This juicy, flavorful Roasted Turkey breast with garlic-herb compound butter makes a beautiful centerpiece for any holiday dinner table.
When I’m hosting a small holiday dinner, having a whole turkey on the table can be overkill. A roasted turkey breast is a great option for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any dinner where you want to make an impression, but don’t need the big bird on the menu.
It’s also a great option if you’re having a very large crowd and need extra white meat to supplement. (Or, if you want to ensure that you have leftovers for sandwiches!)
This juicy and flavorful Herb-Roasted Turkey Breast is one of my family’s favorite recipes. Here’s a complete tutorial of how I make it, from market to table.
Buying a Turkey Breast: What to Look for at the Market
For roasting, I like to buy a whole, bone-in, skin-on turkey breast between 5 and 7 pounds. As a rule of thumb, plan on 1 pound per person, increasing to 1-1/2 pounds if you want leftovers.
Since we always want leftovers, this makes a roasted turkey breast a good option for up to 4 to 5 guests in my house.
Turkey breast can be prone to drying out, so buying the breast on the bone with skin is key to ensuring a juicy roast. You’ll find turkey breasts sold as either the whole breast, or larger half breasts. As long as they’re bone-in, skin-on, you can use them for this recipe.
Shopping Tip: Most grocery stores will stock whole turkey breasts around Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. If you don’t see them, talk to the butcher. Some will be willing to special order one or break down a whole turkey for you. You can then use the legs, wings, and giblets to make your own turkey stock.
Pay close attention to the labeling on your turkey breast. If it’s labeled “kosher,” “self-basting,” or “brine injected,” watch the amount of salt you’re adding to the recipe. Natural turkeys will not have been pre-salted or injected.
If you’re using a natural turkey breast, you might want to consider brining it for extra juiciness and flavor. Again, brining will add salt to the meat. If going that route, be judicious with the amount of salt you sprinkle onto the breast before roasting.
Read more about the types of turkeys you’ll find at the market and the differences between them in, “Turkey Talk: Natural, Kosher, or Injected?” from Serious Eats.
Making Herb-Roasted Turkey Breast
As with my favorite Roasted Chicken method, I like to let the turkey breast sit out at room temperature for about an hour before roasting. This will help it to cook more evenly.
I roast my turkey breast in a roasting pan, sitting on a rack. A touch of liquid in the bottom of the pan (a mixture of dry white wine and water) helps to keep the meat juicy. It also cuts down on smoking as the drippings collect.
Using Compound Butter for Juicy and Flavorful Meat
Compound butter is my favorite way to infuse meats that can be on the drier and blander side, like chicken or turkey breast, with flavor. For this recipe, I use a classic combination of herbs that embody the aromas of Thanksgiving: fresh sage, rosemary, thyme and parsley. To finish, I like to add a little with minced garlic and lemon zest to the butter for a little punch.
How to Get the Butter Under the Turkey Skin
With the top of the turkey breast facing you, gently slide your fingers between the skin and the meat, loosening the skin and creating a pocket.
It’s important not to tear the skin, or the butter will immediately melt out into the pan. You also want to try to leave the skin attached on the sides and bottom of the breast to keep the butter contained.
Use a spoon to place half of the butter into each pocket. Then, use your hands to rub the outside of the skin to distribute the butter evenly across the breast meat.
Seasoning and Roasting
Instead of using the compound butter on top of the skin , I prefer to brush it with melted butter. (The herbs and garlic can burn on the outside of the breast.) Before roasting, I season the skin with salt and pepper.
I start the roasting process with a 30-minute blast in a 425 degree F oven. This will help to develop a beautiful golden color on the skin.
After 30 minutes, I lower the heat to 325 degrees F and pour a little white wine directly over the turkey breast. The meat will only need to be basted two or three times as it roasts to juicy perfection.
How to Know When Your Turkey Breast is Cooked
The million dollar question! When I talk to friends and readers, the biggest concern I hear about Thanksgiving dinner is an under- or overcooked turkey.
I get it. Even with all of the turkeys I’ve made over the years, a part of me remains on tenterhooks when I’m cooking for a tableful of guests. The last thing you want to serve is dry turkey that your guests have to drown with gravy to be palatable. At the same time, you also don’t want to cut into the bird and find rare meat.
My biggest piece of advice, and the thing that has made me a much more confident cook over the years, is to invest in a good instant-read thermometer.
I like the Thermapen MK4 from ThermoWorks. Yes, it’s more expensive than many thermometers out there, but it’s incredibly accurate and reliable. I like it even more than the built-in probe on my oven.
To take your turkey breast’s temperature, insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, making sure that you aren’t close to or hitting the bone. When ready to leave the oven, it should read 160 degrees F. (I like to probe it in a couple of places to be sure.)
As the turkey breast rests on a carving board for about 15 minutes, it will rise to 165 degrees F, which is the FDA’s recommended safe internal temperature for poultry.
Dinner is Served! Plating and Sides
To carve the turkey, use a sharp carving knife to detach each breast half from the breastbone and the ribcage. Once you’ve removed the breast meat, slice it against the grain into thin slices.
I like to arrange each fanned, sliced breast half onto my serving platter and garnish with fresh herbs.
If you haven’t brined the turkey breast, you can use the pan drippings to make gravy. You can also deglaze the pan with an additional 1/2 cup of white wine and drizzle the pan juices over the turkey breast slices.
Holiday Side Dish Ideas
This herb-roasted turkey breast is delicious served with a number of sides. Some of our favorites for the holidays are:
- Haricots Verts with Lemon-Herb Brown Butter Sauce
- Cranberry Pecan Stuffing
- Brown Butter Whipped Sweet Potatoes
- Cream Cheese Mashed Potatoes
- Brandied Cherry Cranberry Sauce
- Parmesan Duchess Potatoes
Herb Roasted Turkey Breast
- 5 to 7 pound whole, bone-in turkey breast (defrosted)
- 5 tablespoon unsalted butter , divided
- 2 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
- 2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 teaspoon finely-grated lemon zest
- 2 garlic cloves , minced
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 cup dry white wine , divided
- kosher salt and black pepper
- Let turkey breast sit at room temperature for an hour before roasting. Pat the skin dry with paper towels. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Place a flat or V-rack in a large roasting pan.
- Soften 4 tablespoons of butter and stir in herbs, lemon zest, minced garlic, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper until combined.
- Use your fingers to gently loosen the area between the turkey meat and skin. Be careful not to tear the skin. Place 2 tablespoons of the herb butter under the skin for each half and press on the outside of the skin to distribute it evenly across the breast.
- Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter and brush it onto the top and sides of the turkey breast. Season with salt and pepper.
- Place the turkey on the rack and pour 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup white wine into the bottom of the roasting pan.
- Roast for 30 minutes. Pour remaining 1/2 cup wine over the top of the turkey breast. Reduce oven to 325 degrees F and continue roasting until the temperature in the thickest part of the meat, away from the bone, registers 160 degrees F (60-120 minutes, depending on the size of the turkey breast). Baste the turkey every 30 minutes and keep and eye on the color – if it’s getting too golden, loosely cover it with foil.
- Remove the turkey from the oven, tent with foil, and let it rest for 15-20 minutes (temperature will rise to 165 degrees F). Carve and serve.