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To Stuff or Not to Stuff - That is the Thanksgiving Question

Depending on what region of the country you live in is what determines whether you call it dressing or stuffing.


The term stuffing first appeared in English print in 1538. It is reported that after 1880, the term stuffing did not appeal to the propriety of the Victorian upper crust, who began referring to it as dressing.

Seems that it depends upon what region of the country you live in, in terms of what you call it.  Both terms, stuffing and dressing are used interchangeably. Regardless of whether you refer to it as stuffing or dressing, chances are you have a feeling about whether or not to stuff your turkey.

According to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, if you want to maintain optimal safety and uniform doneness, cook stuffing separately. However, if your tradition is to stuff the bird, it is essential to use a food thermometer to make sure the center of the stuffing reaches a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degree F.

Many of you may be saying to yourself that you have never used a thermometer to test the doneness of your stuffing in the bird.  You just “know when it is done.” Keep in mind that bacteria can survive in stuffing that has not reached 165 degrees F., possibly resulting in foodborne illness, therefore it is essential to use a thermometer.

If you plan to prepare stuffing using raw meat, or poultry you should cook the ingredients before stuffing the turkey to reduce the risk of foodborne illness from bacteria that can be found in raw ingredients. The wet ingredients can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated. However, do not mix your wet and dry ingredients until just before spooning the stuffing into the turkey cavity.

When stuffing your turkey, spoon it directly into the cavity after preparation. Stuff loosely, about three fourth cups stuffing per pound. The stuffing should be moist, not dry, because heat destroys bacteria more rapidly in a moist environment.

Immediately place the stuffed, raw turkey in an oven set no lower than 325 degrees.

To assure that you are serving a safe and done turkey, check the internal temperature of the turkey and stuffing with a food thermometer. If the temperature of the turkey and center of the stuffing has not reached a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees, you will need to cook it further.  Do not remove the stuffing from the turkey before it reaches 165 degrees because the undercooked stuffing could contaminate the cooked meat.

Continue to cook the turkey until the stuffing is safely cooked.

To allow juices to seep back into the bird, let the cooked turkey stand 20 minutes before removing the stuffing and carving.

Once you have enjoyed your wonderful meal, don’t forget to refrigerate the cooked turkey and stuffing, as well as all your food, within 2 hours of cooking. Please, don’t leave it on the table, counter or stovetop to come back and “graze on” later.  This is not a safe practice to follow.  Instead, place leftovers in shallow containers, and use them within 3 to 4 days.  When reheating your leftovers, they should be heated to a safe internal temperature of 165 degrees.

If you have questions about food safety, or would like to receive a copy of Turkey Basics: Stuffing, contact me at the University of Arkansas, Division of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension Service in Miller County at 870-779-3609, or e-mail me at

By Carla Due
County Extension Agent - FCS
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Carla Due
County Extension Agent - FCS
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
400 Laurel Street, Suite 215 Texarkana AR 71854
(870) 779-3609


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