There’s nothing like a stuffed turkey to take a meal from simply delicious to something truly special. A beautiful bird on the table is a sign of delectable dishes to come—and it usually means that loved ones are about to come together and share some quality time, too. A stuffed turkey is a great way to show your guests that you’ve put a little extra TLC into their meal. And—let’s be honest—it also looks pretty impressive.
As impressive as a stuffed turkey looks, though, it doesn’t have to be a culinary challenge. It can certainly feel like an intimidating undertaking, but after you tackle it for the first time, you’ll be ready to take on the project time and again. You might even decide to add it to your repertoire for meals that aren’t served on holidays.
Ready to stuff turkey—or, as some might say, dress turkey? Whether you call it a “stuffed turkey” or a “dressed turkey”—and regardless of what you like to put in your favorite stuffing (or dressing)—you’ll be up to the task with just a little help from this guide. Keep scrolling for everything you need to know about preparing this holiday favorite.
What Is a Stuffed Turkey?
Before we talk about how to make a stuffed turkey, let’s get clear on what this dish really is. If you didn’t grow up with a stuffed turkey on your holiday (or everyday) table, you might be a little confused—and even if you did sample it growing up, you might not be sure how the whole thing works.
A stuffed turkey is one that’s filled with stuffing before it’s baked. When you bake stuffing inside the turkey, you further develop its flavors, since all of those juices from the meat work their way into the rest of the ingredients. If stuffing is one of your favorite Thanksgiving dishes, you should definitely try preparing it inside the turkey!
It’s worth noting that some people call stuffing dressing. Stuffings and dressings are both made with a variety of ingredients, typically inspired by family preferences or even regional tastes. You can use any type of stuffing or dressing to stuff a turkey. It’s bound to be delicious, no matter the specifics.
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How to Stuff a Turkey
Let’s get started. It’s time to roll up your sleeves and learn all about stuffing a turkey. Here’s your step by step plan for how to dress a turkey with ease:
Step 1: Prepare Your Favorite Stuffing Recipe
Before you can stuff a turkey, you need something to stuff it with! Prior to actually getting started with the bird, pull together your dressing ingredients and prepare the stuffing so it’s ready to go in later steps.
Again, there’s no one right turkey stuffing or dressing recipe. Maybe your family has a go-to recipe, or perhaps you’d like to try your hand at a new approach. Bread stuffing, cornbread stuffing, meat stuffing, oyster stuffing… anything goes! Mix up your favorite stuffing and set it aside so it’s ready to go once your turkey is. The flavors in the dressing will develop further while you complete the next few steps.
Step 2: Prepare the Turkey
Like other poultry, turkey needs to be prepared thoughtfully to ensure that it’s safe to eat. Thaw the turkey in the refrigerator, in the microwave, or in a sink of cold water. Once it’s thawed, it does not need to be washed. The CDC actually recommends that you don’t wash raw poultry.
The next important step in getting your turkey ready for stuffing is to remove the giblets. You’ll find these in a small package inside most uncooked turkeys. Set them aside for later, as they can be a great, flavorful addition to gravy.
Pat the turkey dry on the inside and outside with a paper towel.
Step 3: Add Extra Flavor to the Turkey
Now it’s time to add a little extra something to the turkey with a brine, rub, or herb butter. The choice is yours! Before you can throw stuffing in the mix, work your magic on the bird in whatever way you’d like. You can dress a turkey no matter how you choose to prepare it.
A turkey should not be stuffed until just before it’s roasted, so do everything else first. As soon as you’re finished with the stuffing or dressing, you should be ready to pop it in the oven.
Step 4: Stuff the Turkey’s Neck Cavity
Let’s get going with the stuffing! The first part of the turkey to be stuffed should be the neck. Spoon your finished dressing into the turkey’s neck cavity. Pack it loosely, then pull the turkey’s skin over the stuffing and pin it to the turkey’s back with a skewer. Metal skewers are your best bet.
Step 5: Stuff the Rest of the Turkey
Next, fill the rest of the turkey’s body cavity with stuffing, resisting the temptation to overstuff the bird. Stuffing expands when it bakes, so you’ll want to leave space for it to fully cook and fill the cavity.
Step 6: Truss the Turkey’s Legs
Trussing a turkey is the process of tying the turkey’s legs together with kitchen twine—which helps ensure that it cooks evenly throughout. Turn the bird so its chest cavity is facing you. Cut a long piece of twine and position it in the middle of the legs. Bring the legs together and wrap them several times with twine. Tie it tightly and cut off any excess.
Step 7: Roast the Turkey
When your bird is dressed and ready to go, it’s off to the oven! You should cook your turkey according to the recipe you’re using, the size of your turkey, and the specifics of your oven. In any case, the stuffing should reach 165℉ before carving and serving.
Your stuffed turkey is ready to enjoy—whether it’s Thanksgiving or any old Thursday. Gather your loved ones, come together around the table, and eat up. And don’t forget to revel in your culinary prowess.
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