Roasting a turkey breast is a great option for a smaller crowd
Start the oven hot to crisp the skin, then reduce to normal temperature
Rubbing butter under the skin adds flavor and fat to usually bland white meat
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If you’re hosting a smaller Thanksgiving gathering this year, it may seem pointless to cook a whole turkey. We suggest roasting a turkey breast; unlike a whole bird, where you need to worry about cooking dark and white meat correctly, the breast has only one kind of meat. Cooking just the breast is a great way to make sure there’s still turkey on the table without an excess of leftovers (or an excess of work).
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The challenge, however, is that white meat turkey can be bland and is easily overcooked. Roasting a turkey breast in a moderate oven is the best way to ensure that it doesn’t dry out for two reasons. First, the window of time when the turkey is at the correct internal temperature of 160 degrees is greater when the oven is set to 325 degrees versus 425 degrees. Second, the meat just under the skin is less likely to overcook in a moderate oven. In a hot oven, the meat just under the skin overcooks by the time the center of the breast comes up to temperature. In a cooler oven, this effect is lessened.
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Of course, roasting a turkey in a 325-degree oven leaves the skin soft and pale. Our solution is simple: Start the turkey in 425-degree oven to render fat in the skin and accelerate the crisping and browning process, then reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees after just 30 minutes. The turkey can then spend another hour in the oven, slowly reaching the desired internal temperature of 160 degrees.
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We employ a few more tricks in this recipe. Rubbing butter under the skin and directly into the meat adds flavor and fat – both of which are lacking in white meat turkey. We found it easy to flavor the butter with herbs, garlic, shallots, citrus zest, chiles or spices. The process of lifting up the skin to work the butter into the meat has an added benefit. Loosening the skin helps separate it from the meat, thus promoting better browning once the turkey goes into the oven.
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Once you master the recipe, you can vary it by trying other flavored butters.
• 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
• 3 garlic cloves
• 2 Tablespoons minced fresh thyme leaves
• 1 lemon
• ¾ Teaspoon table salt
• ¼ Teaspoon ground black pepper
• 1 whole bone-in, skin-on turkey breast (6 to 7 pounds) *
• Vegetable cooking spray
This recipe works equally well with any type of turkey breast. We recommend brining if using a natural turkey breast (no salt added). To brine a natural turkey breast: Dissolve ½ cup table salt in 4 quarts cold water in large container, submerge turkey in brine, and refrigerate container for 3 to 6 hours. Using a kosher turkey breast (soaked in salt water during processing) or self-basting turkey breast (injected with salt and water) eliminates the need for brining. The ingredient list on the turkey breast’s package will say whether it’s been treated with salt. If brining the turkey, omit the salt from the recipe. If the breast has a pop-up timer, do not remove it. Just ignore it (they pop too late) and follow the times and temperatures in the recipe.
Prepare Compound Butter
• Remove 4 tablespoons butter from refrigerator and let soften on counter.
• Peel and mince 3 garlic cloves. You should have about 1 tablespoon.
• Mince thyme to yield 2 tablespoons.
• Grate zest from 1 lemon to yield 1 teaspoon.
• Mix butter, garlic, thyme, lemon zest, ¾ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper in medium bowl with rubber spatula or fork until thoroughly combined.
• Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees.
• Trim excess fat from turkey breast and pat dry with paper towels.
• Using hands, separate skin from meat, taking care not to tear membrane around perimeter of breast; release skin on either side of breastbone.
• Using spoon, work half of butter mixture under skin on one side of breast. Repeat with remaining butter mixture on other side of breast.
• Using hands, gently rub turkey skin to evenly distribute butter mixture over entire breast.
• Set V-rack inside large roasting pan and spray with vegetable oil.
• Place turkey in rack with skin side facing up.
• Pour 1 cup water into roasting pan.
• Roast turkey for 30 minutes.
• Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.
• Continue to roast turkey until thickest part of breast registers 160 degrees on instant-read thermometer, about 1 hour longer.
• Transfer turkey to carving board and let rest for 20 minutes.
• Run chef’s or slicing knife along one side of breastbone.
• Use other hand (with towel to protect it from heat) to pry entire breast half from bone while cutting, being mindful to keep skin intact.
• Slice meat on bias. Repeat process with meat on other side of breastbone and serve.