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This brined Citrus Herb Smoked Turkey Breast is lathered with herby butter before smoking with cherry wood. Juicy, tender, and flavorful! This smoked turkey breast recipe is perfect for the holiday season. Plus, it has so much irresistible flavor you’ll think twice about ever baking a turkey in the oven again!
If you’re planning a smaller Thanksgiving or Christmas gathering, smoking a turkey breast instead of preparing a whole turkey is a practical and delicious option!
Not only that, smoking a turkey breast in an electric smoker is really very easy to do, and it frees up your oven for all those other wonderful Thanksgiving sides.
Cooking for two this Thanksgiving? Then perhaps you’d like to check out my Brined and Roasted Turkey Legs recipe as well.
Key ingredients & substitutions for Smoked Turkey Breast
- Turkey breast — Look for a skin-on and bone-in turkey breast that’s well-rounded. You can use either a fresh or frozen turkey; just know that you’ll need to allow time for the turkey to completely thaw in the refrigerator before starting the recipe.
- Kosher salt — Kosher salt is a coarse, flaky salt that dissolves well in water, making it a good choice when you prepare a brine. Other suitable options include coarse sea salt or Himalayan salt.
- Citrus — A whole orange and lemon in the brine add delicious flavor. You can use limes as well.
- Garlic — Whole garlic cloves can be cut up, or you can buy minced garlic.
- Black peppercorns — Peppercorns add a burst of peppery flavor.
- Brown sugar — Sugar and spice and everything nice in this brine recipe!
- Butter — Unsalted softened butter is mixed with rosemary to make the herb butter coating.
- Fresh herbs — Rosemary and thyme are used in the salty brine for the turkey, and then rosemary is used for the herb butter too. Save some aside to garnish the platter too!
- Electric smoker — This electric smoker takes the guesswork out and is easy to operate.
- Cherry wood chips — Cherry wood chips make the smoke flavor that compliments turkey the best.
- Large stock pot — Boil the brine in this pot, then plop the turkey right in!
- Disposable aluminum pan — The pan is what catches the juices!
How to smoke a juicy turkey breast
STEP 1 | Thaw the bird
When thawing a frozen turkey, you will want to do it safely. Place the turkey on a tray in your fridge for a day or two until it is completely thawed.
Or, if you need to speed the process up, place the unopened bird in a bath of cold tap water for 3 to 5 hours.
While in the water, you will want it to stay cold, so change the water as needed, or about every 30 minutes. Then store it safely in the refrigerator until ready to begin brining.
STEP 2 | Make the brine
In your large stock pot, measure in the salt, brown sugar, garlic cloves, peppercorns, oranges, and lemons. Then place 2 or 3 springs of rosemary and the same of thyme.
Pour in just 2 quarts of the water and stir the brine ingredients together.
Bring the brine mixture to a boil, then turn down the heat and allow it to simmer for around 10 minutes. You’ll be amazed at how this brine mixture fills the kitchen with a savory citrus aroma!
Finally, remove the brine from the heat, pour in the remaining 2 quarts of water, and allow the salty solution to cool.
STEP 3 | Pat dry the turkey breast
Once the brine has cooled to room temperature, it is time to add your turkey breast. First, remove the turkey from the package. Then pat it dry inside and out with paper towels.
Now, go ahead and submerge the turkey in the brine and refrigerate for 12 hours.
About 30 to 45 minutes before you are ready to start smoking, remove the turkey from the brine and pat dry with paper towels again.
STEP 4 | Prepare herb butter
While turkey breast is in the brine, you can prepare the herb butter. Start by finely chopping a couple tablespoons of fresh rosemary and stirring it into the softened butter — it is that easy!
Note: The herb-to-butter ratio should be 2:8. For this recipe, use 2 tablespoons of finely chopped rosemary to 8 tablespoons of softened unsalted butter.
- The herb-to-butter ratio should be 2:8. For this recipe, use 2 tablespoons of finely chopped rosemary to 8 tablespoons of softened unsalted butter.
- Or, use a combination of finely chopped rosemary and fresh thyme leaves.
STEP 5 | Rub butter under and over the skin
I recommend a throwaway aluminum pan for smoking the turkey. And rather than getting the counter or cutting board all buttery, complete this step right in the pan.
Massage some of the butter under the turkey’s skin, then rub the rest all over the outside, ensuring the whole turkey is covered with the herb butter mixture.
STEP 6 | Preheat the smoker
Now it is time to preheat the electric smoker to 275 degrees and add your cherry wood chips to the chip box.
Then, when the smoker comes to temperature, and the chamber is filled with billows of smoke, it is time to reduce the temperature to 225.
- Creating the smoke – With our electric smoker, we have found the temperature needs to be 275 before any smoke is created. Then once the wood chips have started to burn and smoke, I like to reduce the temperature for slower cooking.
- Cook time – As a general rule, allow about 35 minutes of smoking time per pound of your turkey breast.
- Moisture – If desired, you may add apple juice to the water pan to aid in keeping humidity and moisture in the smoker. That being said, I didn’t do it when I made this recipe, and my turkey was extremely moist.
