Stuffing Your Turkey: Just Don’t Do It

Stuffing Your Turkey: Just Don’t Do It


When it comes to turkey, stuffing is evil. That’s because stuffing goes into the middle of the bird and is extremely porous. That means as the turkey around it cooks, juices that may contain salmonella bacteria soak into the stuffing, which then must be cooked to a minimum of 165 degrees F in order to be safe.

Getting the stuffing to this temperature usually means overcooking the turkey. They way I see it, cooking stuffing inside a turkey turns the turkey into a rather costly seal-a-meal bag.

If you’re a stuffing fan, I suggest cooking it separately (in which case it’s “dressing,” not stuffing) and inserting it into the bird while it rests (to collect the turkey juices). Odds are no one will notice the difference.

If you absolutely have to stuff the bird, follow my recipe here.

57 Comments

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  1. 1
    Dave

    What I do works very well. I brine the bird with additions of oranges, lemons, rosemary and thyme. Then I roast upside down for the first third of the estimated time with no stuffing. Then, flip the bird over (lots of juice will pour out into the pan), stuff, and finish roasting. Roast at 375F. Let rest for at least 45min.

  2. 2
    TurkeyTired

    The moral is the stuff/dress/ing tastes best with juices from the bird. So that should be incorporated some way some how. The rest of the arguement is feuled by tradition, which I sympathize with. It’s more carnal too stuffing that bird with meat from another creature all ground up. Dang we be gritty folk. I grew up eating it out of the cavity of the sacrificial fowl and it was always tasty. Not a fan as how it’s evolved into foodie trend madness with walnuts and big chunks of bread. I like it mushy and traditional. Someone used mushy as a negative adjective. No way. It’s the mushy deliciousness that makes the whole forcemeat mixture come together. Hells ya! Chances are the center stuffing was never measured for doneness with a thermometer, so if the the turkey was perfect and it hopefully was. Then we probably had a bit under done stuffing. It tastes delicious and hopefully at worst it provides some extra reading time.

  3. 3
    Richard

    I saw that episode on Netflix a few weeks ago. I have a simple solution. I put the stuffing under the skin. When I prepare the turkey I slip my fingers under the skin between the breast and the pocket between the breast and thigh. that were the stuffing goes and the pocket in the neck .

  4. 4
    Roy

    As I see it, only way the turkey dries out with stuffing in the bird is if the stuffing is dry and will absorb moisture from the turkey. There are good recipes for making moist stuffing (with butter and broth) that should not dry out your turkey. Never knew anyone who got sick from salmonella eating stuffed turkey either.

  5. 5
    Pamela Knowlton

    I usually stuff my bird with large chunks of seasoned apples & onions, then baste the turkey in a mixture of apple juice, honey, & melted butter. You could add carrots, cranberries & or golden raisins in with the apples & onions. I throw the apples & onions away, they are simply there to enhance flavor.

  6. 7
    Tib

    I can understand the hesitation about doing stuffing in the bird, but I have to say I am a sucker for ‘in the bird’ because it is ridiculously tasty. Most of the concerns that you’ve listed I think can be addressed by how it’s prepared though, ie if all you do is toss bread with broth and stuff it in, you’re right – it will slow down the cooking process because you need to heat up the bird that much longer, potentially drying it out from the outside while the inside gets up to safe temperatures.

    There are other things to consider though: First – your brine option for the turkey makes it incredibly moist, so the extra cooking time won’t likely hurt the bird if you go the above boring route. Second – the assumption that the stuffing goes in cold seems more a failing of the imagination on stuffing recipes than the process.

