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Why do people insist on stuffing their turkeys?

I have never made a turkey with stuffing inside of it. I always make the stuffing the day before and then re-heat, and add some dripping to it. I just feel like it isn't as safe, and when I have had it, I don't think it tastes as good. Seems mushy to me, but that could be the cook. My daughters husband insists on stuffing the turkey, as I mentioned in another post. He says that being inside the turkey it "bastes" the stuffing with turkey juices. Huh? We are trying to merge 2 different families traditions, and man is it hard! So we are taking a turkey to fry, cajun style, with a smoky gravy, and my stuffing (that my family much prefers) and they are having the turkey stuffed and making the gravy from the drippings.

Please, if you can, explain the logic behind stuffing the bird. If it's reasonable I might even give it a try . . . but not with a fried turkey!

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  1. Your daughter's husband is right. The fat and other liquid from the bird gets soaked up by the stuffing. I've had the same "dressing" side by side: one from a stuffed bird and one cooked outside. The difference was dramatic. The one from the bird was far more flavorful than the other.

    If it's too mushy for you, you could always heat it in the oven for a while. That's probably a safer way to do it anyway.

    1. This is not about logic, it's about taste and memories of liminal moments. You cannot argue with those, period. HOwever, you are not supposed to deep fry a stuffed turkey - it must have the hot oil circulating through the core of the bird. Stuffed turkeys get roasted.

      16 Replies
      1. re: Karl S

        I agree! Besides, if you don't stuff the turkey you don't get the very very best part of the whole turkey-stuffing experience: the skin that covers the neck cavity, which has crisped and rendered the fat into the stuffing, which gets stuck to the inside. It's worth cooking a whole turkey just for that part.

        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          And, as the cook, I get to snag the skin from the neck cavity. Makes cooking the dinner entirely worthwhile!

            1. re: macca

              I get that piece too - cook's privilege. I stuff the neck cavity but not the main cavity. since I carve in the kitchen, there's never any argument about this precious titbit!

              1. re: sheiladeedee

                This year was really great- as we had two turkeys, so two times the fun- but I did share the delicious morsels with my mom!

                1. re: macca

                  What a GOOD child! I hide mine from my mother on the grounds that it's not healthy for her.

                  1. re: sheiladeedee

                    LOL- Will remember that for next year!! And next year, we may have to go with three turkeys~ there was not one piece of white meat left. I am find with the dark meat, I actually prefer it, but it is nice to have some white meat left for sandwhiches.

          1. re: Karl S

            I KNOW better than to stuff a deep fried bird! That would just be stupid!

            1. re: danhole

              Yeah, but when it comes to deep-frying turkeys, a lot of people are stupid, so it's better not to assume they aren't.

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                True, but I had in the original post that I wasn't going to do that. Even so it's good to point out for someone who is reading between the lines and might think that is okay to do! I'll bet the fire dept. gets pretty busy with the ding dongs that don't know what they are doing!

                1. re: danhole

                  I think the fire houses get pretty busy, full stop. MY GOD the amount of smoke coming out of my turkey today - AND I cooked the thing on the grill, not in the house!

              2. re: danhole

                "So we are taking a turkey to fry, cajun style, with a smoky gravy, and my stuffing (that my family much prefers) and they are having the turkey stuffed and making the gravy from the drippings."

                Your use of the definite article in the second instance of "turkey" made me assume that they were stuffing the turkey you were bringing to fry even though I thought the "drippings" from a fried bird might be nasty... So, there will be two turkeys it seems.

                Anyway, were we to distinguish between "stuffing" and "dressing", southern style, I love any well made version of either camp. Stuffing tends to be more moist and infused with meat flavor (contact with bones gives a different flavor and texture than regular broth would in a dressing). I don't use a stuffing normally in large birds because it encourages overcooking of the bird. But not because I think it's unsafe or undelicious.

                1. re: Karl S

                  Yeah - my understanding is that "stuffing" is cooked inside the bird, and "dressing" is cooked in a separate pan. I do dressing. It's delish, and a plus is that it's veggie-friendly if you have guests who don't eat meat.

