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Stuffing vs dressing, and regional preferences

Stuffing, baked on the sideEvery year at Thanksgiving, the seemingly age-old debate arises as to what exactly constitutes stuffing and what constitutes dressing. Both “stuffing” and “dressing” are terms applied to the traditional Thanksgiving side dish of a most, seasoned bread (or other starch, like rice of potatoes) and vegetable mixture. It is either cooked inside the turkey or alongside the bird, and your preferred term for the dish – as well as the way you cook it – is probably a result of where you grew up. I’ve heard that dressing is a more popular term in the South, while stuffing – both the term and the actual act of stuffing a turkey – are more popular in Northern states.

Broadly defined, dressing is a sauce or other mixture used to flavor salads and meats. With this definition, stuffing that is cooked inside of a turkey and stuffing that is cooked outside of one would both be dressings, while actual stuffings are simply a subset of the larger category.

That being said, I will continue to call all of my dressings “stuffing” because that is the term I used growing up and I’m used to it. I bake them outside of the turkey to get a crispy crust and a moist interior, whether I am using cornbread as a base, mixing in caramelized onions or keeping the whole dish vegetarian.

Do you prefer the term stuffing or dressing? How do you prepare your version of this dish?

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25 Comments
  • Nick
    November 21, 2008

    I am from Long Island, NY and I had never heard the term “dressing” until I came out to California. One side of my girlfriends family (from Iowa) kept saying dressing last year and I was getting very confused as there was no salad around. Next week we’ll see what her other side of the family calls it, they’re 1st generation Mexican-Americans but have only lived in California. And isn’t there something bad associated with cooking the stuffing in the bird? I could sworn I remember hearing something about that…

  • melissa
    November 21, 2008

    You’ve missed one – where I grew up in PA it was usually “filling” and sometimes “stuffing”. I’d never heard the term “dressing” ever until I started reading food blogs! Here in the UK, it’s always “stuffing”. I tend to veer between that and my down-home “filling”, depending on the occasion (for for Sunday Roasts, it’s stuffing, but for Thanksgiving, it’s filling!).

  • Penny
    November 21, 2008

    Dressing. My family makes a cornbread and sage dressing that is in my opinion awesome.Trying to make my grandmothers recipe while living overseas is very difficult so I have been looking for inspiration. Your recipe looks wonderful, I just might have to try it out. Thanks for the post and recipe 🙂

  • Aislinn
    November 21, 2008

    We grew up with the term stuffing in our house (we’re all northerners) and cook it inside the turkey with a HUGE mess of it sticking out the back to get all crispy. In the last 5 or so years we’ve decided to make two versions of stuffing, one is cooked in the bird and that’s the “traditional” stuffing with spices and celery and carrots, and another is cooked separately alongside and has walnuts and cranberries in it (to make up for our lack of cranberry sauce). I like ’em both, but there is always a fight over the crispy burnt stuffing that sticks out the back of the turkey, we can never make enough!

  • Darb
    November 21, 2008

    I grew up in NC and VA and both terms were pretty much interchangeable.

  • Maggi
    November 21, 2008

    I grew up in PA and never heard the term ‘filling’. It was stuffing. Of course, in PA soda is Pop, bologna is jumbo and sub sandwiches are heroes, go figure.

  • Sarah
    November 21, 2008

    We call it stuffing in my family. My mom is the one who makes it, and it’s delicious! It’s nothing fancy, probably quite traditional. She mixes dried bread cubes with sauteed onions and celery, then adds chicken broth, salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning to taste. It’s always stuffed inside the bird (extras are baked in a separate dish, of course). Now that I live in another country, I prepare it the same way as my mom does. My husband and in-laws really like it, but I think something is missing. It just tastes better prepared by my mom!

  • kelly s.
    November 21, 2008

    Umm. Stuffing. We do onions celeray, pecans (or chestnuts), cranberries, pepperidge farm stuffing cubes, and chicken stock. some seasonings. And the crispy burnt stuff mixed in with some of the super moist from inside the turkey…best combo!

  • Susan
    November 21, 2008

    I’ve always called it stuffing… even though I make it outside the turkey.

    This topic is making me hungry. 😉

  • miriam
    November 21, 2008

    stuffing, and i’m a california girl. this year i’m making a vegetarian stuffing (out of the bird) with half and half homemade white and whole wheat breads, celery, mushrooms, carrots, zucchini, and of course, caramelized onions. delicious with onion-mushroom gravy!

