*Never* Cook Stuffing Inside the Turkey: It’s Dangerous

published Nov 22, 2019
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I’m here to tell you that stuffing doesn’t go inside a turkey. “But it’s stuffing” I can hear you say. “The name literally tells you where to put it.” And you’re right — traditionally turkeys were stuffed with stuffing. Most of us can easily conjure an image in our heads (or on Google) of a family standing around an amber turkey with just a tuft of stuffing peeking out between the juicy drumsticks. It’s iconic. It’s also absolutely wrong.

When you cook the stuffing inside your turkey, you end up having to choose between cooking until the stuffing is done — which results in a dry, overcooked turkey — or until the turkey is done — which results in undercooked stuffing, and is potentially dangerous.

Why Cooking Stuffing in Your Turkey Is Dangerous

The USDA advises that whole turkeys be cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F to kill any potentially harmful bacteria. That temperature includes any potential stuffing deep in the turkey’s cavity. At temperatures below 165°F you risk exposure to salmonella or E. coli, two very scary and gross bacteria. The problem with stuffing your roast turkey is that when the turkey’s meat is safely cooked, the stuffing inside still is not.

Stuffing Is a Problem for the Turkey Too

When stuffed, the turkey’s raw juices come in direct contact with the stuffing. This means that in order to be safe to eat, your stuffing has to reach 165°F. But by the time the stuffing is safe, the rest of the turkey will be well over 180°F, and will basically have turned into tough, dry turkey jerky.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Here’s What to Do Instead

If someone in the family insists the stuffing just won’t have that delicious turkey flavor unless it’s baked in the holiday bird, we have an answer: Cook the stuffing with turkey stock. You can make your own turkey stock ahead of Thanksgiving or just buy some premade stock. The result will be a turkey “juice”-flavored stuffing that is safe to eat and a turkey that is moist and juicy.