How to Properly Stuff a Turkey
Basic turkey stuffing questions answered.
Years ago it was unheard of NOT to stuff your turkey. These days, things have changed because of growing awareness for food-borne illnesses and their risks. The good news is that there’s a way to safely stuff your turkey. Read on for our safety tips, step-by-step how to and tips.
Should I stuff my turkey?
Stuffing cooked inside the turkey cavities is delicious, but it does slow down the cooking time and could be a potential health hazard if done incorrectly. For perfect no-worry results, opt for "dressing" instead – stuffing cooked alongside the bird instead of inside. Try making Cornbread Dressing with Pancetta, Apples, and Mushrooms.
Tips for Safely Stuffing a Turkey, According to a Food Safety Expert
We consulted Toby Amidor, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. Here’s why stuffing a turkey can be dangerous. In the past, stuffing a large turkey has been linked to salmonella outbreaks. People weren’t cooking their turkeys at the right temperature for the proper amount of time until the turkey reached the correct internal temperature. Jam-packing the turkey's cavity with stuffing affected the cooking (it tougher to kill bacteria when a bird is overstuffed) and made for a disastrous combination. Worse still, when you remove stuffing from a bird that hasn’t been cooked properly, chances are the stuffing is not safe to eat either because it might be contaminated. Yikes!
- Buy a frozen pre-stuffed turkey. The USDA recommends buying frozen pre-stuffed turkeys since these birds undergo inspection to make sure they are handled properly. However, you shouldn't thaw these turkeys; you're supposed to cook them from a frozen state. The USDA strongly advises against buying fresh pre-stuffed turkeys since they’re handled by multiple people and have a higher chance of being contaminated.
- Or make and stuff your own bird, according to USDA guidelines. If you decide to make your own stuffing, you can either cook and serve it on the side or follow the below USDA guidelines to safely stuff a turkey.
How to Stuff a Turkey, Step-By-Step:
Step 1: Prepare the Stuffing Safely
If you’re using raw meat, poultry or shellfish to make your stuffing, cook those first, add them to your stuffing mix and then immediately stuff your bird. If you’re preparing the stuffing ahead of time, cool it immediately and placed it in shallow containers in the refrigerator. Pre-cooked and cooled stuffing should not be used for the turkey -- eat this separately.
Step 2: Stuff the Bird Loosely
Cook stuffing and immediately place it in your turkey's neck and body cavity. Stuff loosely -- about 3/4 cup per pound of turkey. Don’t stuff turkeys that will be grilled, smoked, fried or microwaved.
Step 3: Cook the Turkey Immediately After Stuffing
Don’t let your turkey sit out at room temperature -- that gives pesky bacteria a good opportunity to grow. Once you’ve stuffed your bird, immediately cook it in an oven that’s set no lower than 325 degrees Fahrenheit. For a list of cooking temperatures per pound of meat, check out this good USDA list.
Step 4: Check the Turkey’s Internal Temperature
You want to make sure the internal temperature of the turkey reaches at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. To check that, place a thermometer in the innermost part of the thigh, the wing and the thickest part of the breast. If you check and the turkey hasn’t reached the proper internal temperature, continue cooking it. Don’t remove the stuffing at this point because you think it might speed up cooking. It's already been contaminated with the turkey's bacteria and needs to keep cooking to kill it off.
Step 5: Let the Turkey Rest with the Stuffing Inside
Once cooked, take the turkey out of the oven and wait 20 minutes -- you can now take the stuffing out and carve this bad boy.
Step 6: Hold Your Turkey and Stuffing for No More than 2 Hours at Room Temperature
Eat cooked turkey within two hours and promptly refrigerate any leftovers. Slice leftover turkey and store in shallow containers (don't just shove the whole bird, loosely wrapped, back in the fridge). Be sure to use up those leftovers within three to four days.
How Can You Tell If the Stuffing Is Done?
Give stuffing a head start by heating it up before placing inside the turkey. Like the turkey, stuffing needs to reach the 165 degree mark. If the bird is done before the stuffing, remove stuffing from the cavities and continue to cook in a baking dish. Find the perfect stuffing recipe to complete your Thanksgiving feast: Top Thanksgiving Stuffings and Dressings.
Other Ways to Stuff Your Turkey
If you don’t want to stuff your turkey with, well, stuffing, there are a few other things you can put into the cavity to impart flavor and moisture.
Add halved onions, carrot chunks, celery and fresh herbs to the cavity of your turkey, inserting them loosely. These flavor builders are the base of stock and most soups. As your turkey cooks, they’ll steam and infuse your bird with moisture and flavor.
Stuff your bird with apple quarters to lace the meat with cidery-tart flavor and moisture.
Or fill the turkey with orange, lemon, lime or grapefruit wedges for flavor and moisture.