We hate to be the bearers of bad news, but cooking stuffing inside your holiday turkey isn’t the wisest decision. While cooking stuffing inside your turkey is traditional (and tasty), it can cause you to end up with a dry turkey or worse—like foodborne illness worse. We’ll explain what the problem is and how you can make stuffing so good that it won’t compromise your traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
What’s the problem with cooking stuffing inside the turkey?
The biggest issue with cooking stuffing inside the bird is the meat temperature. For food safety, the USDA instructs us to cook a whole turkey until it’s reached 165° F—including the stuffing. Anything served below that temperature poses the risk for exposure to scary bacteria like salmonella or E. coli.
Why can’t I just cook the turkey until it’s done?
Well, it’s not that simple. A little more science here, so bear with me. Stuffing, by nature, is a soft, porous substance. That’s what we love about it. But the pores will soak up all the raw turkey juices inside the turkey, so if you don’t cook it to the safe temp of 165° F, it can make you sick.
The trouble is that you can’t get stuffing to 165° without overcooking the meat. If you think about a stuffed whole turkey roasting in the oven, the breast meat and dark meat (on the outside of the bird) get the most exposure to heat. Because stuffing is enclosed deep within the bird, it receives the least amount of heat and therefore cooks the slowest. By the time your stuffing reaches 165° F, your white meat and dark meat will be at about 180° or 185° F—waaay past their ideal doneness temp. And cooking meat past its doneness temp = dry meat.
But pan stuffing doesn’t taste as good
What makes stuffing from inside taste so good is the juices from the turkey. When you make stuffing in a pan, it doesn’t get to take on any of those roasted turkey flavors. But there’s an easy workaround here! You can capture all those delicious flavors making stuffing on the stovetop or in the oven. All you have to do is use turkey stock (if it’s homemade, all the better) instead of the broth or liquid called for in your favorite stuffing recipe. It’ll taste just as good as the traditional preparation and you don’t have to worry about a dry turkey or food poisoning.
What to stuff your turkey with instead
Just because you shouldn’t stuff your turkey with stuffing, doesn’t mean you should leave that space open! You can stuff your bird with all sorts of ingredients to give your turkey more flavor. Some of our favorite fillings include aromatic herbs, citrus and even beer!