Whether you're a seasoned pro or a beginner cook, you can make a delicious Thanksgiving stuffing in no time with our simple guide. The best part? Our favorite stuffing and dressing recipes are simple, savory and come together quickly. Learn how to get this Thanksgiving favorite right every time with a few tips and tricks.
Stuffing and Dressing: What’s the Difference?
Before you decide to prepare a perfect turkey stuffing or a delicious dressing, it’s helpful to know the difference. While many people use the terms stuffing and dressing interchangeably, there’s one important thing that sets them apart: Stuffing is cooked inside the turkey, while dressing is cooked separately, usually in a casserole dish. Here are a few considerations for each:
Cooking stuffing inside of the turkey adds visual appeal to your main course and infuses your stuffing with turkey drippings, meaning a moist, tender and flavorful stuffing. However, it’s important to note that, like your turkey, your stuffing must reach a safe internal temperature of 165°F before it can be enjoyed. Once you’ve stuffed your turkey, it should be placed immediately in an oven set no lower than 325°F. If your turkey reaches 165°F before your stuffing does, you’ll need to continue to cook it until the stuffing has reached the same internal temperature. Once cooked, let the stuffed turkey stand for 20 minutes before serving.
Unlike stuffing, dressing is cooked separately. This method is ideal for achieving a crisp, crusty edge with a moist and tender center. You can use a casserole pan to cook the dressing, or use a muffin pan to make sure everyone gets a crispy edge for their portion.
Start with the Right Stuff
The first step to making a delicious homemade stuffing is to start with the right ingredients, and before customizing your recipe, it’s helpful to know the role each basic ingredient plays in your dish. Here are some of the most commonly used ingredients for stuffing and dressing:
The first staple ingredient you’ll need is a well-seasoned stuffing mix or hearty bread. If using bread, make sure that it’s completely dried out. You can achieve this by using day-old bread, twice baking your bread or toasting it. Bread used for stuffing should be toasty, crusty and ready to absorb all the delicious ingredients that make a soft and tender stuffing. Once your bread has been dried out, cut it into small cubes and season it.
If you’re short on time, or just want to turn up the flavor, try using a boxed stuffing mix. Boxed or bagged stuffing mixes allow you to skip drying, cutting and seasoning your bread, with a complete kit of dried and seasoned bread that’s ready to prepare. The best part about using this method is that you don’t have to sacrifice any flavor. Since the seasoned bread’s function in your stuffing is to carry all the delicious flavors of your fresh add-ins, using a boxed mix means the bread is super absorbent, allowing you to maximize the flavor of your stuffing in less time. Kroger Brand Turkey Stuffing Mix is a great base for your Thanksgiving stuffing, but you can use a cornbread stuffing instead, depending on your preferences.
Butter plays a crucial role in stuffing, adding flavor, richness and moisture while binding your dry ingredients. Butter is also used often to sauté aromatics like onions, celery and garlic. This process, known as sweating or softening, allows these ingredients to release their flavors and become more fragrant. The butter also helps to caramelize these aromatics, adding depth and sweetness to the stuffing.
Aromatics are a combination of vegetables and herbs used to enhance the overall flavor of a recipe, providing depth and complexity. Common aromatics include onions, celery and garlic, along with herbs and spices such as sage, thyme, rosemary and parsley.
Our loaded vegetable stuffing recipe features carrots, celery, onion, bell pepper, mushrooms, corn and garlic, but you can customize your fresh ingredients to suit your tastes. For a traditional savory stuffing, you can add a classic mirepoix to your mix by sautéing fresh carrots, celery and onion in butter or oil. You can then add fresh herbs like rosemary, sage and thyme to turn up the festive flavor even more.
Broth or Drippings
When making stuffing or dressing, adding moisture to your base is essential to achieve a soft, tender result. You can use a store-purchased vegetable, chicken or turkey broth to add moisture, or if making a dressing, you can use the drippings from your turkey once it has started cooking. Both methods will add flavor and moisture to your dish, binding the ingredients. If you use drippings to add flavor, be mindful that your stuffing will need to reach an internal temperature of 165°F before it’s ready to enjoy.
If you want to use a combination of these methods, try starting a Thanksgiving stockpot. When you start preparing ingredients for your other sides, or getting your turkey ready, add the vegetable scraps, peels, herb stems, and turkey gizzards and neck to a large stockpot with water. You can also add broth or other flavor-enhancers like white wine to your stockpot. Let your homemade stock simmer until you’re ready to prepare your stuffing or dressing. If you’re preparing a dressing, you can add drippings from the turkey pan to your stockpot periodically before straining the liquid broth and making your dish. This method enhances flavor and reduces waste, while marrying all the savory flavors of your feast. You can also use this stock to baste your turkey, prepare your sides and as a base for your gravy.
Eggs are an important binding ingredient in homemade stuffing and dressing recipes, helping to hold the ingredients together. When eggs are beaten and mixed into the stuffing mixture, they coagulate during baking, creating a cohesive and solid texture. Eggs also add a degree of softness and creaminess to the stuffing, keeping it from becoming overly dry. In addition, eggs can provide a slight leavening effect, causing the stuffing to puff up during baking (resulting in a lighter, fluffier texture).
While eggs may not be called for in the preparation of some boxed or bagged mixes, you can always add egg to your mix to add richness and flavor to your stuffing or dressing.
To elevate your stuffing or dressing, try incorporating add-ins to your mix. Beyond the essential aromatics like onions, celery and garlic, consider options like dried fruits (such as cranberries or raisins) for a touch of sweetness and chewiness, or nuts (like pecans or almonds) to introduce a delightful crunch and nutty essence. If you’re preparing a savory-sweet stuffing or dressing, you can add ingredients like celery and apples for a refreshing crunch. This cranberry apple rosemary stuffing is a great source of inspiration. You can also add spices and seasonings like cinnamon or nutmeg to infuse your dish with warmth and complexity. If your stuffing is more on the savory side, try using sautéed mushrooms for an earthy depth, or crumbled sausage for a meaty and satisfying bite.
Mastering the art of making Thanksgiving stuffing or dressing is not just about following a recipe. It's about creating a dish filled with love, tradition and personal flair.