    The average bag of stuffing mix from a store (yes, AB, sorry – not all of us make our own despite how much I really would love to – I just have no time), is something I consider just a BASE. In addition to that I have the following ingredients:

    1lb sage pork sausage
    diced mushrooms to taste
    half a head of garlic, finely chopped
    a cup of diced celery
    minced fresh rosemary to taste
    half a med yellow onion, diced
    freshly ground black pepper to taste

    Start with the sausage, break it up into small/med crumble pieces and start browning. about half way there, start adding the aromatics based on duration to cook that you want. If you want more snap/texture to them, wait till the end to toss them in so they’re warm but not actually cooking so that the roasting finishes them. Want them soft for picky eaters who ‘hate’ such tasty things, get them tender in the pan first so they are inescapable yet still delicious. So.. onion, then celery, mushrooms, garlic last because with all the fat in the pan it can char quickly if you are not on top of it. With the add-ins ready to come off the stove, heat up the broth in the microwave and melt the butter in it. Put the stuffing bread in a big bowl, add the extras (add black pepper here) and toss to combine, then add the broth and tumble/mix them thoroughly.

    You now have some hot stuffing (Not sure of actual temperature since I don’t have an IR thermometer, but hot enough that you need a spoon because you’ll not want to handle it with hands) to put in the bird RIGHT BEFORE it goes into the oven. Pack it to your preference (loose if you want more texture, snug if you want smoother style), and then put all the excess (because you WILL have some) in a pan to go into the oven when the turkey comes out to rest – assuming you have only one oven.

    Viola – you now have delicious in-the-bird stuffing that actually contributes to a speedy cooking because of warming the internals of the bird just a touch (the bones are HUGE heat sinks), very likely didn’t stray into the temp danger zone while in contact with uncooked poultry, and allows you to wow people with a second style of stuffing from the same source, which will have a fluffier and bready texture because of not being confined on space like in the bird.

    • 8
      Tib

      And I just now look at the recipe I posted and the one that you’ve got and realize we’re on the same page, I like the nuts and berries – I may look into adding something similar in mine.

  7. 10
    Linda Mitlyng

    My mother never stuffed the turkey. She always made it separate. She would get extra necks and make stock with them and onion carrot and celery. The stock was used to moisten the dressing. She would “stuff” the turkey with halved oranges that were hand squeezed as they were crammed inside. The skin was slathered with butter, and basted with orange juice and Canada Dry, and some of the leftover stock. Besides, you need crunchies in the dressing.

    And, BTW, Alton, there is a shrine in my kitchen to you! After my mother died, you have been my cooking mentor! Thank you!

  8. 11
    Jamie

    I honestly stuffed for years, that’s what my mom and grandma did.
    However then I started dating my current boyfriend, who is a huge AB fan. He introduced me to brining, and just cooking dressing with turkey broth. I can very sincerely say that I haven’t had a dry turkey in 3 years because of him.
    So maybe it isn’t the way my mama taught me, it turns out pretty darn good though and I’ll take it.

  9. 12
    AndrewJ456

    I would think if you put a probe in the turkey and the stuffing, you might find the reason people aren’t getting sick, and the birds aren’t over cooking is because the added mass is slowing down the turkeys cook time, and it’s not reaching the target temp so much faster than the stuffing. More people probably end up sick from stuffing a bird that isn’t completely thawed, which would bring about that perfect storm of overcooked breast and undercooked stuffing. But flame away because disagreeing with Alton is only cool when you foodie hipsters want to share how you’ve improved on his recipes.

  10. 14
    Maleficent

    Yup. Never had a problem with stuffing either–or a dry turkey. Alton can do whatever he wants, and so can everyone else. Boils down to a matter of preference and how paranoid you are—don’t do it if you’re scared; if you’ve been stuffing turkeys for generations and haven’t had a problem—go for it if that’s what you prefer. I’ll stick to what works best at my house, and eveyrone else can do the same.

  11. 15
    Dale

    My mother, now 79, has always stuffed the bird and I have followed suit. I’m now 58.
    We always had very large gatherings for Thanksgiving dinner and NO ONE ever got sick
    from anything stuffing or otherwise

  12. 16
    Jason

    Alton, I am partial to cooking the stuffing in the turkey cavity, but taking it out about 2 hours into cooking and finishing the stuffing in the oven in a separate dish during the resting phase. That way I enjoy the flavors of the turkey’s juices, but I’m able to get the temperature that’s required without over-cooking the bird.