                  I grew up on stuffing, though, and I have no strong feelings about it. IMO it's inconvenient, leads to mishandling of the turkey, and, in the wrong hands, even dangerous. All the raw poultry T'giving disasters I've suffered through involved stuffing.

            2. I stuff my turkey, and also have to cook some of it separately.I cook two 17 poiund birds- but my family is fanatical about their stuffing, and I use 10 loaves of bread for the stuffing. I will say that there is lots of jockeying at the table to get their hands on the stuffing from the bird.
              I grew up with stuffing in the bird, and I do think it is tastier. Have heard all the food safety issues with stuffing a bird, but have never experienced a problem.

              1 Reply
              1. re: macca

                I'm a street cooking Thanksgiving guy and nobody, and I mean nobody tells me how to cook the turkey and dressing. The dressing from the turkey DEFINITELY tastes better and no matter what, it is NEVER dry. As the cook, I know non-turkey dressing and I never eat it.

              2. Well, now I will have to try that - next year! I guess he either overstuffs, or just doesn't have a good stuffing recipe. Those of us that are accustomed to the oven baked didn't like his at all. Hopefully it will be better this year.

                Now I wonder if I should still bring my stuffing. Maybe not! If his isn't so good, I'll just make my own the next day to have with leftovers!

                1 Reply
                1. re: danhole

                  We always had two types of stuffing. The mushy stuff from the inside of the bird and a pan of crunchy stuffing that Mom would drizzle turkey drippings over in a hot oven. I love both.

                2. I used to be a die hard stuff the bird guy because I thought it tasted better and it was traditional in my family.

                  Then I met my MIL, who refused to stuff the bird and the difference was dramatic.
                  Stuffing in the bird can be done safely, but it increases the overall cooking time resulting in a dry bird. All of those years, I didn't realize I was eating dry turkey because it tasted fine to me.

                  I also discovered that "side" dressing can taste just as good if not better than stuffing. Of course, this is subjective, but what's the difference if you add the same flavors separately or if you get them directly from the roasting bird? If it's done properly, none.

                  Some dear friends of mine insist that birds must be stuffed and that stuffing is more important that the turkey. We have the same friendly argument each year. We still haven't found an opportunity to share eachother's results.

                  11 Replies
                  1. re: GDSinPA

                    Good point about the turkey being dry, which it was. Stuffing is such a touchy subject with folks, isn't it? My best friend has raved for years about hers, and last year actually brought me a bowl the day after Tday. I didn't like it at all! Of course I didn't tell her that, but I also didn't ask for the recipe. I like my stuffing with a lot of herbs and fresh parsley, but a lot of people just want the bread, celery and onion. To each his own.

                    My big problem in this is that you don't get a lot of drippings from a fried turkey, and I'm sure he isn't going to want to share his drippings. So, what to do?

                    1. re: danhole

                      You could buy a few turkey wings, and cook in a slow cooker with some root vegatables. Will make a nice stock, and you can use some of the stock as you make the stuffing. I do this to make extra gravy, too.

                      1. re: macca

                        That's exactly what I do, but just low and slow on the stovetop. In fact, since I don't stuff, roasting the bird really doesn't take that long, so I end up making stock early in the morning, mixing the dressing by 10 or so so the flavors can hang out for a few hours before baking. Then the bird doesn't go in until noon. We eat before 4.

                        As other people are saying on this thread - there is a definite difference between stuffing and dressing. But if you think casserole dressing can't have the same amount of flavor, then you've just never had a good example. People are also arguing that their birds are moist. I always thought my stuffed turkeys were moist as well, until I started brining and not stuffing. Then I learned just how moist it can be.

                        But, if someone is satisfied with their bird, it's all a matter of taste/opinion. Maybe there is some method that will keep the bird just as moist while full of bread - but it just doesn't seem possible.

                    2. re: GDSinPA

                      Dh is a stuffer. I am not. Last year he was on the DL with the flu and so I got to make the turkey and dressing for the first time in our years together. Everyone raved. My turkey was better. My dressing was better. But Dh insists he is the King of Thanksgiving and so this year he is back with his overcooked, stuffed turkey with it's mushy stuffing on the inside and his too dry, croutony side dish of the stuffing that wouldn't fit in the bird.

