Recipe: Slow Cooker Smoky BBQ Turkey

Recipe: Slow Cooker Smoky BBQ Turkey

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Kelli Foster
Nov 16, 2017
(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

If your goal this Thanksgiving is to step away from the traditional turkey and sides for a simple meal with a bold, flavor-packed twist, you're going to want to pull out your slow cooker and your favorite BBQ sauce. Inspired by classic BBQ chicken, lean turkey breast is infused with deep, smoky flavors, slow-cooked until it's super juicy, and finished with a sticky, tangy sauce. It's cooked on top of sweet potato wedges, which also pick up a subtle smoky fragrance.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Dry Rub + BBQ Sauce for Maximum Flavor

On its own lean turkey breast doesn't bring a whole lot of flavor, which makes it the perfect canvas to show off a favorite rub or sauce like we do here. This recipe relies on both a dry rub and a generous slick of BBQ sauce to bring a big punch of bold flavors to your holiday meal.

Unlike traditional dry rubs, this one is mashed into softened butter, then generously rubbed all over the outside of the turkey breast and under the skin. The butter helps to keep the meat moist, while the smoky, spiced flavors of the dry rub are infused into both the turkey and the bed of sweet potatoes underneath.

While the slow cooker certainly makes Thanksgiving dinner easier, it doesn't leave turkey breast with the irresistibly crispy skin we all crave. That's why we add one more quick step to the process. By brushing the turkey with your favorite homemade or store-bought BBQ sauce, then finishing it off under the broiler, it picks up a light char and crackling crust.

Slow Cooker Smoky BBQ Turkey

Serves 4 to 6

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
2 teaspoons packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (3- to 4-pound) bone-in, skin-on turkey breast
2 1/2 pounds medium sweet potatoes, quartered
1/2 cup low-sodium turkey or chicken broth
1 1/2 cups barbecue sauce

Mash the butter, sweet paprika, cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, sugar, salt, smoked paprika, and pepper together in a small bowl; set aside.

Trim any excess skin and fat, but leave the skin covering the turkey breast. Pat dry with paper towels. Use your fingers to separate the skin from the meat without removing it completely, then rub 1/2 of the spiced 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 butter over the outside of the turkey breast.

Place the potatoes in a 6-quart or larger slow cooker, and pour in the broth. Place the turkey breast skin-side up on top of the potatoes. Cover and cook until the thickest part of the turkey breast reaches 165°F on an instant-read thermometer, 3 to 4 hours on the LOW setting, or 2 1/2 to 3 hours on the HIGH setting.

Arrange an oven rack about 6 inches below the broiler and heat the oven to broil.

Transfer the turkey breast to a rimmed baking sheet. Cover the slow cooker and continue to cook the potatoes. Generously brush the turkey breast all over with barbecue sauce. Broil until the sauce is bubbly and lightly charred, 7 to 9 minutes.

Transfer the turkey breast to a clean cutting board. Let the turkey rest for 15 to 20 minutes so that the juices can redistribute in the meat. Slice the turkey. Remove the sweet potatoes from the slow cooker to a serving dish, discard the cooking liquid, and serve.

Recipe Notes

  • Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
  • Make ahead: The spiced butter can be made up to 3 months in advance and frozen. Let come to room temperature before using. You can also rub the turkey with the spiced butter and refrigerate 1 day in advance of cooking.
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