People Have Strong Opinions: Should You Stuff Your Turkey With Dressing Or Not?

Roasted turkey on platter
Roasted turkey on platter

Prop Stylist: Buffey Hergett Miller, Food Stylist: Marian Cairns.

Grandma always stuffed the turkey, and her mother before her did, too. But should you?

We don't often buck tradition, but this may be one topic where we disagree with grandma. Not only do we think cooking the dressing separately makes for a tastier side dish, but we also believe the turkey turns out better without it in the cavity.

We know the name "stuffing" implies that it's stuffed in the turkey, but it's not necessary and can be somewhat dangerous to do. Also, technically stuffing is what goes into the bird and dressing is cooked separately, but like most people, we use the terms interchangeably.

Not stuffing your turkey might mean one more dirty dish, but we think the extra clean up is worth a Thanksgiving dinner that poses no health risks.

Why You Shouldn't Stuff a Turkey

The dressing and turkey don't cook at the same rate

Both the dressing and the turkey must be cooked to 165°F. The problem is they don't cook at the same rate.

By the time the turkey reaches that temperature, the dressing will not yet be cooked through and can contain harmful bacteria that can lead to foodborne illness. Groups of people like the elderly and children are particularly susceptible to foodborne illness, so it's best not to chance it.

You can keep cooking the turkey to get the dressing to 165°F, but the turkey will likely be overcooked and dry at that point. While you thought you were saving time by cooking the turkey and dressing together, it more than likely will take much longer to cook this way.

Dressing gets mushy inside the cavity

Most people stuff the turkey with dressing so that it can absorb the flavorful juices of the turkey as it cooks, and while we agree that the turkey can lend a lot of flavor to the dressing, it can also make it mushy. The dressing essentially steams inside the bird and can become oversaturated in juices.

If prepared separately, the dressing is able to develop a crispy, golden brown crust while still maintaining a moist center. To make up for lost turkey flavor, incorporate a flavorful Homemade Turkey Stock into the dressing and plenty of fresh herbs and spices.

There's no room for aromatics

If the dressing is taking up all the space in the turkey's cavity, there's no room for aromatics to help flavor the turkey itself. Swap out dressing for quartered onions, halved citrus, apples, celery sticks, carrots, or fresh herbs, any combination of which will help the star of the meal taste better.

Alton Brown says it's a bad idea

In his book Good Eats: The Early Years, Brown wrote, "The way I see it, cooking stuffing inside a turkey turns the turkey into a rather costly seal-a-meal bag. If you're a stuffing fan, I suggest cooking it separately (in which case it's 'dressing,' not stuffing) and inserting it into the bird while it rests. Odds are no one will notice the difference."

We second this clever hack for having your dressing "stuffed" and eating it (safely), too.

Dressing Recipes to Try

From Aunt Grace's Famous Cornbread Dressing, made with four different types of bread to an Herbed Wild Rice Dressing with wild rice, apples, and walnuts, we have more than a few flavorful dressing recipes perfect for preparing alongside the turkey.

Related: Our Best Thanksgiving Dressing Recipes for Your Holiday Menu