                      1. re: GDSinPA

                        "Stuffing is Evil" (Alton Brown reference)

                        It's alright for a small bird like a quail or spatchcock, but for a turkey you need to overcook the meat to get the stuffing to reach a safe temperature.

                        1. re: drgreg

                          I know that this is probably true in theory, but I've made every Thanksgiving and Xmas dinner for my family for the last 15 years, and no one's ever gotten sick from stuffing from inside a turkey cooked to the optimal temperature. I'm not saying that it isn't possible; it just seems, from my experience, that it's unlikely to happen, so I'm not that concerned about it.

                          And furthermore, to my family, Thanksgiving is all about my stuffing. Every time I make more than I've ever made before and still we're fighting over the last few servings of it.

                          1. re: vorpal

                            I've never heard of anyone getting sick from it.


                            1. re: vorpal

                              If you microwave the stuffing until it reaches about 140 degrees and stuff it into a room temperature bird, it will be safe and also will help the bird cook a little faster. That said, I don't often do it because it is faster to roast the bird with just a little bit of aromatics in the cavity. Do stuff the neck, though.

                              1. re: vorpal

                                My family has been using the same dressing recipe for literally over 80+ years. It was my great grandmother's recipe, it was used by my grandparents, and my parents, and we have ALWAYS stuffed the bird. We've never had a dry bird, we've never had stuffing undercooked, and not one single soul has every become ill from it.

                                Without question, the dressing inside the bird has a much better flavor than the leftovers put into a pan. Your SIL is absolutely correct that the bird bastes the dressing. It is the cooking with those turkey juices that make it so much more flavorful.

                                1. re: kkak97

                                  I couldn't agree more -- we've always stuffed the turkey, no one has ever gotten ill, we all prefer the stuffing cooked in the bird to the leftover cooked in a casserole, even when basted with turkey stock and drippings, and once again the stuffed turkey came out perfect.

                                  Every year millions of people stuff their turkeys, and only a handful of people get sick. Furthermore, you can't know that the stuffing is the reason they got sick and not some other cross-contamination that took place some time during the food prep: if there's bacteria on your bird it's almost impossible to prepare it without spreading it around. If you're really worried about food poisoning, buy a good quality turkey that's been raised and handled with care and doesn't harbor any bad bacteria in the first place!

                              2. re: drgreg

                                The Christopher Kimball/Cook's Illustrated/Best Recipe solution to this problem is to pre-nuke the stuffing to about 125-130 degrees before placing in the bird and roasting, thus preventing the need to overcook the bird for safety reasons.

                            2. I always like to stuff the bird as the juices that the stuffing soaks up make a huge difference. brining the bird and using plenty of foil can make the white breast meat stay juicy, until the internal temps get to 165° F, plus carry over.

                              I'm not a big meat eater, but the stuffing is VERY important. It is just not the same in a casserole, even with reduced homemade stock and fresh herbs.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Kelli2006

                                Debone the turkey except for the legs and lay it over the stuffing. Safe, not dried out and yummy with drippings.

                                It works

                                1. re: dutchdot

                                  I have done this with roast chicken, its is fantastic.Even had the extra around the bird.
                                  Never thought of doing the same with the turkey... hmmmm I don't have to have mine ready until 6 pm....

                              2. I like to stuff the bird, but with less liquid initially because I like a dryer stuffing. I also bake some on the side and mix the two together. I use a baking bag so I have never experienced a dry turkey. For the last hour or so, I let some of the juices drip out into my roasting pan to brown for gravy. I make sure to scoop out all the stuffing immediately after pulling out the bird, mix it with the baked stuffing and return it to the cooling oven to keep warm. I think it is just traditional for us. Baked stuffing tastes too much like Stove Top, not bad, but not for Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: mochi mochi

                                  I have a wonderful baking dish I bought in Ireland . It has a cover, with a little steam hole. It was handmade in Dingle, and I wish I had bought more pieces like it. I love it, and it keeps the stuffing moist- and best of all- nothing EVER sticks to it. It is also my go to dish for baked mac and cheese.

