Slow cooker turkey breast is juicy, tender, well-seasoned and cooks perfectly every time! This foolproof method for making turkey takes just 10 minutes to prep and means a stress-free cooking experience.
Have you ever had a Thanksgiving turkey fail? I’ve had my fair share over the years.
You know, you’ve planned the entire meal, timed all of the side dishes so the ones that need to be hot will be just finishing up, and called everyone to the table.
Then you start to cave that turkey and you get to a spot where you see it’s not cooked through. And your heart sinks.
There are a number of challenges that can lead to this issue.
Part of the problem is the exact size turkey you get and how you adjust your recipe and cooking time to try to match. Guesswork is no fun for the main dish on a major holiday.
Part of the problem for us is the oven we use at the beach condo where we celebrate Thanksgiving with my parents. It does not keep its set temperature. And even once we figured this out and kept resetting it throughout the cooking process, it just wasn’t reliable.
A related issue is opening the oven door repeatedly (such as to get casseroles and other side dishes in and out). It messes up the oven temperature and can affect your turkey cooking properly.
Part of the problem, too, is making sure you measure the internal temperature of the turkey at all the exact right places. (I know how to do this now but there was one year early on where I measured it in 3 spots, declared it completely cooked and then we found a semi-raw spot.)
And I don’t know, part of the problem is the number of fairies floating around and changing variables on the big day.
Not really, of course, but it seems sometimes like you might do everything right and still get to a point in carving the turkey where you realize it hasn’t fully cooked in one area. Or maybe that it has dried out.
Cue the tears. 😭
I’ve found two beautiful solutions to your Thanksgiving turkey cooking woes.
- Go out to eat for Thanksgiving dinner. Only kind-of kidding. We did this last year because my parents had just flown back from a trip to Egypt and we wouldn’t have had time to do all the cooking. It was glorious. And the turkey was perfectly cooked.
- Cook your turkey in the slow cooker.
Option number two is something I’ve perfected over the last couple of years.
I’ve long made slow cooker deli turkey for my family to use as deli meat for sandwiches. (It’s super easy and lots healthier than store-bought or packaged deli meat.)
I’ve got that down pat.
And after yet another turkey fail on Thanksgiving, I swore off that beach oven for good and decided to master the crock pot turkey.
Now I’m all about make a slow cooker turkey breast using a bone-in turkey breast for our big meal.
It’s incredibly tender, stays really juicy since it’s made in the crock pot, has the perfect flavorful meat and best of all, it’s 100% reliable and 100% fool-proof.
I can’t tell you the weight that’s been lifted knowing I can have a perfectly cooked turkey every single time. No guesswork needed. No disappointments or frustrations or tears.
Just perfectly cooked, delicious turkey for your holiday table.
And bonus: you’ve got the entire oven free all day long for whatever else you might need it for. All your sides can go in at once; no fighting for space.
(You also aren't tied to the house with an oven on. You can go out for a walk - or boat ride for us - midday and leave that turkey safely cooking in the slow cooker.)
So, let’s dive into the particulars because I want to share ALL the many tips and lessons and tricks I’ve learned with this crock pot turkey.
You can also see my Google web story for this slow cooker Thanksgiving turkey.
Don’t need any tips?
If you want to jump on down to the recipe, simply scroll right on through the rest of the text. The recipe card is near the bottom of the page, above the comments section.
Notes on making a bone-in slow cooker turkey breast:
- Turkey size: I’ve tested this with varying sizes of turkey. Of the times I wrote them down, one was 6.5 pounds, one was 8 pounds and the biggest was almost 9 pounds. That’s about as big as I can get to fit in my slow cooker (which is 6.5 quarts) and still be able to close the lid fully, so pay attention to size when you go to get yours.
- Thaw turkey: It’s fine to use a frozen turkey breast (I do), but it must be completely thawed before you start to cook it so that it will come out perfectly cooked for you. It can take 2-4 days to thaw a 6-9 pound turkey breast in the refrigerator. Please plan ahead.
- Liquids: No liquid is needed in the slow cooker and the turkey will give off plenty as it cooks for you to use for your gravy. (I love that about preparing it this way!)
- Prop up turkey: I use halved onions to rest my turkey breast on in the slow cooker so the heat circulates and the turkey isn’t sitting in all the liquid at the end. You can also use balls of aluminum foil in the bottom of the slow cooker if you don’t want to use the onions. (Though the onions also help flavor that liquid you’ll use for the gravy.)
OK, let’s tackle some of the most pressing questions and concerns.
How long do you cook a turkey breast in the slow cooker?
- You can cook a 6- to 8-pound bone-in turkey breast in the slow cooker on low for 6 hours. Or you can cook it on high for 3 hours.
