Home Articles Stuffing vs. Dressing -The Main Differences

Stuffing vs. Dressing -The Main Differences

Stuffing vs. dressing is the primary debate in my family on Thanksgiving Day.

When our family argues around the Thanksgiving table, it is always about one thing. Not politics, religion, or even sports.  

Nope- it’s stuffing vs. dressing. 

Stuffing vs. Dressing-The Main Differences featuring Homemade Cornbread Stuffing in a White Casserole Dish

I believe that stuffing goes inside the turkey, and you serve dressing alongside it. 

However, I have a few family members who strongly disagree. 

It’s all stuffing to them- whether inside the bird or outside. So, let us settle this debate once and for all. 

And yes, you can use my “scientific findings” to win your stuffing vs. dressing debate. 

Brown and Glistening Roasted Turkey in a Roasting Pan with Potatoes, Tomatoes, and Rosemary

What Is Stuffing?

In simplest terms, stuffing is a bread-based mixture inside the turkey. Or whatever bird (or vegan substitute) you are stuffing. 

See, there is only one place to go to define something. (And no, it’s not the internet where everyone has an opinion.)

You go to the dictionary! 

And no matter which dictionary you use, the definition for stuffing is (mostly) the same. 

It is always some version of “material with which a receptacle is stuffed or filled.”

In food terms- this translates to: 

A mixture of food, such as bread, onions, and herbs, that is used to fill something that is going to be eaten.” 

(That one is straight from the Cambridge dictionary.) 

Homemade Thanksgiving Dressing in a White Casserole Dish on a Thanksgiving Table With Turkey, Pumpkin Pie, and A Dish of Cooked Cranberries

What Is Dressing? 

Unfortunately, the definition of dressing is a bit more ambiguous. Even if you ignore the clothing and medical-related entries.

Here is what the various dictionaries say about dressing: 

  • Oxford English Dictionary- Seasoning, stuffing, or sauce added in the process of preparing food
  • Merriam-Webster Dictionary- A sauce for adding to a dish (such as a salad) or a seasoned mixture usually used as a stuffing (as for poultry)
  • Cambridge Dictionary- A liquid mixture, often containing oil, vinegar, and herbs, added to food, especially salads

As you can see, most of its culinary definitions are concerned with salad dressings. That makes it harder to define the word definitively. 

That you can use dressing as stuffingfurther confuses the issue. So, let’s look at the actual differences between the two. 

Difference Between Stuffing and Dressing

Stuffing and dressing are a lot alike. In fact, they can include the same ingredients. 

The primary difference between them lies in how you cook them. 

Stuffing is stuffing because it is stuffed inside the turkey and cooked that way. 

You cook dressing in its own dish. Dressing also includes extra liquid, such as chicken broth. That makes it extra flavorful. 

Stuffing does not require excess liquid because the turkey juices soak into it. 

Of course, even these differences and definitions are not 100% straightforward. 

For example, people often prepare Stovetop Stuffing by itself instead of inside a bird. 

That muddies the waters a little. But for culinary purposes, stuffing goes inside the bird. Dressing is a stand-alone dish.

Close Up of a Bowl of Stuffing

Who Says Dressing and Who Says Stuffing?

There is at least a somewhat clear-cut distinction between the two. So, why do people argue over which is which? 

Mostly, it is regional! 

People from the South tend to call any dressing-like dish dressing. People from the Midwest use this descriptor, as well. 

On the other hand, Northerners think all stuffing-like dishes are stuffing. (Regardless of whether they cook inside anything.)

This information comes from a 2015 survey on the topic put out by Butterball. 

No matter the cooking style, 100% of New Englanders called the dish stuffing. But Southerners and Midwesterners were firmly fans of dressing.

Homemade Stuffing in a Baking Dish on a Table Cloth-Covered Table with a Gravy Dish Beside It

Dressing and Stuffing Recipes

Whatever you want to call it, this dish is phenomenal. And no Thanksgiving meal is complete without it. 

So here are a few dressing and stuffing recipes for you to try: 

  • Paula Deen’s Cornbread Dressing. This dressing recipe is one of my favorites. It’s fluffy with a few crispy edges for texture. Every bite is wonderfully herby and features celery and onions. 
  • Sausage and Cornbread DressingThis meaty dressing is hearty, flavorful, and herby to the max. Believe it or not, the sausage pairs well with your Thanksgiving bird.
  • Southern Cornbread DressingIf you’re noticing a theme here, I applaud you. Yes, most recipes that call the dish dressing include cornbread in the ingredients. This one is no exception!
  • White Castle StuffingYou read that correctly- White Castle stuffing. It brings all the flavor of White Castle to your traditional Thanksgiving stuffing.
  • Roasted Autumn Vegetable StuffingThis stuffing harnesses the flavor from all of your favorite fall veggies. There’s sweet potato, acorn squash, Brussels sprouts, and more!
  • Better-Than-Boxed StuffingThis vegan and gluten-free stuffing is perfect for those with specific dietary needs. 

Want to make your stuffing from scratch? Then, check out my other article, “Best Bread for Stuffing.” 

Stuffing vs. Dressing

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author avatar
NaTaya Hastings
NaTaya Hastings is a food and recipe writer for Insanely Good Recipes. She’s an educator, boy mom, dog mom, and whatever-stray-enters-the-yard mom. As a result, she's constantly cooking for both humans and animals.

Luckily, she enjoys it!

Though born, raised, and still living in Alabama, her specialty is NOT down-home Southern cooking. Instead, she loves to experiment with Asian, Mexican, Italian, and other ethnic cuisines. She has two mottos when it comes to cooking. “The more spice, the better!” and “There’s no such thing as too much garlic!”

She’s also pretty good with desserts. Especially the easy, no-bake ones.

Her favorite things are cuddling with her four giant dogs, traveling, reading, writing, and hanging out in nature. She’s also pretty excellent at Dominoes.

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