Dressing and stuffing. What’s the difference?

Both are considered a side dish, the key is to making them safely.

Both dressing and stuffing are considered side dish items that are traditionally served with some type of poultry dish. The key difference between dressing and stuffing is the method of preparation. Dressing is prepared separately from the bird; stuffing is made by stuffing the mixture into the cavity of the bird and cooking them in the oven together. We quite often use both terms interchangeably, but with this newfound knowledge you can now add another topic to the family trivia games. Many families claim to have a “special” recipe and can sometimes become quite secretive about it.

Regardless of what you call “dressing” or “stuffing,” the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has these guidelines for making safe stuffing:

  • Stuffing should not be prepared ahead. The dry and wet ingredients for stuffing can be prepared ahead of time and chilled separately. But, do not mix the wet and dry ingredients until just before spooning the mixture into a poultry cavity in/on other meat, or into a casserole. The stuffing should be moist, not dry because heat destroys bacteria more rapidly in a moist environment.
  • The stuffed poultry or casserole should be placed immediately after preparation, into an oven no lower than 325 degrees Fahrenheit. A food thermometer should be used to ensure that the stuffing reaches the safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • If you are refrigerating cooked poultry, take the stuffing out and place in a separate container.
  • If you plan to prepare stuffing using raw meat, poultry or shellfish, including oysters, you should precook the raw ingredients before stuffing the item to reduce the risk of foodborne illness from bacteria that may be found in the raw ingredients.
  • When stuffing whole poultry, allow about a half-cup to one cup of prepared stuffing per pound of raw poultry.
  • It is safe to stuff a turkey breast. You would follow the same guidelines for stuffing a whole turkey.
  • It is not recommended to stuff a turkey that is going to be deep-fat fried. The whole bird cooks quickly; sufficient heat may not be conducted to the center of the bird to destroy any bacteria that could be present.
  • An instant read food thermometer is recommended to confirm that the stuffing has reached a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Even if the meat itself has reached this temperature, the stuffing may not have reached this temperature. Further cooking will be required in order for the stuffing to reach a safe temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Stuffing may be made in a slow cooker following the directions below:
    • Stuffing must be very moist
    • Fill cooker no more than 2/3 full
    • The lid should fit tightly on the cooker
    • Start cooking on high for at least one hour and then you may reduce to low
    • Cook until the center of the stuffing reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit, when checked with a food thermometer
    • If these guidelines have not been followed, discard the stuffing
    • Never place frozen stuffing or other frozen food in a slow cooker, it will not reach proper safe temperature fast enough.

Michigan State University Extension recommends keeping the stuffing or dressing out of the “temperature danger zone” of 40 degrees Fahrenheit to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. It is in this range that bacteria will grow most quickly. By following these tips from the USDA, you will be working to avoid the potential problems that could come from a foodborne illness. For more information on this food safety issue you can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline, 1-888-674-6854 or www.Askkaren.gov or contact your local MSU Extension office.

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