- Use a digital thermometer to check the internal temperature. It should reach 165F.
Again, I’ve used anywhere from 6 pound to 9 pound turkeys and they were all done (and still tender and juicy) at exactly 6 hours.
Feel free to set your slow cooker for a little longer and just check it around the 6-hour mark if you think yours is on the slow side.
How many servings are in an 8-pound turkey?
- An 8-9 lb. bone-in turkey breast will serve 8-10 people.
- A 6-7 lb. bone-in turkey breast will serve 6-8 people.
Please keep this in mind and adjust for your size party.
Though, given that it’s 2020 and all the restrictions, I imagine many of us will have smaller gatherings this year. And turkey breasts are a great solution for smaller groups!
I also have friends who use this recipe to make a smaller turkey to have extra for leftovers. Or to send home with guests.
Or if you are going rogue and doing a pork roast or leg of lamb for Thanksgiving but still want to have a little turkey available, this is a great solution.
As someone who adores all the leftovers and wants to have extra turkey for days (getting creative with leftover turkey is my jam; maybe that’s weird, but I don’t care!), I will say this won’t leave you which much extra wiggle room.
We have 4 adults and 2 small-ish children at our Thanksgiving dinner and probably end up with just enough leftover turkey for a round of sandwiches for everyone the next day.
That makes me sad, so I've started to make TWO slow cooker turkey breasts. One for the main meal and one essentially just for the leftovers.
If you want tons of leftover turkey, I recommend you do the same. (You can do the extra turkey on the same day, the day before or the day after, whatever is easiest. I often cook the one for leftovers on Wednesday when I'm in the kitchen anyway getting other dishes prepped.)
Want that crispy, browned skin on your turkey?
Tips for getting a browned turkey breast:
- Let the turkey rest for 10-15 minutes after removing it from the slow cooker.
- Place the rested turkey on a foil-lined baking sheet. Check your oven height and try to adjust your oven rack so your turkey will be about 2-3 inches from the broiler.
- Broil your turkey breast on high for 3-5 minutes, keeping a close eye on it so it doesn’t brown too much or burn.
But, I will say, it’s not a guarantee yours will brown well and it’s not easy to achieve (no matter what others might promise you).
I’ve had varying degrees of success and the skin only slightly crisps up. This last time, I didn’t have a working oven so I just skipped that step altogether.
And when you slice your turkey and bring it to the table that way, no one will even know what it did or did not look like coming out of the oven. (Plus, I think it’s way easier and neater to serve that way than slicing and carving at the table.)
Just wanted to set those expectations realistically.
Speaking of slicing it up, here's a few tips on that part of the process if you're new to carving.
How to carve a turkey breast:
– The easiest way to carve a turkey breast is to cut the entire breasts off of the bone.
– Take a sharp knife and start on one side of the big center breast bone. Cut all the way along the bone and then cut down along the bone all the way to the bottom of the breast using continuous slicing motions. It should be pulled all the way away from the center breast bone now.
– Next come from the kind-of side bottom of the breast that is still attached and cut all the way across until you can lift the whole breast out. (Any parts you miss can just be pulled right off.)
– Repeat on the other side.
– Lay both turkey breasts, with the herby layer in and skin on, on your cutting board. Slice into thin or thick slices, depending on your preference, and fan out on your serving platter.
We love to decorate our turkey serving platter with extra fresh herbs, halved lemons or oranges and sometimes halved pomegranates to add some “pretty” to the presentation.
My final pro tip: Make a killer gravy.
I’ve included my easy, 3-ingredient amazing turkey gravy in the recipe card below. (It's also posted separately at that link with step-by-step instructions, photos, trouble-shooting and tips. But I included it here too so you’ll have both of these recipes in one place.)
This gravy is swoon-worthy. It’s savory with such rich, deep flavor.
And you’ll have all the glorious liquid you need from your slow cooker to make the gravy. (I don’t always have enough drippings for my gravy from an oven roasted turkey. Not a problem with this method.)
It’s quick and easy to make while your turkey is resting and it will take this centerpiece of a dish over the top. Not to mention, excellent gravy can cover for any dry spots in your turkey. Though again, I haven’t ever had a problem with that cooking the turkey in the crock pot.
Last thing, what to do with the leftovers.
How to store leftover turkey:
- Leftover cooked turkey, once cooled, can be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 4-5 days.
- You can also freeze leftover turkey. Let cool then place in a freezer-safe container or ziptop bag that's been labelled and dated. Freeze for up to 4-5 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator then it's ready to use.
My friends, I hope this has been helpful. I know it was a long post, but I really wanted to make it an exhaustive resource so you’ll have 100% success in your kitchen come Thanksgiving.
