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Stuffing vs. Dressing: What’s the Difference?
Plus recipes and tips on how to make the best versions of both types of this Thanksgiving side dish.
11-22-2018
Cook's Country

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What's Thanksgiving without a good-natured food debate? Some people swear by dark meat and others sit firmly in the white meat camp. Some people favor apple pie over pecan, or fluffy dinner rolls over cornbread. And then there’s the linguistic dispute, pitting those who call it “stuffing” against those who call it “dressing.” Here’s what you need to know before taking a side.

Stuffing

Where you find it: Across the United States
Traditionally made with: Sandwich bread, but Italian, French, and sourdoughs are also common, and sometimes cornbread

To many people, “stuffing” indicates it was cooked inside the turkey, but to those who grew up eating it, stuffing is the name of this bread-laden side dish no matter if it’s prepared inside or outside of the bird.

How to Make the Best Stuffing

  1. Cook It Outside the Bird: We’ve found that you’re more likely to overcook the turkey by the time you bring the stuffing up to a food-safe temperature of 160 degrees.

  2. Don’t Substitute Stale Bread for Oven-Dried: If your recipe calls for oven-dried bread, stale bread is not a good substitute: The stuffing will be too wet. (Read more about how we came to this conclusion.)

  3. Brown the Butter for Richer Flavor: Butter cooked until the water evaporates and the solid milk proteins turn brown adds deep, nutty flavor to recipes.

Stuffing Recipes to Try

Simple Holiday Stuffing

Though it has just a handful of ingredients and is supereasy to make, this casserole-style stuffing delivers big, buttery, savory flavor.
 

Homemade Stuffing Mix

Stuffing mix from a box is predictably bad but convenient. By making our own, could we combine timesaving with tastiness?
 

Extra-Crispy Skillet Stuffing

For stuffing with a high crunch quotient, we grabbed a skillet. But that was just the starting point.
 

Dressing

Where you find it: Throughout the South, in parts of the Midwest, and in a few corners of New England
Traditionally made with: Crackers, biscuits, or cornbread

If you grew up south of the Mason-Dixon line, there’s a good chance you’re firmly in the “dressing” camp. You may think of oysters as an ingredient solely in Southern-style dressing, but historically, they were used in dishes all along the eastern coast of the United States, from Florida to Maine, which includes many states that refer to the side dish as stuffing.

How to Make the Best Dressing

  1. Toast Crackers to Prevent Sogginess: Are you preparing a cracker-based dressing? We found that toasting the crackers in the oven before crushing them kept them from going soggy, leaving a solid base for aromatics and meat.
  2. Start with Smaller Biscuits: Biscuit interiors are so fluffy that they practically dissolve when moistened. Making 1-inch biscuits—as opposed to full-size—creates firmer biscuits with browned edges, which can stand up better to the liquid.

  3. Make Your Own Cornbread: Don’t be tempted by the convenience of prepared cornbread or boxed mixes. These sugary, cakey products often yield sweet, mushy dressing.

Dressing Recipes to Try

Homemade Cornbread Dressing

Most dressing recipes start with store-bought cornbread or a mix: Don't do it! Making your own cornbread is worth the trouble.
 

Cracker Dressing with Dried Cranberries and Pecans

In 19th-century America, crackers often stood in for bread in stuffings and dressings. Was this tradition worth reviving?
 

Biscuit Dressing

Holiday stuffing made with biscuits? This Appalachian custom sounded promising, but the fluffy biscuits dissolved. How could we fortify them?
 

Learn More

Talk Thanksgiving with Cook's Country

See Cook's Country editors Bryan Roof, Ashley Moore, and Tucker Shaw discuss this popular side dish and answer your Thanksgiving questions in this Facebook Live.

Do you serve stuffing or dressing at your Thanksgiving meal? Let us know in the comments!

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