  13. 17
    Ryan

    If you think separately-cooked “dressing” isn’t as good, you aren’t doing it right. I make turkey stock beforehand with cheap turkey bones, and use that as liquid for the dressing (as well as many other things), which makes it delicious. And all the flavor from the roasting pan ends up in the gravy. I see no downside.

  14. 18
    Susan

    Been stuffing our birds for 30 yrs, as my mom, her mom, did before her………Never once got sick….If your turkey is dry, so what….Use gravy!!! Just bc he’s on TV doesn’t mean he is 100 % correct…..

    • 19
      Stark

      “Who cares if the turkey is dry”? Consider this. Food doesn’t have to suck, just because that’s how your family has done it for generations. You might be carrying on the tradition of a bad habit. He might just be famous BECAUSE he understands these things.

      • 20
        Ms"D"

        I agree. I love, love, love Alton Brown, and have been cooking his thanksgiving meals for…well since forever. We had tradition at my house- generations on how to do things. Yet- when I became 15, I learned that it was not the only way nor the right way. He is a cooking titan for a reason-

  15. 22
    Nick

    All the people saying they stuffed for blah blah years and no one got sick. Yeah maybe no one got violently I’ll but you can get mild food poisoning which is just taking a chance on it getting it not mild. You can only de once so why chance it. I also believe that the statistic on people that get food poisoning on Thanksgiving is pretty high like 1 in 5. You had food poisoning and just didn’t know it. Learn about food poisoning before you comment. Most people eat something and if they get sick in like an hour they say they got food poisoning. Wrong. When you get it its probably something you ate 2 days ago. So on sat after Thanksgiving when you aren’t feeling well. Yup the stuffing made you sick.

    • 23
      Maleficent

      Don’t need to research food poisoning. Never gotten sick on Thanksgiving or a day, two days, or week after Thanksgiving, either. Nobody else I know who’s had anything at my house on Thanksgiving has, either. To each their own. Plus my turkey is never dry…oh well.

  16. 24
    John

    I cook my dressing soaked in the juices from the roasting pan while the Turkey rests. To make sure I have enough juice to make my dressing and gravy open my Turkey’s wrapping in the collecting all the raw juice as well as the bird. This may sound gross but that juice isn’t blood, it’s water and proteins from the bird and after roasting has the same flavor as the bird it came from.

  17. 26
    Courtney

    When my mom does the stuffing, she takes it out of the bird while it’s resting and tosses it back in the oven. Same idea, just reversed!

    • 27
      Douglas

      Problem is, the inside “cavity” layer of turkey is STILL underdone…and since it was exposed during processing, it’s probably bacterial refuge.

  18. 28
    Sharon

    I’ve been trying to convince my husband this for years. I a lot of broth to my dressing/stuffing to keep it moist This year I’m going to take your suggestion Alton and add it to the bird during resting and just not tell anyone until AFTER dinner. Of course I’ll still have a pan of dressing as well. We’ll see how it goes!

  19. 30
    Jackie

    Ok, I grew up stuffing Turkey’s, just like most of us did. But the Turkey’s we’ve been buying they last 10 15 years aren’t the same as they were. Just saying. So, we always made 2 birds, one with potatoes stuffing (Irish side) one with bread stuffing (French side). No, no one ever died or even got sick. But quite honestly, the potato stuffing was a matter of luck, and the bread stuffing was a battleground. Dad – no sage, more pepper; Mom – sage, less pepper, don’t forget the celery. Finally, mom got smart and started making the bread dressing the day before, using giblets, pork sausage, and home made Turkey stock. She started putting apples and oranges in the bird, and the result was delicious. The only problem was the potato stuffing. When it was good, it was heavenly, but really, it was just a matter of prayer and luck, so we finally decided that 14 side dishes and 6 different deserts, all from scratch, might be enough.

