Foodborne illness isn't the only reason to skip stuffing your turkey this Thanksgiving. While the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released yet another statement warning the public that stuffing your Thanksgiving bird can lead to bacteria growth (which can result in food-borne illness), the USDA isn't completely against the idea and still provides a few steps on how to safely stuff the bird. Nevertheless, there's another major reason to completely avoid stuffing the cavity and cook it in a casserole dish instead.
According to multiple chefs, not only does stuffing a bird increase the risk of foodborne illness, but also stuffing the cavity of your turkey can result in an unevenly cooked bird.
"It takes longer for the turkey to cook because of the elements on the inside of the turkey," says Chef Bill Hazel, Owner of Bill's Grill. "The internal temp of the turkey doesn't reach the proper temperature."
Because the bird is stuffed, this can cause an uneven roast and can result in an undercooked or overcooked bird, which can mess up that perfectly timed Thanksgiving cooking schedule.
Cook the stuffing on the side
Also known as "dressing," many chefs recommend cooking the stuffing on the side for multiple reasons.
"There is zero advantage to stuffing a turkey; you are not only presented with bacterial issues but also holding temperature issues, etcetera," says Chef Art Gustafson, owner of Chadwicks Restaurant Group on Long Island. "Plus, how can you get a crunchy stuffing topping if it's stuffed inside a bird?"
Chef Gustafson recognizes that stuffing the turkey can help give this beloved side dish extra flavor thanks to the fat from the bird. However, he mentions that you can easily incorporate the turkey flavor by making homemade gravy with the drippings.
The alternative reasoning is true too: the stuffing may give the bird some flavor, but Chef Hazel says there are other ways you can easily season your turkey without stuffing and unevenly cooking it—like a brine or using fresh herbs.
Can you stuff the bird with aromatics?
If it's true that stuffing causes the bird to roast unevenly, does stuffing it with other items cause this as well? Don't worry, you can still add some flavor to the cavity.
"Cooks should absolutely stuff the turkey with aromatics such as carrots, celery, onions, and herbs," says Chef Michael Sanguinetti, a personal and private chef with INTUEAT. "If you stuff a turkey with aromatics it will still cook evenly."
Aromatics such as onions, herbs, garlic cloves, and even lemon will steam inside the cavity and give the bird that flavor you desire. This is especially useful if you are roasting a young white turkey, which typically doesn't have as much intramuscular fat because it was harvested so young. But be sure to not stuff it too tight—you want to give those items some room to breathe and steam!