12 Things You Should Put in Your Turkey That Aren’t Stuffing

Wondering what to stuff the turkey with this Thanksgiving? Here are our top picks for ingredients that add flavor and moisture for your best bird yet.

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What to Stuff Inside a Turkey

To cook stuffing inside the Thanksgiving turkey or not? That is the question. We love to stick with tradition, but cooking stuffing in a turkey can be dangerous. It has everything to do with temperature: You should cook the bird to a safe internal temperature of 165°F. However, just because the bird hits 165ºF doesn’t mean the stuffing inside hits that food-safe temperature at the same time. And if you keep cooking until the stuffing is safe to enjoy, the turkey can turn out dry.

We suggest avoiding the risk altogether: Stuff a turkey with herbs, fruit and vegetables, and serve the stuffing (some folks call it dressing) on the side! Not only will it be safer, but the aromatics will create a more flavorful turkey. Here are a dozen ideas for what to stuff a turkey with this Thanksgiving.

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Onions and Shallots

An easy turkey tip: Peel and quarter an onion or two and nestle it into the cavity of your turkey. Alliums like onions and shallots add flavor and a bit of moisture to poultry. The onion and shallot flavor also pairs well with other onion-infused sides like dressing and green bean casserole.

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The secret to adding extra flavor to your Thanksgiving turkey is to season it liberally. This means adding salt and pepper to the outside and inside of the bird. Herbs of all kinds are also necessary for adding flavor.

Stuff a bundle of fresh herbs right into the cavity. The flavor and aroma of these greens will permeate the poultry as it cooks. Try using any combination of the following for delicious results: thyme, rosemary, sage, tarragon, marjoram, parsley and oregano.

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Garlic makes every savory dish taste better. Fill your Thanksgiving turkey with plenty of this aromatic. You can add smashed cloves into the cavity with other ingredients like herbs and onions. You can also slice the top off a bulb of garlic and nestle the whole thing right inside—no peeling necessary!

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Consider quartering an apple or two for stuffing your turkey. The flavor will remind you of fall, but apples will also provide the turkey with a little extra moisture during the cooking process (you can still brine the turkey, of course).

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Learning how to season a turkey doesn’t stop with applying your favorite spice blend to the outside of the bird. Be sure to liberally season the cavity of the turkey with salt, pepper and spices as well. You can try a homemade mix to complement your menu or choose one of our editor’s favorite premade spice blends.

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This lesser-used aromatic is a great option if you’re wondering what to stuff your turkey with this year. It plays well with other autumnal flavors like apples and nuts, like in this apple and fennel salad. It does have a slight anise flavor, though, so stay away if you’re not a black licorice fan!

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You’ve probably heard of beer can chicken before. Well, the same principle can be applied to turkey! This method is best for smaller birds made on the grill, but it’s still a great way to add moisture and a little extra flavor to your nontraditional Thanksgiving turkey.

What beer should you choose for this method? Anything that you’d enjoy sipping yourself. You could even use NA beer.

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Citrus Fruits

Wedges of lemon, orange, lime and even grapefruit provide your turkey with an extra layer of flavor. Plus, these fruits add moisture to your turkey as it cooks so you end up with a juicy Thanksgiving centerpiece.

For best results, cut the citrus of your choosing into quarters and nestle them inside the bird along with plenty of fresh herbs.

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If you want a classic roast turkey taste, incorporate a few ribs of celery. This ingredient, combined with herbs and onions, is one of the most traditional Thanksgiving flavors.

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A few slices of fresh peeled ginger placed inside the turkey cavity can add a bit of warming spice to your holiday. The flavor pairs nicely with fluffy potato rolls, marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole or one of our other favorite Thanksgiving sides.

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Leeks are also part of the allium family along with onions, scallions and shallots. However, leeks have a slightly more mellow and sweet flavor. This taste pairs really well with turkey and other fall flavors.

To use leeks to season your Thanksgiving turkey, cut away the dark green leaves and very bottom stem. Be sure to wash away any sand or dirt. Then you can slice it into chunks and add them to the cavity with other ingredients from this list.

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Other Poultry

This one is not for the faint of heart! If you’re exceptionally daring and love a good challenge, try your hand at making a turducken. A turkey stuffed with duck that’s stuffed with a chicken is definitely a culinary oddity, but it’s a fun one to think about!

Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is a former Taste of Home editor and passionate baker. During her tenure, she poured her love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. Lisa also dedicated her career here to finding and testing the best ingredients, kitchen gear and home products for our Test Kitchen-Preferred program. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.
Lesley Balla
As an associate editor at Taste of Home, Lesley helps track food and cooking trends, and writes and updates digital content. When not at her desk, you'll find her whipping up something with finds from the farmers market, discovering new restaurants, or hiking and roadtripping with her husband and pup Pucci.