  20. 31
    Christine

    I am doing my “dressing” in the crock pot this year. A whole giant crockpot of stuffing with crispy edges and it is all mine! I will happily serve it to my 17 month old granddaughters and I will teach them how to make this in years to come.

  21. 35
    Guy

    A couple pieces of anecdotal evidence hardly makes Mr. Brown ‘wrong’. Just because there are families that haven’t cooked stuffing improperly doesn’t mean some poor soul hasn’t or won’t. There’s nothing wrong with erring on the side of caution.

  22. 36
    Helen

    Dressing sucks..stuffing is delicious.. The person that said stuffing the bird adds nothing is completely void of taste buds!!! We have stuffed for over 100 years.. My mom.. Her mom.. Now me and my daughter.(I assume my greats as well ). Stuffing is the best ! We use cornbread, celery, onion, walnuts, butter and a raw egg to bind..
    We are all alive and well .. Stuffing this year! Love ab but not on this subject

    • 37
      Mals86

      Disagree. Could not disagree any more than I do – stuffing is utterly worthless in my opinion. I’d feed it to the dog, except that I would be afraid the dog’s stomach couldn’t handle the germs.
      DRESSING PLEASE. Baked separately, so that it’s crispy on the edges and you get texture contrast with the parts that get soaked by gravy.

    • 38
      Maleficent

      AGREE!!! I’ve been stuffing turkey for over 30 years too–everyone in my family has, and we have yet to suffer the “scourge” of salmonella. The only stuffing I put in a casserole is the amount that doesn’t fit in the turkey. And I HATE dry, crunchy stuffing. I like it MOIST–it’s not “soggy”—stuffing. In my opinion–and that’s what EVERYTHING is on here—to me, dry stuffing is the equivalent to eating dry toast crumbs. It’s ALL a matter of opinion–opinions of which, like they say, are like buttholes—everyone’s got one. 😉 If you like it dry and crunchy—great! And for those of us who don’t—YAY! Just stop puking up the “Oh, if you eat it THIS way, you might as well just throw out the turkey and eat the cheap sawdust scraps….” yada, yada, yada. Get over it and stop peeing on what other people’s preferences are. As for the salmonella thing, it’s been WAY overblown over the years. If it weren’t, our civilization wouldn’t have lasted this long, because it would seem that PLENTY of generations over the years have stuffed their turkeys, and most everyone has made it to this point in time without being wiped out. Do whatever you want with your stuffing–just stop the nasty criticizing of people who prefer something different. I LOVE Alton Brown, but totally disagree with him on this. That’s fine—he’s entitled to his opinion, as is everyone else.

  23. 39
    trell

    We have never stuffed a bird. We make dressing and this have been done for generation on both sides of my family. This is what I prefer as well. I am a little funny with birds but that just me. I know people that stuff their birds and has not had a problem. I guess its what each individual prefer.

  24. 40
    Max

    Whenever I make a turkey, the probe goes in the stuffing, and a spare one goes in the thigh. I don’t take it out untiul one reads 180 and one reads 160, respectively. I don’t know why salmonella is a risk if the instructions on almost any website or pamplet are going to tell you 180 for stuffing.

  25. 41
    Virginia VeDepo

    Have been stuffing my turkeys for more than 40 years, as my mother did, and her mother before her, and my turkeys are never dry and overcooked. My stuffing is always the favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner, and no one has ever gotten ill from eating. In fact, I have never known anyone who has gotten salmonella from eating Thanksgiving dinner. Why do we insist on scaring people? Not stuff the bird? I don’t think so.

    • 42
      Maleficent

      EXACTLY!! Same here. Scare tactics. Never had a problem, and I know of no one in my family, friends, etc. who have from stuffing a turkey. 🙂

    • 43
      Maleficent

      Yup. Never had a problem with stuffing either–or a dry turkey. Alton can do whatever he wants, and so can everyone else. Boils down to a matter of preference and how paranoid you are—don’t do it if you’re scared; if you’ve been stuffing turkeys for generations and haven’t had a problem—go for it if that’s what you prefer. I’ll stick to what works best at my house, and eveyrone else can do the same. 🙂

  26. 44
    Greg

    Hey Jon, in the south of the USA we (“no one”) call it dressing if it’s not stuffed in the bird. Stuffing=stuffing the bird. Dressing=dressing the outside of the bird. Guess you don’t know everything after all. Make better comments. Knowledge is power.