                                  1. re: macca

                                    "handmade in Dingle" is such a pleasing phrase....

                                    I always stuff. But I'm baking in a bag for the first time this year, slightly apprehensively, hoping birdie becomes as brown as it should....

                                    1. re: rcallner

                                      We have always had great results with the bag and it comes out nice and brown!

                                2. I am a mashed potatoes guy & turkey giblet gravy guy, my plate on Thanksgiving consists of a few pieces of turkey, and probably half the plate filled with mashed potatoes & gravy. I do sample the stuffing since I do make it for others, and I hands down prefer the stuffing I make in the bird vs the stuffing I make in a casserole dish(I make both because some of my guests differ in what they prefer). The stuffing from the bird has much more flavor, and is moist from all the turkey juices it gathers during roasting.

                                  1. I stuff a brined bird and the meat stays moist. I also like moist stuffing and love the flavor that comes from the turkey--I guess the flavor is mainly fat but it is good. I know some folks perfer dressing so different strokes for different folks. Hope you all get your type of dressing for Thanksgiving!

                                    6 Replies
                                    1. re: Cheesy Oysters

                                      I've always wondered about stuffing a brined bird. I've read some people on this message board say that you can't stuff a brined bird I guess because the stuffing would be too salty. What has been your experience? I can tolerate a lot of salt, right up to the level just short of a Southern Country Ham, but would wonder how my guests might feel. Anyone?

                                      1. re: dhedges53

                                        I've been wondering the same thing. Since I started brining the turkey, I haven't stuffed it because I assumed it would be too wet or too salty. But I always preferred the "in the bird" stuffing too. Anyone share their experience with stuffing in a brined turkey?

                                        1. re: eamcd

                                          No problem stuffing a brined bird. Someone else can explain the science-something to do with diffusion. All I know is the stuffing tastes great-not salty at all.

                                          1. re: Densible

                                            My mother always stuffed the bird and her turkeys were never dry. Then again, she was always open to new ideas and I recall when she started cooking the bird in a heavyweight paper grocery bag which was supposed to contain juices and keep the bird moist. And the stuffing was always nice and flavorful. (I also remember when we lived on the dark side and didn't know enough to remove all the stuffing out and left it in the turkey for the few days it took us to finish off the turkey.)

                                          2. re: eamcd

                                            Well I like salt. Since I have been brining, I add none or little to the gravy that I make with the drippings. Before I would add quite a bit. I don't think the dressing is that salty. I actually like the taste of both the dressing and gravy and of couse the turkey.

                                            I think if you didn't like salt or had a low tolerance, it might not be the best method. But I think salt and butter are pretty much the main ingredients in the traditional Thanksgiving dinner. How else do you make some of those ingredients taste good. I mean turkey can be pretty boring and potatoes and sweet potates need some help too.

                                          3. re: dhedges53

                                            The concept that you can't stuff a brined bird is an enormous load. I brine and stuff every year with no adverse effects whatsoever.

                                            I'm starting to suspect that some people are over-brining their birds, producing in effect corned turkey. I can't think of any other situation that would create meat with a "strange, rubbery" texture and a bird that's too salty to stuff or make gravy from.

                                        2. I agree the stuffing (vs. dressing) profits from soaking up the juices. It's really a matter of personal preference and tradition of course. When my DH and I started trying to merge traditions we figured out that merging didn't work very well. We now alternate - one year "my" traditional TG complete with Grandma's stuffing recipe, oven roasted turkey, tablecloth and napking rings... the next year "DH's" TG with BBQ turkey, oyster dressing, straight to turkey sandwiches with home made mustard, sweet potato salad etc... This way we each get to enjoy our version of how TG was meant to be - every other year. It might not work for everyone, but has worked well in our merged family.

                                          1. I always do my stuffing in a separate casserole, to rave reviews. If all people are carrying on about is the taste of turkey drippings in their in-the-cavity version, there are lots of work-around strategies.

