The idea of a juicy, stuffed turkey serving as the centerpiece to Thanksgiving feast can get just about any of us drooling. So I hate to be the bearer of bad news. But cooking your stuffing inside the bird might not be the best idea. It sure is delicious, but you could end up with dry meat or worse — foodborne illness that will definitely leave your holiday less than merry.
Here’s what the experts say, as well as a few alternatives for stuffing that bird:
Why you shouldn’t cook stuffing inside a turkey
The most important rule to follow when cooking a turkey is that the bird — and anything inside — reach a safe temperature. The USDA has instructed that both bird and stuffing need to reach 165ºF or your meal poses the risk of carrying harmful bacterial like salmonella or E. coli.
Of course, you might just say “no problem!” You’ll just cook your stuffed bird until it thoroughly reaches that 165ºF mark.
Not so fast.
The trouble is that turkey and the stuffing in its internal cavity require very different cook times to reach this temperature. The turkey on the outside cooks at one rate, but the stuffing sits inside —soaking up all of those raw juice drippings from the meat — can take a lot longer to cook. By the time your stuffing reaches 165ºF, the tender meat on the outside will be cooking at about 185ºF — way past its doneness temperature.
And overdone turkey means the worst Thanksgiving mishap of them all. Dry meat.
Many people choose to make their stuffing in a pan and cook it separately in the oven or on the stovetop, in which case it’s called dressing and not stuffing. This method yields a crispier texture that works really in contract to the rest of the softer side dishes. Use turkey stock instead of broth in your favorite stuffing recipe to add some of that turkey flavor back in. It works surprisingly well, and you’ll have zero chance of food poisoning.
Still not good enough?
If you insist on stuffing those bread bits up your bird, wait until the turkey is fully cooked, then insert your cooked stuffing into the bird where it will collect those turkey juices.
It’s so good, no one will likely notice the difference.
What else can you stuff in the bird instead?
If you’re forgoing the traditional stuffing of the bird this year, you can use that cavity to help add flavor and moisture to its meat instead.
Try adding a bouquet of fresh herbs like thyme, sage, parsley, and a bit of rosemary. While you might usually only season from the outside with these items, putting them inside will help them permeate every bit of your bird.
Make an even tastier turkey by loading up its insides with onion and garlic because, really, what dish isn’t made better with cooked onions and garlic? Also, add a few ribs of celery and fresh herbs for a more classic taste.
Make it an extra moist turkey this year by adding apples, citrus halves, or a can of beer. You’ll get a subtle flavor addition, as well.
And, if you’re out of space in your oven on Thanksgiving Day, try this easy, tasty crock-pot recipe.