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The Best Small Turkey Recipe (for those of us who show up for the sides!)

By “small turkey recipe” I mean: a turkey breast recipe that is an alternative for people who do not want to make a whole, big turkey for Thanksgiving. But, the later was a bit of a long title.

So, now that we are on the same page…

Turkey is my least favorite part about Thanksgiving. I know…but search your hearts, is it really your favorite?


And then this:

The BEST small turkey recipe! Perfect for holiday gatherings when you don't want to make a whole turkey.

But first, as Jeremy and I have hosted a few Thanksgivings in our 5 years of marriage we’ve stumbled across some things. First, lots of people are most excited about the side dishes. Also, a good hand-full of our friends are vegetarians. Lastly, as fun as it is to have leftover turkey until the New Year…wait. Nope. Not fun.

So, I went on a quest to find a smaller Thanksgiving turkey recipe. Of course, I started with the queen – Ina Garten. And I did not have to look any further. (Which, by the way, her new cookbook Cooking for Jeffery is out and it is everything!).

Very Sophisticated Reasons to Cook a Smaller Thanksgiving Turkey:

  • Less oven time goes to turkey! This turkey recipe does not take more than 3 hours. More oven time for the sides!
  • Most people show-up for the sides.
  • Less stress about potentially serving a dry turkey.
  • Your next 87 meals do not have to include turkey (unless you’re into that, I guess)
  • More room for pie! <— strongest case!

Ina has a recipe for a bone-in herb roasted turkey breast and it is perfect. It is stuffed with fresh herbs, including sage, the infamous Thanksgiving herb.

Fresh herbs for the absolute best small turkey recipe!

The Best Small Turkey Recipe

We start with 1 whole bone-in turkey breast (at least 5-7 lbs). I got one from the meat counter in Whole Foods. Just call and ask your local grocer if they carry these!

The star of the show is this really gorgeous herb paste that we slather all over the turkey.

Herb and garlic paste for the most flavorful and best small turkey recipe!

I like to get half the paste under the skin. This is very easy! Just start at the edge of a piece of skin and very gently work your knuckle into it and loosen the skin from the meat.

No FUSS! The best small turkey recipe how-to!

Then grab a handful of the herb mixture and stuff it inside. Do this throughout the turkey.

Mouthwatering! Herb roasted turkey breast. The BEST small turkey recipe!

Then add the rest of the mixture on the outside.

The BEST small turkey recipe! Perfect for holiday gatherings when you don't want to make a whole turkey.

Place your turkey in a roasting pan with a rack and to the bottom of the pan add 3/4 cup wine. Please, please use a meat thermometer to test when your turkey is done 🙂 I use this one all the time when cooking and if you have Amazon Prime – you can get it before Thanksgiving! Everyone’s oven is different so this is an important tool. My turkey went into the oven for 90 minutes and then I took it out, added foil and baked for another 30 minutes until I hit 165 degrees. (See recipe below for how to use meat thermometer.)

This beauty makes your house smell amazing and comes out all crispy and flavorful:

No fuss! The best small turkey recipe for any gathering!

And, the pan drippings are really, really delicious. According to Ina you can take those drippings and pour them over the turkey. But, I know some serious gravy lovers so I took it one step further and made the simplest gravy with the pan juices. Seriously, it took me 10 minutes (recipe below).

The BEST small turkey recipe! Perfect for holiday gatherings when you don't want to make a whole turkey.

So, this is our new turkey go-to. More sides, like 8 more servings of these savory sweet mashed potatoes:

And more room for pie. We are winning all over the place.


Ina Garten’s Herb Roasted Turkey Breast


  • 1 whole bone-in turkey breast (5 to 7 pounds)
  • 2 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
  • 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage leaves
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¾ cup dry white wine

Gravy Ingredients

  • Pan drippings from the turkey
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup white wine (or chicken stock)
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 TBS butter
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • Salt for seasoning


  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Place the turkey breast on a rack in a roasting pan, skin side up.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, mustard, rosemary, sage, thyme, salt, and pepper. Rub the mixture evenly all over the skin of the turkey breast. (You can also loosen the skin and smear half of the paste underneath, directly on the meat.) Pour the wine into the bottom of the roasting pan.
  3. Roast the turkey for 1½ to 1¾ hours, until the skin is golden brown and an instant-read meat thermometer registers 165 degrees when inserted into the thickest and meatiest area of the breast. Check the breast after an hour or so; if the skin is over browning, cover it loosely with aluminum foil. (Every oven is different so be sure to use your meat thermometer. I had to roast my turkey for about 2 hours. After 1½ hours I tented my turkey and continued to roast another 30 minutes until the temperature read 165 degrees.)
  4. When the turkey is done, remove from the oven, cover the pan with aluminum foil, and allow the turkey to rest at room temperature for 15 minutes. Slice and serve warm with the pan juices.

For the Gravy (Optional):

  1. If your roasting pan can go directly over heat (mine can) put it over the flame and slowly add the wine to deglaze the pan. Add additional ingredients and stir to combine. Bring to a low simmer for about 10 minutes to allow to thicken. Or, pour the pan drippings into a sauce pan. Turn heat to medium high. Add white wine and chicken stock, let come to a slow simmer. Add in heavy cream and stir to combine. Add butter. Turn heat to low and let simmer for about 10 minutes. Taste and season to your preference (I added 1/4 tsp pepper but did not need to add any additional salt).


This gravy has a yummy tang as it uses the wine that we poured into the pan to cook the turkey. It is a gorgeous and bright pairing with the herb roasted turkey!


  • Serving Size: 1

This Thanksgiving - no need to bake a whole turkey! This juicy, flavorful bone-in turkey breast will please everyone!

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  • Of Goats and GreensNovember 17, 2016 - 10:39 pm

    Sadly, the breast is my least favorite of the Thanksgiving meal — left to my druthers I’d prefer to make a repast of the thighs, skin on — and serve the breast to the cats!!! (Although it would take them awhile…) The thighs, though, stand up in gustatory fashion to the squash and the Brussels sprouts, and the fresh-cooked cranberries, which are also my Thanksgiving favorites.

    The herb paste, however, sounds awesome! Bet it works on any part of the turkey! Sage, thyme… Yum!ReplyCancel

    • Bri McKoyNovember 17, 2016 - 11:12 pm

      Touche! And yes, the herb paste is so amazing (so is the gravy)! Perfect for a whole turkey!ReplyCancel

  • Carla M SwagertyJanuary 30, 2017 - 3:30 pm

    Yummers! I use Coke or Sprite, and the gravy made w cornstarch is equally amazing. According to my kids. . . .ReplyCancel

  • MelissaNovember 18, 2017 - 12:11 am

    Thank Brianne. I will report back ; )ReplyCancel

hello love...

Welcome! I'm Bri! Accidental home cook. Lover of gathering people around a table over a meal. Author of Come & Eat (September 2017). What I really want is to pull out a chair for you at my table. But until then, I hope you stay awhile and enjoy my stories + recipes!

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