Stuffing a Turkey - How To Stuff a Turkey Safely

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U.S. Department of Agriculture
Food Safety and Inspection Service
Washington, DC 20250
Consumer Education and Information

stuffing a turkey


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To stuff or not to stuff -- that is the question on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Meat and Poultry Hotline. It is an important question to ask as the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday draws near, because cooking a home-stuffed turkey can be somewhat riskier than cooking one not stuffed. If the stuffing is not cooked and handled properly, food borne illness could occur.

However, with careful preparation and the use of a meat or cooking thermometer to ensure that safe temperatures are reached, consumers can safely enjoy the traditional holiday stuffing inside OR outside the bird," says Bessie Berry, Hotline Manager.

NOTE: The USDA has come up with a one-temperature-suits-all for poultry safety: 165 degrees F. For safety and doneness, the Internal Temperature of the turkey should be checked with a meat or cooking thermometer.

Berry also mentions that although a "pop-up" thermometer that comes with many turkeys is one way to judge the bird's doneness, it can't tell you the temperature of the stuffing. An instant meat or cooking thermometer should also be used with stuffed birds. 

After the estimated cooking time has elapsed, a meat thermometer should be inserted in several places, including the innermost part of the thigh and the center of the stuffing, to check the temperatures," Berry explains.

Once the turkey meat and the stuffing have reached the proper temperatures, the turkey should be removed from the oven and allowed to "stand" for 15 to 20 minutes before removing the stuffing and carving.

If you are not prepared to use a meat thermometer to measure the internal temperature of the stuffing in the bird, then the stuffing should be cooked outside the turkey," advises Berry.

Family favorite Turkey Stuffing/Dressing Recipe:

Turkey StuffingTurkey Stuffing
This is my family's favorite Turkey Dressing/Stuffing recipe that I make every year.
Whether you call it "stuffing" or "dressing," what's not to love about turkey stuffing? It's often one of the best parts of a turkey dinner. It is so easy to prepare. Also be creative and add your family's favorite ingredients.

Sweet Onion Cornbread Stuffing:
This wonderful cornbread stuffing will delight your family and friends. It is easy-to-make and so delicious! Use it as a great stuffing alongside of your poultry dishes.

Sweet Onion Cornbread Stuffing
This wonderful cornbread stuffing will delight your family and friends. It is easy-to-make and so delicious! Use it as a great stuffing alongside of your poultry dishes.


Here are some other important food safety guidelines to follow:

Handle raw turkeys safely. Take the turkey home directly from the grocery store. Errands should be run first, before going to the store. At home, place the turkey immediately in the refrigerator or freezer. A fresh turkey should be cooked within two days.

Defrosting Turkey. Defrost frozen turkeys in the refrigerator, allowing 24 hours for each five pounds. For faster thawing, place the frozen turkey in cold water, allowing about 30 minutes per pound. The water should be changed every half-hour. A turkey may be defrosted in the microwave if it is large enough, but follow the manufacturer's instructions. Cook immediately after defrosting.

Prepare stuffing safely. Mix the stuffing just before it goes into the turkey. If more convenient, the wet and dry ingredients can be prepared ahead of time and chilled. Mix the ingredients just before placing the stuffing inside the turkey or in a casserole.

Stuff the bird properly. The turkey should be stuffed loosely about 3/4 cup of stuffing per pound of turkey. This will help allow the stuffing to reach the proper 165 degrees F. internal temperature whether the stuffing is in the bird or in a casserole. Use a meat thermometer to be sure. The stuffing should be moist, not dry, since heat destroys bacteria more rapidly in a moist environment.

Cook at the proper temperature. The stuffed turkey should be placed immediately in a preheated oven set no lower than 325 degrees F. Cooking overnight in a "slow" oven is not recommended since food borne bacteria can form under these conditions.

Storing leftovers. Leftovers should be stored within two hours of cooking. Cut the turkey off the bones. Refrigerate the stuffing and the turkey separately in shallow containers. Use leftover turkey within four days; stuffing and gravy, in one or two days.


Turkey Hints & Tips:

Turkey Basics - How to purchase, stuff, and roast a turkey - Choosing a fresh or frozen turkey - How to thaw a frozen turkey - How to prepare turkey for stuffing.

Thanksgiving Planning - Stress-Free Thanksgiving - How to plan and prepare your Thanksgiving dinner in advance without stress.

Thanksgiving Dinner Menu - Check out some ideas and recipe for your Thanksgiving dinner menu.

Guidelines for Brining Poultry - The secret to juicy chicken breast is simple - brine them before grilling or baking! It's very easy and economical, and requires no special cookware.

Guidelines For Roasting a Whole Turkey - Learn how to safely and easily prepare and roast your turkey.

Using a Cooking or Meat Thermometer - Have you ever cut into a turkey to see if it has finished cooking? Cooking thermometers take the guesswork out of cooking, as they measures the internal temperature of your cooked meat and poultry to assure that a safe temperature has been reached, harmful bacteria have been destroyed, and your turkey is cook perfectly.

Making Perfect Turkey Gravy - Hints and tips for making that perfect turkey gravy.

Handling Leftovers Safely - Leftover" foods are cooked foods that you or your family donot eat within 2 hours after they are cooked. Improper handling or storing cooked food is one of the most common causes of food poisoning in the home.

Let's Make Turkey Stock - My favorite thing to do the morning after Thanksgiving is to make homemade turkey stock from the turkey carcass. It is so easy to do and so delicious! The turkey stock can be used for a delicious soup or frozen for future use.


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