If you’ve already started to prepare Thanksgiving dinner, don’t be tempted to stuff your bird with dressing the night before. Even if you put the bird immediately into the refrigerator to keep it until it’s put in the oven on Thanksgiving day, you run a real risk of food poisoning. And seriously, do you really want to make your family sick?
This is the problem—when food reaches a certain temperature, bacteria starts growing. When you shove warm dressing into a cool bird, the dressing’s temperature encourages the bacteria to grow. It’s simply not possible to cool down the dressing quick enough while sitting in the bird. Basically, it’s a nice little incubator to grow bacteria.
Stuff your turkey in the morning, right before you put the bird in the oven. Or, you can do what I do, and skip the stuffing part, to speed up your cooking and prep time, allowing you to spend more time with your family and friends on Thanksgiving day.
But it won’t taste as good, you say. It will if you use my trick.
Prepare your dressing and place in a casserole dish. Keep it in the refrigerator until you are ready to put it in the oven.
After your turkey is finished roasting, drain off all the juice into a large glass jar. Let the juice sit a moment, so that the fat rises to the top of the jar.
Remove the fat—use a portion of it to make roux for your gravy, and spread a portion of the fat it over your dressing, right before you put it in the oven. I normally poke the dressing with a knife, making holes of sort, so that when I spoon the fat over the dressing, the fat will seep down into the dressing while it cooks. How much to use? That is a personal choice.
Your bird can sit while you prepare your gravy, get the potatoes and other side dishes together, and while your dressing is in the oven. Normally, the dressing will be done by the time you are ready to call everyone to the table. But keep an eye on it; you may need to turn the oven off if it gets too brown on top. I normally bake the dressing at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes, or until piping hot and lightly brown on top.