STEP 7 | Smoke the turkey
Place the turkey breast side up on a rack in the smoker. Then place the disposable aluminum pan used in step 5 on the rack below to catch the drippings.
Close the smoker and cook the herb-marinated turkey breast for 4 1/2 to 5 hours or until the internal temperature registers 165 degrees.
Note: The general rule is that a turkey breast should be cooked at 350 for 20 minutes per pound. However, this is a smoker so it will take longer.
STEP 8| Rest and serve
I can smell it now! Carefully remove the turkey from the smoker and place it on a clean cutting board. Tent the bird with an aluminum foil covering and allow it to rest for 30 to 45 minutes before slicing.
I like to prepare the other dishes while waiting so I am not tempted to slice a piece. Prepare your platter with veggies or sprigs of rosemary and thyme, and perhaps a few cranberries sprinkled around would also look nice.
Now, you are ready to slice your turkey on the diagonal and serve it on a platter.
Frequently asked questions
Of course, you could smoke a boneless turkey breast, but you’d miss out on all the flavor and moisture the bone and skin provide as the turkey slowly cooks.
Suppose you go with a boneless and skinless turkey breast. In that case, the cooking time may need to be adjusted, and you should probably add apple juice or water to the smoker for added moisture.
There are mixed opinions about this. Most frozen turkeys There are mixed opinions about this. Most frozen turkeys have been brined before processing, so some think brining a thawed turkey breast will make the bird too salty.
I used a frozen Honeysuckle White Young Turkey Breast (with just 200mg sodium) for my citrus brine smoked turkey recipe, and, in my opinion, it didn’t taste salty.
Yes, the herb butter helps with that. But if you notice, we do not tent the turkey while smoking it. That way, the skin gets nice and golden brown, the way we like it.
Also, I say in the steps to place the turkey on the rack. When your turkey is in a bath of liquid, the skin stays soggy. So right on the rack is best!
If the skin still doesn’t get as crispy as you like, you can pop the turkey breast skin side down on a preheated grill for a few minutes to crisp it some more.
While the turkey breast is smoking, you’ll have plenty of time — and oven space — to prepare the delicious sides to complete your Thanksgiving feast.
Oh, and don’t forget to pick up a bag of fresh cranberries to make my 5-Minute Cranberry Orange Relish — my family loves it!
Citrus Herb Smoked Turkey Breast
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 1 medium orange quartered
- 1 medium lemon quartered
- 4 cloves fresh garlic minced
- fresh rosemary
- fresh thyme
- 1 gallon water
- 7 lb. turkey breast bone-in with skin
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter room temperature
- Add the salt, brown sugar, garlic, peppercorns, orange, and lemon to a large stockpot along with 2 or 3 sprigs each of rosemary and thyme. Add 2 quarts of the water and stir.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes until the salt is dissolved. Remove from the heat and pour in the remaining 2 quarts of water.
- Once the brine has cooled to room temperature, remove the turkey from the package and pat dry inside and out with paper towels. Submerge the turkey in the brine and refrigerate for 12 hours.
- About 30 – 45 minutes before you are ready to start smoking, remove the turkey from the brine and pat dry with paper towels.
- If desired, finely chop a tablespoon of fresh rosemary and stir into the softened butter. Massage some of the butter under the turkey's skin, then rub the rest all over the outside.
- In the meantime, preheat the smoker to 275 degrees and add cherry wood chips to the chip box. When the smoker comes to temperature and the chamber is filled with smoke, reduce the temperature to 225.
- Place the turkey breast side up on a rack in the smoker and place a disposable aluminum pan on the rack below to catch the drippings. Cook the turkey breast for 4 1/2 to 5 hours, or until the internal temperature registers 165 degrees.
- Remove the turkey to a cutting board and tent with foil for 30 to 45 minutes before slicing.
- With our electric smoker, we have found the temperature needs to be 275 before any smoke is created. Once the wood chips have started to burn and smoke, I like to reduce the temperature for slower cooking.
- As a general rule, allow about 35 minutes smoking time per pound.
- If desired, you may add apple juice to the water pan to aid in keeping humidity and moisture in the smoker. That being said, I didn’t do it when I made this recipe, and my turkey was extremely moist.
Life Love and Good Food does not claim to be a registered dietician or nutritionist. Nutritional information shared on this site is only an estimate. We recommend running the ingredients through an online nutritional calculator if you need to verify any information.
About Sheila Thigpen
Recipe Developer, Food Photographer, Food Writer
Sheila Thigpen is the publisher of Life, Love, and Good Food — a Southern food blog — and the author of Easy Chicken Cookbook and The 5-Ingredient Fresh and Easy Cookbook. After 20+ years in the publishing industry, she retired in 2018 to focus on her own creative endeavors full time. She and her husband live near the beautiful Smoky Mountains and have a precious little granddaughter who has stolen their hearts. As an influencer, Sheila has collaborated with brands like Creamette, Kroger, HERSHEY’S, Hamilton Beach, Garafalo Pasta, OXO, Smithfield, Valley Fig Growers, and more.