                                            First I made my own stock, both chicken and turkey. Then, I combine the following:
                                            two parts chicken stock to one part turkey stock
                                            1/2 -- 3/4 cup white wine (or to taste)
                                            celery, onion, carrot

                                            I simmer this until reduced by 1/3 or 1/2. (I do this by taste.) Season to taste. Next, I saute about 2--3 (trimmed) pounds of crimini mushrooms in clarified butter.

                                            I use Pepperidge Farms dried herb stuffing. I generally follow the recipe on the bag, substituting my concentrated stock for the water. I think I add more liquid than is called for in the recipe; it has to look moist. I add the sauteed mushrooms and any pan juices from the mushrooms. In the past, I've added simmered diced giblets, both the giblets that come with the bird and additional purchased giblets. One year, I couldn't find extra giblets and I simply skipped the giblets. No one objected so I haven't added giblets in several years.

                                            Besides, I like the crisp shell that develops around the soft center of stuffing when it bakes in a casserole.

                                            1. Whoever is doing the cooking gets to decide how it is done. Period.

                                              Anyone who is complaining about how the cooking is done is volunteering to do it his/herself.

                                              Because I maintain the right not to incrimintate myself, I won't say where I have eaten Thanksgiving dinner since I got married ten years ago, but I will tell you that the bird is stuffed. Those of you who say that stuffing cooked inside the bird is "never dry" are right; it is a sopping goo-like mess of seasoned wet bread.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: BeaN

                                                Obviously, SOMEONE didn't know how to prepare a stuffing for IN the bird. I've never once had a gooey mass of stuffing from inside the bird, of any that I've ever made.


                                                1. re: violabratsche

                                                  I totally agree. I've had several different stuffed bird stuffing and never had gooey. Whoever is makin' it is adding too much liquid.

                                                  My mom's is fantastic. She adds ground pork and that little bit makes it just pow. It's not dry and it's not gooey. It's perfect. And I've never known anyone to get sick from a stuffed bird either

                                              2. I was just having this discussion with my daughter. She doesn't stuff. I do. I put cornbread stuffing in the turkey because it doesn't turn into a gooey mess, which is what I never could stand about stuffing as a kid. I also add nuts -- almonds or pecans -- for extra crunch. The celery adds even more crunch. Then currants and this year dried cranberries. I make some in a separate baking dish for those who like it even more crunchy. I think the in-bird stuffing is best and I have to agree the piece of skin on the back with the stuffing stuck to it may be the entire reason I make the bird like that each year and it's my own little treat. For me, the slime factor is what wanted to overcome in turkey stuffing -- the idea of oyster stuffing has always gagged me -- and I like oysters. I also make sure I purchase the highest quality fresh, free range bird I can find, which takes care of any dryness issues. I also tent my bird wiith aluminum foil until the last hour or so.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: Fuser

                                                  Could not agree more - slime is the enemy of in-bird stuffing, and really of all food, except Jell-o, where slime is the (revolting) point, and oysters on the half-shell, where it's somehow enobled.

                                                2. The reason that there'd be some concern about the safety of the stuffing in the cavity of the bird, is that the juices from the bird will soak into the stuffing, and that it'll not be properly cooked unless the stuffing has reached 160F on the meat thermometer. Surely, in resting the cooked bird, the heat of the bird continues to cook the stuffing. Also, think about the juices in a pan of any raw meat....the juice coming out of the meat cooks very quickly, once it becomes hot, and it sure doesn't have to be at a high heat to set. That juice in the stuffing would have cooked clear. I'd think if there were ANY concern, roundfigure's idea of microwaving is a good one, but I'd do it just before serving, after removing it from the cavity, so that the juices would be infused into the stuffing. I don't have that concern, so I probably would not do that.


                                                  1. As I was in the kitchen this morning cleaning up after making my punkin pie, Mike came in and said, "There's one thing I still wish you would do that you don't do: stuff the turkey." I said no, never. My grandma never did it, and that's that. Dressing is made in a pan by itself. Part of it is that I'm absolutely certain we'd both end up in the hospital with food poisoning, and the other part is I don't especially relish having to dig all that stuffing back out of the turkey's behind to eat it. No, thanks.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: revsharkie

                                                      ...which reminds me of something an elderly Great Aunt told me about keeping her man happy...


