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Best Turkey and Stuffing Recipe

(or: a Fun and Foolproof Feast for Mere Mortals)

December 22, 2013 |  by  |  Featured, Food

Turkey, turkey, turkey! Wihout further ado, here it is, my mother’s amazing turkey dinner recipe. I know everybody’s partial to their mother’s cooking, but my mom’s turkey dinner is always outstanding! And the technique I’ve cobbled together over the years makes it super easy. No more frantic scramble at the last minute to get everything finished and plated.

This is not as specific as a cook-book recipe, but it doesn’t need to be. Anybody with a cook’s soul should breeze through it (chef-ery not required). Post your questions, and I’ll answer below.

Update for 2019: It’s been 6 years to the day since I wrote this post, and having made this meal 3 times a year, I’ve perfected it even further! (With a bonus gluten-free option that you would *literally* never know is gluten-free unless you told your guests.)

And I’ve added 4 (count them, 4!) Super Duper ProTips that will elevate your turkey experience from stressful slog to delightful dance. In the old version of this recipe, I used to brine the turkey to get it juicy, but with these tips, it’s just not necessary.

Important stress-buster: Start 6h before you want to eat. You can get away with 4.5-5h, but you’ll save your sanity if you start 6h before feast-time. It only takes about 90min of effort to make the stuffing, get the bird in the oven, and then take it out and plate it. The rest of the time it’s cooking or resting and you’re completely free to do your other prep. Or actually, you know, be a human being and not a house elf.

Super Duper ProTip #1: The Leave-In Thermometer

Stop. Before you read on, do yourself a favour and fire up your favourite web-browser or motor-conveyance and head to the (e)shops to buy a digital leave-in thermometer.

Really. This is not a convenience. This is the whole shootin’ match. Every part of this recipe will be catawampus without knowing the temperature during cooking and resting. And opening things up to poke a thermometer in simply won’t work.

A digital leave-in thermometer will *GUARANTEE* a perfect, juicy, no-stress turkey. Actually it will guarantee every roast you make will be perfect.

Cooking times don’t really work because every bird is different, they all start at different temperatures, and every time you use (and open) your oven it will be at a different temperature. There’s no way to get a fully-cooked, but still super juicy bird without knowing the temperature.

Here’s the one I use, a Thermoworks Dot, which is the simplest possible, just two buttons:


A digital leave-in thermometer means a perfect bird faster.

You may already have an old-school leave-in dial thermometer, but these aren’t very reliable in my opinion. Go digital, you’ll never look back.

You may already have a digital instant-read thermometer (that you don’t leave in the bird), but these aren’t good enough. (They are excellent for everyday cooking and grilling, see my Porkchop recipe!) Without a leave-in thermometer, you’ll be opening the oven a lot, spilling out all that heat, and the bird will take way longer to cook.

Plus, without a leave-in digital thermometer, you’ll never be able to do Super Duper ProTip #3, the towel-technique, which is really the magic to eliminating so much stress and keeping the bird ultra juicy.

Convinced? Read on, MacDuff.

Start with the Stuffing

Okay, this stuffing is killer. It’s the secret of the feast. If you’ve bookmarked this page, it’s because of the stuffing.

And hard as it is to believe, I’ve found a gluten-free substitute for the bread that is [hand-on-heart] just as good as the regular. We made both versions one year and even I, as a degenerate stuffing-fiend for whom turkey dinner could be complete with only stuffing and gravy, could barely tell the difference. So good that the following year, I made just one (double-batch) of the GF stuffing.

Note! This recipe makes a LOT of stuffing. I always stuff a large bird, then make a huge pan of extra stuffing (which I cook after the bird’s out). Did I mention I really love stuffing? You’ll need a pretty giant saucepan for this amount.

  • 1.5 loaves whole grain bread [I like the squirrelly/nutty breads]
  • 2 yellow onions
  • garlic
  • 3-4 celery stalks
  • 1.5lbs Italian sausage [Costco’s hot Italian is surprisingly good italian sausage for any recipe]
  • big bag of mushrooms [I use brown/crimini, but you can use whatever floats your boat]
  • 1/2 red bell pepper
  • 4-5 eggs
  • salt
  • pepper
  • sage powder
  • poultry seasoning powder
  • butter
  • olive oil

Sauté up your onions and celery in a healthy amount of olive oil and butter and some salt. When they’ve softened, add garlic. I like a lot of garlic. Don’t be shy to use half a bulb, because the flavours are going to be diluted quite a bit by all that bread. Don’t sauté the garlic too long or it’ll burn and turn bitter.

Next add sliced mushrooms and a lot more butter an olive oil. Don’t go shy on the butter. Add a decent amount more salt and pepper too. Sauté these until the mushrooms have released their water and are bubbling away nicely. (You can rinse and butter the bird as described in the Turkey and Stuffing section while this is happening.)

