What’s the best part of Thanksgiving? The turkey? No way. It’s the stuffing. And to think there was a time when I thought stuffing could only be made from a box! Don’t get me wrong—boxed stuffing is good, but premade packages of stuffing are a real damper in the creativity department. (Not to mention they’re loaded with sodium and other not-so-wholesome ingredients in the form of preservatives.)
Homemade stuffing is ridiculously easy to make, but there are a few things you can do that would ruin a perfectly good stuffing. Here are a few mistakes to avoid when you’re making stuffing from scratch, and tips to fix your stuffing.
Mistake to Avoid #1: Cooking Your Stuffing in the Turkey
OK, so this tip really applies to any stuffing, but it’s worth mentioning because it could destroy the potential to ever allow stuffing to cross your lips again. Don’t cook the stuffing in the turkey! What about those iconic images of a turkey brimming with stuffing, you ask? Forget about them. You are looking at either a) a turkey that has been cooked to oblivion, or b) stuffing that’s basted in raw turkey juices, a real food-safety hazard. Here’s why: in the time it takes a stuffed turkey to get up to 165°F in the center of the cavity (the “safe” temperature for poultry), the breast meat and possibly everything else will be overcooked. Even if the stuffing is fully cooked beforehand, if you take the turkey out of the oven with the stuffing just “warmed,” you’ll run the risk of eating stuffing contaminated with raw turkey juices. Everything, even the stuffing, has to reach the recommended 165° if it’s in the bird, so cook it in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish instead.
Mistake to Avoid #2: Stuffing That Falls Apart
When you’re creating your own stuffing, the sky is the limit when it comes to ingredients. You can add dried fruit, fresh fruit, sausage, nuts, grains, whatever. But you want to make sure there is an element that keeps it all loosely sticking together. That’s called a “binder,” and bread is really great at this. To work its magic, the bread needs a little liquid. (How much? See below.) Bread that is slightly dry sucks up moisture like a sponge and once it’s tossed with other ingredients it starts to break down slightly and acts like the glue for everything else. Any kind of bread will work—wheat bread, sourdough, rye—even cornbread. Experiment with different flavors to find one you like best.
Mistake to Avoid #3: Soggy or Dry Stuffing
Stuffing needs moisture to prevent it from drying out, but knowing how much liquid to add can be tricky. You want your stuffing moist, but not soggy and certainly not dry. The bread in the stuffing absorbs moisture, but if it’s dry (as it should be, see above), it takes some time for the liquid to settle in. I suggest adding a little at a time, say 1 cup of broth for every 4 cups of dry mix. Give it a good stir, then let it sit for a minute. The stuffing should be moist, but not wet. If there is a puddle of broth at the bottom of the bowl, you’ve added too much. Add more bread to soak up the excess moisture. If the mix is still dry and crumbly, add more liquid and toss gently until it starts to clump together.
Mistake to Avoid #4: Too Much Salt
One of the pitfalls of packaged stuffing is copious amounts of sodium. When you make stuffing from scratch, you can control how much salt you add—to a degree. Unfortunately, common stuffing ingredients like bread, sausage and broth have a good amount of sodium in them. Keep sodium under control by being judicious with “extras” like sausage (just a little goes a long way) and choosing low- or reduced-sodium broth. And you don’t necessarily need to add salt to stuffing. Taste it before you bake it (as long as there isn’t raw meat involved) to see if you really need to add extra salt.