Is It Stuffing or Dressing? Experts Weigh In on the Difference Between the Two

Stuffing vs. Dressing

It's a great debate with a regional divide. Its long, contentious history includes a salmonella outbreak and Victorian nobles turning their noses up at a word. There's plenty of gray area, and the distinction can get highly personal. Even the CDC has thoughts, and the whole thing leads to plenty of shouting over one another during Thanksgiving feasts.

No, we're not talking about politics. (Remember when it was a faux pas to bring that up during family dinners?) Instead, we're referring to what we should call the Thanksgiving side dish made with bread, herbs, vegetables and perhaps meat. Is it stuffing or dressing?

"The age-old holiday debate of dressing vs. stuffing is a perennial conversation heard every year at tables around the country during the holidays," says Rolf Weithofer, the executive chef of The Adolphus in Dallas. "These are the perfect kinds of arguments to have with friends and family during the holidays—harmless and delicious at the same time," he says.

Still, everyone loves to win a good argument. Which side of the stuffing vs. dressing debate are you on, and is it the right one? We asked food experts to settle the score once and for all.

Related: The Store-Bought Item Martha Stewart Admits to Using for Her Thanksgiving Menu

What Is Stuffing?

The stuffing vs. dressing debate may seem complicated, but the definition of stuffing is straightforward. "Stuffing is a mixture of ingredients that is traditionally placed inside the cavity," says Heidi Diestel, a fourth-generation family farmer and the co-owner at Diestel Family Ranch. "It stuffs the bird, and the flavors of the stuffing are enhanced as the turkey cooks."

The word stuffing has had a negative connotation over the years. In the 1800s, Victorian nobles decided it was offensive, giving rise to the word "dressing." Stuffing has also been linked with an increased risk for salmonella, which Eric Dreyer, the executive chef at Monarch Restaurant in Dallas, says also led to confusion.

In fact, even the CDC recommends cooking "stuffing" outside of the bird. The CDC advises everyone to "use a thermometer to make sure the stuffing’s center reaches 165°F," whether the bread mixture is cooked inside or outside the bird.

OK, wait, CDC, if it's cooked outside the bird, is stuffing really stuffing?

What Is Dressing?

The term dressing came about in the 1800s when upper-crust Victorians decided "stuffing" was a faux pas. However, chefs say dressing has taken on a definition of its own.

"Dressing is usually a more wet mixture that is baked in a side dish, outside of the bird," Diestel says. "Many traditional recipes utilize cornbread mixtures and are baked in a casserole dish."

Are Dressing and Stuffing the Same Thing?

There isn't actually anything offensive about using the words "dressing" and "stuffing" interchangeably (unless you have folks at the table who are VERY passionate about the subject), but they're not really the same thing.

"Stuffing is made for inside the bird,"  Diestel says. "The dressing is cooked outside. Dressing is denser."

However, the two dishes have a highly important similarity. "They are both delicious with cranberry sauce," Weithofer says.

Related: The Genius Roasted Pumpkin Seed Hack I've Been Using For Years

Do Southerners Say Dressing or Stuffing?

Experts and data point to Southerners favoring the term "dressing." "The southern states are all about the terminology of dressing," Diestel says.

Diestel has numbers on her side. A 2015 Butterball survey indicated that most Southerners used the term "dressing," while people in the Pacific Northwestern and Northeast were more likely to use the word "stuffing."

If you're a northerner like me, you may refer to "dressing" as something that goes on a salad. Apparently, I've been missing out.

"If you have grown up with delicious holiday dressing, you might think of that before salad when you see the word dressing," Weithofer told me. "Dressing is a comfort food, and the holidays don’t seem complete without it to most people in the South."

If you really want to get down in the weeds, take a jog over to social media star and Southerner Landon Bryant's Instagram feed. He slices and dices this discussion into even more delicious parts, including cornbread dressing vs. dressing and if oyster dressing is its own specific thing. As he says, "Let's discuss."

Related: Top Chef-Approved Two-Bread Stuffing

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Which Is Better: Stuffing vs. Dressing?

That's a matter of personal taste, but the experts we spoke with shared what's on their Thanksgiving tables. "Stuffing because my mama told me," Dreyer says.

Fair enough. Diestel also referenced family ties when divulging her pick.

"The Diestel’s are stuffers," Diestel says. "We stuff our bird, but, if you can believe it, we have a 100+-year-old dressing recipe made with cornbread that we also make in a casserole dish every year."

Oh, we can believe it. After all, as Diestel says, "You can never have too much food on Thanksgiving. Plus, stuffing and dressing tastes amazing on the leftover Thanksgiving turkey sandwiches."

Up next: 64 Best Thanksgiving Leftover Recipes