Next to politics and football, few things cause more contention around the Thanksgiving table than stuffing. Stuffing is nearly as iconic as turkey, but there are many different recipes and everyone seems to have a favorite. Now, don't get us wrong, there is nothing wrong with that boxed stuffing. But when it's time for something a little extra, you'll need the Bearded Butchers guide to the best homemade stuffing recipe. We are going to share a few of our favorites and show you how you can tailor classic recipes to satisfy all your loved ones, even the picky ones.
Turkey Stuffing, Explained
Perhaps one of the most argued about facets of classic stuffing isn't even what it's made of or how it's made; it's what to call it. In many parts of the country, stuffing is called dressing, particularly when it's made in a casserole dish. The term "stuffing" only applies to the side dish made by actually stuffing a turkey or other menu item. In fact, in certain households, calling it stuffing is insulting. When stuffing is made in a baking dish, it's technically called "dressing," at least by Southerners.
The first references to stuffing come from a cookbook compiled by Ancient Romans, however the stuffing ideas they share are largely unfamiliar to our palates today. Just imagine stuffing a turkey with chopped liver and brains. Yuck, right? The beginning of the use of bread cubes is less certain, but it's thankfully obvious somebody (maybe the French) decided to change the way stuffing was made.
The common homemade recipes around today tend to use sourdough bread, cornbread, or french bread cubes. Traditionally, stuffing was made from day old loaves that had dried out. The dryness makes it easy to cut the bread and allows it to absorb moisture.
Other common ingredients are fresh herbs, spices, vegetables, and even fruit. It's common to use chicken broth to produce moisture in many classic stuffing dishes. Remember that good ingredients make the best stuffing. From there, it's a free-for-all of ideas, flavors, and textures.
Stuffing and Dressing Recipe Ideas
These four Thanksgiving stuffing recipes can be adapted according to your tastes. The various fresh herbs, spices, and types of dried bread can be changed for unique flavors and combinations. Additionally, all four can either be cooked in a baking dish or stuffed in a turkey.
Classic Cornbread Stuffing with Apricots and Walnuts
This is a sweet, savory, crunchy version of the classic Southern cornbread Thanksgiving stuffing recipe. The addition of dried apricots and pecan halves compliment the toasted cornbread perfectly. Use fresh herbs for maximum flavor. This one is sure to be a family favorite, and you can even make it gluten-free using our cornbread recipe.
- 1 recipe cornbread, 1"-1/2" cubes
- 1 to 2 cups low sodium chicken or turkey broth
- 2 eggs
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, pressed
- 2 Tbsp fresh sage, chopped
- 2 tsp thyme leaves
- 1 tsp fresh parsley
- 4 oz dried apricots, clipped and chopped
- Salt and pepper
This recipe is best with day or two old, dry cornbread. I know that's not really going to happen, so try to make a pan the day before and hide it from your family.
Cut the cornbread into one-inch or smaller bread cubes. Spread evenly on a parchment paper-covered cookie sheet and place in a preheated oven at 300 degrees. Toast until the cornbread is golden and dry.
In a large skillet over medium heat, melt butter and add in the onion. Cook until fragrant, about two minutes, then add garlic. Cook another two minutes but do not burn. Add sage and thyme, then the chopped apricots, stir to coat, then cover and remove from heat.
Toss the halved pecans with the toasted breadcrumbs and the salt and pepper in a large bowl. Use kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper for the best flavor.
Add in the broth slowly, gently tossing the bread cubes to coat. If you add too much liquid, the stuffing will be soggy. You don't want to have standing liquid in your bowl.
Fold the apricot mixture, including any liquid, gently into the bread crumbs.
If you are baking this in a casserole pan, spread the mixture evenly into a buttered baking dish. Cover with foil and bake in an oven preheated to 275 degrees for about 40 minutes.
If you are stuffing your turkey, simply spoon the mixture into the cavity, pressing gently with the back of a spoon until all of the mixture is in there. When roasting, baking, or smoking your stuffed turkey, you can use a meat thermometer to ensure the temperature in the center of the stuffing is above 165 degrees.
Venison Sausage and Sourdough Stuffing
If you are familiar with our recipes, it shouldn't be a surprise that we like to make a savory classic stuffing flavored with our own homemade venison sausage. For best results, use a loaf of true sourdough, that's one that lists sourdough starter in the ingredients.
- 1 loaf of day-old sourdough, torn or cubed 1/2"-1" size
- 1 lb venison sausage, casings removed
- 1 onion, diced
- 3-4 celery stalks, diced
- 1-2 cups chicken broth
- 1 egg
- 1 tbsp thyme leaves
- 2 tbsp sage
- 2 tbsp parsley
- 1 tbsp rosemary
- 2-3 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
Tear or cut the sourdough into small pieces, about one-inch works best. Spread on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and toast in an oven preheated to 300 degrees for around 20 minutes. Do not over do it, though.
In a skillet, saute the sausage until it is browned, then remove from the pan. Add in the onion and celery and cook for a few minutes until tender. Stir the herbs into the vegetables and cook for a minute to mix the flavors, then mix the sausage back in and turn off the heat.
In a small bowl, whisk the egg and broth. Slowly add the mixture to the toasted sourdough bread cubes, tossing gently to coat. Do not saturate the bread, it should be just moist, not wet. Fold the sausage mixture into the bread mixture.
You can bake this stuffing in a pan at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes.
Use the back of a spoon to stuff the cavity of the turkey, making sure to fill completely for stuffing. Use a meat thermometer in the center of the stuffing and make sure the temp hits 165.
Wild Rice and Cranberry Stuffing
This is a sweet and savory treat that uses a colorful blend of wild rice and cranberries while foregoing the seemingly mandatory dried bread cubes. It's insanely delicious and makes a great standalone side. This stuffing is also simple to make and can be made ahead of time to save effort on Thanksgiving day.
- 1 1/2 cups wild rice, uncooked
- 2 1/4 cups chicken broth
- 1 bay leaf
- salt and pepper to taste
- 4-6 slices of bacon, chopped
- 1 shallot, diced
- 8 oz white mushrooms, sliced
- 2 stalks celery, diced
- 1 tsp thyme, crushed
- 3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
- 1 tbsp chopped sage
- 1/4 cup almonds, toasted and chopped
- 1/4 cup dried cranberries
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Cook the wild rice according to the directions, replacing water with the chicken broth. Add the bay leaf while the rice is cooking, then remove when the rice is done.
Toast the chopped almonds in an oven preheated to 375 degrees in a 13 inch baking dish until golden, about 7 minutes. Set aside.
Chop the bacon into 1/4" pieces and saute until done. Remove the bacon from the pan, but don't discard the drippings. Cook the shallot, mushrooms, and celery in the bacon fat for several minutes until they are fully cooked, about ten minutes. Add the herbs and garlic and cook one to two minutes.
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. One great thing about this classic stuffing, there is no need to cook it any further. You can serve it as it is, and it'll get gobbled up. Stuff your turkey with this recipe for a delicious and attractive presentation and awesome flavor.
Have Fun With Your Stuffing Recipe
There are any number of ways to make a classic stuffing recipe even better by adding some of your favorite fresh herbs and spices. Learning how to make stuffing is easy. These recipes will get you on the fast-track to making great turkey stuffing every year. Homemade stuffing is so good, you'll even find opportunities to make it for other holidays besides Thanksgiving.