What’s the Real Difference Between Stuffing and Dressing?

published Oct 18, 2023
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Baking pan filled with Thanksgiving stuffing
Credit: Joe Lingeman

There’s been a long-standing debate as to what exactly the difference is between stuffing and dressing. While both terms tend to get used pretty much interchangeably, many believe there are clear distinctions between the two dishes.

Quick Overview

What’s the Real Difference Between Stuffing and Dressing?

The main differences between stuffing and dressing lie in both preference and regionality. Many people believe that stuffing is literally “stuffed” into the cavity of a turkey as it cooks, while dressing is cooked in a baking dish. Additionally, in the South, it’s commonly believed that stuffing is made with yeast bread, while dressing is exclusively made with cornbread.

One of the main differences between stuffing and dressing has a lot to do with preference and which part of the country you’re in. As you gear up for the upcoming holiday season, why not familiarize yourself with what exactly differentiates one from the other? In the end, you might be surprised at just how blurred the line between the two can get.  

Stuffing vs. Dressing: What’s the Difference?

  • Stuffing: Stuffing is a dish traditionally eaten on the American Thanksgiving holiday. It typically consists of dried cubes of bread and aromatics and herbs such as onions, celery, sage, and rosemary, mixed together with warm vegetable or chicken broth. As the name implies, the dish is commonly (although not always) “stuffed” into the cavity of a turkey as it cooks and then removed for eating afterwards. Although the term stuffing implies that the dish is added into the body of the turkey, many Americans still prepare the dish in a baking dish rather than actually stuffing it into the bird, and still refer to it as “stuffing.”
  • Dressing: Dressing, like stuffing, is a dish consisting of dried bread cubes, aromatics, and broth prepared during Thanksgiving. Many believe, however, that dressing refers to a stuffing-like dish that is literally not “stuffed” into the cavity of a turkey, but baked in a casserole dish.

Though many people use the term “stuffing,” regardless of if it is stuffed in the bird or not, “dressing” is the more common terminology used in certain regions of the United States, such as the deep South.

What Is the Biggest Technical Difference Between Stuffing and Dressing?

  • How it’s cooked: Many people believe that stuffing should only be called stuffing if it is literally stuffed into a turkey as part of its preparation, and dressing should simply be cooked in a baking dish.
  • What type of bread is used: In certain regions, particularly the American South, many believe that stuffing refers to a dish that is prepared with any kind of yeast bread, such as sourdough or white sandwich bread. Conversely, for many, dressing implies a dish made particularly with cornbread in place of a yeast bread. 

What Are the Similarities Between Stuffing and Dressing?

On a base level, stuffing and dressing are both some form of starch, such as bread, cornbread, or rice, with an assortment of vegetables, herbs, and spices and sometimes even meat, seafood, or fruit. Whether stuffed into a turkey or placed into a casserole dish, they’re cooked and served as a side dish.