I can’t imagine cooking anything other than a roasted spatchcocked turkey for Thanksgiving. It is hands-down my favorite way to prepare a whole bird (technically it is not whole because the backbone is removed, but you get the gist.) BUT, if I need to supplement with something smaller than an entire bird or I need to cook extra turkey in something other than my occupied oven, I am doing a slow cooker bone-in turkey breast.
This is so easy and pretty foolproof unless your slow cooker doesn’t cook properly. I follow the method I use for my slow cooker whole chicken and the result is a tasty, moist turkey breast perfect for Thanksgiving or anytime (weekday sandwiches, anyone?)
I have provided instructions on creating an herb rub to use under the turkey skin and a separate rub to use on top of the turkey skin. The fresh herbs flavor the meat and the dried spice rub gives color to the skin and flavor to the pan drippings. But if you have your own preferred flavorings you want to use, go for it. You like butter over olive oil – you do you. I do recommend using (sweet) paprika on the skin which will help make the skin a more appealing color since the slow cooker does nothing to help brown the skin.
What’s also nice about a slow cooker turkey breast is that once the meat comes up to temp (I cooked it a little too long in this photo), you can leave it in the slow cooker on the warm setting for up to 2 hours with no adverse effects.
This turkey breast was really small so I should have checked it a lot earlier. You are looking for 160-165 degrees F. But it was still moist even at 171 degrees. The size of the turkey breast matters. The smaller the turkey, the less time it needs to cook, even in a slow cooker. I do like to stick the breast under the broiler for a few minutes to brown the skin a bit more, just for aesthetics. You would do this after the turkey comes out of the slow cooker and before it rests.
You can also make a proper gravy from slow cooker drippings. It won’t have quite the depth of flavor that a whole oven roasted turkey has, but it is still legit and delicious! Don’t forget to have some turkey or chicken stock ready to go on Thanksgiving. I use stock for gravy and stuffing. It can also come in handy if you have overdone turkey. Just bring your stock up to a boil and drizzle a few tablespoons of piping hot stock over the turkey meat and voila! Moist turkey!
Carving a breast is easy. Just cut the meat off the bone on either side of the breast bone. Slice crosswise into slices. Try to have extra fresh herbs on hand to decorate your platter. It’s a nice touch and not difficult to do. Add some seasonal fruit like a split open pomegranate, dried orange slices, grapes, figs or baby apples.
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- For the dry brine: (do not brine a kosher turkey)
- 1½ - 2 Tablespoons kosher salt (depending on size of turkey breast)
- For the slow cooker:
- 2 medium yellow onions, sliced thickly, rings separated
- 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and left whole
- ½ bunch fresh thyme, about 5 sprigs
- For the turkey:
- 1 whole bone-in, skin-on turkey breast, 4 – 6½ pounds, (I doubt a 7-pound bone-in turkey breast would fit in a 6.5 qt slow cooker)
- 1 Tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- 1 Tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
- 1 Tablespoon fresh sage leaves, chopped
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2½ Tablespoons unrefined olive oil, divided
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon paprika (regular paprika, not hot or smoked)
- For the gravy
- 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour or your favorite GF flour blend
- 1-2 cups chicken stock or turkey stock
- ¼ cup dry white wine (optional but I think it adds good flavor)
- Pat turkey dry with paper towels. Salt the turkey all over with kosher salt. Rewrap in the store packaging or put in a dish and cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 1-2 days.
- When ready to cook the turkey, remove it from the refrigerator (it doesn’t have to come to room temp). In a small bowl, combine the herbs, freshly ground black pepper to taste, and 1 1⁄2 Tablespoons of olive oil. Carefully separate the skin from the meat. I usually do this at the top/neck or at the bottom. You kind of have to carefully tear the membrane to allow you to separate the skin from the meat. With your fingertips, rub the herb mixture onto the meat, under the skin.
- In the same bowl, combine the spices and 1 Tablespoon olive oil. Rub this all over the outside of the turkey.
