Dressing and stuffing are holiday table mainstays from Thanksgiving dinner straight through the holiday season – but did you know they are different things?
While the term stuffing and the term dressing are often used interchangeably there is a key difference that differentiates the two from one another.
What Is Stuffing?
Stuffing is the seasoned mixture placed inside the cavity of a turkey or another food such as when you make stuffed peppers.
The word itself is actually pretty self-explanatory because you quite literally stuff it inside another food like poultry or vegetables. Simple!
In the case of what you’re used to seeing on the Thanksgiving table, stuffing is typically composed of bread crumbs, vegetables, butter and seasoning.
What Is Dressing?
Dressing likewise has a foundation of bread cubes made using stale bread that is then mixed with things like butter, broth, celery and seasoning.
Regularly you will find dressing served as part of a Thanksgiving meal or to accompany larger family meals throughout the year.
So, doesn’t that make them the same exact thing? Well, not really. Spoiler alert! While the base recipe can be the same, it all comes down to cooking method.
What Is the Difference Between Stuffing and Dressing?
At a glance, stuffing and dressing look like the same food, but the primary difference is how they are cooked and how they are served.
Stuffing is stuffed into the chicken or turkey cavity and then cooked along with the poultry as one dish in one cooking process.
The juices from the turkey or chicken run into the stuffing, changing the flavor, texture, and consistency. Many argue that this makes it more flavorful.
Dressing is prepared separately meaning that oftentimes extra liquids are required to add more flavor to the recipe and to keep it from getting dried out.
Many people also prepare cornbread dressing rather than making it with white bread or sourdough bread which are common of traditional stuffing.
While not a hard and fast rule, regional differences play a role quite often, too. Despite this, dressing or stuffing is a favorite dish of many.
It is common for people living in the South to prepare dressing as a separate dish while Northerns and New Englanders tend to prefer stuffing.
That said, regional dialects can come into play also with people using the word most common of their local vernacular while actually preparing it either way.
The real difference is really all about preparation with one being cooked in the cavity of a bird while the other is baked in a separate casserole dish.
How Are Stuffing and Dressing Similar?
Dressing and stuffing are words that are often used interchangeably because they have such a similar composition.
Both are made with a base of dry bread, vegetables, herbs and seasonings combined with a mix of butter, brother or other liquid.
Either one is likely to be served alongside Thanksgiving turkey making it one of those side dishes that most people know and love.
Die-hard dressing fans and stuffing fans alike will typically serve it with roasted turkey and other sides like green bean casserole and cranberry sauce.
Which Is Better – Stuffing or Dressing?
The answer to the great stuffing vs dressing debate typically comes down to a matter of preference or if you’re used to the word stuffing or dressing.
That said, stuffing lovers will often claim a few distinct reasons they love stuffing rather than dressing:
- More flavorful due to natural juices from the turkey.
- Creates a more aromatic turkey
- Provides additional flavors for the meat
- Requires less simultaneous stovetop or oven use as it is prepared then transferred to the cavity of the turkey
- Remains moist with less chance of drying out
Dressing is a classic side dish with a lot of fans, too, who would argue the following:
- Dressing can always be cooked to perfection when it is made on the side in a baking dish
- More flavorful or creative options, such as the addition of seafood, additional vegetables, cheeses, etc.
- No concerns about cross contamination if there is a question about the internal temperature
- Turkey without stuffing cooks more quickly
Is It Safe To Eat Stuffing From a Turkey?
Bacteria can survive in stuffing when it has not been brought up to an internal temperature of 165° F, making stuffing potentially risky.
You will want to make sure that you have an accurate thermometer before serving stuffing that was prepared inside the bird.
This is a crucial step and one that cannot be skipped, even if you make sure that the bird is done and that the poultry has come up to proper temperature.
The stuffing inside will cook and heat at a different rate than the meat of the bird, and illness is possible if caution is not exercised.
The stuffing should be removed from the bird prior to carving the turkey, which means that it will also “rest” with the cooked bird.
This means that stuffing can have an additional 20 minutes of cook time inside the heated poultry before it is carved, which may help finish off any concerns about adequate temperatures.
You can also make your stuffing safer by placing it in the bird just prior to cooking, rather than beforehand.
Stuffing is not a marinade and should not be in a raw bird any longer than necessary.
If you have let the stuffing rest in the bird, have tested the temperature, and are still concerned, you can bake it a little longer in an oven safe dish at 300° F until it reaches an internal temp of at least 165°F.
In general, food safety experts to not recommend cooking stuffing inside of a turkey if you plan to serve it unless you strictly adhere to all guidelines.
You can compromise and cook the stuffing using fresh turkey stock, serving it up as a dressing that will have that freshly baked turkey taste.
What Is the Proper Way to Stuff a Turkey?
For those who choose to stuff their turkey here are tips for keeping it safe:
- Prepare your stuffing using cooked ingredients. Sautéed or steamed vegetables, cooked meats or seafoods, pasteurized egg products, etc. will all make the stuffing less prone to food safety concerns.
- Place the stuffing in the turkey just before roasting. Adding stuffing should be the final step.
- Stuff the neck and body cavities of your thawed or raw turkey. Do not pack stuffing too tightly as it can cause uneven cooking.
- Return the turkey legs back to the original tucked position before cooking. Turn wings back to hold the neck skin in place, which stabilizes the turkey and will assist with carving.
- Always test your temperature before serving. 165° is the minimum safe temperature.
- Do not cook a stuffed turkey in an outdoor grill or water smoker.
- Do not deep fry your stuffed turkey.
How Long Does Stuffing or Dressing Last in the Fridge?
Leftover stuffing or dressing should be consumed no more than four days after cooking.
It should also be refrigerated within two hours of serving, so don’t let your feast sit out any longer than necessary!
Stuffing and dressing taste great reheated and can be kept moist during this process by adding gravy or broth/stock.
What Is the Best Fruit to Stuff a Turkey With?
People who do not cook their turkey with breaded stuffing may choose to stuff the turkey with fruits.
Fruits in a turkey add moisture and bright flavor to the turkey. The most complimentary fruits to stuff a turkey with are:
Dried fruits such as cranberries are another great option. You will discard these after cooking.