This small batch turkey and stuffing makes it possible to eat like it's Thanksgiving year-round while also being exactly the kind of meal you'll be grateful to share with other human beings in a year plagued by, well, a literal plague.
My last Thanksgiving involved a wedding, a funeral, four cross-country flights, and three different preparations of pretzel stuffing. I thought it would hold the title of "strangest Thanksgiving" for at least several more years, but then 2020 arrived and threw every normal ranking scale out the window.
So how is this Thanksgiving going to be different from most Thanksgivings? For one, it's going to be smaller. Much, much smaller. And this small turkey and stuffing recipe is exactly what you need to pull it off.
A smaller Thanksgiving calls for a smaller Turkey. And my mother-in-law, whose standard stuffing recipe includes garlic, has been making this small batch version — which can be made using one or two turkey breasts, legs, or quarters — to accommodate relatives with garlic allergies at her huge thanksgiving dinners.
She still makes the big bird, of course, but this smaller cut of turkey goes in the oven right along with it on top of garlic-free stuffing for garlic-free guests. And it's kind of the perfect size for a pandemic Thanksgiving dinner.
You know how when you make a whole turkey, the best stuffing is the stuffing that cooks inside the bird? That's because it gets to soak up all the rendered turkey fat and flavor. When you make a small turkey and stuffing dinner, you get the same benefit — only all the stuffing is the best stuffing.
The small recipe I've given you below is a very, very, very extremely simple and basic version of turkey and stuffing.
There's an herb compound butter under the turkey skin. There's sausage in the stuffing, which uses plain white bread — I really like Pepperidge Farm's Farmhouse Hearty White Bread (#notanad) — and your standard rosemary, thyme, and sage poultry blend of fresh herbs.
But I've kept it basic for a reason! You can and should absolutely use your favorite stuffing and your favorite turkey preparation. Just measure everything in smaller quantities.
a few quick expert turkey and stuffing tips
- A good rule of thumb for how much turkey you need is to assume approx 1 pound per person.
- Patting the turkey dry before seasoning it is crucial to getting that extra crispy skin. Beyond that you can use whatever your favorite turkey seasoning methods are — brining, dry brining, different herbs, different butters, etc.
- Some advice straight from my mother in law: If you're someone who regularly buys loaves of bread, save the heels of the bread in a bag in your freezer. That way you don't need to buy new bread for stuffing — the heels are perfect!
- To prevent the stuffing from browning too much on the bottom, if you have two nesting casserole dishes, put the stuffing in the smaller one and place it inside the larger one before sticking it in the oven. This helps insulate the bottom of the pan. When you take the turkey off the stuffing to let the stuffing brown, you can also use the bigger pan to put the turkey in to finish cooking.
- As always, there's going to be some carryover cooking on turkey as it rests once it's out of the oven. When the turkey hits 160F in the thickest part of the meat it is almost done (165F is when it is for sure done), so I like to pull it out at this point and let it finish cooking as it rests.
- Letting the turkey rest before slicing it helps keep it juicy — don't slice it right away. give it at least 10-15 minutes on a cutting board before you slice it up.
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small turkey and stuffing dinner
For the turkey
- 2 bone-in, skin-on turkey breasts, legs, or quarters (approx 1½-2 lbs each)
- 2 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh poultry blend fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, sage)
For the stuffing
- 1½ lbs hearty white bread (cut into cubes)
- ¾ cup carrot (diced)
- ¾ cup celery (diced)
- 1½ cup white or yellow onion (diced)
- ½ cup unsalted butter
- 2 links mild sausage (casings removed)
- 2 large eggs
- 2-2½ cups chicken broth (unsalted)
- 2 teaspoon kosher salt (added to the broth)
- ¼ cup parsley (chopped)
- 2 tablespoon minced fresh poultry blend fresh herbs (whatever is left from making the compound butter)
- Preheat oven to 250°F. Arrange cubed bread in a large, high-sided sheet pan or roasting pan in a single layer and place in the oven, tossing occasionally, for about 2 hours or until fully dry.
- When there's about 30 minutes left on the bread, start the rest of the stuffing components. Mince all of the fresh poultry herbs. Use a fork to mash 1 tablespoon of the minced herbs into 2 tablespoon unsalted butter on a clean cutting board until the butter is quite soft. This is your compound butter.Set aside the rest of the minced herbs for the stuffing. Leave compound butter out to soften until read to use.
- Melt ½ cup butter in a medium pan over medium heat. Remove the casings from two sausage links and brown them in the pan, using a spatula or wooden spoon to break the meat apart into crumbles. Add the chopped carrots, celery, and onion and cook until the veggies have softened. Set aside (with as much of the buttery pan drippings as you can) until ready to use.
- When the bread is dry, transfer it to an extremely large mixing bowl along with the sausage mixture and the rest of the minced poultry herbs.Toss everything together until evenly distributed.
- Lightly beat two eggs and add them to the bread along with 2 cups chicken stock and salt, stirring well to combine. Set aside to soak while you prep the turkey.
- Preheat oven to 375°F with an oven rack in the middle setting.
- Pat turkey breasts dry with a paper towel on all sides. Slide a small spatula or your fingers between the skin and the meat to separate it.Season all sides of the turkey generously with salt and pepper making sure you get it between the skin and the meat. Then rub the softened compound butter all over the turkey and under the skin too.
- Check the bread. Tear a few pieces apart — if they're still quite dry in the center, add an additional ½ cup-1 cup broth and stir well.
- Generously butter a large rectangular casserole dish or baking pan. Arrange the stuffing in an even layer, pressing it down fairly firmly into the pan — just enough to avoid big air pockets without smushing it down flat. To prevent the bottom of the stuffing from browning/burning, you may want to place the casserole dish inside a larger casserole dish.
- Place your turkey piece or pieces on top of the stuffing and roast until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the turkey reads 160°F. NOTE: Depending on your oven and the size of your turkey pieces, this could take anywhere from 1-1½ hours. Start checking on it every 10-15 minutes after it's been in for about an hour.
- If the turkey is done, remove it from the oven to a cutting board to rest. Give the stuffing a stir, to make sure the bottom and sides aren't browning too much. Return it to the oven until it's browned across the top. If the turkey isn't done after an hour (which is extremely likely, depending on the size!) transfer it to a sheet pan, or, if you had a second casserole dish to insulate the bottom of the stuffing pan, you can place it in that. Continue cooking until the thickest part of the turkey reaches 160F.
- Let the finished turkey rest at least 10-15 minutes. Use a sharp knife (like a boning knife) to remove the bone from the bottom of the breast. Slice the turkey and place it back on top of the stuffing to serve.
- Prep time includes time to dry out your cubed bread.
- If using even smaller portions, start checking on the turkey after about 45 minutes.