In an effort to show that not all grilling is fatty pork or cholesterol filled red meat the Grillin Fools are trying to tackle the lighter side of grilling. We’ve been doing more veggies and fish lately and Dad decided to do this old favorite – Smoked Turkey Breast. Click below to see step by step, pic by pic, how to smoke a turkey breast yourself. And if that pic above can’t keep you from clicking away from this site, then we can’t help you. That’s about as good as it gets. Dad will be walking you through this one so I hand it over to him…
This began with a 7 lb. bone-in turkey breast:
The goal was to keep it simple and healthy grilling—not something all of us do when we think of grilling meat or poultry. There were no exotic rubs applied or overnight brines, just healthy turkey breast grilled with the indirect method with some wood smoke thrown into the mix. Did I mention healthy?? Well I cheated a bit and inserted butter into it but if you are concerned about the butter then simply omit that step in the process.
First the turkey breast is rinsed then patted dry and a little work is required to get this bird to lay relatively flat on the grill for more even cooking. Using a method similar to spatchcocking the backbone and ribcage are removed using kitchen shears. Click here to see a step by step on how to butterfly or spatchcock poultry. I’ve done it without this treatment and it still turned out fine. This can be accomplished with a large sharp knife or shears but the shears are much safer and easier. I highly recommend using them instead of a knife:
If you don’t have shears, do me a favor and don’t buy the set in the pictures above and below. They’re not very good. I have since moved on with a much better set I found on Amazon made by OXO Good Grips. They mow through the bones much better than these.
Butterflied or spatchcocked:
Once everything is trimmed away the breast will lay flatter and cook more evenly and a bit quicker:
With the trimming complete, time for a bit—well OK—a lot of garlic butter to be added under the skin to baste the bird while cooking and help retain moisture. The garlic butter was merely a softened stick of salted butter—unsalted works fine too—and a couple of large spoonfuls of minced garlic mixed together.
***Editor’s note ~ You didn’t think we were going completely healthy did you? Also, bulk sausage can be used instead of the garlic butter. Andoullie and Chorizo are amazing. But if you want to go a lot healthier, try a butter substitute which work really well, which can be seen here***
The skin is loosened by running your fingers underneath and spreading the distance between the skin and the meat. Then simply force the mixture in with your fingers as shown:
You want to go really deep to get full coverage of the breasts:
A few toothpicks were added to secure the skin. More on those toothpicks in a minute.
The old Charbroil is set up for the “flank method” of indirect grilling which is simply positioning the coals to the left and right and the breast placed in the middle. Notice the drip pan in the middle of the coal grate. Three cups of water and one beer (why not?) have been added to put moisture into the cooking box:
***Editor’s note ~ There is actually a really good reason not to add the beer to the drip pan. It’s a waste of beer. None of the flavor of the beer will actually be added to the bird. The drip pan is designed to do two things, act as a heat sink and add moisture to the chamber. The only way it will add flavor is if you actually steep herbs in it. Essentially you need something much more pungent than a beer diluted in water or even if you just filled it all with beer. Save that beer for me next time!!***
Please be aware that when you grill with a lot of open space whatever you are grilling will loose moisture more rapidly than if you had a grill full of meat or poultry. This simple addition to whatever you grill is, in my opinion, a great idea. In this case 75% or so of the grill space is empty so as the liquid in the drip pan heats it begins to simmer and steam thus adding moisture to the cooking chamber. This idea has been suggested by some of the oldest pit-masters in the country. An alternative would be to place a pan of liquid directly on the grill grate and set the turkey breast inside. I think, perhaps, this might be more “steam-grilling” than grilling but I may give it a try in the future. The steam-grilling method was employed using a mop sauce and a shallow pan housing a beef brisket in an earlier post and it was superb. Going forward, I will be employing this method of adding moisture when grilling for extended periods of time. Does it help? I can’t quantify that but it certainly won’t harm the process.
I chose peach wood for this session:
Why peach? The sweet flavors from fruit woods such as apple, peach, and apricot are particularly appealing when grilling poultry. Cherry wood will discolor the skin pretty badly. Making it almost black. While the bird will taste great it will not look all that appetizing. Some of the more pungent woods such as hickory can easily overpower poultry but if used it should be used moderately. Click this link to see a summary of over 50 different types of smokes woods and such that can be used to accentuate the flavor of just about anything you can grill as well as the foods they pair best with.
Here’s the bird on the grill:
And here is good pic of those toothpicks used to secure the skin. They aren’t needed at this point but as the skin loses moisture while cooking it will shrink back and it can shrink back off the meat which is not something you want:
Here’s a pic of the turkey breast 45 minutes in and it’s browning nicely. The skin can be brushed with olive oil to retard burning but in this case I simply smeared the remaining garlic butter over the skin.
A few more coals and chunks of peach wood were added and the lid closed once again to continue smoking the breast.
***Editor’s note ~ It’s always a good idea to limit the amount of times you open a grill when grilling for any significant period of time. Each time you do all the heat escapes and it has to build up again. So when you have to open the grill try to get everything you need to get done in one opening such as basting the breast, adding coal and wood, taking pictures for a goofy website about grilling, etc. This goes for more than just turkey.***
Mother Nature decided to bless us with a thunderstorm (weather has never dampened the spirit of the GrillinFools) so coals and smoke wood were added between the drops:
It didn’t take long for the wood to start smoking despite the rain:
Note to self: if a bonus arrives next year I’ve got to cover that patio! I love being outside during a storm. What could be better than being outside during a cooling summer shower, a smoking grill, and a cool beverage in hand? Does it get any better than that?
Here’s a pic approximately and hour and 15 minutes since the breast was placed on the grill.
In spite of the storm the fire is holding heat and we should complete the cooking process in 30-45 minutes. I apologize for not providing temperature readings even though I now have a digital thermometer obtained at the urging of the Original Grillin’ Fool recently. By the time I located a battery for the contraption I was well into the process but will attempt to provide this information in the future. This is a bit foreign to me as I’ve never used one in my grilling history. I have always gone by sight, touch, and past experience but will endeavor to add temperature information going forward. Right about now you can look for an editor’s note giving me some kind of grief for not using the gadget.
***Editor’s note ~ First, a thermometer is a ‘contraption?’ OK there old timer. Second we realize it’s very hard to teach feel. I apologize for my dad not making these recipes easier to follow by quantifying the temps and the cooking times. With coals on both sides he estimated the temps to be between 300-350 and took about 1.75-2 hours. If you are using an internal thermometer I would suggest pulling the breast at 160 degrees which should rise to about 165 after it rests for a few minutes.***
The turkey breast is removed from the grill an hour and 45 minutes after grilling began. It appears to be nicely browned from the heat and peach wood smoke.
***Editor’s note ~ That looks so good, gotta post a second pic of that.***
It was loosely foil-covered and allowed to rest for 20 minutes before carving to allow the juices to calm down from the excited state they are in so they don’t leak out all over the cutting board the instant the meat is sliced:
When the knife was brought forth and slices were rendered the bird was very moist and tender.
The peach wood has also done the job and the flavor was great. While I enjoyed this hot meal sometimes I think the best part is the leftover turkey sandwiches the next day.
If you have any questions about the turkey please either post a comment below or email me.