Learn how to smoke and cook a turkey breast using a pellet grill, and why it is one of the easiest and tastiest ways to smoke a turkey breast!
If you’ve ever smoked a whole turkey on a pellet grill, you know that it’s an amazing way to prepare what can otherwise be a pretty lackluster meat.
But sometimes, you want to cook some turkey without making the whole bird, and that’s why cooking a turkey breast is such a convenient option, especially on a pellet grill.
We spent some time recently comparing propane and electric smokers, but unfortunately, neither of these options work too great for turkey.
That’s because with propane, you have to babysit your bird for hours on end, making sure the temperatures never get too high or your wood chips get too low.
And while electric smokers do offer “set it and forget it” convenience, they can be a little limited on space and available temperature range.
Many typical Masterbuilt electric smokers only go up to about 275°F. Great for low and slow BBQ, but not as good for crisping upi the skin on a turkey breast like you can a pellet grill.
So let’s jump in and look at the best ways to cook a turkey breast on a pellet grill!
How a Pellet Grill Works
In order to cook ANYTHING well on a pellet grill, you need to first have a basic understanding of how it works.
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Hop over and check out this Complete Guide to Understanding How a Pellet Grill Works first if you are interested in learning more. We’ll be here when you get back!***
First, you add hardwood pellets into a side hopper. The pellet grill automatically feeds these small wood pellets via an auger mechanism to a fire pot where they are burned up, providing both heat and smokey flavor.
The pellet grill automatically controls the flow of pellets depending on your temperature setting so that you maintain and even temperature throughout the entire cook.
A MUST for making great BBQ.
We are big fans of Bear Mountain Hardwood Pellets because they are compatible with most pellet grills and provide a nice clean, even burn and smoke flavor.
We particularly like using the Apple pellets for chicken and turkey.
Instead of being in and out of the house constantly trying to figure out when or whether to add more wood or to adjust the air flow, you just program the unit and give it time to do its thing.
It’s really just a matter of choosing the right ingredients, picking the right temperature, and smoking your turkey breast for the right amount of time.
Looking for a Reasonably Priced Pellet Grill?
How to Buy a Turkey Breast for Pellet Grill Smoking
Your first task is choosing the turkey breast that you are going to smoke on your pellet grill.
When it comes to choosing a turkey breast to smoke, bigger isn’t always better.
You see poultry is incredibly lean and does not have nearly the amount of fat that you would find in other large cuts of meat like say a brisket or a pork butt.
So the larger the turkey breast you choose, the MORE done the outside of the breast will be by the time the inside is finished cooking.
This is fine on large fatty cuts of meat because the extra fat keeps the meat tender and moist. On a turkey breast, the higher the meat temperature gets, the more it dries out.
Don;t worry, there are some fun things we can do to keep the smoked turkey breast from drying out too much which we will discuss below.
But it starts by not selecting the biggest breast in the case to begin with.
Cooking Bone-in vs. Boneless Turkey Breasts on a Pellet Grill
If you DO want to cook a large turkey breast, we suggest finding one that is “bone-in”, or even a double turkey breast where the breast bone is still running down the center.
Bone-in meat tends to retain more of its juices naturally and not dry out as much since the bone acts as kind of a heat sink inside the meat.
Just keep in mind any bone-in version of ANY meat will take longer to fi=ully cook than its bonelss counterparts.
Buy a Turkey Breast that has NOT Already Been Injected
This is a tough one because so many mass market turkey producers these days pre-inject their birds with a sodium solution so that the meat retains SOME of its moisture when an average joe cooks it into oblivion.
We would much prefer to brine or inject our raw turkey breast ourselves so that we have control over the ingredients we are putting on the bird, and into our bodies!
You can tell if your turkey breast is already brined because the label will say something like “moisture enhanced with up to X% solution of turkey broth, salt, sugar” what have you.
So if you can, look for a turkey breast that is raw, natural, and has NOT been previously injected with anything.
You may need to go to a good meat market or butcher to find one of these vs. your local chain grocery store case.
Preparing a Turkey Breast for the Pellet Grill
Clean and Trim the Turkey BreastTake some time to clean, rinse and dry your turkey breast after removing it from the package.
