For years and years I've cooked an entire turkey at Thanksgiving, but recently I discovered the absolute glory of cooking just the bone-in, skin on turkey breast. It's still a ton of meat, still a beautiful centerpiece for your holiday table, and about 1,000 times easier than dealing with a whole turkey.
Keep reading for how to roast a turkey breast...
or jump straight to the recipe! Jump to Recipe
If you are like me, and only have access to frozen turkey breasts, you're going to need to do a key step before you get to cooking: defrost it! One of the advantages of cooking a turkey breast is that it is much easier and quicker to defrost than an entire turkey.
How to defrost turkey breast?
The easiest way to defrost a turkey breast
is to put it in its original sealed packaging in a large pan with sides to catch any runoff in the fridge. Just like a full sized turkey, you'll need 24 hours of fridge defrost time for every 5 lbs of bird, but it will be much quicker overall due to the smaller size of the breast compared to the whole bird.
The fastest way to defrost a turkey breast
is to still leave it in its original sealed packaging, place it in a large pot or other large container, and fill that container with cold water until the bird is completely submerged. Every 30 minutes, replace the water in the pot with more cold water. You'll need 30 minutes per pound of turkey to defrost the breast this way. So for a 5 lb turkey, you'll fill the water up once ( initially ), replace the water four times after that, and it will take a total of 2 ½ hours.
Once everything is defrosted, time to get that oven ready!
What temperature should the oven be to cook turkey?
There is some debate over this, but I like to cook turkey at 325° F. You can definitely cook it at a higher temperature, but at 325, I can also put side dishes like casseroles into the oven or even mashed potatoes without drying them out or burning them.
Look, I know this next picture isn't the most glamorous photo on the blog, but I want you to see that you really do just shove your hand between the skin and the meat to get the seasoning in there. It's not pretty. It's cold. It's kinda wet. It's a littly icky if you aren't used to this kind of thing, which is why I think it's important to be clear ( and have a picture ) of
How to Season Turkey
Trapping something flavorful between the meat and the skin is a great way to season every bit of this fancy bird. A combination of lemon juice and olive oil tenderizes the meat while it cooks and brightens up the flavor just every so slightly. Don't worry, your meat won't taste like lemons! It's very, very subtle.
Gently lift the skin away from the breast meat, and pour the lemon juice and olive oil underneath it, using your hand to make sure that each part of the meat under the skin is thoroughly coated.
You can also use this method to place herbs under the skin, which makes for a beautiful presentation but can also cause the skin to not crisp up quite as much, so be warned!
I make an herb paste and rub it on the outside of the skin, which helps it crisp and gives a lovely flavor.
Now that the bird is seasoned, you're ready to roast turkey!
How long to cook turkey breast per pound?
This will vary on the temperature of your oven, but at 325° F, cook turkey breast for approximately 20 minutes per lb. Always check the meat with a meat thermometer ( like this super reasonably priced one from Amazon) to make sure breast meat reaches 160° F.
How much turkey per person?
For Thanksgiving or another major holiday where people will be bringing their "A" Eating Game, plan on one pound of bone in turkey per person.
Yep, that's right: ONE POUND.
If you want leftovers, you might want to up that to 1.5 lbs per person.
Speaking of leftovers, I do hope you have some! There are tons of great ways to us up leftover turkey
Leftover Turkey Breast Recipes
Make sure you check back next week or sign up below to see the THREE new leftover turkey breast recipes I'll have up on the blog!
Side Dishes for Turkey Breast
- Potato Gratin
- Macaroni and Cheese
- Sweet Potato Casserole Bites
- Fall Harvest Salad ( coming soon! )
Roasted Turkey Breast
- 5 - 6 lb Turkey Breast thawed, bone-in, skin on
For the Base
- ½ onion sliced thickly ( ½” slices )
- 1 stalk of celery cut into 2” chunks
- 1 large carrot cut into 1” slices
- ½ cup dry white wine
For between the skin and meat
- ¼ cup Lemon Juice
- 1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
For the Rub
- ½ teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves minced
- 2 fresh sage leaves chopped
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
- 1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Meat Thermometer
- 3 Quart Baking Dish
- Preheat the oven to 325° F. Pat the turkey dry with paper towels, inside the cavity and outside.
- Place the onion, carrot, and celery pieces on the bottom of a 3 quart baking dish. Pour the white wine in the dish.
- Combine lemon juice and 1 Tablespoon of olive oil. Carefully lift the skin away from the meat and pour the lemon juice and oil over the meat, using your fingers to gently rub it in.
- Combine the thyme, rosemary, sage, garlic, salt, pepper, and 1 Tablespoon of oil in a small bowl, and rub that all over the skin of the breast.
- Bake 2 hours, or until internal temp is 170. This could take as long as 2.5 hours, if your turkey has particularly thick parts, which is why a thermometer is important!
- Remove the turkey breast from the oven and let it rest, loosely tented with foil, for 15 minutes.
How many calories are in roasted turkey breast?
3.5 ounces of turkey has about 190 calories in it. But it's Thanksgiving, a time when I'm pretty sure calories don't count, so maybe we don't worry about that for just today?
So flavorful and delicious! Thank you for making Thanksgiving easy!
This recipe looks perfect! This will be our first year roasting a turkey breast instead of the whole bird. I can’t wait to put this recipe into action on Thursday. Love the photos, too. They’re bright, clean, and simple. I’m grateful to have found this in my recipe search. Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving!
Do you cover it while cooking?
Nope - cook uncovered
I have been doing this for a decade now, I referred to it the first couple years as Thanksgiving lite, now, for me, its traditional!
Oh, my gosh! This was exactly the kind of recipe I spent an hour looking for on the internet last night (to no avail)--I am so excited to see it just happen to pop up in my feed today! We always do a huge turkey but this year we have said, NO WAY! Thanks for posting this.
That's exactly why I posted it! This year we just aren't doing that big to-do. But of course we still need turkey!