What Is Stuffing and Is It Different from Dressing?

Stuffing is one of those unique linguistic treats that is both a noun and a verb. As a noun, it refers to the physical stuff that is in a teddy bear or served as a Thanksgiving side. As a verb, it is the physical act of shoving the “stuff” into that bear’s or bird’s hole—or into your own face hole. Today we are going to focus on stuffing, the food.

What is stuffing?

The concept of stuffing has been around since ancient Roman times. But, in the context of Thanksgiving, stuffing is the bread-based, herb-laced mixture that is usually stuffed into the turkey and/or served as a side. 

Stuffing has a symbiotic relationship with turkey. As it cooks, the herbs in the stuffing infuse into the bird, giving it a lot more flavor. The turkey, in turn, drips all its delicious juices into the stuffing as it cooks, moistening it and making it taste great. 

There are some people (aka cowards) who say you shouldn’t cook your stuffing inside the bird, claiming it’s a salmonella risk. Sure, if you don’t do it right! Just make sure your stuffing reaches a temperature of 165 degrees and you should be fine. Stuffing cooked outside the bird is another thing altogether (more on that later).

What is stuffing made out of?

Stuffing is one of the most regionally variable Thanksgiving dishes, to the point where the recipe can be entirely different in every house on the block. There are, however, a few essentials that pop up in most stuffings.

The first and most obvious ingredient is the bread—any bread, really, but usually white bread. It helps if the bread is stale by a day or two. That allows it to stand up better to the added moisture.

best box stuffing

Best Boxed Stuffing

Don’t want to make stuffing from scratch? We’ve got you covered with the best boxed stuffing for a super-easy side dish.

The bread is typically mixed with finely chopped onion and celery, salt and pepper, and herbs. The whole thing is given the Garfunkel treatment: parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. Then a small amount of moisture is added, either chicken stock or melted butter, and it’s all shoved in the bird.

After those basic ingredients, feel free to riff. In the Field family, the secret ingredient is capers. Trust me, you’ll love it. But I’ve seen stuffing recipes that include things like, marjoram, sausage, bacon, walnuts, pineapple, pear, cheese, fennel, mushrooms, and even canned smoked oysters. No matter what is in there, stuffing must be served with a liberal amount of gravy. In fact, gravy should be poured on everything. Your Thanksgiving plate should look like the La Brea Tar Pits.

What’s the difference between stuffing and dressing?

Some people, generally those who live in the Southern states east of the Mississippi, call it dressing instead of stuffing. When I was growing up, my mom would make two dishes: stuffing, which came from the bird and all my normal family members ate, and dressing, which was cooked in its own dish for the few mutants in my family who preferred it that way.

If you ask me, dressing shouldn’t exist. It is categorically worse than stuffing in every single way, even though it is essentially the same thing. Dressing is the thing that goes on salads. Sorry for coming in so hot on this issue, but it burns me up!

This Thanksgiving, if you are from a dressing home, just start calling it stuffing to really stir the pot. At least you’ll get an argument going that isn’t based in politics.

About the Author

Luke Field

Luke Field is a writer and actor originally from Philadelphia. He was the former Head Writer of branded content at CollegeHumor and was also a contributing writer and actor to the CollegeHumor Originals cast. He has extensive improv and sketch stage experience, performing both at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and with their Touring Company. In addition to writing, he also works as a Story Producer, most recently on season 4 of Accident, Suicide, or Murder on Oxygen. Keep your eyes peeled for his brief but impactful appearance as Kevin, the screaming security guard, in the upcoming feature The Disruptors, directed by Adam Frucci.

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