Stuffing (or Not Stuffing) a Turkey
Rule #7: Never stuff a bird until you are ready to roast it.
Pre-stuffing runs the risk of food poisoning, and of all the parts of the turkey, stuffing is the most easily contaminated. Always cook it to 165 degrees F. even when you reheat it.
Q: Is it best to cook the stuffing inside the bird, or separately in a baking dish?
A: Many chefs today recommend cooking the stuffing in a separate dish instead of in the cavity. When placed inside the bird, stuffing cooks unevenly and may not be completely cooked through, offering a potential health hazard. Also, an unstuffed bird requires less cooking time, leaving the breast meat moister. Baked separately, a stuffing should initially be cooked covered for 45 minutes, and if the interior is too dry, simply moisten with some of the pan juices. Then uncover for a final 20-30 minutes of cooking to develop a wonderful crackly top.
Q: If I do want to stuff the bird, what's the best way to do it?
A: In the traditional method, gently place the stuffing in the body and neck cavities but be sure to pack them loosely. As it cooks, the stuffing will expand. You also want the stuffing to cook through completely, and hard packed stuffing may not.
A newer method places the stuffing between the meat and the skin. Loosen the skin over the breast, legs and thighs and gently insert the stuffing. This results in a very moist bird and ensures the stuffing to cook through. If there is any leftover stuffing, bake it separately in a baking dish.
Turkey Tip: To save time, make your stuffing in advance and freeze it, then thaw overnight in the refrigerator. If you plan to use the gizzards, then remove them from the bird just before roasting and cook and stir them into your pre-made stuffing.
Q: How much stuffing do I need?
A: If you just want to stuff the cavity, then allow 1/2 cup stuffing per pound of turkey. If you want extra stuffing and plan to bake it separately, then allow 1 cup of stuffing per pound, and even more if it's a perennial favorite. While stuffings can be made from all different types of breads, grains and rice, here's a handy rule-of-thumb to follow: plan on using a single slice of bread to make 1/2 cup of stuffing when mixed with added seasonings and aromatics.
Q: Do I need to close up the cavity after it has been stuffed?
A: Some cooks like to skewer or sew the cavity shut after stuffing but it's not at all necessary and is entirely up to the cook.
More Stuffing Recipes and Tips
Stuffing Tips and Free-Form Techniques, including:
Aloha Bread & Macademia Stuffing
French Apple-Walnut-Rosemary Stuffing
Simply Delicious Thanksgiving Stuffing
Cornbread-Water Chestnut Dressing
Italian Sausage, Mushroom and Sage Stuffing
Pan-Asian Rice Dressing
More Thanksgiving Recipes
- What size turkey should I buy?
- Is it better to buy one large turkey or two small ones?
- Should I buy fresh or frozen?
- What about turkeys that have been injected with fats and seasonings?
- What about turkey parts and frozen stuffed turkeys?
- How long can a whole turkey be kept frozen?
- How long can a fresh turkey be kept refrigerated?
- Thawing Rules
- Thawing Methods
- Turkey Thawing Charts
- Is it best to cook the stuffing inside the bird, or separately in a baking dish?
- If I do want to stuff the bird, what's the best way to do it?
- How much stuffing do I need?
- Do I need to close up the cavity after it has been stuffed?
- Preparations Step-by-Step
- Stuffing & Trussing
- Do I need to truss the bird's legs, or can I just roast it the extra effort?
- Roasting Step-by-Step
- How do I keep the breast meat moist when cooking?
- Use a Meat Thermometer
- My turkey comes with a plastic pop-up timer. Can't I use that instead?
- How accurate are "recommended cooking times"?
- How can I tell when the turkey is done?
- USDA Timetable for Turkey Roasted at 325 degrees F.
- Rules for Making Gravy
- Making the Basic Gravy
- Additions to Gravy
- Basic Carving steps
- Removing the Thigh, Drumstick & Wings
- Carving the breast
- Storing leftovers
- Reheating leftovers
- Back to Thanksgiving Headquarters
This page modified November 2006