A beautifully roasted and stuffed turkey is the iconic centerpiece of many a holiday table. But, there's more to stuffing a turkey than just...stuffing a turkey. Here's your step-by-step guide to stuffing a turkey the right way.

By Hanna Raskin
Updated September 10, 2020
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Get Recipes for Stuffed Turkey

Before we start stuffing, let's talk food safety for a hot second. Food safety is a significant concern when dealing with stuffing because the warm, moist interior of a turkey is a perfect breeding ground for harmful bacteria. The USDA doesn't recommend against stuffing a turkey (although it frowns on pre-stuffed turkeys prepared by stores and restaurants), but warns that home cooks should use a thermometer to make sure the stuffing has reached 165 degrees F (75 degrees C) before serving. (This instant-read digital meat thermometer is a top-seller on Amazon.) If the stuffing is any cooler, it's a potential source of foodborne illness.

Three Safety Tips for Stuffed Turkey

  1. Stuff your turkey just before you roast it. Do not stuff the turkey the night before.
  2. Cook raw meat and seafood, such as bacon or oysters, before adding them to any stuffing you put inside your uncooked bird.
  3. Insert a meat thermometer into to center of the stuffing to read the temperature. It must be 165 degrees F (75 degrees C) to be fully cooked.

To Stuff or Not to Stuff

Some cooks believe that traditional holiday stuffing actually detracts from a turkey's flavor because it takes longer for the stuffing to cook than the turkey, so you can end up with dry meat. One easy alternative is to cook the dressing separately and then spoon it into the cooked turkey when it's resting.

Other cooks swear by cooking the stuffing inside the turkey because it gets flavored with all the juices from the turkey. If you opt to bake your stuffing apart from your turkey, you can spoon some turkey pan drippings over the stuffing before you pop it into the oven.

Related: Learn the difference between stuffings and dressings.

How to Stuff a Turkey

Step 1: Remove the giblets

Inside most uncooked turkeys, you'll find a little package that contains the turkey's giblets — its gizzard, heart, and liver. Think of it as a bonus flavor sack: The offal is a delicious addition to dressing and gravy. While it's best to remove the package before cooking your turkey, it's not a big deal from a health perspective if you forget. After taking out the giblets and trimming any loose bits and pat dry inside and out with a paper towel.

For added deliciousness, rub herb butter (also called compound butter) under the turkey's skin before stuffing — it helps boost flavor and moisture.

Step 2: Stuff the turkey's neck cavity

Spoon your stuffing into the neck cavity. Pack it very loosely, then pull the skin over the stuffing and pin to the turkey's back using a metal skewer.

Credit: Meredith

Step 3: Stuff the turkey's body cavity

Spoon your stuffing into the body cavity, loosely. Stuffing expands while it cooks, so you don't want to pack it in tightly or else it might not get fully cooked all the way through, and your stuffing can turn out with dense, gummy texture.

Credit: Meredith

Then truss your turkey's legs. Check out How to Truss a Turkey the Easy Way.

Credit: Meredith

Roast the stuffed turkey following recipe directions. To ensure the stuffing has reached 165 degrees F (75 degrees C), insert the probe of the meat thermometer into the center of the stuffing.

Credit: mrs.americanhorse

Check out our collection of Thanksgiving Stuffing and Dressing Recipes.

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