Turkey: Stuffing 101

Everything you'd want to know about stuffing is here: How to create your own stuffing from scratch, step-by-step guidance on how to stuff a turkey, how much you need to feed your crowd, plus answers to the most frequently asked stuffing questions. Consider this the complete guide for how to make stuffing for Thanksgiving.

Stuffing is a crucial part of any Thanksgiving feast, but it can be intimidating to make homemade stuffing from scratch. Luckily for you, everything you need to know about stuffing is right here. If you're still on the lookout for a stuffing recipe to use for the holidays, you can try our classic bread stuffing recipe, check out our flavor variations, or create your own recipe! Don't stress about the stuffing this holiday season, because we've got all of your questions covered.

Stuffing, or dressing as it is also called, requires these elements:

  • starch, such as bread, corn bread, rice, or potatoes
  • liquid, such as broth, wine, or liquor (or a combination of these)
  • other additions that can include herbs, onions, dried or fresh fruits, or sausage or other meats (optional)
  • seafood such as oysters, crab, or shrimp (optional)

If you just want stuffing, there's no requirement for a bird. You can bake most stuffing recipes separately in a casserole dish then serve them alongside dinner. (This separately baked version is generally deemed "dressing.")

Be creative with what you put into your stuffing—you won't be disappointed.

Create your own recipe by keeping these proportions in mind:

  • For each pound of uncooked poultry, you will need about 3/4 cup stuffing.
  • For every 1 cup starch, add about 2 tablespoons liquid, just enough to moisten the bread.

How to Make Stuffing

We have all the info you need on how to make a traditional bread stuffing, plus suggestions for other recipes to try for more dressed-up versions, like sausage stuffing and veggie-filled stuffing. Just follow these instructions to make our Thanksgiving stuffing recipe:

You'll Need:

  • 1-1/2 cups chopped or sliced celery (about 3 stalks)
  • 1 cup chopped onion (1 large)
  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine
  • 1 Tbsp. snipped fresh sage, or 1 tsp. poultry seasoning or ground sage
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 12 cups dry bread cubes (Tip: Try a mix of whole wheat, white, and multi-grain bread cubes for extra flavor!)
  • 1 to 1-1/4 cups chicken broth (Note: If you're using this homemade stuffing recipe for stuffing a turkey, reduce the broth to 3/4 to 1 cup)
  • Fresh sage leaves (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In a large skillet, cook celery and onion in hot butter over medium heat until tender but not brown. Remove from heat; stir in sage and pepper.
  2. Place bread cubes in a large bowl. Add celery-onion mixture. Drizzle with enough chicken broth to moisten; toss lightly to combine.
  3. Place stuffing in a 2-quart casserole dish. Bake, covered, 30 to 45 minutes or until heated through. If desired, top with fresh sage. Makes 12 to 14 servings.

Optional Add-Ins:

  • For extra fall flavor, stir 2 medium cored and chopped apples into the bread cubes.
  • If you want your stuffing to taste a little meatier, omit 1 cup of the celery and substitute 2 cups sliced mushrooms. Cook the mushrooms with the celery in Step 1, above.
  • Try stirring one 15-ounce can chestnuts, drained and coarsely chopped, into the bread cubes.
  • If you like rice in your stuffing, stir 1 cup cooked wild rice into the bread cubes.

To Stuff or Not to Stuff

Stuffing baked inside the cavity of a turkey is generally moister than stuffing baked in a casserole (thanks, drippings!). That means it will likely contain more fat calories since the stuffing absorbs juices from the turkey as it bakes. If stuffing is baked inside the turkey, it is essential to check the temperature of the stuffing as well as the turkey. The stuffing must reach a temperature of at least 165 degrees F.

If you prefer not to stuff, place quartered onions and celery in the body cavity to add flavor to the drippings that can then be used in gravy. Pull the neck skin to the back; fasten with a short skewer. Then bake an entire recipe of stuffing in a casserole dish instead of using it to stuff the bird. Bake the casserole, covered, in a 325-degree oven 30 to 45 minutes or until heated through.

Practice Proper Food Safety with Your Stuffing

  • If you don't have an accurate meat thermometer, cook the stuffing separately in a covered casserole, because there is no visual test for stuffing doneness.
  • Mix the stuffing just before you stuff and roast the bird.
  • Loosely spoon stuffing into the body and neck cavities rather than packing it. Otherwise it won't get hot enough by the time the turkey is cooked.
  • Spoon any remaining stuffing into a casserole; cover and chill until ready to bake.

Stuffing Steps

  • To stuff, first measure out the amount of stuffing that will go into the bird, allowing 3/4 cup per pound of bird. (That's 11 cups for a 15-pound bird.)
  • Release drumsticks from band of skin, unhooking the tail or leg clamp if one is provided.
  • The clamp may be removed if you prefer not to use it.
  • Remove neck and giblets. Check inside the neck as well as in the body cavity.
  • Spoon some stuffing loosely into neck cavity.
  • Pull the neck skin over stuffing; fasten to turkey's back with a short skewer.
  • Loosely spoon stuffing into body cavity to allow room for expansion during roasting. If the stuffing is too tightly packed, it will not reach a safe temperature by the time the turkey is done.
  • Tuck the legs under the band of skin that crosses the tail or reset the legs into the leg clamp. Or, tie the legs to the tail with kitchen string.
  • Twist the wing tips under the back.
  • Stuffing temperature should reach at least 165 degrees F. Use a meat thermometer to test for doneness.
  • Insert thermometer through the body cavity into the thickest part of the stuffing and let it stand for five minutes.
  • Or, after removing the stuffed bird from the oven, use a dial or digital instant-read thermometer to check the temperature in the center of the stuffing.

Homemade Stuffing FAQs

Q: Can I stuff the turkey the night before I roast it? 

A: It is unsafe to stuff the turkey ahead of time. The chilled stuffing in the turkey will not reach a safe temperature before the turkey is done. To be safe, the turkey should reach a temperature of 180 degrees F and the stuffing in the body cavity of the bird should reach 165 degrees F.

Q: Can I just make the stuffing and chill it?

A: It's fine to make the crumbs or bread cubes ahead, but the stuffing should not be completely prepared ahead if it will be used to stuff a turkey. If the stuffing is to be baked in a casserole, it can be prepared in advance and chilled. The baking time will need to be increased by about 15 to 20 minutes if you're starting with chilled stuffing.

Q: I have lots of turkey and stuffing left over. What should I do with it?

A: Before carving your turkey, be sure to remove all stuffing. The leftover stuffing can be refrigerated up to 2 days. Stuffing must be heated to at least 160 degrees F.

After dinner remove all meat from the carcass (this should be done within 2 hours of the turkey's removal from oven). Leftover turkey can be refrigerated and used within 2 days, or frozen in small portions.

Be sure to label and date the wrapped packages and use within 6 months. Leftover turkey can be used in any recipe calling for cooked chicken or turkey.

Q: Why do recipes say to spoon the stuffing into turkey loosely?

Stuffing will expand as it roasts. If stuffing is too tightly packed, it will not reach a safe temperature by the time the turkey is done.

Q: How do I get stuffing crispy on the top?

If the stuffing you've baked outside the bird in a casserole dish isn't crisp on top when it's done baking, put it under the broiler for a minute or two. You can do the same thing with the stuffing that's been baked inside the turkey; after it's done, just transfer it to a large oiled baking dish.

Bake it at 450 degrees F about 10 minutes, then broil it for a minute or two. It will be crisp on top and moist inside.

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