Recipe Review

I Tried 4 Popular Ways of Making Stuffing and Found One That Blew Me Away

published Nov 17, 2023
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Credit: Photos: The Kitchn, Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

Despite the big turkey on the table, we all know the real star of Thanksgiving is the stuffing. It’s often where family tastes and traditions are found, and most families have their own idea about what stuffing should be. But because I was raised on bagged stuffing mix, I don’t have a go-to recipe — and so every year I find myself flipping through food magazines, scrolling through recipe sites, and (unsuccessfully) trying to decipher Grandma’s stained recipe cards in search of the ultimate Thanksgiving stuffing.

I’m ready to stop my search and find the recipe that can finally become a family tradition. It needs to be flavored with all the classic autumnal herbs and spices and pair well with the holiday turkey, and the crisp topping must give way to a moist and tender interior. After looking at all of the stuffings and dressings served across the country (including rice, oyster, and sausage stuffings, among others), I decided to focus this showdown on bread-based stuffings that each have their own little twist. After a hotly contended side-by-side taste test, the winning recipe was a take on the classic I hadn’t tried before — and I can’t wait to serve it for years to come.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

Meet Our 4 Stuffing Contenders

Whether you call this starchy side dish stuffing or dressing depends on where you live and how you bake it. Southerners call it dressing regardless of whether it’s cooked inside or alongside the bird. More broadly speaking, the term stuffing refers to the herbed bread mixture that is actually stuffed inside the turkey and baked, while dressings are baked in a casserole dish. Since the interior of stuffing cooked inside the turkey can harbor bad bacteria, we recommend avoiding this practice and cooking the side dish separately. As a result, we’ll take the difference in titling as merely a matter of semantics for this taste test.

Read more: What Do You Say? Stuffing or Dressing?

I chose four popular recipes that each had classic flavor profiles with a twist. Each one used bread as a base for the stuffing. I didn’t include recipes that called for sausage or mushrooms, and excluded oyster stuffings as an entirely separate category as well. The stuffing contenders were baked in an oven and none relied on heavy cream, which would bring them squarely into savory bread pudding territory.

Martha Stewart’s recipe is a classic stuffing with all of the veggies and herbs you’d expect. It was also scored high marks in Buzzfeed’s stuffing bake-off. The Kish Family recipe comes from Top Chef winner Kristen Kish’s mom who wasn’t satisfied with just one type of bread, so this stuffing is made with both white bread and cornbread. We also tested Smitten Kitchen’s Apple-Herb Stuffing for All Seasons to see if an apple-studded stuffing could stand up to the rest. The final contender, Chrissy Teigen’s Herby King’s Hawaiian Stuffing, is inspired by Stove Top stuffing and uses soft Hawaiian rolls in lieu of a crustier bread.

How I Tested the Stuffing Recipes

Each stuffing recipe was prepared and baked on the same day and tasted in a side-by-side test. I followed the recipes exactly and made an effort to minimize variables within my control. I used the same brands of ingredients where applicable, such as broth and butter. I baked all of the stuffings in the size and style of baking dishes the recipe indicated, and did not test baking the stuffings inside a turkey. In the end, the winner won by unanimous consent.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

1. The Stuffing That’s Not Better than the Box: Chrissy Teigen’s Herby King’s Hawaiian Stuffing

King’s Hawaiian rolls are one of my absolute favorite grocery store buys, and I was convinced Chrissy Teigen was brilliant for choosing them for her Stove Top-inspired stuffing. But even though I truly wanted to love this recipe, I didn’t. This recipe is the easiest of the bunch and is prepped in a skillet so that it can go straight from stovetop to table, but that’s where my praise ends.

The stuffing is assembled on the stovetop alone, leaving it a bit soggy and lukewarm. Teigen does offer a broiling option, but that didn’t quite fix the squishy broth-soaked bread. The nostalgic flavor of stuffing is on point, thanks to the inclusion of poultry seasoning, but now that I’ve got a bottle of it, will it simply go to waste until next year? If you’re looking for that classic boxed stuffing flavor, save yourself the trouble and just buy the Stove Top.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

2. The All-Seasons Stuffing That Isn’t Great for Thanksgiving: Smitten Kitchen’s Stuffing for All Seasons

Smitten Kitchen’s recipes are strong contenders in our recipe showdowns, so I had high hopes for this all-seasons stuffing. The recipe is made with torn pieces of baguettes (or other hearty white bread) and flavored with butter, onions, celery, and fresh herbs. The special touch for this stuffing is the addition of tart Granny Smith apples.

While the baked stuffing was golden and crisp on top and moist and tender underneath, it didn’t have the right proportions of bread to veggies and seasonings. With a few adjustments, I can imagine serving this stuffing with roasted pork or chicken, but this stuffing is not the one to serve on Thanksgiving or Christmas with turkey and gravy.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

3. The No-Fail Classic: Martha Stewart’s Simple Stuffing

If what you really want this holiday season are the classics, this is the recipe for you. Complete with buttery browned bread, tender vegetables, and fresh herbs, this stuffing is the perfect accompaniment to turkey and gravy. Because the recipe calls for a portion of the stuffing to go into the turkey and the rest baked in a baking dish, the yield is quite large. But simple adjustments can be made to fit the recipe into a baking dish, leaving the turkey to roast (safely!) on its own. The flavor was buttery and herby, with shallots and white wine elevating the flavor ever so slightly, making this side dish feel special enough for the holidays.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

4. The Crowd-Pleaser (and Clear Winner): Kish Family Two-Bread Stuffing

Top Chef champ Kristen Kish’s mom came up with the idea to combine a white bread stuffing and cornbread stuffing into one to please both sides of their family. And after one taste of this stuffing, I’ll never go back to a one-bread stuffing again. This stuffing has something for everyone — from chewy toasted white bread to crumbly cornbread, fresh herbs, and tender vegetables, all in perfect proportion. The only drawback to this recipe is that it makes a lot! If you’re hosting a smaller gathering, especially this year, consider preparing just half the recipe. Don’t worry — there will still be enough to go back for seconds.

Do you have a favorite stuffing recipe? Tell us below in the comments.