Tradition holds that stuffing is cooked inside the bird to absorb juices as the turkey roasts that give it a moist texture and savory, delicious flavor.  That’s, after all, why it’s called “stuffing”.  But salmonella outbreaks in recent years have been linked to bacteria on the interior surface of the turkey cavity that can pass to stuffing and cause illness.   As a result, many now eschew stuffing and instead cook “dressing” outside the bird, in a separate dish.  They enjoy the crispy edges that form in the dressing as it roasts unconfined and appreciate the fact that unstuffed birds cook as much as an hour faster than stuffed ones.

This, of course, is viewed as Thanksgiving blasphemy by traditionalists.  And there are a few tips that will make stuffing your bird safer:

  • Although stuffing can be made a day ahead of serving, cooled to room temperature and refrigerated, covered, it should stored separate from the turkey.  Stuffing the turkey in advance gives bacteria the opportunity to multiply.  
  • Both turkey and stuffing should be at room temperature 1 hour before stuffing.  A cold bird and cold stuffing may not reach an internal temperature adequate to kill bacteria.  According to the USDA, that necessary temperature is 165*.
  • Fill the cavity lightly.  Stuffing expands while cooking, and dense packing may protect bacteria from the heat.  Truss the bird after stuffing to keep the stuffing in place.
  • Roast the turkey at a temperature no lower than 325*.
  • A standard complaint about stuffed turkey is that the breast meat overcooks while waiting for the stuffing to reach 165*.  To avoid a dry bird, choose a turkey that is fresh, not frozen.  Ice crystals formed during freezing damage the muscle cells, fluids leak when the bird thaws and roasts, and the turkey is dry.  Brining also will give you a moister bird.  Turkey absorbs both salt and water during brining, leaving it moist and seasoned on the inside.
  • Always store cooked turkey and stuffing separately.

If you’ve grown tired of the debate over stuffing versus dressing, do as I do.  Make enough to stuff the turkey and to fill a separate baking dish that can slip into the oven during the last hour or so of turkey roasting.  That way those who like their stuffing savory and moist can partake equally alongside those who prefer drier dressing with crispy edges.


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