Settling the Stuffing vs. Dressing Debate

The terms stuffing and dressing are often used interchangeably for a reason, and that’s because they’re virtually the same dish with a few key differences. It comes down to how they are cooked. The end result may look the same, but stuffing takes a different journey to get there than dressing.

thanksgiving dinner table with a bowl of stuffing
Table of Contents
  1. What is stuffing?
  2. Is it safe to eat stuffing once it’s removed from turkey?
  3. What is dressing?
  4. Should you add egg to stuffing or dressing?
  5. Do different regions call it stuffing vs dressing?
  6. Storing leftovers
  7. Recipes to try

The fall season sparks a spirited debate, and I’m not talking about pumpkin spiced lattes. This one’s about the Thanksgiving table. Come Fall, there may be a lot of talk about roasted turkey and how to best cook one, but the debate over stuffing vs. dressing can cause quite the divide among those who are passionate about their Thanksgiving side dishes.

The debate is fueled partially by region. The northeast and northwest often stand firmly in the stuffing camp while the midwest and the southern states are dressing advocates.

It’s not just a matter of linguistics. Both dishes exist, and the difference lies in how each is cooked. As for which tastes better, well, that’s one argument you’ll have to settle with a good ol’ fashioned cookout of your own. But for now, here’s how you win the debate over what’s what – once and for all.

What is stuffing?

stuffing placed inside a whole turkey

Stuffing is a combination of dry and crusty bread (hey, starch) and vegetables, which vary depending on the specific recipe. Herbs are often part of the equation, as are onions. The most common types of bread are white bread and cornbread. The ingredients are combined and stuffed inside the turkey to help flavor the cavity of the bird and benefit from its juices. The final result may be served in a casserole dish, but it’s cooked inside of turkey first.

You may also add a cup or so of stock to your stuffing mixture before adding it to your bird, but keep in mind that the turkey juices will run into the stuffing when cooking inside of the bird. So don’t add too much extra liquid, or your stuffing may turn out soggy.

Is it safe to eat stuffing once it’s removed from turkey?

Yes. As long as you follow food safety guidelines. Before cooking the turkey, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends stuffing your turkey right before cooking it – no earlier. 

Once cooked, after pulling your turkey from the oven, don’t remove the stuffing right away. Let it sit to allow it to cook a little longer as the turkey rests, and always make sure both the turkey and stuffing reach 165 degrees. If the bird reaches 165 degrees after resting but the stuffing does not then remove it from the turkey cavity and place it in an oven-safe casserole dish. Continue baking in a 350-degree oven until it’s thoroughly cooked.

While this method is safe when cooked properly, it’s important to note that the risk of food-borne illness is higher than if cooked outside the bird. That’s why the latter has become more common in modern times.

What is dressing?

casserole dish filled with dressing

Dressing leans on the same ingredients that stuffing does, but it’s cooked outside the turkey in a dedicated baking or casserole dish. Once served, it looks, talks, and walks like stuffing except for the fact that it didn’t soak up any juices from the turkey while cooking inside its cavity.

So, it’s common to add stock when cooking in a separate dish to make up for the moisture and create the desired texture of stuffing.

Should you add egg to stuffing or dressing?

It’s a matter of preference, but adding a beaten egg to your stuffing mixture acts as a binder and keeps the bread moist. Moisture is what holds all the ingredients together, rather than turning it into something resembling croutons and roasted vegetables.

The amount of moisture needed for stuffing or dressing depends on the other ingredients. For example, if you’re using diced apples or pears in your stuffing, it will add moisture and reduce the amount of other liquids needed. Cornbread is also more moister than other types of bread. Add too much extra liquid, and it could get mushy quickly.

Do different regions call it stuffing vs dressing?

Yes! Southern regions are most likely to call it dressing; for some, it’s a core belief. Midwesterners would likely defend their position, while Northeastern’s and those in the Pacific Northwest would be likely to challenge dressing advocates with the term stuffing.

Regardless of what they call it, some people say dressing means stuffing, and some say stuffing means dressing. If you find yourself in a heated debate, remember it’s the cooking method that makes the difference. It’s very possible that someone who stands firmly in the “I call it stuffing” camp actually cooks it like dressing.

Storing leftovers

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, you can store leftover stuffing or dressing for three to four days in the refrigerator. Make sure that the dish is completely cool before storing.

Per the CDC, always make sure you reheat leftovers to 165 degrees again. To reheat, you can put in an oven-safe dish and insert into a 300ºF (149ºC) oven until the food reaches 165ºF (74ºC). A microwave is also safe as long as you abide by the 165-degree rule.

Recipes to try

There are a lot of creative takes on stuffing and dressing today. Here are some of my personal favorites:

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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5 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Diana says

    Thanks for taking up the topic. I enjoyed the data about storage and how to handle leftovers. There was never enough stuffing for our family so my mom made a batch of dressing and soaked it with some of the drippings from the turkey.

  2. Mr. Ron says

    I learned to make “stuffing” from my father many years ago. My stuffing comprises Lop Chon, pork sausage, onion, white bread, potatoes, garlic and sage. I have been making this for the past 50+ years and people seem to love it. I have passed this recipe down to my son and hope he keeps it the same.

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