How to Cook Turkey Breast

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Instant Pot Turkey Breast

It is impossible to talk about Thanksgiving without talking about how weird and unclear the holiday will look this year. At best, the gatherings will be smaller. There may be pre-Thanksgiving quarantining. There will likely be some Zooming involved. But there will be turkey on the table, dammit, of that I am sure.

Turkey Breast, brussels sprouts, and sweet potatoes on a pink plate.

But for many of us a whole turkey is not going to be warranted this year. Hey, I like leftovers as much as the next cook, but I think we can all agree that a 16-pound bird for a group of 4 or 6 or so might be overkill. Especially if you don’t have a gang of guests to divvy up the excess and take it home.

So many a family may be checking out the turkey breast options this year. Obviously the dark meat lovers will be out of luck (maybe also pick up a turkey leg or two?), but a turkey breast is just the right size for a more compact holiday celebration, and hopefully will yield some surplus so you can still have a couple of post-holiday sandwiches or make soup the next day.

How to Cook Turkey Breast: Everything you need to know about cooking a delicious moist turkey breast, whether in the oven, the slow cooker, or the Instant Pot.

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Partially-sliced Turkey Breast on parchment paper.

The most commonly available sized turkey breast is 6-7 pounds, which should feed 6 to 8 people. So once you have decided to head in this direction, the question is: how to cook it?

How to Season Turkey Breast

The good news is that you have several excellent options. The seasonings are up to you (but you can’t go wrong with rubbing the turkey with a classic paste of softened butter, rosemary, thyme and/or sage, garlic, salt and pepper.). Without tearing the turkey skin, try to rub some of the paste under the skin, then rub it all over the skin.

Internal Temperature for Turkey Breast

In all cases you are looking for an internal temperature of 160°F, and you should check with a meat thermometer. And no matter how you decide to cook the turkey, make sure to let the turkey breast sit for a bit before to allow the meat to reclaim those juices. The best place to let a turkey rest is on a cutting board with a little moat around the edge to catch any juices that run from the breast. The internal temperature will rise to 165°F as it sits, which is the safe temperature for cooked poultry.

All of the following pertain to a 6 to 7-pound turkey; adjust your cooking times up or down depending on the size of the breast.

Roasting Turkey Breast

The first option is the most classic way to cook a Thanksgiving turkey of any size: roasting. This is a very simple and straightforward cooking method; all it requires is oven space.

Simple Lemon-Garlic Roasted Turkey Breast / Sarah Crowder / Katie Workman /

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Rinse and dry the turkey breast. Oil a roasting pan, or insert a rack. Place the seasoned turkey breast in the pan and roast for 30 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350°F and continue cooking for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until it is nicely browned with an internal temperature of 160°F. If you want you can baste the turkey with some broth and any pan juices that form as you go, but don’t baste for the final 30 minutes of cooking for the crispiest skin.

Get the Recipe: Simple Lemon-Garlic Roasted Turkey Breast.

Slow Cooker Turkey Breast

A slow cooker is another way to go: this method won’t get you a crispy skin, but it will reward you with a pretty airtight guarantee of juicy tender meat.

Turkey Breast in a slow cooker.

For this method you’ll also need some liquid in the pan; I like a combo of 1/4 cup white wine and ½ cup chicken broth. You also may want to add some sliced carrots, celery, onions and garlic to the bottom of the slow cooker before you place the turkey in the slow cooker, whch will enhance the cooking liquid for a more flavorful gravy.

Add the turkey breast, then cover and cook on low for 6 hours, or until the turkey is fully cooked with an internal temperature of 160°F.

Plate of Turkey Breast, mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts, and sweet potatoes.

If you want the skin to become browned and crispy you can preheat the broiler, and then place the turkey breast skin side up in a baking pan and broil it for a few minutes, watching carefully so that it doesn’t burn; you may need to turn the turkey breast on one side and then the other to get the most even browning.

Get the Recipe: Simple Slow Cooker Turkey Breast.

Instant Pot Turkey Breast

If you are an Instant Pot household, you may decide to take this route. You probably know by now that the Instant Pot has many functions, but my two favorites, especially in combination, are the sauté function and the pressure cooker.

Instant Pot Turkey Breast

Turn the instant pot to Sauté and brown the turkey breast skin side down, first tilting it so the skin browns on one side of the breast, then the other, for about 2 minutes per side, so that most of the skin is at least a bit browned. Remove the turkey breast, and if you like add some onions and celery, and sauté for 3 minutes until softened and golden. Turn off the Instant Pot, add about ¾ cup broth then if you have a removable rack insert, stick in right in there. Place the turkey breast into the pot skin side up.

Close the lid and set the vent knob to sealed. Set the instant Pot on High Pressure, for 25 minutes. Once the cooking time has finished, allow the pressure to release naturally for 10 minutes, then open the valve to release any remaining pressure. An internal thermometer inserted into the middle of the breast should read 160°F.

Instant Pot Turkey Breast

If you want the skin to be more browned and crispy you can preheat the broiler, and brown the turkey according to the instructions above for the slow cooker method.

Get the Recipe: Instant Pot Turkey Breast.

How to Make Turkey Gravy

Then you can make a very simple gravy, no matter what method you chose.

Strain the juices from the pan, discarding the solids. Melt about 2 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in a couple of tablespoons flour and continue whisking until it turns golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in the strained pan drippings. Add broth until you get to the volume you are looking for, anywhere from 1 to 2 cups, depending on how much liquid you started with (you are looking for about 2 cups of liquid total. Bring the gravy to a boil, whisking frequently until thickened 6 to 8 minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

Instant Pot Turkey Breast

A final piece of advice; even if your gathering is small, leftover turkey is a Thanksgiving prerogative. If you plan for ¾ pound per person, with a full spread of sides, you can pretty much count on extra for later in the week.

Turkey Breast Recipes

Simple Lemon-Garlic Roasted Turkey Breast / Sarah Crowder / Katie Workman /
5 from 2 votes

Simple Lemon-Garlic Roasted Turkey Breast

An easy rub gives this moist and tender turkey breast great flavor. A great option for a smaller Thanksgiving group, or for a turkey dinner any time of year.
View Recipe

Slow Cooker Turkey Breast
5 from 1 vote

Simple Slow Cooker Turkey Breast

Making sure your turkey breast is moist and tender, not at all dry, is the biggest goal. You couldn’t ask for a better friend than the set-it-and-forget-it crockpot (frees up oven space!).
View Recipe

Plate with vegetables, mashed potatoes, and slices of Turkey Breast with gravy.
5 from 1 vote

Instant Pot Turkey Breast

In less than an hour, you can have a tender, moist turkey breast — a few more minutes will get you gravy, all in the Instant Pot!
View Recipe

What to Serve with Turkey Breast:

These Thanksgiving side dish recipes will make the perfect pairing with your turkey breast.

About Katie Workman

Katie Workman is a cook, a writer, a mother of two, an activist in hunger issues, and an enthusiastic advocate for family meals, which is the inspiration behind her two beloved cookbooks, Dinner Solved! and The Mom 100 Cookbook.

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  1. Would the turkey breast be more tender with the slow cooker process in the instant pot or the pressure cooker in the instant pot? I have done a pork shoulder both ways and it seems like the slow cooker process (in the Instant Pot) made the pork shoulder more tender. I have never cooked a turkey breast, so Thanksgiving day will be “test” day – LOL! Thank you.

    1. I have recipes for both on the site! And I have had success with both – so it’s more about your preference and your timing.