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.

68 Comments

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  1. 3
    Adrian

    Gawd the foolishness on here! For the love of God people cook your food, turkey, stuffing and all the way you want! Can’t ya all see by now that no one’s going to give much less change? ENJOY!

  2. 4
    Erik Wecks

    The other option is to take out the bones and make a roulade, which I will do for the second year running. It goes miles toward creating a tender and moist turkey. With stuffing in the middle that reaches 165 in a reasonable timeframe. Am I missing something AB?

  3. 5
    Jacqueline

    Mix up your stuffing base recipe. Use half water and half stock right from the pan of the just fresh roasted turkey. Bake it at 350 for 25 minutes in a shallow casserole pan. (While the Turkey rests) Taste just like in bird as far as flavor. But less mushy been doing this for years.

  4. 6
    PD

    Geeesh here I have been eating it in the bird over 65 years and I have never been sick and have had some juicy delicious birds in a lot of those years. I guess it’s all what you grow up with. But putting it in at the end makes sense but it won’t be as moist. And I will baste! And coat the bird with butter when it goes in the oven.

    • 7
      Eric Patnoudes

      Couldn’t agree more! All of a sudden NOW cooking stuffing in the bird is a problem? I have 40 years under my belt of eating the stuffing cooked in the turkey and with dozens of people at those meals. Not ONE person has ever been sick and we always a juicy, moist bird.

  5. 8
    John

    Just stuff your bird with steaming, piping hot stuffing like I do. 🙂 I use much more butter and onions and celery than most folks because I cook them down before combining with the crumbs. This makes for very hot stuffing which I then stuff (and I mean stuff) into a room temperature bird. Then it goes into a 285 degree oven and it cooks gently from the inside and the outside but is done so fast it’ll make your head spin. Happy Thanksgiving!

  6. 9
    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.

  7. 11
    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.

  8. 12
    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 .

    • 13
      Valerie

      That’s how my fam has done it too. Neck, big cavity, and beneath the skin on both sides between the breasts and thighs. But I can’t find that technique anywhere online. No one — not even Martha — does it that way though! Why not?

  9. 14
    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.

  10. 15
    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.

  11. 18
    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.

    • 19
      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.

  12. 21
    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!

  13. 22
    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.

  14. 23
    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.

  15. 25
    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.

  16. 26
    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

  17. 27
    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.

  18. 28
    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.

  19. 29
    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…..

    • 30
      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.

      • 31
        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-

  20. 33
    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.

    • 34
      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.

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