You there! With the box of stuffing mix. Step away from the back of that bird!
In our heads we see visions of Grandma pulling a brown turkey from the oven with stuffing bursting from the back of the bird. But please, I beg you, don’t stuff your turkey. Do a dressing on the side. It will taste better and be far safer to eat. Also, it means your turkey will be done sooner with less chance of getting dried out.
Stuffing can work in a smaller bird, like a chicken or duck. But even then, it’s easier to do it separately. The problem is that most stuffing recipes contain eggs. That means the mixture needs to reach a temperature of 165°F in order to be safe from food born illnesses like salmonella. Because it’s inside the bird, the meat around the stuffing has to get even hotter, which can lead to dry, tasteless meat.
Also, even if the stuffing doesn’t have eggs, the whole bird has to reach that same temperature to be safe. Sadly, since Grandma’s day, most poultry in this country is produced on factory farms where they live in unsanitary conditions. Then they are processed in high-speed disassembly plants where they move by so fast no one would notice any contamination. That’s why there’s so much concern about food safety these days.
Here’s a better idea. First of all, I have a great recipe for a cornbread dressing that starts with a pan of homemade Southern-style cornbread. You can make this a couple of days ahead of time. The drier the cornbread, the better the dressing. The recipe is on our Recipes Page. This is not a low-fat recipe as it requires bacon grease in a castiron skillet.
The difference between stuffing and dressing is that dressing is usually prepared outside the bird. The ingredients are pretty much the same. What makes this cornbread Southern is that it’s not sweet. It seems like most of the cornbread I get these days is more like a corn cake. That’s fine for muffins. But when it comes to cornbread, I want the real thing with only a little sugar.
You’ll need to set aside about half the pan for the dressing. Just wrap it in foil and put it someplace safe until Thanksgiving morning.
On Thanksgiving, after you get the turkey in the oven, it’s time to make the dressing. It only needs 30 minutes to cook and makes a big 9×13″ pan. The recipe is also on our Recipes Page. With a few good spices, this dressing will make you forget all about the stuffing.
Stuffing really adds nothing to the flavor of the bird, nor does the bird add much flavor to the stuffing. You could do one of those stuffing mixes you make on the stove, but the amount of salt is mind-boggling. Your health will take a big enough hit on the holiday feast. There’s no need to make it worse with added salt and fat. Especially when these recipes are so easy.
Does that mean your bird is empty? No, not necessarily. You can add some wonderful aromatics that will really add to the flavor of the bird and the smells in your kitchen. And since these won’t be eaten, there’s no danger of contamination.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re cooking for one or a dozen, with a little planning, you can make this a stress-free holiday. And that’s enough right there to give thanks.