Add to taste the poultry and sage seasoning to this lovely buttery mushroom mix. Add LOTS. Lots and lots. The seasoning of this mix is going to be diffused through all that bread (and will have to hold its own against the turkey and gravy). I always think I’ve added too much, but wind up wishing I’d added more. You’ll probably add 2-3 tablespoons of sage and 4-5 of poultry seasoning. Maybe more.

After the seasoning the mushroom mix should be wet and oily, almost soupy, very dark green, and taste WAY too strong. Perfect!

Remove the sausage from its casing and crumble/tear it into bite-sized chunks. Drop it straight into the concoction. Cooking the sausage in this soupy mix makes it more tender than if you brown it in the pan.

When the sausage is cooked through, you can do your last tasting. The sausage mushroom mix should still be pretty soupy with oil and some water from the mushrooms. If it doesn’t look soupy like the video above, sometimes you’ll have to add a bit of water. Next add whatever salt/pepper/sage/poultry you need to make a heavily flavoured mix. Remove it from the heat. You’re almost done the stuffing!

Cut the bread into bite-sized chunks. If you’re having trouble cutting it, you can put it in the freezer before hand, but I find a decent serrated knife does a fine job on the nice robust wheat bread we like to use.

Dice the red bell pepper into small pieces.

Coat the bread with 4-5 eggs in a large mixing bowl (actually, you’ll probably need two big bowls to combine it all).

Add the sausage mushroom mix and the bell peppers to the bread and mix gently until everything is coated. At this point you can add apples/nuts or whatever else you want. I stick to just the above, because I’m not crazy.

The stuffing at this point should be pretty moist, but not soupy.

Stuff this into the neck and internal cavity of your washed and rinsed bird. You’re nearly ready for the bird to go in the oven!

Super Duper ProTip #2: Leave Room to Cook from Inside and Out

WAIT!!! Want a juicy bird that cooks in no time at all? Then never EVER stuff the internal cavity full. Go ahead and stuff the bottom of the cavity, it will hold quite a bit especially if you tamp it down, but ALWAYS leave an inch or so of space above the stuffing for hot oven air to circulate. Cut away any fatty skin that’s hanging down covering the cavity opening.

If you let the hot oven air into the cavity, then the turkey cooks from the inside and outside. The heat only has to penetrate half as far, because it’s cooking from both sides.

Not only will your bird cook way faster (about 3.5-4h for a 18-20lb turkey!), but the outside of the bird won’t be dried to a crisp by the time the rest of the meat is safe to eat. Hats off to Jamie Oliver for this tip!

Don’t worry about not getting enough stuffing in the bird. There’s usually a big flap of skin by the neck end. This you can cram absolutely full of stuffing (wrap the neck around this flap in the roasting pan to help keep it closed). You can also stuff the ‘porch’ area between the legs just outside the cavity. Just make sure that you don’t block airflow into the cavity!

Between the neck flap, the bottom half of the cavity, and the cavity ‘porch’, you’ll have plenty of stuffing. Plus, if you’re like me, you’ll have that second pan of stuffing to go into the oven after the bird comes out (which you’ve added some turkey drippings to)!

Turkey, Turkey, Turkey! (And Gravy)

Now the stuffing’s done, you’re actually done most of the work for the bird! It’ll be in the oven soon, and out and resting before you know it, leaving you plenty of time to get the other dishes sorted and maybe refill your mimosas.

  • butter
  • olive oil
  • turkey “Better Than Bouillon” [this stuff (and the veggie one) is magical]
  • fresh rosemary
  • fresh sage
  • turkey!

Preheat your oven to MAX. (Really! You’ll turn it down to 425F when you put the bird in.) If you’ve got a convection oven use that, but not necessary.

Note: Save time by buttering the bird as described below while the stuffing mix above is simmering.

Now the secret for the best and fastest turkey… Steam!

Rinse the inside and outside of the bird. Remove the neck and giblets from the cavity and place them in the roasting pan for extra flavour. Don’t bother drying the turkey, we’re actually going to be steaming it before crisping the skin.

Use a spoon to separate the skin from the turkey breast. Come at it from the cavity side, and gently push the spoon up under it as far as you can reach. It’ll separate fairly easily.

Combine a big lump of butter with some chopped sage/rosemary/thyme. Stuff this butter under the breast pushing it up until there’s a nice layer of aromatic fat to automatically baste the breast.

Slather outer skin with a more butter, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Easiest is to use your hands.

Stuff the bird as described in the Stuffing section and it’s about ready to go in the oven.

Now the secret for the best and fastest turkey… Steam! Yep. With a covered roasting pan, this is simple, but even without one you can use tinfoil to seal in the steamy goodness.

Place the turkey in a roaster (ideally your roaster has a rack) and add about an half-inch of water to the pan. (If you’ve got a butterball or some other factory bird full of water, you may want to use a little less water, but even if you make turkey-soup, you’ll be just fine.)