(Please, if you have questions I haven’t addressed, leave me a comment below. I’m happy to help!)
I wish you tons of beautifully cooked turkey, plenty of hot gravy and a whole lot less stress this Thanksgiving.
- 1 (6-9 lb.) bone-in turkey breast, thawed if frozen
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried parsley
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 lemon, zested then halved
- 1 small bunch fresh thyme leaves and stems
- 2 regular onions, halved evenly (see notes)
For the gravy:
- ⅓ cup unsalted butter
- ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups strained reserved turkey drippings
- Pat the (completely thawed) turkey breast all over with paper towels so it’s dry.
- In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, parsley, thyme and lemon zest. Stir well to form a paste.
- Rub the paste all over the turkey breast, being sure to rub some underneath the skin and directly onto the turkey meat (just wiggle your fingers to loosen the skin from the meat and create a little pocket).
- Place the lemon halves and fresh thyme in the cavity of the turkey breast.
- Put the cut onion halves in the bottom of the slow cooker. Place the turkey breast on top of the sliced onions in the slow cooker, with the breasts facing up.
- Cover and cook on low for 6 hours, or until the turkey is cooked through. (Reminder: It should reach an internal temperature of 165.)
- Remove the turkey breast to a cutting board and let rest for 10-15 minutes.
- To make the gravy: Measure out 2 cups of the liquid in the slow cooker and strain it using a fine mesh strainer to remove any solids. (I put a 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup underneath my mesh strainer in the sink and pour the liquid through that.)
- Let the liquid settle for a couple of minutes, then skim the fat off of the top of the strained liquid and discard.
- Heat the butter in a small sauce pan over medium low heat. Once melted, add the flour and whisk to incorporate it. Let the mixture cook over medium low for 1-2 minutes, whisking on occasion, to cook out the raw flour taste.
- Slowly pour the strained turkey drippings into the sauce pan, whisking well to incorporate and starting with 1 ½ cups. The gravy will seize up at first, which is normal. Keep adding the liquid slowly and stirring until you get a smooth, uniform gravy. Add additional turkey drippings, up to the full 2 cups, to get your desired consistency for the gravy. (If you run out, you can also use chicken broth or a bit of water.)
- Continue to cook the gravy for 2-3 minutes, until the gravy reaches your desired consistency and is nice and hot. (Keep in mind that the gravy will continue to thicken as it sits.) Season to taste with black pepper. (It should not need any salt.)
- If broiling your turkey, do this while the gravy is in its final stage and just keep the gravy warm on the stove. Place the rested turkey on a foil-lined baking sheet and adjust the oven rack so the top of the turkey is about 2-3 inches from the broiler. Broil on high for 3-5 minutes, watching closely, until browned.
- Carve and serve the turkey with hot gravy and enjoy!
Turkey breast: I’ve tested this with varying sizes of bone-in turkey breasts, ranging from 6.5 pounds to almost 9 pounds. That’s about as big as I can get to fit in my slow cooker and still be able to close the lid fully, so pay attention to size when you go to get yours.
Frozen turkey: It’s fine to use a frozen turkey breast (I do), but it must be completely thawed before you start to cook it so that it will come out perfectly cooked for you. It can take 2-4 days to thaw a 6-9 pound turkey breast in the refrigerator. Please plan ahead.
Liquids: No liquid is needed in the slow cooker and the turkey will give off plenty as it cooks for you to use for your gravy. (I love that about preparing it this way!)
Onion: I use halved onions to rest my turkey breast on in the slow cooker so the heat circulates and the turkey isn’t sitting in all the liquid at the end. You can also use balls of aluminum foil in the bottom of the slow cooker if you don’t want to use the onions. (Though the onions also help flavor that liquid you’ll use for the gravy.)
Browned skin: As I mentioned in the post above, it’s not a guarantee your turkey will brown well even under the broiler and it’s not easy to achieve (no matter what others might promise you). I’ve had varying degrees of success and the skin only slightly crisps up. But if you carve your turkey and bring it to the table that way, it'll look beautiful and no one will notice.
Servings: An 8-9 lb. bone-in turkey breast will serve 8-10 people. A 6-7 lb. bone-in turkey breast will serve 6-8 people. (I often double the recipe and cooking an entire second turkey breast on Wednesday just to have for leftovers. It's that easy and that good.)
Gravy: This gravy recipe is also it's own post if you want to see step-by-step photos and get some tips on making perfect gravy.
Leftovers: Leftover turkey, once cooled, can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4-5 days. You can also freeze leftover turkey for up to 4-5 months.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 181Total Fat: 12gSaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 52mgSodium: 885mgCarbohydrates: 6gFiber: 1gSugar: 1gProtein: 11g