Flip it over and remove any excess fat or skin hanging off near the corners and edges.
There should not be too much trimming to do but it doesn’t hurt to clean it up a bit before you start brining, injecting, or seasoning.
A turkey breast prep method you’ll read about a lot is brining.
At its most basic, this is just soaking the turkey breast overnight in a solution that includes salt, water and some aromatics.
But, what does it do? Well, the salt naturally penetrates overnight and helps to not only flavor the meat but help it retain moisture throughout the cooking process.
Do you need to brine your turkey breast before you smoke it?
The answer is, it depends.
As we discussed above, if you have a supermarket turkey breast that’s been injected with a brine solution, don’t bother brining at home. It won’t do anything.
If, on the other hand, you have a natural turkey breast without additives, you could take the time to brine it.
You can use one of the many brining recipes online (Alton Brown’s is a classic) or save a bit of effort with a premade turkey brining solution.
This Brine Kit from San Francisco Salt Co. is an easy-all in-one solution. It also pairs well with apple wood smoke.
Brining for a good 24 hours before you smoke it will yield a more flavorful, juicier bird, so the time in the brine can be worth it.
However, a much easier way to achieve similar results is by dry brining your turkey breast instead.
Simply coat the inside and outside of the rinsed and dried breast with kosher salt and pepper and store it on a drying rack set on top of a baking sheet in the refrigerator overnight.
Wipe off the excess salt left on the outside with a wet paper towel before you cook, and then season with all your non-salt herbs and seasonings.
Don’t worry, the turkey breast is plenty well salted at this point from the salt penetrating overnight.
With dry brining, you get all the benefits of salt penetration and moisture retention without having to deal with a giant bucket of salty raw turkey water when you’re done!
One other benefit, the salt dries out the skin overnight, causing it to brown and crisp up much better while cooking on the pellet grill than it otherwise would have.
Injecting your Turkey Breast
A final, more surgical option for adding salt and moisture retaining qualities to your turkey breast is to inject it with a slaty, flavorful solution.
Just PLEASE be careful not to do this to a bird that’s already been injected as described above or your turkey breast will become overly salty.
You can use a mixture of turkey stock, melted butter, cajun spices or your favorite BBQ rub; and any other herbs and spices you want to flavor your turkey breast with.
We are big fans of the Ofargo Stainless Steel Meat Injector.
You get a variety of tip and injector sizes so you can inject larger things like herbs and minced garlic right into the turkey breast!
If you choose to inject your bird, you don’t need to dry brine it overnight. A simple BBQ or light salt and pepper seasoning on the exterior and some injecting on the interior will help season your turkey breast and hep it retain its flavor.
Keep in mind that injecting the turkey breast adds WEIGHT to it, so it WILL take longer to cook on the pellet grill all else being equal.
But if you are OK with that, then inject away. Make sure to put the turkey breast in an aluminum pan to catch the runoff and inject every 2-3 inches across and around the surface of the meat at varying depth levels.
You can let the injection diffuse throughout the turkey breast in the refrigerator for about 1-2 hours before putting it on the pellet grill.
Seasoning the Exterior
If you already dry brined,, go easy on adding any additional the salt on the exterior but you can add some herbs or a law salt BBQ rub if you wish.
If you only injected then you can use a saltier rub on the skin at this point, or even a cajun or spicy seasoning if you want some bolder flavors for your turkey breast.
You can add a little bit of cooking oil if you wish to help the rub stick better, but don;t use too much or the skin will have a harder time crisping up.
For the crispiest skin possible, dry brine the turkey overnight and then don’t add ANY oil to the skin before putting it on the pellet grill.
Choosing the Best Wood Pellets for Smoking a Turkey Breast on a Pellet Grill
You have a lot of freedom when it comes to choosing the right wood pellets to cook your turkey breast on a pellet grill.
Mesquite and hickory will give a very aggressive smoke flavor. This is perfect for turkey you plan to use on sandwiches or eat in smaller portions with a lot of sides.
Alternatively, you can also go for a milder smoke flavor by choosing oak or fruitwood pellets. Pecan, apple, beech, alder, and cherry all give great results.
For fun, you can choose your woods seasonally, using beech and cherry in spring and summer and pecan and apple into the fall and winter.