To the water add two heaping tablespoons of turkey “Better than Boullion”. (Seriously, go out of your way to find this, it makes the gravy *killer*!)\

Insert your leave-in thermometer to the coldest part of the breast (making sure it’s not too close to the bone, because it’s cooking inside and out). If you’re below 32F, you’re in a spot of trouble, because it takes TONS more heat to thaw ice than it does to heat the water after its thawed. Don’t cry, just adjust dining times, because you’ll be surprised how long the bird takes to hit 33F. After it hits 33F it will start going up fast!

Set your thermometer alarm to 140F and refill your mimosa.

Thermometer in, cover your roaster. If you do not have a covered roasting pan, make a tent of foil making sure to make it as air tight as possible. Write yourself a reminder to buy a covered roaster before next time.

Place the roaster in the oven preheated to MAX, then immediately turn it down to 425F. The preheating helps because there is a lot of cold metal, water, and turkey going into it, and the oven will instantly drop quite a bit.

You can have fun watching the temperature rise. But there’s not much to do for at least two hours. Set your thermometer alarm for 100F, refill your mimosa and prep your taters (which you will promise to leave the skin on for flavour and ease of prep) and sprouts (which you will prepare the easy way by slicing in half, so they cook faster and soak up gravy better).

At 100F (probably about 2h for a big 16+ pounder) adjust your thermometer probe and find the new coldest spot in the breast. This will often be different. Sometimes it’ll be 90F! Sometimes you move the probe and all you can find is hotter than 100F, don’t worry that’s normal too. Just find the new lowest and leave it there.

Set your thermometer alarm to 140F and refill your mimosa. You’ve got another hour or so of cooking.

At 140F (probably close to 3.5h total in the oven for that big bird), remove the cover/foil from the roaster to let the skin brown. Stay close, because we’re almost done!

At 145F (probably 10min later) take the bird out, it’s done in the oven. (Really!) But ONLY take this out if you IMMEDIATELY follow the next Super Duper ProTip! Otherwise, to quote A Christmas Story… “You’ll get worms!”

Pour the liquid from the bottom of the roaster into a saucepan, re-cover the bird and immediately swaddle it as described in Super Duper Pro Tip #3.

Put some of the turkey liquid straight on top of the extra tray of stuffing, and pop that into the oven for 45min or so. Everything in it is cooked, so you’re just heating and crisping it up.

Boil down the rest of the turkey liquid in the saucepan. You’re most of the way to amazing gravy. Personally, I like to add a few prepared packets of gravy mix (with water), because I love that flavour combination with the real turkey juices.

Super Duper ProTip #3: Swaddle in Towels

Immediately after taking the bird out of the oven (at about 145F) and pouring off the gravy, cover the roaster (or replace the foil), and then find a nice quiet spot where the bird can sit for 1-2h while you do all the rest of the prep. Don’t sit it on anything really cold, or you’ll steal the heat from the bird.

No more timing the turkey just right. This is easy mode.

Immediately cover the roaster with at least 4-5 thick clean bath towels. The one or two touching the roaster may get a little dirty, but most will be fine (and smell delicious).

Make sure you keep the thermometer probe in the bird, and make sure you can see the display. Watch as it will continue to climb 20-25F then just hover there for pretty much as long as you need it.

This is honestly the numero uno, A1, golden ProTip for ease and juiciness. (Thanks again to Jamie Oliver.) The bird will not only be rested to perfection, steamed in its own juices, but it will mean you have as much time as you want to finish off all the other dishes.

No more timing the turkey just right. This is easy mode.

I know what you’re thinking. Will this really work? Yes. I’ve kept track of my past several birds and it usually hits 160F within 30min, hits 170F in under an hour (don’t worry it’ll be juicy and moist!), and will still be over 165F after 2h. Use lots of towels to swaddle, and you can’t go wrong!

Just before you’re ready to eat, open it up (watch out for all the steam that comes out!) scoop out all the stuffing, pour the last of the juices into the gravy, and carve up that turkey!

Super Duper ProTip #4: Remove and Carve the Breast

One last tip to guarantee that every piece of breast meat is tender and moist. You’ll actually remove the whole breast and carve it like a loaf of bread. Not only will this be super easy, but this way each piece will be a slice from the very outside to the very centre of the bird. And nobody gets only the more well-cooked meat from the very outside.

Could not be easier.

The technique is simple. Simply slice your knife down between the backbone and the breast, all the way to the bottom of the carcass. Then peel away the breast, cutting away any remaining meat that’s still connected to the bone.

Now you’ve got a whole turkey breast that you can cut into slices on a cutting board. Could not be easier. Plate your meat and splash a little gravy over it so the leftovers don’t dry out.

Here’s Jamie Oliver once again, to show you how it’s done:

How’d it work for you?

Hope that helps! The first time we tried it, it turned out perfectly, and now we make it three times a year.

I’d love to hear how it works out for you. If you have tips or tricks, share them below. I’ll try them out and incorporate them into the above.    

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