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Thanksgiving Turkey: To Stuff or Not to Stuff?

My mother always stuffed our turkey at Thanksgiving, now I’m told it’s not safe! But I love the stuffing cooked this way, is there any way I can safely serve a stuffed turkey to my family?

The short answer: Thankfully, yes!

The explanation: While some of the traditional foods of Thanksgiving vary by region and even state, turkey and stuffing are two foods you will find on nearly every Thanksgiving table across the U.S. And on many tables, that stuffing will be exactly what the word indicates: stuffed inside the turkey. While this can make for very flavorful stuffing and turkey, it can be very unsafe. This is because the stuffing doesn’t cook as fast as the meat, so it can contain raw turkey juices that can cause foodborne illness. Because of this, many experts now recommend cooking the stuffing outside the turkey – in which case it is termed “dressing” instead. 

If you do choose to cook stuffing in the cavity of the turkey, USDA provides a few safety rules to follow.

  1. The wet and dry ingredients can be prepared ahead, with wet ingredients refrigerated and any raw meats ingredients cooked ahead.
  2. Stuff the turkey cavity loosely (about 3/4 cup stuffing per pound of turkey) right after mixing the wet with the dry ingredients. Only stuff turkeys that will be cooked in the oven (not those grilled, smoked, fried, or microwaved). Then cook Immediately in an oven set to at least 325°F.
  3. Use a food thermometer to check the doneness of both the internal temperature of the turkey and of the stuffing. Both must be at least 165°F to be safe.
  4. Let the cooked turkey stand 20 minutes before removing the stuffing and carving.
  5. Refrigerate the cooked turkey and stuffing within 2 hours after cooking. Use within 4 days and reheat to at least 165°F before eating.

Another option if you are stuffing the turkey because you like the flavoring and moisture provided by the stuffing, is to stuff it instead with chopped onion, celery, carrot, squash, and/or peppers, which add flavor and help keep the turkey moist by steaming within the cavity.


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