- Place the onion rings, garlic and thyme on the bottom of the slow cooker insert. You are doing this to keep the turkey off the bottom of the slow cooker and to flavor the juices. Place the turkey breast (skin-side up) over the onions and cover with the lid.
- Cook on LOW for 4-6 hours or until the internal temperature reads 160-165 F when a thermometer is inserted in the thickest part of the breast. Check the temperature early at the 4 hour mark (or earlier if you have a 4 pound turkey breast.) The smaller the turkey breast, the quicker it cooks. I have had many turkey breasts be done at the 4 hour mark. If the turkey is done, but you are not 30 minutes from wanting to serve it, turn the slow cooker off and press WARM. You can leave the turkey on the warm setting for up to 2 hours.
- The turkey needs to rest for 20 minutes before you carve it. Remove it from the slow cooker and if you want to crisp up the skin, transfer it to a baking dish or sheet pan and put it under the broiler for a couple of minutes. It should be about 5-6 inches from the heat source, which means the rack should be about 11-12 inches from the broiler. Do not walk away. Stay there to monitor the situation so it doesn’t burn! Remove from oven. Cover the turkey with aluminum foil while it rests.
- Make the gravy while the turkey rests. Remove the onions, garlic and thyme from the slow cooker with tongs. You can serve the onions if you like. Strain the juices into a fat separator or large measuring cup.
- Warm a medium saucepan over medium heat. Carefully spoon out whatever fat has risen to the top of the juices and add to a saucepan. Add enough olive oil to the saucepan so the fat in the saucepan equals about 2 Tablespoons. Just eyeball it. Whisk in the flour and cook for about 2-3 minutes. Pour in the reserved juices and wine and bring to a simmer. Whisk in stock to achieve the consistency you desire. Taste for seasoning.
- Carve turkey and serve with gravy, if desired. You can also skip making gravy and serve "au jus" with the natural juices from the bottom of the slow cooker.
1. Salt the turkey breast the same way. About an hour before cooking, remove the turkey from the refrigerator and allow it to sit at room temperature.
2. Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position and heat the oven to 250 degrees.
3. In a small bowl, combine the herbs, freshly ground black pepper to taste, and 1 1⁄2 Tablespoons of
olive oil. Carefully separate the skin from the meat. I usually do this at the top/neck or at the
bottom. With your fingertips, rub the herb mixture onto the meat, under the skin.
4. In the same bowl, combine the spices and 1 Tablespoon olive oil. Rub this all over the outside of
5. Heat 2 Tablespoons of olive oil or avocado oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until
warmed through, but not smoking. Add the turkey, breast-side down and place the onions around the turkey. Cook, turning the breast on its sides and stirring the onions as needed until the turkey and onions are golden brown, 12 - 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Add garlic and thyme. Position turkey breast-side up over the bed of onions.
6. Place a large sheet of foil over the pot and seal tightly. Cover the pot with the lid. Transfer the pot to the oven and cook until the thickest part of the breast reads 160 - 165 degrees when tested with a thermometer, about 1 hour 30 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes. Check the temperature at the 1 hour mark for smaller birds.
7. Remove the pot from the oven. Transfer the turkey breast to a cutting board and cover with foil. Allow the turkey to rest for at least 20 minutes before carving.
8. Make the gravy while the turkey rests. Remove the onions, garlic and thyme from the pot with tongs. You can serve the onions if you like. Strain the juices into a fat separator or large measuring cup.
9. Warm a medium saucepan over medium heat. Carefully spoon whatever fat has risen to the top of the juices. Add enough olive oil to the saucepan so the fat in the saucepan equals about 2 Tablespoons. Just eyeball it. Whisk in the flour and cook for about 2-3 minutes. Pour in the reserved juices and bring to a simmer. Add stock to achieve the consistency you desire. Taste for seasoning.
10. Carve turkey and serve with gravy, if desired.