How to Stuff a Turkey the Right Way (for the Juiciest, Most Flavorful Result)

It's never too soon to get prepping.

August 28, 2020
Photo by Rocky Luten

Let’s be real: A plain, bland turkey just won’t cut it for a Thanksgiving feast. If you’ve been assigned the nerve-wracking task of roasting the turkey, one of the best ways to make it a success is with a killer stuffing everyone will talk about all year long. Surpass the high expectations of your friends and family with a flavorful, juicy, and exciting mixture to give your bird the flavor it deserves.

Now, before you get to it, there are a couple of important factors and steps to keep in mind, like: how to safely stuff your bird to prevent foodborne illnesses, what ingredients you'll need to make an unforgettably tasty stuffing, and, of course, how to actually stuff it!

Stuffing Safety

First things first: There are a few imperative safety precautions you should take into consideration when stuffing your bird, to spare yourself a disastrous Thanksgiving celebration. According to the USDA, it is important to precook any raw meat, poultry, or shellfish that will go into your stuffing to reduce the risk of foodborne illness from bacteria that may be found in raw ingredients. In order to kill bacteria and pathogens, assure the inside of your stuffing reaches at least 165°F before serving, and allow your turkey to rest for at least 20 minutes before carving.

To check the temperature, insert a heat-safe food thermometer through the center of the bird so that the end reaches the middle of the stuffing, then wait 5 minutes to get an accurate reading.

To err on the side of caution, make your own stuffing and avoid pre-stuffed birds, which can heighten the risk for bacterial growth and illness over time. To avoid cross-contamination, it's important to wait to stuff your bird until right before it's ready to go in the oven. And you should always loosely fill the cavity to allow the air to circulate while it cooks. Though a stuffed turkey is basically the insignia of the holiday, you can always make dressing instead and cook it in a separate pan to spare yourself any food safety concerns.

Stuff You Need for Stuffing

To make a well-balanced stuffing, you will need a starch (think bread cubes, corn bread, rice, or even potatoes) to give your mixture some heft, a liquid (broth, wine, or even liquor) to add hydration, and aromatics (like herbs and onions) for that signature Thanksgiving flavor. Generally, for every cup of stuffing, you should add about 1/4 cup of liquid to moisten—but not drench—the dry ingredients.

More Ways to Sneak Flavor into Your Stuffing

  • Herbs: Make an herb bouquet with thyme, bay leaves, sage, parsley stems, and rosemary to infuse your bird. You can then easily discard it once the turkey comes out of the oven.
  • Alliums: Add quartered onions, shallots, leeks, or garlic cloves for a delicious, earthy aroma.
  • Fruits: Insert quarters of apple, lemon, orange, lime, or even grapefruit to add moisture and brightness to the turkey. You can even go with dried fruit, like cranberries, to double down on the autumn vibes.
  • Mirepoix: Roughly chop celery, onions, and carrots for a more traditional Thanksgiving take, or switch it up with other sturdy vegetables, like water chestnuts, parsnips, or rutabagas.
  • Spices: Give your bird a zesty bite by filling it with large pieces of peeled ginger or chile for an unexpected and tasty surprise.
  • Beer: Try the ever-so-popular beer-can chicken method on a turkey instead.
  • More meat: If you’re looking for extra heft, stuff your turkey with ground beef or sausages (like andouille or chorizo). Or, if you’re really feeling adventurous, make the famed turducken.
  • Nuts: Add nuts like cashews and almonds to give your stuffing textural contrast.

How to Stuff a Turkey

Step 1

First, make sure you're working with a fully defrosted turkey for this (here's how to do it). Remove the giblets package (the heart, neck, gizzard, and liver) from the inside cavity of the bird; they can be used later to make the base of your gravy. Then trim any loose skin or pieces and rinse out the inside of the bird under cool running water. Pat dry completely with a clean kitchen towel.

Step 2

Season the inside of your bird with salt and pepper and rub the cavity with softened butter to add moisture and flavor to your stuffing. You can also insert globs of butter underneath the turkey’s skin for additional flavor.

Step 3

Fill the turkey's neck with a handful of your stuffing mixture and pin the free skin to the body using a small metal skewer.

Step 4

Just before cooking, loosely fill the body with your stuffing, making sure ingredients like poultry, meat, and shellfish are pre-cooked before inserting. As a rule of thumb, for every pound of turkey, you will need approximately 3/4 cup of filling.

Step 5

Finally, truss the turkey legs using butcher’s twine to prevent overflow, then cook until the internal temperature of the bird and stuffing reaches 165°F. To help prevent foodborne illnesses, store your leftover turkey and stuffing in the refrigerator within 2 hours after cooking.

Some Stuffing Thought Starters

What's your favorite stuffing recipe? Let us know in the comments.
52 Days of Thanksgiving
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Written by: Maki Yazawa

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Caroline W. August 30, 2020
I was terribly excited to see this post today. For weeks now, with the state of the world, I've been looking to those things that bring me a greater sense of joy and inner peace, those things being me cooking in my kitchen, fall weather, and the coming of holidays. While I have also been mulling over what it will be like to experience a deep winter with even more solitude (and isolation) than usual, I can't help but consider how I will keep a sense of merriment going, because as well as any other lesson, i've learned that this is often a choice. That said, this post allowed me to be fully present with this feeling and I so appreciate it. If even only for a few moments I get to think about a menu and my family and to delight in the coming months!
pamelalee August 29, 2020
When I read the title, I had the same reaction of Karl. I miss the old Food52.
Karl August 29, 2020
Publishing this 3 months before Thanksgiving - especially a Thanksgiving that will likely be in the first month of a widespread resumption of sheltering-in-place across the USA for the onset of winter pandemic season - is so weird and apparently unique to Food52, and it's mystifying why it gets greenlighted for now instead of 2 months from now, by which time it will have been long forgotten. People right now are still dealing with cooking in heat and humidity.