11 Best Breads for Thanksgiving Stuffing, According to Chefs

published Nov 13, 2023
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A photo of baked vegan stuffing in a square, porcelain baking dish with blue handles and a serving spoon with some of the stuffing on the side.
Credit: Laura Rege

Everyone has their favorite way to enjoy stuffing. You can get creative with ingredients like sausage, introduce fragrant herbs like thyme and sage, or add brightness with cranberries. But it can feel like there’s less wiggle room with the central ingredient: bread. Sourdough, Italian, and white bread are standard choices for stuffing; however, journeying beyond your comfort zone can produce excellent results. 

I asked six chefs for their best bread recommendations to anchor your stuffing recipes, and it turns out many unexpected varieties pair perfectly with the traditional side. “You may be able to find items such as day-old bagels that would work really well,” says Chef Stephen Chavez, chef-instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education’s Los Angeles campus. 

Of course, your results will differ depending on which bread you use. Chavez says tough breads hold their own when you add liquid to a stuffing recipe and produce a better bite. Enriched breads like brioche or challah, on the other hand, have higher sugar or fat content and will absorb more moisture throughout the cooking process.

Whether you want to zhuzh up your go-to recipe with an unexpected bread choice or try something new, any of these bread varieties will make for a delicious stuffing.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

1. Cornbread

“I think cornbread is the perfect bread to use, considering its natural sweet corn flavor and its texture,” says Chef Tiana Gee, owner of the SoulPhil pop-up. Chef Ricardo Jarquin, executive chef at Loews Coral Gables, likes its “slightly nutty flavor.” Additionally, cornbread helps prevent your stuffing from drying out as it cooks because of its inherent moisture content. It also adds a pleasant mouthfeel. “Cornbread has a crumbly and slightly coarse texture, which provides a nice contrast to the soft and tender texture of the stuffing,” says Jarquin.

Its flavors complement Thanksgiving staples like turkey, rosemary, thyme, and sage. “For my people who love wet, textured dressing, make it with fresh chicken stock, a classic mirepoix, and a bunch of herbs,” says Gee. Jarquin’s favorite cornbread stuffing additions? Italian sausage and raisins!  

Another plus: You can easily make a gluten-free cornbread for guests with specific dietary restrictions.

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2. Cuban Bread

An option that’s versatile and delicious, Cuban bread works well with savory and sweet stuffing recipes. Jarquin says Cuban bread is a staple in Miami gastronomy. He used it in a stuffing recipe on the Thanksgiving buffet at Americana Kitchen in 2022, and it was a hit. “I enhanced it with sweet plantains and roasted mojo pork. It turned out really amazing, and a lot had to do with the bread component,” he says.

Cuban bread’s “slight sweetness and mild, nutty taste” add depth and complexity to your stuffing. The texture also works beautifully. “Cuban bread has a soft and airy interior, which absorbs liquid and flavors well,” Jarquin says. It creates a moist and tender stuffing that’s not too dense or heavy, and the crispy crust provides a delightful contrast.

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3. Croissants 

Light and airy, these pastries transform into something even more remarkable in stuffing. Their rich butter content makes for an excellent base. “When toasted, they can hold their shape, making it easy to absorb the other flavors of the stuffing recipe, adding more [buttery] flavor than traditional breads,” says Chef Jason Goldstein, recipe developer and author of The Happy Sandwich. The croissants’ layers add an increased texture level while maintaining a certain moistness.

“You can also use croissants in a play on French onion soup stuffing,” he says. “Combine caramelized onions, Gruyère cheese, and veggies to small chunks of baked croissants and bake for stuffing perfection.” 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist: Jesse Szewczyk

4. Garlic Bread

This bread — with its crunchy exterior texture, buttery soft bread on the inside, and garlic seasoning — offers a flavorful base for stuffing. Goldstein touts it as the choice for crunchy stuffing fans. “The toastiness and crustiness add a wonderful texture to the stuffing,” he says. “It is also a hearty bread that will hold moisture well without falling apart.”

He suggests cutting the garlic bread into chunks and combining it with cooked onions, carrots, and celery. “Add your favorite Italian spices for a fun comfort food twist on traditional stuffing,” Goldstein says.  

Credit: Shilpa Uskokovic

5. Pumpernickel

“It tastes slightly sweet due to the molasses and has a hint of honey that lets the bread flavor shine without competing with other bold flavors,” Goldstein says. Pumpernickel’s heartiness works nicely for a stuffing recipe — it’ll hold its shape and not get too mushy. “It adds a nice color and contrast to the stuffing,” he says. 

Use tart cranberries, apples, and sage for a Thanksgiving stuffing with surprising layers of flavor.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

6. Challah Bread

Challah is delicious with butter for breakfast or paired with matzo ball soup, but it’s even more versatile than that. It’s a light, fluffy option for stuffing. “It has an egg-enriched flavor profile that pairs well with the turkey’s natural juices as well as vegetable or chicken stock while roasting,” says Chef Brian Pancir, corporate culinary director of Thompson Hospitality

The outside of the stuffing will crisp more than the typical store-bought cubed bread, but the inner base of the stuffing will remain moist and full of robust flavors, creating a nice balance.

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7. Everything Bagels

Don’t limit your bagels to lox and cream cheese. They also have an impressive ability to add flavor and texture to stuffing. “The density of the bagel allows for a lot of the chicken or vegetable stock to soak into the bagel stuffing, which will cause a longer cooking process but also a crispy outer shell on top of the dish,” Pancir explains. 

Of course, the bagel’s seasoning gives the stuffing a garlic, onion, and sesame seed flavoring. “Along with your stock of choice, this everything bagel stuffing will be jammed with robust flavors and textures,” Pancir says.

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8. Cranberry-Orange Bread

Cranberry-orange bread is light and fluffy, with a sweet and zesty flavor profile that provides “a rich and flavorful option for stuffing,” says Pancir. “This is one of the shorter cooking time bread options for stuffing because of its texture,” he adds. Bonus: It will fill the house with orange and sweet cranberry notes that are ideal for fall. 

Take a cue from this King Arthur recipe and add traditional stuffing ingredients like celery, onions, and sausage to this creative bread choice.

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Stylist: Vicky Wasik

9. Hawaiian Bread

Flavor and texture win big when you put Hawaiian bread in your stuffing. “The sweetness adds a unique flavor to the stuffing, and the softness allows it to absorb the flavors of the other ingredients while retaining moisture,” says Chef Chris Valdes, author of One With The Kitchen. This creates a delicious and balanced stuffing for dishes like Thanksgiving turkey or other roasted meats. Your traditional family stuffing recipe can come alive with this bread swap.

10. English Muffins

Whether you have English muffins or crumpets on hand, these breakfast breads add a welcome texture to stuffing. “They have a slightly crispy exterior and a soft, airy interior, which can add a nice contrast to the [softer] stuffing,” Valdes says. English muffins and their crumpet counterparts readily absorb flavors from other ingredients, making them a versatile choice. You could easily use English muffins in your traditional stuffing recipe. “Their nooks and crannies also help hold onto seasonings and moisture, resulting in a flavorful and moist stuffing,” he says.

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11. Ciabatta Bread 

Chavez also likes ciabatta as a stuffing base. “It has a tougher exterior for crunch, but also a softer interior (from the oil used in the recipe), which [gives] the stuffing a nice tender texture after baking,” he says. The result is a stuffing with a nice balance of soft and crispy elements. “The mild flavor of ciabatta allows it to complement a wide range of stuffing ingredients and seasonings, making it a popular choice for many stuffing recipes,” Valdes adds.