Want to Cook Turkey Stuffing? Read This First.

Turkey stuffing can be delicious and a great essential to have for Thanksgiving—if done properly. We'll show you how to stuff a turkey safely.

You have an important decision to make this Thanksgiving: to stuff or not to stuff. Turkey stuffing is traditional, and many say that dinner won’t turn out the same without it. Others claim stuffing isn’t safe, and the turkey becomes overcooked and dry by the time the stuffing reaches proper temperatures.

So what gives? Is there a way to safely stuff a turkey, or should you only make pan-roasted stuffing?

Should You Cook Stuffing Inside the Turkey?

The biggest issue with cooking stuffing inside the bird relates to temperatures. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends cooking poultry until it reaches a safe internal temperature of 165°F. Anything cooked inside the turkey also needs to reach that temperature to prevent the risk of exposing you to bacteria like salmonella or E. coli.

But stuffing is soft and porous by nature. That’s the main reason to cook stuffing inside a turkey: The bread cubes soak up roasting turkey juices and transform into incredible-tasting flavor bombs. That means the stuffing needs to reach a safe temperature (165°), so it won’t make you sick.

The other important thing to consider with turkey stuffing is when it’s stuffed. Trying to prep in advance doesn’t work to your advantage here. Placing warm stuffing inside a refrigerated bird allows the stuffing to stay in danger zone temperatures for too long, causing bacteria growth. It’s okay to cook the vegetable component of the stuffing a day in advance and cool it down in the fridge. But wait to mix it with the bread and stuff the final product inside the bird until right before it goes into the oven.

How Does It Make Cooking the Turkey Different?

Cooking a stuffed turkey is a little different from an unstuffed turkey. Instead of only considering the meat’s temperature (165° in the thickest part of the breast, or 175° in the thickest part of the thigh), you also have to take the stuffing’s temperature.

Then there’s the timing of everything. The meat is on the outside of the bird, so it gets more exposure to heat. That means it cooks more quickly than the stuffing, which is enclosed deep within the bird’s cavity. By the time your stuffing reaches 165°, the white meat and dark meat will reach 180° or 185°—way past their ideal doneness temp. And cooking meat past its doneness temp = dry meat.

How to Stuff a Turkey

Traditional stuffed turkey recipes call for cooking the turkey to 180°, which gives the stuffing enough time to reach 165°. Instead, our method uses the microwave to finish cooking the stuffing. That ensures the turkey will be juicy and moist while the whole dish is safe to eat!

When taking the turkey’s temperature, be sure to insert the probe into the thickest part of the breast or the thigh. Wiggle the probe to ensure it’s in the deepest part and isn’t touching the bone. For more turkey-cooking tips, check out our complete guide to how to cook a turkey.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped
  • 1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 can (14-1/2 ounces) chicken broth
  • 1/3 cup minced fresh parsley
  • 2 teaspoons rubbed sage
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 12 cups unseasoned stuffing cubes
  • Warm water
  • 1 turkey (14 to 16 pounds)
  • Melted butter

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
  2. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions, celery and mushrooms and cook until tender, about 8 minutes. Remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the chicken broth, parsley, sage, salt, poultry seasoning and pepper. (You can make this part of the stuffing in advance, but do not combine it with the bread or stuff it inside the turkey until right before it goes into the oven.)
  3. Place the bread cubes in a large bowl and add the seasoned mushroom mixture. Toss to coat, adding enough warm water to reach the desired level of moistness.
  4. Just before baking, loosely stuff the turkey. If there is leftover stuffing, place it in a greased baking dish. Cover and refrigerate the dish until the turkey is almost finished. You’ll want to cook it covered for 30 to 40 minutes, and uncovered for an additional 10 minutes until it’s lightly browned.
  5. Skewer any turkey openings with toothpicks and tie the drumsticks together with kitchen twine. Place the turkey breast-side up on a rack in a roasting pan and brush it with melted butter.
  6. Bake the stuffed turkey, uncovered, for 3-3/4 to 4-1/2 hours, loosely covering the turkey with aluminum foil if it browns too quickly. When a thermometer reads 165° in the breast or 175° in the thigh, remove the turkey from the oven.
  7. Take the stuffing’s temperature. If it doesn’t read 165°, scoop it out into a microwave-safe bowl and microwave it until it reaches the proper temperature.
  8. Let the turkey stand for 20 minutes before carving. Don’t forget to use the pan drippings to make gravy while you wait!

What to Stuff Your Turkey with Instead

If you decide to roast your turkey without stuffing, that doesn’t mean you have to leave that cavity space open. You can stuff your bird with all sorts of ingredients to give your turkey more flavor.

Some of our favorites include quartered onions, orange segments, sliced lemons or apples, bundles of fresh herbs or chopped celery and fennel. These items take up significantly less space than stuffing, so they shouldn’t have any issues reaching safe temperature by the time the bird is finished.

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Lindsay D. Mattison
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.