Slow Cooker Turkey Breast

Let's talk turkey! How to cook a turkey breast in a slow cooker. How to cook a whole turkey or a turkey breast the day before. How to make turkey gravy and turkey stock. How to cook turkey giblets. Plus lots of tips for cooking a Thanksgiving turkey.

People are beginning to plan their Thanksgiving menus. I can tell: already people are poring over the collection of Thanksgiving vegetable recipes at A Veggie Venture, especially the World’s Best Green Bean Casserole, the traditional holiday casserole, except updated with fresh green beans and fresh mushrooms.

The traditional Thanksgiving meal has many moving parts. It’s not hard to cook, it just takes planning and plotting. This morning I saw a supermarket ad, a full Thanksgiving dinner (turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce and rolls) for eight for $8 a plate. That’s a bargain, I understand its appeal.

Still, isn’t there a psychic pleasure in cooking special family meals ourselves? For the next few weeks, my aim is to offer up simple Thanksgiving recipes to give cooks new confidence to tackle the Thanksgiving meal.

First up, the turkey. It’s oh-so-easy to cook a turkey breast in a slow cooker. I’m newly in love with a programmable slow cooker, especially the ‘keep warm’ setting that turns on automatically once the food is cooked.

But more than that – this is the real magic – the breast may be cooked and sliced the day before, then warmed in the microwave before serving. It works for whole turkeys too, a trick I learned from my mother many years ago, and produces moist, flavorful turkey while avoiding all the kitchen mess just before serving. Neatniks will love this!

HOW TO COOK A TURKEY THE DAY BEFORE

For many reasons – convenience, timing, clean-up – some cooks prefer to cook the turkey the day before serving. Trouble is, turkey meat is just so moist and flavorful straight off the bird. My mother taught me this microwave trick, I remember it working like a charm.

Cook the turkey the day before, in the oven, in the slow cooker, or however suits. Find a microwave-safe dish that’s small enough to fit into the microwave but large enough to hold as much turkey as will be needed for serving. Place a small microwave safe bowl or ramekin in the center. Carve the turkey, slicing for servings. Arrange the meat in the dish around the bowl. Overlap the slices but don’t pile them higher than the rim. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Before serving, fill the small bowl half full of water and reseal the plastic wrap (a tight seal is needed, you might need to replace the plastic wrap). Place in the microwave and heat on high until the meat is heated through, how long will vary depending on your microwave, how much meat there is, how cold the meat is before going in. Leave the plastic wrap over the turkey until just before serving, so the meat stays hot, then lift off and remove the water bowl to serve.

ALANNA's TIPS for cooking a turkey breast in a crockpot
Before starting, make sure that the turkey breast will fit inside your slow cooker, preferably without touching the lid. If it doesn’t, cut the ‘breast’ (which is actually both breasts) in half and cook them one at a time. For a rough guideline, a six-pound breast barely fits into a six-quart slow cooker.
What are giblets? Giblets are the turkey’s heart, liver and gizzard. In a whole turkey, you'll find the giblets in a small paper bag inside either the neck end or the 'other' end, be sure to check both, one will hold the turkey neck. A turkey breast package may or may not include giblets. To cook the giblets, cover all but the liver with a little water and simmer gently for 30 minutes for a flavorful stock that makes great gravy. If you like, chop up the cooked giblets and put them into the turkey stuffing. Since there's just one small liver, cook it in a little butter until just barely cooked and eat right out of the skillet. Cook's treat!
Measure the thyme leaves into your hand, then rub between your fingers over the skillet to release the oils.
If needed, brush up on how to safely handle meat.
Kitchen Parade is written by second-generation food columnist Alanna Kellogg and features fresh, seasonal dishes for every-day healthful eating and occasional indulgences. Do you have a favorite recipe that simplifies Thanksgiving that you think Kitchen Parade readers might like? Just send me a quick e-mail via recipes@kitchen-parade.com. Never miss a Kitchen Parade recipe: Sign up for a free e-mail subscription. How to print a recipe on Kitchen Parade. If you like Kitchen Parade, forward this recipe to a friend who might too!

SLOW COOKER TURKEY BREAST

Easy enough for every day, special enough for occasions
Hands-on time: 20 minutes to start, 10 minutes to finish
Time to table: 3 – 7 hours
Serves: Varies with breast size, allow 1/2 pound uncooked weight (including bone) per serving
  • 1 turkey breast, skin on, bone in, about 4 – 5 pounds, thawed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
  • 1 quart chicken stock, preferably homemade chicken stock

Remove the sack of giblets (see TIPS) from inside the turkey. Rinse the breast inside and out under running water. Pat dry with paper towels.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil on medium high until shimmery. Add the breast, letting cook on all sides for 2 – 3 minutes a side until golden. Transfer to the slow cooker, breast side down if possible, on its side if needed.

In the same skillet, add the onion, celery and garlic and cook until just golden, stirring often. Stir in the thyme and pepper. Stir in the chicken stock. Pour over top of the breast.

Cover and cook on Low for about 6 hours or on High for about 3 hours, until a meat thermometer inserted into the meatiest part of the breast registers 165F.

Transfer to a platter, cover breast with foil while making the Turkey Gravy. (Not making gravy? Let the turkey rest for 20 - 30 minutes before slicing.) Slice and serve.

After serving, ‘pick the turkey’ by cutting or tearing off as much meat as possible. Use the carcass to make Turkey Stock.