                                                      1. re: violabratsche

                                                        When the dressing was served, after not being stuffed in the turkey, he was quite happy to eat it, said it was good, and made no comment about it not having been in the turkey.

                                                    2. like many of the others here I have always stuffed my turkeys and have never had dried turkey or killed anyone. I make my stuffing from beef sausagemeat, chestnuts onions herbs etc and it is always precooked before I stuff the bird.

                                                      1. This will obviously be too late to help this year, but I've taken to making the dressing in a wide, shallow pan and putting the roasted turkey on top of the pan-full of dressing to rest. Once the turkey is ready to be carved, the pan of dressing that has now soaked up whatever juices escaped the bird goes into the oven to get rockin' hot. Helps me keep the overall roasting time down, deal with all food safety issues and still get some serious turkey drippings into the dresing.

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: ccbweb

                                                          I'm a diehard in-bird stuffing eater, but dang, that makes sense. At first I thought, uh oh, shorting the gravy, but those juices would have gone into the stuffing anyway. Will file away in case of need. Thanks.

                                                          1. re: ccbweb

                                                            I like that idea very much.

                                                            Also, one of the secrets to success of "dressing" is getting enough moisture into the mix. I soak the bread cubes with rich homemade turkey stock and mix all the ingredients together ahead of time and let it rest overnight in the fridge before baking. Then I make sure that the pans are sealed tightly for baking to recreate the steam effect of in-bird. I take the lids off for the last 20-30 minutes to brown the tops for the effect that you can't get with in-bird cooking.

                                                          2. not sure if i'm being too literal in answering the op's question "why do people insist on stuffing their turkeys?" -- of course the answer is because they *like* it, but also:

                                                            originally, pre-tradition, this was a thrift tactic for large meal gatherings: when there were huge farm families, with farmhands to cook for, stuffing a big turkey would mean you could feed more people from one bird because people would fill up on the (we assume) delicious, meaty-tasting stuffing & the other sides.

                                                            now that barely anybody lives on a farm anymore, family size has shrunk, etc. everyone still sees this big meal as the traditional "family style thanksgiving," and each family's recipe for stuffing/dressing is elevated as the standard for all thanksgivings to come.

                                                            and everyone who doesn't come from families with farm backgrounds (or whose families adapted their recipes) think the whole thing is just weird. . .

                                                            1. I always cook my stuffing ahead of time, too, and bake it covered until the last 10 minutes. I hate mush stuffing from the inside of the bird. My dressing is tasty enough on it's own; the key ingredients are a can of cream of mushroom soup and apple juice for the liquids. We stuff the inside of the bird with quarted onions and celery chunks.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: Kaisgraham

                                                                I do find the choice of the word 'insist' odd. Here in Bermuda the Christmas turkey (no Thanksggiving here) is stuffed - always has been, always will be. Maybe it's a cultural thing.

                                                              2. UPDATE

                                                                I did go ahead and make my "dressing" (I thought that was a Yankee term - didn't know it meant outside the bird) but then I thought how tacky was that, so I put in in the fridge, for the next day. I even roasted some turkey parts, and a couple of smoked thurkey wings, to get drippings to pour on top, which was a tasty addition.

                                                                I was hoping the "stuffing" would be better than last year, but it was a mushy mess, and when you put the gravy on it, well, think stuffing soup. Oh, well. If I want it to be "my way" I will just have to have them come over here!

                                                                Oh, and on Friday I took my dressing out, warmed it up, made my gravy from fresh turkey stock and pigged out! Very good, so I got my way in the end, uh, kinda, sorta.

                                                                1. The daughter asked her mother how to make a ham. The mother said you buy a ham, chop off the end and put it in the oven! The daughter asked why she chopped the end off the ham, and she said 'cause that's what her mother did. The daughter finally asked her grandmother why you chop the end off of the ham. She said because it was too big for her oven. Tradition. Sometimes it's a good thing, sometimes not.