Also no reason you can’t mix a few different kinds together on a pellet grill.
Make sure you purchase pellets that are sized correctly to work in the hopper of your particular pellet grill.
How to Smoke Your Turkey Breast on a Pellet Grill
With a pellet grill, this is the easy part!
Just add your chosen pellets to the hopper, plug in and start the pellet grill.
What Temperature do you Cook a Turkey Breast on a Pellet Grill?
Set the temperature to 325°F, and let the grill come up to temperature.
While you technically CAN cook your turkey “low and slow” at 225-250 degrees like traditional pork and brisket barbecue, you will never get crispy skin because the fat underneath it will not render at those low temperatures before the meat is finished cooking.
Avoid using BBQ rubs with lots and lots of sugar if you are going to cook any higher than 300-325°F because the sugar can burn and carbonize.
If you want to be extra cautious with a sugary BBQ rub, drop the cooking temperature on the pellet grill to 300°F.
How Long do you Cook a Turkey Breast on a Pellet Grill?
Set your turkey breast in the cooking chamber with the breast side down and let the pellet grill do its thing!
You can place the turkey breast on a V shaped roasting rack to make it easier to manage inside the grill.
We like this one from Norpro because its rectangular bottom rests easily on the grill grates without falling between them.
Alternatively, if you want to collect the drippings from your smoked turkey breast to make a pan sauce or gravy, elevate the turkey breast on a grilling rack inside of an aluminum foil roasting tray.
This will allow for air and smoke circulation around the turkey and help the skin crisp up while still retaining the drippings.
Make sure to use good insulated grill gloves when rotating or flipping the turkey breast or moving the roasting rack.
Rotate and flip hourly for even cooking.
A turkey breast will take approximately 15 minutes per pound to fully cook according to Loaves and Dishes.
As we mentioned, anticipate more time if the turkey breast is bone in and add more time if you injected the turkey breast as well.
If you want the crispiest skin possible, avoid basting the turkey breast with anything while it is cooking on the pellet grill.
How do you Know When a Turkey Breast is Done on a Pellet Grill?
You’ll want to check the internal temperature of the turkey breast periodically for doneness.
Your turkey breast is ready to eat when you hit an internal temperature of 165°F on your instant read thermometer.
If you don’t yet own an instant read thermometer, it’s going to be hard to really know exactly when that turkey breast is done cooking on the pellet grill.
One of our go-to and very affordable favorites is this waterproof model made by Kuluner.
Another great option if you would rather use a leave in thermometer you can just monitor from your phone is the MEATER leave in thermometer.
It is extremely accurate and has an incredible 165 foot bluetooth range and works right with your smartphone so you don’t need to carry a separate controller around with you like many other remote thermometers require.
It’s got a great free app that is constantly being updated and even has an algorithm to predict how much longer your type of meat will take to cook based on cooking temperature, target temperature, and current internal temperature.
It’s like a GPS for your meat!
Anyways, back to our smoked turky breast…
Let the turkey breast rest for about 15-30 minutes before carving and serving so that the juice stays in the meat where you want it.
If you injected the turkey breast, you will see little pockets of flavor where the injection went in. Yum!
Accessories That Enhance Your Grilling Experience
Foolproof smoked turkey breast starts, of course, with a high quality grill.
Choose one with the space and features you need to optimize your experience. From there, you can go as simple or fancy as you want.
A good digital thermometer is also a must. Pulling your smoked meat off the pellet grill at just the right temperature is key to a high quality meal.
While instant read thermometers are great for a quick spot check of different parts of the turkey, dual Probe Wireless models let you track your turkey’s overall progress without ever leaving your lawn chair!
Some good grilling tools are the next thing you need.
And, of course, a variety of wood pellets and brine mixes always helps!
Cleaning Your Pellet Grill
Pellet grills remain carefree during use as long as they are well maintained in between cooks.
After you use your grill, take the time to scrub down the grill grates. Remove any residue from inside the lid. Scrape down all the other parts, too, to remove debris.
Always use a good bristle free grill brush.
Don’t forget the grease chute and your thermometer.
Finally, vacuum out any ashy residue left in the . Then, rinse down and reassemble.
