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Is a turkey tenderloin a breast?

Whether a turkey tenderloin is considered a breast or not is a common question for those purchasing turkey meat. The simple answer is yes, a turkey tenderloin is a cut of the breast meat. However, there are some key differences between a whole turkey breast and a tenderloin that are important to understand.

What is a Turkey Tenderloin?

A turkey tenderloin is a specific cut of meat from the pectoralis major muscle, which is the large breast muscle on a turkey. When a whole turkey breast is trimmed down, the tenderloin is an oblong, cylindrical shaped piece of meat that comes from the thickest part of the breast.

Turkey tenderloins are sometimes labeled as “turkey fillets” in grocery stores as well. They are very versatile cuts of meat that work well for recipes like grilling, sautéing, roasting, and more. The tenderloin is considered a premium cut of turkey breast meat.

Differences Between Turkey Tenderloins and Whole Turkey Breasts

While the tenderloin does come from the breast meat, there are some notable ways that it differs from a whole turkey breast:

  • Shape – A whole turkey breast is wide and flat while the tenderloin is narrow and cylindrical.
  • Bone – Turkey tenderloins are boneless cuts while whole breasts contain the breastbone.
  • Texture – Tenderloins tend to be slightly less firm than other breast meat.
  • Size – A tenderloin is significantly smaller than a whole breast, weighing around 1-2 lbs compared to 5-8 lbs for a whole breast.
  • Cooking time – Due to the smaller, uniform shape, tenderloins cook faster than bone-in breasts.

These characteristics impact how each cut can be used. For example, the boneless tenderloins are easier to portion and cook evenly than a whole breast. The tenderloin’s shape also lends itself well to grilling or breading and frying cutlets.

Nutrition Comparison

When comparing the nutrition of turkey tenderloins versus whole turkey breasts, they are fairly similar:

Nutrient 3 oz Turkey Tenderloin 3 oz Turkey Breast
Calories 120 116
Fat 1g 1g
Protein 26g 25g

As you can see, a serving of tenderloin has slightly more calories and protein compared to the same serving size of breast meat. However, the differences are small. Both cuts are high in protein and low in fat.

Cost Differences

There is typically a moderate price difference between whole turkey breasts and tenderloins. Based on current grocery store prices, on average you can expect:

  • Whole turkey breasts – $3 to $5 per pound
  • Turkey tenderloins – $6 to $10 per pound

The tenderloins cost more due to being a more premium, versatile cut of meat. The extra processing to remove the bone and trim the meat also adds cost compared to a whole breast. However, you can achieve some cost savings by purchasing a whole breast and trimming it into tenderloins yourself.

Cooking Differences

The shape and structure of the tenderloins compared to a whole breast does impact cooking times and methods. Here are some key cooking differences:

  • Whole breasts take longer to cook, up to 2 hours for a 5-8 lb breast.
  • Tenderloins cook much faster, around 30-45 minutes since they are under 2 lbs.
  • Breasts need slower roasting or braising. Tenderloins can be grilled, sautéed, or roasted.
  • It’s easier to portion and cook tenderloins evenly since they are uniform in shape.

So while whole breasts are great for roasting or slow cooking, tenderloins offer more flexibility. Their quick cooking time and shape make them perfect for sautés, kebabs, cutlets and more.

Common Uses

Here are some of the most popular ways that turkey tenderloins are used:

Sautéed or Grilled

The turkey tenderloin works great sliced into medallions or pounded into cutlets for quick sautéing or grilling. Cook over high heat 3-5 minutes per side.

Turkey Kebabs

Cut the tenderloin into 1-inch chunks to thread onto skewers for grilled kabobs. They cook quickly and pick up great flavor from marinades.

Stuffed Tenderloin

Because the tenderloin is cylindrical in shape, it can be butterflied open and stuffed with bread, cheese, spinach and other fillings. Roll back up and roast.

Turkey Stir Fry

Slice the tenderloin thinly across the grain for adding to turkey stir fries. Cook on high heat for 1-2 minutes just until done.

Turkey Salad

Chopped or shredded turkey tenderloin is great in any salad recipe. It provides juicy turkey flavor and health protein.


In summary, turkey tenderloins are a premium cut of the breast meat that offers versatility in cooking. While more expensive and smaller than a whole breast, the tenderloin’s uniform shape and quick cooking time make it perfect for grilling, sautéing, roasting and more. It provides all the flavor and nutrition of turkey breast in a convenient package.