  27. 45
    Sean

    OH, Alton. You’re just 100% wrong. 3 generations of cooks on both sides of my family stuff the bird and history has proved you wrong. (same can be said for your oven cooked eggs too…)

  28. 46
    Angie

    We’ve stuffed our turkey every year for the last 40+ years. No one ever gets sick. But we make cornbread dressing. And we always make extra outside the bird since there’s never enough.

  29. 47
    Josh

    @Jon
    You must be new here, being pedantic about the words and facts is Alton’s claim to fame, its why we love him.
    Stuffing is low in moisture, relative to the bird, it doesn’t heat up as fast as the turkey. As for overthought, again thats what we come to Alton Brown to do.

    If you stuff the bird, you may do just fine, no one is claiming you can’t. Just that its a risky idea, akin to driving without a seatbelt. You won’t necessarily get it, but the risk is to be avoided when possible. Especially since no real flavor is added by putting stuffing in the turkey, that you can’t get simply by making dressing with drippings midway through the cook.

  30. 48
    Lara

    Ugh! The Southern Way of dressing. Gross! It’s like eating sage & sawdust. Anyone who has ever had stuffing WILL notice. You simply put it in a casserole and bake for another 15 mins outside the bird after the turkey is done!

  31. 50
    Jeff

    @Jon – The turkey will reach 165F before the stuffing does.
    The person at most risk is the person preparing the bird. Never handle raw poultry with bare hands if they are chapped or have a fresh cut. Learned the hard way!
    almonella doesn’t just cause diarrhea. It can also trigger Reactive Arthritis, also known as Reiter’s Syndrone. It is a sudden and debilitating onset of arthritis usually in the knees in reaction to a variety of infections, including Salmonella.

  32. 51
    jon

    Ummm the bird has to get to 165° anyways to kill the salmonella in the bird if It has it so either way you have to get it their so this makes no sense and was clearly over thought also fried turkey is better and no one calls it dressing even if it’s not stuffed in something……….. make better blogs

    • 52
      Amanda Kate

      Did you even read the blog post? The stuffing reaches 165 degrees after the turkey, as stuffing doesn’t cook nearly as quickly as turkey does.

  33. 53
    Debra

    My Dad is 88, stuffs his bird every year, I don’t know how he makes it so delicious. We never got sick, the bird was never dry, and he and my dear Mom are alive and well in Florida. I cook mine outside the bird and baste it.

  34. 54
    Kathy Pafunda

    I like that idea! I live in fear of a dry, overcooked turkey (cue Chevy Chase in Christmas Vacation). Do you have any suggestions to make the dressing spectacular?

    • 55
      Chef Gerald

      You dry out your bird when the oven temp is too high. Most recipes suggest 325, the reason is they don’t want the turkey to be undercooked and could still hold bacteria. Might I suggest starting the turkey in a hot oven,425, for the first 15 – 20 min, setting the buttered or oiled skin, then reduce the oven temp to 275. This is slow roasting, takes a little more time. When the bird reaches 160 you are done. You could roast at 250, after a time, 6 to 12 hours depending on the bird size, the bird will reach 160. Remember when basting the turkey was the rage, so you basted every ten to fifteen minutes, the turkey turned out moist: the reason why : you kept opening the oven so much the bird cooked at a much lower temperature. Lower temperature – moist bird. Chef Gerald

  35. 57
    Debbe

    “If you’re a stuffing fan, I suggest cooking it separately, (in which case, it’s “dressing”, not stuffing), and inserting it into the bird while it rests (to collect the turkey juices). Odds are, no one will notice.”
    And, added bonus, the “dressing” then magically becomes “stuffing”, after all. 🙂

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