent, still covering and tieing off with kitchen twine.
Flavoring the breast
To ensure that the very center of your turkey breast is still moist and is seasoned perfectly we recommend dry brining for 24 hours before cooking.
Dry brining is something you’ll normally see in barbecuing and smoking but it works perfectly for roasting and is a massively underutilized technique in the kitchen.
Dry brining essentially works on the fact that salt draws out moisture and replaces it with salinity. A properly brined turkey breast will end up with beautifully browned skin and a sweet salinity that penetrates through to the bone of a bone-in cut.
We use a mixture of salt, pepper, sugar, garlic powder, and paprika to dry brine turkey in a ratio of 4 parts salt to 4 parts pepper to 2 parts garlic powder to 1 park light brown sugar and smoked paprika.
Also read: Garlic Herb Roasted Turkey Breast
Coat your pre-rolled breast with this brining mix, ensuring to cover the meat under the skin. Leave the turkey in the refrigerator uncovered for 24 hours. At the end of the 24 hours you’ll notice some moisture loss from the skin of the turkey but don’t worry this actually helps to contain the moisture in the flesh.
During the cooking process we also recommend a basting with a wine based baste that also helps to retain moisture.
Do you need to prepare your turkey breast before brining?
There aren’t really any special preparations that you need to do to the turkey breast before you brine it and roll it. You won’t need to butterfly it or trim it in any way. Breast meat is considered white meat and subsequently contains less fat.
This means you don’t need to trim any extra fat or remove any giblets. As we said above, we’d always recommend skin on turkey breast as you get a lot more moisture in the meat.
What is the safe temperature of a turkey breast?
You’re going to be cooking your turkey at different temperatures, initially to brown and crisp the skin and then to get the very center of the meat to a level of doneness that doesn’t resemble cat litter.
Technically turkey breast is safe for consumption as soon as it hits 160 °F so you could easily sous vide the whole thing and leave it to hit the right temperature but this would turn out to be a very bland turkey with horrible texture.
Oil or Butter
Most of you will immediately look at what we’ve done so far and question when you get to slather the turkey breast with butter.
I’m sorry to disappoint but in this recipe we won’t be using any butter, feel free to use butter instead of oil but we recommend a neutral cooking oil. This is simply because of the water content and smoking point.
Turkey skin and flesh crisp up better when the water content is lower, it’s essentially the lack of water in the skin that causes it to puff and crisp up.
Butter is actually 20% water and oil is 0% so we recommend using the waterless option, you’ll have more than enough flavor baked into the meat from the brine so the extra flavor from butter is negligible.
Butter also has a lower smoke point which means that during the initial crisping stage of cooking the turkey breast your butter can go past its smoke point and split, causing a bitter taste.
Also read: Herb Roasted Boneless Turkey Breast
We’re also going to be roasting the turkey on a wire rack with a baking sheet filled with water underneath it. The steam produced moistens the breast and catches the drippings. These drippings can be turned into an amazing gravy or thickened on a stove top with some flour to act as a pour over roux.
When to enjoy this dish
- Obviously, you can prepare and cook this dish for thanksgiving or Christmas.
- This method is tasty enough to prepare on friday and eat on sunday.
- When you might use a full, bone-in turkey, prepare this instead.
- The flavor of this turkey breast actually deepens the longer it has to sit, so we’ve made this at the start of the week and then used bits in our lunches or even in burritos and tacos (it’s great with hot sauce).
If you’re going to be making it ahead of time at the start of the week, to eat for your lunches throughout the week then you’ll want to pre-slice it for convenience. Turkey breast is easiest to cut after its cooked and you’ve rested it for an hour or so.
If you have a sharp chef knife then this will always be the best method for slicing, a serrated knife removes some meat from the between the cut and makes it seem grainy. Always sharpen your knives and make sure you cut slowly and carefully. If you can get a bit of the crispy golden brown skin in each slice you’re going to have much juicier and flavorful turkey.
If you want to reheat it before dinner, we recommend putting the slices back in the oven with a knob of butter at 325 °F for 20 minutes or until cooked through.
To ensure you get a well rounded and balanced flavor you need something to offset the salinity of the brining. To do so we recommend a sweeter and sharper glaze that you need to apply throughout the cooking process to make sure it penetrates through to the center whilst still coating the surface in a sticky and shiny glazing coat.
The glaze is also chock full of spices that add a beautiful aromatic flavor to the turkey.
Our glaze is made up of herbs such as sage, rosemary, bay leaves and/ or thyme, basically any hardy herbs. You can use as much or as little of each herb as you like but you’ll also want 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, crushed or microplaned, 2 large strips of orange zest, 3 tablespoons of naturally brewed soy sauce, 3 tablespoons of light brown sugar and 3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar.
You’ll want to prepare your glaze before you’re ready to put the turkey in the oven because you’ll want to drench the turkey in it before it comes into contact with the heat. It’s as simple as placing all of the glaze ingredients into a small saucepan and cooking them on medium-low heat until it barely coats the back of a spoon, roughly 10-12 minutes.
Equipment you will need
You aren’t going to need too many tools to make this dish but the ones we mention are imperative to a juicy and well cooked turkey breast. We’ll go through it in the cooking stages for what you’ll need.
For the brining you’re going to need a bowl to mix the brining mix, a spice mill or pestle and mortar to crush the peppercorns and ensure they are ground to the right size before being mixed in, and your fingers to mix the spices together, you’re going to be using your hands to pat the mix onto the breast so there’s no point in wasting a spoon.
Once brined you’re going to need a wire rack, some tinfoil and a baking tray to rest the turkey on while it’s in the refrigerator. We’ll be using the same setup to cook the breast inside the oven so make sure you don’t need to bake anything for a couple of days.
For the glaze you won’t need much, just a small saucepan and something to mix it. And finally for the roasting phase we recommend a silicone pastry brush as you’ll want one to easily spread the glaze over a hot surface without being impacted by the heat.
For more information, please see more information about How to roast boneless turkey breast