A whole roasted turkey is the pièce de résistance of the Thanksgiving table, but after years of disappointing dry slices, I'm taking a different approach and breaking out the slow cooker. Slow-cooking turkey breast gives the perennially dry white meat time to soak up a rich herb butter, making for a juicy, tender slice. Thanks to a quick sizzle under the broiler, there's no missing out on crisp, golden skin. Whether you're making turkey breast to supplement the big bird, to serve at a small gathering, or just to get ahead on your weekly meal prep, this hands-off approach to turkey is the way to go.
Why the Slow Cooker Is the Right Tool for Turkey Breast
The unfortunate side effect of roasting a large, whole bird means that in order to fully cook the dark meat, or to ensure the stuffing tucked within the bird reaches a safe temperature, the breast meat overcooks.
To combat this, forgo the oven for the bulk of the cooking time and only open its door at the very end to broil the skin until golden and crisp. Rather than subjecting the tender meat to the blaring heat of the oven, the warm, moist heat of the slow cooker ensures that the meat stays juicy.
A Probe Thermometer Is a Thanksgiving Day Secret Weapon
In a well-stocked kitchen you are bound to find several thermometers: an instant-read thermometer for taking the temperature of meats and casseroles, a fry or candy thermometer for special treats, and still more for the fridge, freezer, and oven. But the one thermometer I always reach for when cooking whole birds or large roasts is the probe thermometer.
A probe is connected via a slim wire to a digital display that sits on the counter, allowing you to continuously monitor the temperature of the meat. This handy tool is ideal for slow cooker use where it is vital to keep the lid in place, trapping the heat. It eliminates the guesswork of knowing when the meat is done — especially when following a recipe with a range of cook times, which is often the case with slow cooker recipes.
For Your Information
- This recipe calls for a 5- to 7-pound thawed bone-in, skin-on turkey breast. The freezer section of your grocer's meat department is where you'll find a bone-in breast, except during winter holidays when fresh ones are available.
- Rub the herb butter — made with garlic, lemon zest, rosemary, thyme, sage, paprika, salt, and pepper — under and over the turkey skin. It seasons and bastes the meat while encouraging browning in the final broil.
- Slow cook the turkey until it reaches 165°F in the thickest part of the breast, 4 to 5 hours on low or 3 to 4 hours on high.
Step-by-Step Guide to Slow Cooker Turkey Breast
- Make the herb butter. Bring the butter to room temperature before mixing with the herbs, spices, and lemon zest. A fork can help you mash the butter quickly if you find your butter is too stiff.
- Dry the turkey breast and rub with the herb butter. Use several paper towels to thoroughly dry the skin to keep the butter from slipping. Use your fingers to separate the skin from the breast meat. Spread the herb butter all over, making sure to reach to the back of the breast.
- Add the broth and aromatics, then slow cook on low for 4 to 5 hours or high for 3 to 4 hours. Hunks of onion, a halved head of garlic, lemon quarters, whole peppercorns, and a few sprigs of herbs flavor a splash of broth that mingle with the melted herb butter and turkey drippings for an intensely flavored base for a traditional turkey gravy.
- Broil the turkey breast until skin is golden and crisp. Skip this step if you plan to serve your turkey slices sans skin, but the contrast of crisp golden skin and tender juicy meat is what we classically expect on our holiday plate. A quick sizzle under the broiler crisps the butter-bathed skin.
- Rest and carve the turkey. Rest the turkey breast for 15 to 20 minutes. This is a step not to be skipped so that the juices stay in the meat instead of all over the cutting board. Slice the two lobes of breast meat off of the bone before cutting crosswise into generous slices.
- Make gravy with the drippings, if desired. Don't let the flavorful cooking liquid and turkey drippings go to waste. Whisk in flour and broth (remember to have some on hand) to make silky gravy to drizzle over top.
How to Serve Slow Cooker Roast Turkey
The slow cooker does most of the heavy lifting in this recipe, but I'm not willing to forgo the crisp, golden skin despite its ease. Transfer to a baking sheet and slide under the broiler and in minutes the butter-soaked skin will sizzle and brown. A quick rest on the cutting board allows the juices to redistribute before cutting into thick slices.
A slow cooker is the solution for always juicy, never dry slices of turkey with minimal hands-on effort, ideal for those times when the oven is occupied with pies, sides, or even a whole bird. This simple approach means you no longer need to be intimidated by turkey, and you can enjoy slices of turkey wrapped in crisp skin without waiting for a special Thursday in November.
How To Make Turkey Breast in the Slow Cooker
Serves 6 to 8
What You Need
- For the herb butter:
(1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
cloves garlic, minced
Finely grated zest of 1 medium lemon
coarsely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
coarsely chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons
coarsely chopped fresh sage leaves
freshly ground black pepper
- For the turkey:
(5- to 7-pound) bone-in, skin-on turkey breast, thawed if frozen
low-sodium chicken broth
medium yellow onion, quartered
medium lemon, quartered (use the zested one from the butter)
head garlic, halved crosswise
fresh thyme sprigs
whole black peppercorns
Measuring cups and spoons
Knife and cutting board
Small mixing bowl
6-quart slow cooker
Probe or instant-read thermometer
Rimmed baking sheet
Make the herb butter. Place all the ingredients in a small bowl and smash with the back of a fork to combine.
Dry the turkey breast and rub with the herb butter. Trim off any excess skin and fat, but leave the skin covering the turkey breast. Pat very dry with paper towels. Use your fingers to separate the skin from the meat but not remove it completely, then rub half of the herb butter onto the meat under the skin, making sure to reach all the way back to season every bit of the meat. Spread the remaining half of the compound butter over the outside of the turkey breast.
Add broth and aromatics to the slow cooker. Pour the broth into a 6-quart slow cooker. Add the bay leaves, onion, halved head of garlic, peppercorns, zested lemon quarters, and thyme.
Slow cook the turkey breast until 165°F. Place the turkey breast on top of the aromatics. Cover and cook until the thickest part of the turkey breast reaches 165°F on a probe or instant-read thermometer, 4 to 5 hours on the LOW setting, or 3 to 4 hours on the HIGH setting.
Prepare the broiler. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the broiler to HIGH.
Broil turkey until skin is golden and crisp. Transfer the turkey breast to a rimmed baking sheet. Broil until the skin is golden and crisp, 7 to 9 minutes.
Rest the turkey on a cutting board. Transfer the turkey breast to a cutting board. Let the turkey rest in a warm place so that the juices can redistribute in the meat, 15 to 20 minutes. Meanwhile, make gravy with the drippings if desired with this method.
Carve the turkey. Carve the turkey by slicing down the each side of the breastbone and along the curve of the wishbone. Then work your knife between the meat and the ribs, keeping the knife as close to the bone as possible, to remove the breast meat. After the meat is removed from the bone, cut crosswise into slices.
Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
Make ahead: The herb butter can be made up to 3 months in advance and frozen. Bring to room temperature before using. You can rub the turkey with the herb butter 1 day in advance of cooking.