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Stuffing vs Dressing: A Thanksgiving Rivalry

No Thanksgiving dinner would be complete without stuffing or dressing on the Thanksgiving table.

Often, people use ‘stuffing’ and ‘dressing’ as interchangeable terms, but they are actually different. 

With the holiday season quickly approaching, I wanted to shed some light on this traditional side dish.

Discover the real difference, and hopefully, it won’t lead to a heated debate that kicks off a Thanksgiving rivalry!  

Stuffing or Dressing for Your Thanksgiving Meal

Jiffy cornbread dressing on a red plate. The large baking dish with more dressing is behind the plate. There is a fork next to the plate.

Jiffy Cornbread Dressing

What Is Stuffing?

The term stuffing is defined as a seasoned mixture, generally composed of bread crumbs, butter, and an assortment of vegetables that are stuffed inside the cavity of a turkey.

Hence, it is stuffed inside something, which could even be a chicken, vegetable (like a bell pepper), or other food item.

This may seem shocking as I know many people who call this king among Thanksgiving side dishes ‘stuffing’ even though it was never stuffed into anything. 

A white plate with turkey, stuffing, and vegetables.

What Is Dressing?

Now, with dressing, it is also a seasoned mixture that involves breadcrumbs, butter, and vegetables. While it can also be stuffed, it is generally cooked in a separate casserole dish with extra liquid added in to keep it from being too dry. 

People use different crusty breads such as sourdough, cornbread, white bread, or their favorite bread to make dressing.

Stuffing vs Dressing: Differences

You might be able to see the differences a bit more now, with the obvious one being that stuffing is cooked within another food, such as your Thanksgiving turkey, while dressing is cooked separately.

You don’t need to add extra juices to stuffing as the turkey juices seep into this mixture as it cooks together, but for dressing, you must, or it will come out dry.

In the American South, dressing (a Southern staple) is usually made of cornbread, while up north, New Englanders seem to prefer it with sourdough bread or another type of white stale bread. 

Homemade Thanksgiving Day Stuffing with Sage and Celery. The stuffing is in a bowl next to the turkey on a plate.

Another important difference is that with true stuffing that is cooked within your turkey, you need to make sure it is cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature.

Turkeys that are stuffed will take longer to cook, and you want to be sure that there is no danger of bacteria on your stuffing or serving undercooked turkey to your hungry table of guests. 

You can use a food thermometer to make sure.

The History Behind America’s Favorite Thanksgiving Side Dish

How did this stuffing debate start? And where did this side dish come from? Perhaps that can be the topic of discussion around your dinner table.

Experts aren’t really sure when stuffing was first made or where it came from, for that matter. However, they suspect it first originated with Roman recipes from the first century AD.

These rustic recipe roots had mixed spelt along with herbs, vegetables, and spices, then stuffed the mixture into different animals, typically chicken, rabbit, or pig.

On special occasions, though, they chose dormouse. Personally, I’m thrilled this is no longer the meat of choice for celebratory and holiday meals. 

Jiffy cornbread dressing in a casserole dish.

In any event, stuffing was popular long after the Roman empire ended. It was called ‘farce’ in the 14th century and ‘forcemeat’ in the 17th century.

In the 19th century, people began calling it ‘dressing,’ and it began to be created in different ways.

Interestingly enough, there are no clear records as to whether or not stuffing or dressing was even present at the first Thanksgiving.

Records do show that there were turkeys and other birds served for this meal, but there is nothing that tells whether or not these birds were stuffed.

As time moved forward, Thanksgiving meals became more common, and records from the 19th century have stuffed turkey and ham listed as main courses. This means by the 1800s, stuffing had become a mainstay for these holiday meals. 

Now, you know Thanksgiving in the United States would not be complete without stuffing or dressing. 

Turkey dinner on a holiday dinner table with stuffing and vegetables.

North vs South: Regional Differences in Thanksgiving Stuffing and Dressing

If you are going to visit your family in the deep South from up north, you may want to try to call this side dish ‘dressing.’ For those of you fellow Southerners, you can impress those north of the Mason-Dixon line by calling it ‘stuffing.’

But if I’m honest, it really shouldn’t matter what you call this epic side dish. It should only matter how it tastes. Call it what you like as long as you get the taste right. 

Thanksgiving table with roasted turkey, sliced ham and side dishes

Here’s the thing, though…everyone has their own version of stuffing. Much of this comes from the various regions around the country.

Some make cornbread dressing, while others use country bread, sourdough, or even stale baguettes to make it.

There may be dried fruits, sausages, savory herbs, and all sorts of things in your stuffing or dressing recipe.

There are truly endless ways to make it for your Thanksgiving feast, and there really is no wrong way unless you don’t fully cook it.  

A turkey on a plate with stuffing cooking inside. There is a pie and some cranberry sauce next to the plate of turkey.

Stuffing in the Turkey Cavity or Dressing in a Separate Dish: What’s Your Holiday Meal Style?

In my home, I go with dressing because I want my turkey to cook faster. I also don’t want to worry that I haven’t cooked it enough.

As long as you abide by those rules, it doesn’t matter whether you make stuffing in the cavity of the turkey or dressing in a dish.

If you need a great recipe for Thanksgiving, try my Jiffy cornbread dressing recipe for a truly southern-style side!

Try Some Delicious Side Dishes For Thanksgiving or Christmas

  • The best homemade canned cranberry sauce – Cranberry sauce is a classic side dish for the holiday table. Canned or homemade is another fun Thanksgiving debate.
  • Homemade gravy from scratch – homemade gravy is a Thanksgiving tradition that has been around for generations.
  • Crock Pot Thanksgiving whole turkey – you won’t be adding stuffing to this dish, but it’s great for making a smaller bird and creating an easier cooking method with a slow cooker.
  • Sweet potato casserole – whether you’re in the Northern states or the Southern states, we can all agree that sweet potato casserole needs to be on the holiday table!
  • Apple, onion, and celery stuffing from Six Sisters’ Stuff is always perfect for Thanksgiving Day.
  • Green bean casserole – this is one of our favorite recipes because it’s delicious and it’s super duper easy to make. And it has our favorite main ingredient, green beans.
  • Moist Jiffy cornbread – this is always popular around the holidays, and for good reason. It’s amazingly delicious.
  • Pumpkin pie – this is a favorite dessert for Thanksgiving feasts and one that is most requested by family members.

Be sure to let me know in the comments where you stand. Stuffing or dressing? Happy Thanksgiving!