Lemon Garlic Turkey Breast

I often get a little touch of Thanksgiving fever in the month before Thanksgiving — which is helpful because if you are in the business of making recipes that people can use for their actual holiday cooking, you’d best not be making and sharing them on the holiday itself. Not so very useful.

Sliced Lemon-Garlic Roasted Turkey Breast

And also, Thanksgiving is always at my Mom’s house, and even though she’s a vegetarian, she makes the bird. I am certainly welcome to take home leftovers, but it doesn’t quite satisfy my itch to make a turkey for us here in our home.

But a whole turkey, even a small one, is pretty excessive for a family of four, so sometimes I go for just a turkey breast. This seems a bit more manageable and less insane than roasting a whole bird just days before Thanksgiving.

Roasted turkey breast with lemon and garlic on cutting board

To ensure a moist and flavorful turkey breast, there are a few things you can do. If you think of it, make the rub/marinade mixture and slather it on the turkey (rubbing it under and over the skin) the night before. Toss it into a big zipper-top bag and refrigerate it. This will definitely give the meat more of the lemony-herb flavor, but if you’ve not planned ahead, don’t worry about it one little bit.

An easy rub gives this moist and tender turkey breast great flavor. Great Thanksgiving option for a smaller group.

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Cooking Time for 3-Pound Turkey

So, I’ve done this with a 6-pound turkey breast, and also a 3-pound turkey breast. The 6-pound breast cooking instructions are below — for the 3-pound breast, it was about 15 minutes at the 450-degree oven temp, then about 45 minutes to 1 hour at the 350 degrees. Most importantly, check with an instant thermometer — you want the internal temp to be between 160 and 165 degrees when you take it out.

Slicing Lemon-Garlic Roasted Turkey Breast

And you want to let it sit for at least 20 minutes before slicing. The temperature will continue to rise a bit after it is removed from the oven, so the meat will continue to cook. Letting it sit also allows the meat to lock in the juices, so when you slice it, it stays moist and tender and doesn’t dry out.

What to Serve with Lemon-Garlic Roasted Turkey Breast

Wondering what’s on the plate above?

Thanksgiving Turkey Breast on plate with veggies

Other Thanksgiving Recipes

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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.
Yield: 12 People
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours 15 minutes
Resting Time 15 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 40 minutes



  • Preheat the oven to 450 F. Rinse and dry the turkey breast.  Oil a roasting pan.
  • In a small food processor, combine the lemon zest, shallot, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme.  Blend until it becomes a paste.
  • Loosen the skin from the turkey breast, and using your hand rub the paste over and under the skin, covering the breast completely.
  • Place the turkey breast in the roasting pan and roast for about 30 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 F and continue cooking for about 1 hour 15 minutes, until nicely browned, and a meat thermometer shows an internal temperature of 160 F. Let sit for 15 minutes for the juices to redistribute, and for the internal temperature to continue to rise to 165 F before slicing.

Nutrition Information

Calories: 99kcal | Carbohydrates: 1g | Protein: 14g | Fat: 5g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 35mg | Sodium: 328mg | Potassium: 164mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 13IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 12mg | Iron: 1mg

The nutrition values are provided as an estimate. It is not intended as a substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare professional.

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  1. Katie, love the rub recipe, but notice you pull the breast at 170. Did your meat still come out moist, as I would pull at 160ish, knowing that it would still rise 5+ or so.
    Thanks for the great website!!

    1. You are totally right. I had an uncharacteristic burst of adhering too firmly to the FDA guidelines. It’s true, the temperature does continue to climb after you remove the food from the oven, which is called carryover cooking – that is 100% right. So, I would take it out at 160, and let it climb to 165 as you suggest. That’s probably what I did, only in writing the recipe (and knowing NPR was going to link to it), I stuck with the FDA super-safe recommended temp, but in the end, it’s truly about a moist breast, not overcautious food safety, right? (Unless there are babies or old people or sick people at the table- then, err on the side of super safety.) Thanks for making this point.

    1. Lemon zest is the brightly colored outer skin of the lemon. you can take it off with a vegetable peeler, and mince it, or use a zester or microplane specifically designed for that purpose. Either way, make sure to only take off the very bright outer layer, and not dig into the white at all, which is called pitch, and is quite bitter.

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