  • Jessica
    November 21, 2008

    I grew up in North Carolina and I now live in Tennessee. I think the terms were pretty interchangeable for us too, although in my immediate family we always called it stuffing, and it was always vegetarian – we never had a turkey.

  • Shauna
    November 22, 2008

    My mother never made stuffing (or dressing), though her mother always made dressing. Most of my NC relatives make “dressing”, because they never “stuffed” the turkey. However, as I grew up in AZ, I’ve always called it “stuffing” (usually when I went to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving leftovers – it was the only way I could get any stuffing!).

    I do have a dilemma, and maybe someone here can help me: I hate onions, and my kids hate celery. I usually end up making a sourdough stuffing with apples, sausage and sage minus the onions and celery (which isn’t bad!). Any other suggestions I could use to perk up my stuffing this year?

  • Meg
    November 22, 2008

    We call it stuffing, most of the family is from Philadelphia (I’m from South Jersey, close to the same thing). My grandma’s recipe is kinda old, I think it’s from somewhere in the UK (she’s english and welch and irish). It’s pretty much a big bag of potatoes, peeled and boiled and roughly smashed, a bag of cut up cheap bread, a bunch of oil/butter and a few eggs, and a whole bunch of aromatics like onions and celery and parsley. Definitely no sage though. It’s totally different than any other stuffing I’ve had, but its definitely the best in my opinion. But it’s all I know.

  • Nicole
    November 22, 2008

    Shauna – The combination you’re using sounds pretty good. I might try experimenting with a different type of sausage to give your stuffing a twist. Maybe some spicier sausages? I’ve had a stuffing with chipotle chicken sausages that was really tasty.

  • Kalyn
    November 22, 2008

    In our family we’ve always called it stuffing, never dressing. (Dressing is for salads!) For years we would have “wet stuffing” (cooked in the turkey) and “dry stuffing” (cooked in a pan.) Now I’ve managed to convert everyone to the idea that cooking the stuffing outside of the turkey is safer, the results are better, and it leaves more juice in the pan for making gravy too!

  • Courtney
    November 23, 2008

    I from Virginia and my family has always said stuffing. My grandma makes an oyster stuffing that is sooooo good.

  • Natalie
    November 25, 2008

    I’m a Canadian whose parents were English, and we always called it stuffing! My mother only ever made sage and onion stuffing. I like more “exotic” combinations!

  • Carrie
    November 25, 2008

    I usually call it stuffing, but sometimes I call it dressing. Often I’ll say, “stuffing, or dressing, or whatever it is supposed to be called.”

  • Shauna
    November 28, 2008

    Thanks for the tip, Nicole – I’m going with a chicken apple sausage this year, at the request of the hubby (he’s so predictable!). He doesn’t know I’m going to spice it up with this fabulous rub I bought from a local BBQ place… 😉 We’re having our Thanksgiving tomorrow, as our daughter was sick yesterday and our youngest turns 3 tomorrow. I’ll let you know how it goes, and thanks again!

  • Sophia
    November 28, 2008

    i say stuffing – i couldn’t bear to eat the stuffing yesterday because there was liver in it – eew

  • asian recipes
    February 22, 2009

    Well, we do call it Dressing in our cooking. I am not sure why but that is the words that used since i first step in kitchen! 🙂

  • Nathan
    November 16, 2012

    Stuffing is stuffing because it was stuffed into the bird. Anything else is dressing due to the fact that you’d be dressing the bird or decorating around the bird. People still call it what they want here in Michigan, but by definition, the English language says stuffing is stuffed. Long live the stuffing! To hell with the stove top ! Happy Thanksgiving to everybody.

  • Zach
    November 22, 2012

    It is partly a geographical term because in the South a dryer cornbread mixture is usually used (referred to as dressing) and in the North a more moist, or to me – being from Tennessee – quite “soggy” something-or-other is concocted. At my family Thanksgiving we actually made both “dressing” and “stuffing” because they are two very different dishes. So, there is a difference, and dressing is much, much better.

  • Heather
    November 28, 2014

    I call it stuffing if its actually stuffed in the bird or if its stove top. If its from scratch its dressing.

  • […] I never heard of dressing before so I was a smidge confused. Finally, I decided to google it. Baking Bites clarified it for me. The dressing served last night had a cornbread base which is something new to […]

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