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I like to cook stuffing in the bird because I think it imparts flavors you just can't achieve cooking it out of the bird. The problem is, it's virtually impossible to get the stuffing to 165F/74C without way overcooking the meat. I read one suggestion to cook the bird until the meat is done and then remove the stuffing and finish it in the oven. That makes sense, but is it really a safe method? Is it possible the lining of the cavities also aren't fully done yet since they've been exposed to cooler stuffing and not hot oven air?

If so, would a good alternative be to remove the stuffing when the meat is, say, 10 degrees short of being done and then putting both the stuffing and bird back in the oven to finish?

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What kind of stuffing are you referring to? I often stuff a chicken with sausage meat and onion stuffing but that is pre-cooked before stuffing the chicken. –  spiceyokooko Dec 27 '12 at 22:45
    
It's a simple cornbread stuffing with onions, celery, butter and spices. The onions and celery have been sauteed, but it's not hot when it goes in. –  Carey Gregory Dec 27 '12 at 22:49
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If the stuffing is really causing that kind of a temperature gradient between the surface of a 20 lb bird and the cavity, then that would mean that parts of the turkey are actually undercooked, and removing the stuffing for 10 minutes out of several hours is not going to fix that. Better to use a thermometer, though, than to make assumptions. –  Aaronut Dec 27 '12 at 23:39
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The temperature of the inner surface of the cavity is going to be essentially equal to the temp. of the outer surface of the stuffing. Since neither is in contact with any of the heating modalities in the oven (radiation from the hot oven walls, conduction from air contact, convection from circulating hot air), that interface will only heat by conduction through the outer turkey. You want cooked stuffing without overcooking the turkey--that is tricky. But the short answer is yes, the stuffing prevents the turkey from getting convection/conduction heat on the inside. –  SAJ14SAJ Dec 28 '12 at 0:38
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You say you discount the safety issue--that is fine for you personally. But for reference of future people looking at this question: the stuffing is soaking in raw turkey juice while the turkey comes up to temperature, several hours, and then slowly moving through the danger zone to the kill temperature, providing a near ideal environment for pathogens to multiply for an extended period of time. It doesn't matter if the stuffing has no meat given the turkey juices. The safety concerns are real. –  SAJ14SAJ Dec 28 '12 at 0:41
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2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I am firmly in the "stuffing is evil" camp... but lets take that as read :-)

If you absolutely must have in the bird stuffing, here is a link to a (I hope legal) excerpt of Alton Brown's Good Eats, showing his technique for doing turkey with stuffing:

http://www.aol.com/video/alton-browns-turkey-with-stuffing/444711017/

He uses a food-safe cotton bag, and pre-cooks the stuffing in the microwave. Then, he uses what looks like a flexible plastic cutting board to guide the bag of stuffing into the turkey.

The summary of his technique is that the stuffing is partially pre-cooked, so that it is hot when it goes into the bird, and comes up to temperature together.

. . .

In the abstract, independent of the pre-cook the stuffing method aluded to above:

The temperature of the inner surface of the cavity is going to be essentially equal to the temp. of the outer surface of the stuffing. Since neither is in contact with any of the heating modalities in the oven (radiation from the hot oven walls, conduction from air contact, convection from circulating hot air), that interface will only heat by conduction through the outer turkey. You want cooked stuffing without overcooking the turkey--that is tricky. But the short answer is yes, the stuffing prevents the turkey from getting convection/conduction heat on the inside.

To assess the temperature at the inside of the turkey, take the temperature of the stuffing, at the edge of the cavity. It will be safe at approximately 155 F (there is some variance depending on your assessment of risk, and which source you look at). This only indicates the turkey is safe, not the center of the stuffing, which you should also check.

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Added info from question comments, as requested. –  SAJ14SAJ Dec 28 '12 at 17:54
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The problem with your premise is that 165f must be reached for the stuffing to be pasteurized. However, pasteurization begins at the top end of the "danger zone." The USDA spec sets that bar at 140f (in reality, you are out of the danger zone at 127f, but we'll use the USDA spec for the purposes of this discussion).

There is a time component to pasteurization, in addition to a temperature one. 165f is considered "instant kill," i.e. nearly all bacteria are killed in under 10 seconds. That is not the only way to achieve that kill level, though. 1 1/2 minutes at 155f will result in the same pasteurization level. As will 5 minutes at 150f. Or 35 minutes at 140f. As long as you can get the temperature of your stuffing out of the danger zone in a reasonable time, and it spends the requisite amount of time for pasteurization at whatever temperature it reaches, then the stuffing is safe to consume.

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The safety of the stuffing isn't really my question. The last sentence of my first paragraph is the heart of my question. –  Carey Gregory Dec 27 '12 at 23:31
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