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Consumer Reports gives the scoop on stuffing

Two flavorful Pepperidge Farm varieties are top boxed choices

Thursday, November 15, 2012 - 12:01 am

For many people, Thanksgiving dinner isn't complete without stuffing. But it also isn't complete without the pressure of cooking a huge meal, to say nothing of entertaining Aunt Mavis and Uncle Arnold. As a result, making stuffing from scratch may be a stretch.

To see which packaged stuffings taste best, Consumer Reports' trained testers tried 11 varieties and found two very good options. In preparing each product, the organization followed its stovetop directions. All of the stuffings call for extras: water or broth, butter or margarine, bouillon and sometimes vegetables.

Taste: The top choices, Pepperidge Farm Herb Seasoned and Pepperidge Farm Cornbread, are flavorful, fresh-tasting and moist. Their instructions call for chicken broth and sauteed celery and onions, which, of course, require more work but made them taste fresher than the others.

Mrs. Cubbison's stuffing also called for fresh celery and onions, but those couldn't hide the dehydrated flavor of the seasonings or the fact that some pieces were dry. Even big names such as Stove Top and Arnold/Oroweat are just OK, with drawbacks including chewy vegetables, crunchy crumbs, overpowering herbs or the flavor of bouillon instead of fresh broth. (Broth tastes of chicken; bouillon tastes salty and “as if a chicken flew over it,” a taster said.)

Tasters also sampled ready-made Boston Market Fresh Vegetable Stuffing ($4.30, serves two or three), which didn't wow them. It tasted of chicken broth and dried seasoning and was a bit sweet. Celery pieces were chewy and seemed dried, and too-soft carrot pieces tasted like they'd been frozen.

Nutrition: As prepared, all stuffings scored Good or Fair for nutrition. Saturated fat ranged from 1 to 5 grams and sodium from 230 to 791 milligrams. (The recommended daily limit for most people is 2,300 milligrams.) The Stove Top mixes have the least saturated fat but 1 gram of trans fat. Serving sizes are a 1/2 cup dry or 1 cup once prepared, but most are close in weight, so you're getting the same amount of stuffing. (Some are denser than others.) You can make stuffing a bit more healthful by using lower-sodium broth, cutting the amount of butter or adding vegetables and fresh herbs.

Bottom line: Both Pepperidge Farm products would be welcome guests at a Thanksgiving dinner. Any stuffing would probably be tastier with real chicken broth or fresh ingredients. Food-safety experts recommend against stuffing the turkey, but if you insist, make sure that you cook stuffing to 165 degrees.

Tips for carving the bird

You spend hours cooking a turkey, so don't butcher it when it's time for slicing. Here are a few pointers:

•Give it a rest. To keep more juice in the meat, let the bird sit for 15 to 30 minutes after taking it out of the oven.

•Use the right tools. You'll need a sharp 8- to 10-inch carving knife, stainless-steel tongs and a cutting board. Hone your knife lightly before carving by sliding the blade up the steel at a 20-degree angle. As you carve, use the tongs to grip the bird while holding it on the cutting board. Don't use a fork, which pierces the skin and lets tasty juices seep out.

•Go against the grain. Work on one side of the turkey at a time, first removing the legs (separate the thigh from the drumstick by cutting through the joint) and then cutting off the breast meat in one big chunk. Pull a little skin away from the breastbone to see how the grain of the meat runs, and cut 1/4 - to 1/2 -inch-thick slices across the grain. That helps hold in juices. Slice the thigh meat, but leave drumsticks intact.