NUTRITION INFORMATION Per 4 ounces cooked breast: 178 Calories; 3g Tot Fat; 1g Sat Fat; 78mg Cholesterol; 72mg Sodium; 0g Carb; 0g Fiber; 0g Sugar; 34g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS WW Old Points 3 & WW PointsPlus 4
Adapted from The Healthy Slow Cooker by Judith Finlayson



TURKEY GRAVY

Hands-on time: 20 minutes
Time to table: 20 minutes
Makes about 4 cups
  • Hot liquid from slow cooker (or 4 cups Homemade Chicken Stock or 4 cups chicken broth)
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Transfer the liquid from the slow cooker (if you like, add the stock from cooking the turkey giblets too) to a large pot and bring to a boil on medium high. Place the flour, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. A tablespoon at a time at first, add about two cups of the liquid to the bowl, stirring to incorporate each addition before adding another. Slowly whisk the broth-flour mixture into the pot. Return the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Reduce the heat and let the mixture simmer until the desired thickness is reached.

NUTRITION INFORMATION Per Half Cup: 57 Calories; 1g Tot Fat; 0g Sat Fat; 3mg Cholesterol; 171mg Sodium; 7g Carb; 0g Fiber; 2g Sugar; 3g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS POINTS WW Old Points 1 & WW PointsPlus 1


HOW TO MAKE TURKEY STOCK

Even when the turkey meat is gone, the carcass will yield wonderful stock. If you don’t have time to make stock right away, throw the carcass into the freezer for a day or two. Otherwise, put the carcass, a rib or two of celery, a carrot or two and some onion wedges onto a baking sheet and put under the broiler – yes, the broiler. It will take about 10 minutes for the carcass and vegetables to brown. Don’t be afraid of a little burn, either, it really adds flavor. Transfer the carcass and vegetables to a stock pot (or even back into the slow cooker on high) and cover with water. Add a bay leaf and about five peppercorns. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to maintain a slow simmer for about an hour. For the 30 minutes, skim off and discard the gunk that accumulates on top. Turn off the heat, let cool, then strain through a colander and discard the solids. For extra-clear stock, strain through cheesecloth one or more times. Two cups at a time, transfer to quart freezer bags. Label and freeze for using in soups, stocks, sauces and more. (For more tips about making turkey stock, see my cooking lesson for Homemade Chicken Stock, it's filled with tips and techniques.)


More Thanksgiving Recipes

(hover for a description, click a photo for a recipe)
Squash Puff Cranberry Chutney American Apple Pie
~ more Thanksgiving recipes ~
from Kitchen Parade
~ more Thanksgiving vegetable recipes ~
from A Veggie Venture

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(helping home cooks save money on groceries)

Quick Links to This Page

(for easy bookmarking and searching)
~ How to Make Turkey Gravy ~
~ How to Make Turkey Stock ~
~ How to Cook Turkey Giblets ~
~ How to Cook a Turkey the Day Before ~





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Thanks for this recipe. Can I substitute turkey thighs without making changes to the recipe?
 
I haven't tested with turkey thighs, Julie, so don't know. If you try it, will you let me know, please? That would be a great variation!
 
I never know what to do with my crockpot, all the recipes I have call for a can or two of mushroom soup. This looks great, I think I'll try it over the weekend.
 
Ali ~ Excellent, let me know how it goes. Be sure to get your turkey breast today, it'll need a couple of days to thaw out in the refrigerator.
 
Thanks for the ideas! I clicked through the cranberry chutney and that looks great. Cranberry sauce is far and away one of the highlights of Thanksgiving dinner
 
Can I cook a 9# turkey in my 6 qt. slow cooker? I would like to cook it overnight due to meal time frame. Any precautions I should take?
 
Looks great and a perfect timesaver not just for Thanksgiving!
Is the turkey breast the frozen ButterBall or Jennie-O type?
 
I'm making some variation of this today, sounds great!
 
Anonymous ~ I've only tested this recipe with a turkey breast, not a whole turkey. I'm always amazed what can be cooked in a slow cooker so you may well find other resources online that tell you how to cook a whole turkey.

Anonymous ~ The turkey breasts I've done in the slow cooker were non-name brand, just frozen turkey breasts.

Kalyn ~ Let me know how it goes!
 
You can spoon a little dressing into the curve of the turkey breast after you've put it in the crock pot, then mix it later with the rest of your dressing. Really adds flavor to your dressing.
 
I'm a little confused about the last statement under the make a day ahead recipe. You state "Remove the plastic wrap just before heating, so the meat stays hot."

Do you mean reheat in micro without being covered or covered while reheating and keeping the cover off? Doesn't make sense to me. Sorry for not understanding.
 
Good catch, anonymous. What I mean is "Leave the plastic wrap on until just before serving, so the meat stays hot." Better?!
 
How long would I cook this with a split, bone-in turkey breast that's a little over 2 lbs? I'm only cooking for two and would love to try this! Hope I'm not too late in asking!
 
Hi Kami, My guess is that you'd cook it for about 3 hours. But the good news is, cook it until you reach the internal temperature of 165F, then just 'hold'. It's getting it to temperature that counts the most. Happy Thanksgiving!
 
I also made your turkey gravy which was THE BEST!!!!!! I've almost had to go to therapy to reconcile my Thanksgiving and Christmas "gravy issues" with my 84-year-old southern mother.
 
It's been 2 months since Thanksgiving and all of the sudden I'm craving turkey.
 

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Thank you for taking a moment to write! I read each and every comment, for each and every recipe. If you have a specific question, it's nearly always answered quick-quick. But I also love hearing your reactions, your curiosity, even your concerns! When you've made a recipe, I especially love to know how it turned out, what variations you made, what you'll do differently the next time. ~ Alanna