Let’s Talk Turkey: Does Deli Turkey Need Nitrites?

by kimgerber on 03/27/2011

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The answer is NO.  Repeat after me, No nitrites, no nitrites, NO NITRITES!!!  Okay, I just had a flash back to my old cheerleading days.

Turkey deli meat is one of those things that I never really thought too much about.  It’s always been the lean deli protein that came sliced, smoked, honeyed or roasted and when piled on whole wheat bread with mustard and veggies became my healthy lunch.  Or was it?  During this Out of the Box Food journey I’ve been looking more carefully at everything, and that needed to include turkey.  I tended to choose turkey over ham because it was supposed to be healthier, right?  Well, I’m learning that it’s not just about the product itself, but how the product is cured and what might be added to it that makes the difference.

I also want to take this opportunity to address something a friend brought to my attention…MSG.  Again, because I am a Children’s Nutrition Advocate and not a Registered Dietitian, I encourage you to continue the research I am doing here, but I would like to get the ball rolling about MSG, an additive most of us have avoided (or thought we’d avoided) for years.  Take a look at this website: MSGMyth.com which offers a look at some symptoms of MSG use and some of the hidden names for MSG on our product labels.   In the following comparison I found 4 qualifying terms out of 15 ingredients listed on the product label.  That’s more than one quarter of the ingredients.  Then take a minute and reference last week’s post on Bullion Cubes and see how many you find there.  The results are staggering.  I’ll let you give that some thought…


THE COMPARISON: Hillshire Farm Honey Roasted Turkey Breast vs. Out of the Box Honey-Maple Roasted Turkey Breast

(All ingredients followed by an * can be referenced at www.wikipedia.org by clicking on the ingredient.  Please feel free to reference the ingredients on other reputable sites for further information.)


Hillshire Farm Honey Roasted Turkey Breast (Ultra Thin)


  • turkey breast
  • water
  • honey

Contains 2% or less of:


Out of the Box FoodSM Honey-Maple Roasted Turkey Breast

I’ ve roasted a lot of turkey breasts over the years, but this one received the most praise from my family.   As an experiment, I roasted two turkey breasts side-by-side (one that had been brined and one that had not).  The brined turkey breast was much more moist and flavorful.  You can also roast the turkey breast over an indirect heat on your grill with a foil packet of wood chips for a smoky flavor addition . (cooking times will vary)

Time: Brine – 6 hours  Roast – 1 1/2 hours


For Brine:

  • 2 1/2 – 3lb Turkey Breast (bone in)
  • 2 C boiling water
  • 4 C cold water
  • 1/2 C kosher salt
  • 3/4 C maple syrup
  • 1/2 C honey

For Roasting:

  • 1/4 C butter, softened
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup


  • For Brine
    • Rinse turkey breast and set aside.
    • In a large bowl, whisk together boiling water, kosher salt, 3/4 C maple syrup and honey until mostly dissolved.  Add cold water and whisk to combine.  Add turkey breast.  Cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for 6-8 hours.
  • For Roasted Turkey Breast
    • Preheat oven to 375 degrees
    • In a small bowl, blend together softened butter and 3 tbsp. maple syrup.
    • Remove turkey breast from brine and pat dry.  Place breast-side-up in roasting pan.
    • Gently lift skin off top of turkey breast and spread some of butter mixture under the skin.  Spread remaining butter mixture over top of skin to coat.
    • Roast turkey breast for 1 1/2 hours or until turkey reaches 175 degrees.
    • Let rest for 10-15 minutes.
    • Slice and serve.

*Sliced Turkey can be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.


Do you have to roast your own turkey breast to avoid nitrites?  No.  If you want the purest turkey possible for your sandwiches, then roasting at home is the best option.  But there are deli turkey choices on the market that do not contain nitrites.  Boar’s Head Brand has varieties without nitrites as well as an all-natural deli turkey which also contains no phosphates (an added bonus).  Though I’m sure there are other brands without nitrites, a few I have found are Diestel, Applegate, and Usinger’s.  For more information on deli meats, take a minute to read this article from Phil Lempert of the Today Show, The Five Things You Need to Know About Deli Meats.  Thought the article was published in 2006, the information is enlightening.  And please be aware that deli turkey does contain significant sodium and all product labels should be read.  Until next week…

© 2011, kimgerber. All rights reserved.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

victoria November 10, 2011 at 5:50 pm

Do you realize that MSG is just the ionized for of glutamic acid and sodium. Sodium we get from any salt containing source and is essential for cell function. And glutamic acid is an amino acid. We eat it all the time, and guess what? Our bodies MAKE it. It is an essential metablite in the breakdown of proteins and is necessary for us to perform nitrogen metabolism. Only a small percentage of the population has been shown to be sensitive to large dietary amounts. There are many more things that you could worry about eating. For instance the butter that youre spreading under the skin of that turkey. Saturated Fat + Saturated Fat=SATURATED FAT!!! which is the greatest diestary cause of elevated cholesterol, a major fact in heart disease, the #1 killer of Americans!


Holly March 28, 2011 at 7:57 am

Kim- thanks for enlightening me about MSG – I am going to my freezer right now to check the labels for MSG. I didn’t realize all the side effects.


Susie March 27, 2011 at 10:10 pm

Kim, I will definitely keep your recipe…every year I cook a turkey breast for Thanksgiving because my family doesn’t eat dark meat–sounds like this one is a winner! 🙂


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