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Oven Roasted Turkey Breast with Salt Brine and Sage

Making your own juicy, oven roasted turkey breast that doesn’t make you choke or look for the gravy to hide the dryness–is it possible? It is. Discover how a simple dry salt brine, some herbs and a few minutes in the oven transform one of the most notoriously powdery meats in to something better. 

a whole roasted turkey breast on a platter with greens

My husband’s 90 year old grandmother always made a National Lampoon’s turkey. A simple turkey breast spent 4, maybe 5 hours in the oven and emerged with white, flabby skin after being covered in aluminum foil (a sad attempt to keep the juices in).

She was a great cook in so many ways but oh–that turkey.

What’s your turkey horror story? I know you have one–and for good reason.

Oven roasted turkey breasts can be a tad temperamental.

How to brine an oven roasted turkey breast so it stays juicy (it’s the secret!)

You’ll want to start by brining your turkey breast. You can do that with a dry brine or a wet one. I’ve done both and probably prefer a wet one, but it takes up a lot of space and time (up to 18 hours!) in your fridge to do it and if you’re already crammed with holiday side dishes in there, a dry brine will be just fine.

If you’d like to check out how to wet brine, you can do that here.

To dry brine, you simply need to salt your turkey well on the skin and against the meat so that the salt can penetrate inside then leave it uncovered in your fridge so the skin can dry out.

You may not want all the details on why it works, but just know that salt not only flavors the meat more deeply, it also helps it retain moisture as it cooks. Giving you a little insurance if you over cook it.

I dry brined my turkey with a mixture of kosher salt and dry sage.

  • Make sure to mix your salt and spices in a bowl and work only out of that before you touch your raw turkey so you con’t contaminate your salt container.
  • Lift the skin of the turkey with your hands and then sprinkle half the salt underneath against the meat spreading it out as much as you can.
  • Rub 1/2 of the remaining salt on the skin and then turn your turkey over and put the rest inside the cavity.
  • Make 4 or 5 balls of aluminum foil to keep your turkey up off the bottom of the pan and to promote air circulation. A roasting rack works too if you have one.
  • Place your turkey uncovered in your fridge for 8-12 hours if you have it or up to 24 hours before baking. (A raw, uncovered turkey in your fridge will be just fine. Try not to panic.)

sprinkle salt and sage on the skin and under the skin of the roasted turkey breast. Place it on foil balls or a baking rack and then into the fridge uncovered for up to 24 hours before baking. Allow to rest on the counter for 15 minutes, covered with foil before slicing.

How long to cook an oven roasted turkey breast

I’ve tested this and feel like you’re really aiming for about 15-20 minutes per pound, assuming that your turkey is totally thawed. (Don’t cook a turkey breast from frozen–always thaw it in the fridge first.)

For a 5 to 6 pound turkey you’re looking at about 1 1/2 hours or until a meat thermometer reaches 165 degrees. You can take it out at 160 if you want to–it’s going to continue to cook while it rests on the counter and will get to 165 without any problem.

Remember: a turkey breast and a turkey breast roast are not the same thing.

A turkey breast is a bone-in, skin on section of the turkey without the legs, wings or thighs. A turkey breast roast is sort of a mishmash of dark and white meat that’s been “covered with skin” which sort of creeps me out.

They are also significantly smaller than a regular turkey breast. If you find what you think is a breast and say “Oh this little turkey is little and just right,” you’ve got the wrong thing.

The one time I goofed and bought a turkey breast roast, it comes in a mesh covering to hold it together while it cooks and then when you slice it, it’s part dark meat and part white. If you want the classic white meat, you’ll need to make sure you get just a turkey breast.

Can you make a roasted turkey breast upside down?

You rebel. Yes you can. You’ll want to cook it half the time breast side down (cavity up) and then flip it over for the last half if you care at all about having any color on the skin. If you don’t, you can cook it upside down the entire time.

Does a roasted turkey need to be covered in the oven?

Not in this case. Because we’ve brined it and because we want that golden skin, we will bake it at a relatively high temperature to start the skin crisping, and then turn it down to finish cooking. If for some reason your skin gets too dark you can lightly cover it with foil.

Oven roasted turkey breast

Make a juicy oven roasted turkey breast that doesn't need gravy to cover anything up and is full of flavor. 
5 from 2 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Resting: 8 hours
Total Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Servings: 6 people
Calories: 14kcal
Author: Rachel Ballard

Ingredients

  • 4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons rubbed sage
  • 1 5-6 pound turkey breast bone in, skin on, thawed
  • 1 carrot broken in half
  • 1 celery stalk broken in half
  • 1/2 onion
  • 1 lemon sliced in half

Instructions

  • Mix the salt, pepper and sage in a bowl and set aside. 
  • Unwrap the turkey, pat dry with paper towels and place on a cutting board. Loosen the skin with your hands. 
  • Place 1/4 of the salt and sage mixture evenly under each breast, spreading it out as far as you can. Sprinkle half of the remaining salt on the skin and rub in.
  • Turn the turkey over and sprinkle in the remaining salt. 
  • Ball up four or five pieces of foil in a roasting pan. Place the turkey on top, breast side up (you can roast it upside down if you want to) and place uncovered in the fridge for 8 hours or up to 24 hours if you have that much time. 
  • When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 450.  Stuff the cavity of your turkey with the carrot, celery, onion, and lemon. No need to peel them. 
  • Place the turkey back on the foil balls and roast uncovered one hour.  Turn the oven down to 350 and roast 30 minutes, then check the temperature of your turkey making sure not to touch the bone. Roast until the turkey reaches 160. 
  • Remove from the oven, cover with foil and allow to rest on the counter for 15 to 20 minutes before slicing (temperature of the turkey will rise while it rests). 
  • You can throw away the vegetables in the cavity if you choose, then slice your turkey and serve warm. 

Nutrition

Calories: 14kcal | Carbohydrates: 4g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 1g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 1mg | Sodium: 1559mg | Potassium: 71mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 1698IU | Vitamin C: 11mg | Calcium: 10mg | Iron: 1mg

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Recipe Rating




Laura

Monday 31st of December 2018

I made this today, well I started it yesterday, it turned out amazing! I have never used a dry brine an was a wee bit nervous but tried it anyway, my husband will pretty much eat anything I make, except when I experiment with polenta and that’s another story... I will always make my turkeys this way from now on! Thank you!!

Rachel Ballard

Tuesday 1st of January 2019

So glad you liked it Laura! Salt really helps keep things moist. You're welcome! --Rachel

Karen

Thursday 20th of December 2018

Did you really cook the turkey breast for 1 hour at 450? That seems like a long time at that high of a temperature. Isn't usually 15 minutes or so at 450 before turning the oven down?

Terry

Thursday 26th of November 2020

@Rachel Ballard, in your reply to the question about one hour at 450, you say the next step is 350. As I read your recipe, which looks wonderful, it says one hour at 450 and 30 minutes with temp check at 350? Right?

Rachel Ballard

Thursday 20th of December 2018

That next step says to turn the oven down to 350 Karen. :)

Pam Iaquinta

Monday 24th of September 2018

DO you rinse the turkey/breast before roasting? Isn’t that a lot of salt?

Rachel Ballard

Tuesday 25th of September 2018

Hi Pam, no it's not a lot of salt. In fact, I'd even argue that it's still not enough believe it or not! Because we are talking about a 4 pound turkey being seasoned inside the cavity and outside, it's just fine. --Rachel