A Love Letter to Stuffing, the True Star of the Thanksgiving Table

updated May 1, 2019
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Sage and onion bread stuffing in a pan is being passed around the table
(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

When it comes to Thanksgiving, I don’t hold fast to many traditions. I’ll happily chow down on some dark meat, whether the turkey has been rubbed with chipotle and brown sugar, bobbed in citrus brine, or deep-fried. Parsnips and Brussels sprouts instead of the usual mashed potatoes and green bean casserole? You won’t find me complaining. I will be a contented plate-cleaner with almost any combination or permutation of dishes.

There’s only one non-negotiable, and that’s stuffing.

People tend to fuss over the turkey and get into heated debates over pumpkin versus sweet potato pie, but I firmly believe that it’s stuffing (or dressing, if you will) that ties the whole meal together. It’s the true centerpiece of the holiday spread; a dish that represents the best of what holiday meals have to offer.

For starters, stuffing is rather amazingly adaptable. It exists to please everyone and offend no one. Gluten-free bread, vegetable broth, olive oil instead of butter — stuffing can handle your dietary restrictions and still serve up satisfaction.

Then, there’s the fact that stuffing is delicious even (or, one might argue, especially) in its simplest form. Onion, celery, sage, black pepper, and tons of butter make for the most richly nostalgic mouthful I can summon.

But I won’t be picky; pretty much any stuffing variation will be accepted and piled on my plate. I promise not to side-eye you if you’re into chestnuts, mushrooms, pecans, cranberries, or even oysters (although a cooked oyster is just a wasted opportunity for slurping, IMO).

In the bird or out of the bird? I don’t mind. We grew up with in-the-bird stuffing, and my dad still adamantly refuses to make it any other way, but I’ve switched to a separate casserole dish for my assembly. Not only do you avoid any chance of poultry juice contamination with casserole stuffing, but you also get a finished dish with a stellar crispy-to-moist ratio. Not to mention, you can bake it ahead of time and reheat it while the turkey rests, so there’s absolutely no excuse not to have stuffing on the menu.

Even stuffing from the box has its merits. (Confession: I was also the college kid who kept a canister of Stove Top stuffing within arms’ reach of the microwave for impromptu stuffing binges. Shake into a bowl, douse with water, and nuke for pure MSG bouillon goodness!)

Bottom line: As long as there is stuffing somewhere in the buffet line, no one gets hurt. In fact, stuffing is so crucial to my Thanksgiving routine that I have been known to make a double batch just for the sheer pleasure of eating leftover hunks cold from the fridge for a week. Hands off, everyone!

I’ve also been known to make a casserole dish’s worth of stuffing in the middle of August when the craving strikes. Stuffing isn’t merely the star of the Thanksgiving table — it’s the meal hero we need to make more of in our everyday lives.

Stuffing for the win! Stuffing for president!