Cooking a Turkey Breast for Thanksgiving on a Pellet Grill
If you’re like me, you think all year long about delicious meat you’ll put on the table for Thanksgiving dinner.
Plan well ahead and do a test run or two in the summer and early fall with a couple turkey breasts on the pellet grill so that everything goes great on the big day.
Try some different rubs, injections, and wood pellets to dial in the perfect flavor for the big day.
In the fall, consider brining with seasonal flavorings like sage and thyme. Adc a little bit of apple cider to your turkey injection.
Then smoke with some mild fruitwood pellets like pecan or apple to round out the flavor.
Trash Can Turkey
Looking for another FUN way to make Turkey?
Other Fun Pellet Grill Recipes
Looking for some more inspiration for things to cook on your pellet grill?
Check out some of our favorite recipes below that can easily be modified to be done on a pellet grill.
- Smoked Fresh Ham with Dark Rum Citrus Glaze
- Smoked Leg of Lamb with Guinness Marinade
- Smoked Lamb Chops with a Balsamic Butter Sauce
- Smoked Rack of Lamb with Garlic and Rosemary or Smoker
- Smoked and Pulled Lamb Shoulder with a Turkish Spice Rub
- Smoked Lamb Shanks
- Smoked Oysters in a Garlic White Wine Sauce
- Smoked Scallops with Lemon Garlic Drizzle
- Smoked Lobster Tails with Garlic Butter
- Smoked Bratwurst with Beer Braised Onions
- Smoked Gouda Cheese
- Smoked and Reverse Seared Ribeye Steaks
- Pellet Grilled Steaks
- Pellet Grill Turkey
- Smoked Asparagus
Pellet Grill Smoked Turkey Breast
- Pellet Grill
- Aluminum foil pan
- Flat or V Rack for turkey breast
- Meat Injector
- Wood Pellets - Hickory, Oak, or Fruitwood
- Internal Meat Thermometer
- 1 Whole Bone-in Double Turkey Breast Natural, NOT pre-marinated, pre-seasoned, or injected with a slat solution.
- Your favorite Sweet BBQ rub
- Kosher Salt and Pepper
Cajun Butter Marinade Injection
- 2 sticks Salted Butter
- 16 oz Turkey Stock or chicken broth
- 2 Tbsp Your favorite hot sauce
- 1 Tbsp Your favorite sweet BBQ rub
Prepare the Cajun Butter Marinade
- Heat 1 Stick of the salted butter over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Stir continuously until the butter has melted and begins to brown.
- Add the second stick of butter, along with the stock or broth, the hot sauce, and the BBQ rub. Simmer over medium heat for 20-3 minutes until rub has dissolved.
- Set aside to cool.
Prepare Turkey Breast
- Clean, rinse, and pat dry turkey breast well with paper towels
- Trim any excess skin or fat off of turkey breast
- Apply kosher salt, pepper, and seet BBW run to the exterior of the turkey breast, in that order.
- Place the seasoned turkey breast on a grilling rack inside of an aluminum foil tray
Inject the Turkey Breast
- Using a meat injector, once the marinade has cooled to room temperature, inject throughout the turkey breast. You do not need to use all of the marinade.
- Inject at varying depths every 2-3 inches all over the surface of the turkey breast. Keep the turkey breast in the aluminum pan to catch the runoff
- Place in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours to allow the injection and the exterior rub to penetrate the meat.
Cook the Turkey Breast on the Pellet Grill
- Fill hopper with pellets, start up pellet grill, and preheat to 325°F.
- Place the turkey breast on the pellet grill, either on the grilling rack in the pan it was in the refrigerator to catch any drippings, or on a V shaped roasting rack on the pellet grill.
- Place an internal temperature probe if you have one into the center of one of the breasts.
- Close the lid, cook the turkey for about 2 and 1/2 hours, or 15 minutes per pound. Flip the breast every 45 minutes and also rotate occasionally for even cooking and moisture distribution.
- When the internal temperature of the turkey breast has reached 165°F, remove from the pellet grill.
- Let the turkey breast rest for 20-30 minutes before carving to allow the juices to distribute.
- Carve, plate, and serve immediately.