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How to Stuff a Turkey Safely

 To stuff or not to stuff? Now I am hearing it is not safe to roast a stuffed turkey. Is it better to roast the turkey unstuffed?

 The Federal Government, which, as you know, always has your best interests at heart, and which we sometimes consider a touch overcautious, says it's OK. So if the Department of Agriculture approves, you can be pretty sure it's a safe practice. But, the government will only allow you to cook stuffing in the turkey if you swear an oath that you have an instant-read thermometer and will ensure that the stuffing reaches a temperature of 165°F (74°C) through and through. Otherwise, you must cook it separately in a casserole dish, in which case, we don't think you can reasonably call it stuffing.

The USDA does want you to behave responsibly with stuffing, as it can harbor harmful bacteria. The USDA would like you to keep everything cold until ready to stuff, to make a moist stuffing (since heat destroys bacteria more rapidly in a moist environment), to stuff loosely, and to cook the turkey as soon as the stuffing is in place. As you know, the turkey (like all roasts) will benefit from a rest of 20 minutes or so once you remove it from the oven. Its temperature will continue to rise, which is why you take it out about 10 degrees before it reaches the desired temperature. The temperature of the stuffing will also rise, so don't leave it in so long that the turkey gets overcooked while you wait the last 2 or 3 degrees for the stuffing. Remove the stuffing from the turkey — all of it — immediately after standing time.

There are a couple of other issues to consider. A stuffed turkey takes longer to cook than an empty one. Also, many people find there is generally not enough room in the turkey cavity for an adequate amount of stuffing and wind up with some in the bird and some in a separate dish. If you get to the point where the stuffing is not near done but the turkey is, scoop it out of the bird and finish it in a dish in the oven. It's not worth overcooking and drying out the turkey for the sake of the stuffing.

We believe it took countless committee meetings, a supplemental budget appropriation, a special dispensation from Congress, and many huge leaps of faith on the part of the government to allow you to stuff your turkey this Thanksgiving. We think it would be a shame not to take advantage of that largess — it is the cooking equivalent of a huge tax break.


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