Mistakes to Avoid When Making Stuffing

published Nov 9, 2015
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Whether you call it stuffing or dressing, this bread casserole is just the sort of food that makes us all feel nostalgic and cozy at the same time. The familiar flavors of stuffing — onion, celery, and herbs wrapped around crispy, chewy bread soaked in a flavorful buttery broth — are well-loved. This classic dish is both easy to make and easy to mess up. So how do you avoid stuffing-related snafus? Watch out for these five major mistakes.

1. Not completely drying out the bread.

The bread is one of the most important ingredients in the stuffing. This is the base; it’s what gives the stuffing structure, and it plays a big role in determining the texture. While you can use almost any bread — cornbread, bagels, or even frozen waffles — to make stuffing, it needs to be dried or “staled” first. Any attempts to make stuffing with soft, fresh baked bread will result in a bread soup with a soggy texture.

Follow this tip: Stale, dried-out bread makes the best stuffing. Either dry out your bread starting a few days before you plan to make the stuffing by letting it sit out or, if you don’t have the extra time, cut the bread into cubes, and then toast over a low heat in the oven until dry.

This tip makes it even faster: The Fastest Way to Cut Bread for Stuffing

2. Not cooking the aromatics.

Because most stuffings bake in a hot oven while the bird rests, you might think that a little chopped onion and celery would bake while the bread bakes, but this is not the case. Whatever aromatics or extras you want to add to your stuffing should be cooked before being baked. This includes the onions and celery in classic stuffing, but also the sausage or nuts that go into cornbread dressing.

Follow this tip: Cook the onions and celery until tender in a bit of butter before building the stuffing. Add the dried herbs to the vegetables for even more flavor.

3. Including too many add-ins.

The add-ins — like vegetables, dried fruit, grains, nuts, and sausage — are the other components that make stuffing special, but this is one time that more is not necessarily merrier. The bread is the binder that holds the stuffing together, and when the add-ins outnumber the binder, it’s tough for the stuffing to stay together.

Follow this tip: Adding the right proportions of ingredients is the key to a stuffing full of good texture, flavor, and consistency. Incorporate all your favorite stuffing add-ins — just not too many. Play it safe by using about twice as much bread as other ingredients, like veggies, dried fruit, grains, nuts, and meat.

4. Over-seasoning the stuffing.

When using items like packaged bread cubes (which often come seasoned), sausage, and store-bought stock or broth, it can be easy to overdo it with the salt.

Follow this tip: If you plan to use packaged bread cubes, sausage, or store-bought stock, you might not need to add any additional salt to the stuffing. To avoid over-seasoning, taste the stuffing before baking it (assuming there’s no raw meat). This will give you a good idea if you actually have to add any additional salt. You can always add more salt, but taking it out is pretty difficult.

5. Using too much (or not enough) liquid.

The key to a good stuffing is using just the right amount of liquid so you get a good contrast of soft and firm pieces. Add too much stock and you’ll find yourself with soggy stuffing. Don’t add enough stock, and you have an overly dry stuffing on your hands.

Follow this tip: Stuffing should be moist, without being soggy or dry. The amount of stock will vary depending on how much stuffing you plan to make. The key is adding a little bit (about a half cup) at a time. Remember, you can always add more. The bread should absorb the liquid without leaving a puddle at the bottom of the dish.

6. Not using broth.

Sure, you could technically make stuffing with just eggs and no broth, but you’d end up with a dish closer to an egg strata than a stuffing. Broth replicates the juices that old-school stuffing accumulated while baking inside the turkey. While we no longer recommend cooking stuffing inside a turkey (more on that below) we still need those juices both for texture and flavor of the final baked stuffing.

Follow this tip: Homemade turkey stock is ideal for making stuffing, but even store-bought vegetable or chicken broth is better than no broth at all.

7. Actually stuffing the bird.

Stuffing gets its name from literally being stuffed into large turkeys or roasts before cooking. While this tradition can make a tasty stuffing and turkey, it can also result in an overcooked bird or an undercooked stuffing. Undercooked stuffing containing eggs or sausage is a food hazard if not cooked correctly, so skip the stuffing and bake your stuffing (or dressing) outside the turkey.

Follow this tip: Assemble the stuffing in advance and bake it while the turkey rests.