When it comes to planning your Thanksgiving menu, there are a few staples that always seem to make the list: mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce. Of course, we can't forget about the classic Thanksgiving turkey or its trusty sidekick, stuffing… er, dressing… no wait maybe it's called filling? As a matter of fact, having a spirited debate over what you call this delicious bread-and-herb casserole is almost as much a Thanksgiving tradition as the dish itself! Ree Drummond even knows how important the topic is—her late mother-in-law's beloved recipe is called Thanksgiving dressing, after all. So what is the difference between stuffing vs. dressing? The answer is simple: not much! Despite having different names, stuffing and dressing are almost the same dish, but there are a few key differences you should know if you want to win the debate at your holiday table this year.
To settle the argument once and for all, we first looked to tradition: While there's no evidence that this Thanksgiving side dish was actually served at the original holiday dinner, History.com reports that the Pilgrims most likely made some sort of wild rice dish alongside their meal. As the years went on, New Englanders added ingredients like oysters and chestnuts to their stuffing recipes. Meanwhile, Mennonite mothers in Pennsylvania added their own twist, using leftover mashed potatoes to create their own version called "filling."
As legend goes, the term "dressing" didn't appear until the 1850s, when Victorian nobles took offense at the vulgar word "stuffing." But what is the distinction of these names today, more than 170 years later? Read on to learn more about the real difference between stuffing and dressing.
Stuffing vs. dressing depends how you make it.
In the most technical terms, stuffing is stuffed (literally) inside the cavity of the turkey and cooked there. Though stuffing has gone a little out of style due to the increased risk of food-borne illnesses, the added turkey juices do make the dish more delicious. If you're set on stuffing your turkey, the USDA advises that everything inside the bird should be cooked to at least 165 degrees.
Dressing, on the other hand, is roasted in a separate vessel like a casserole dish (the preferred method of food safety experts). Though its ingredients can be identical to stuffing, chefs usually add flavor via mix-ins and seasonings instead of turkey juices, like in Ree's cornbread-bacon dressing with mushrooms.
You probably have a preference based on where you live.
Despite cooking techniques, the name game usually splits along regional lines, with cooks from the Northeast and Pacific Northwest sticking to stuffing, while the South and Midwest prefer the more proper dressing (and, of course, our Pennsylvania friends use the term "filling"—not to be confused with the stuff that goes in pies!).
This is down to a science: A 2015 survey conducted on behalf of the poultry company Butterball revealed that, regardless of how the dish was cooked, most of the country—including 100 percent of New Englanders—refers to the side as stuffing, while Southerners are devoted dressing fans.
Don't blame the grain.
Some people claim that the name depends on what carb it's made with: Many south of the Mason-Dixon Line use cornbread, a Southern staple, in their dressing, while Northeastern chefs prefer stuffing with crusty baguette, challah, or white bread. The Pacific Northwest puts their own twist on the side by using sourdough bread and seafood to give the dish some tang. And while each iteration is delicious, the grain is just a matter of preference—it really depends whether it's cooked in or out of the bird.
Whether you're a die-hard dressing fan or a staunch stuffing supporter, we can all agree on one thing in the stuffing vs. dressing debate: It's incredibly delicious!