Stuffing versus dressing: What's the difference? It depends on who you ask

Mackensy Lunsford
Southern Kitchen
Anne Byrn’s Favorite Turkey Dressing

What's the difference between stuffing and dressing?

Some, like Kentucky-raised author Ronni Lundy, say the difference is whether it's cooked in the cavity in the bird or in a casserole dish.

"My daughter and son-in-law host Thanksgiving now and my sole requirement is to bring the cornbread dressing — not stuffing; it's made in a pan and served alongside and the turkey is baked with either nothing or a quartered apple and celery stalks in it — that my mother made as did her mother before her," she said. 

Others make no such distinction. 

More:'Appalachian umami': Leather Britches, a tradition with surprising roots

I was born to a family with deep roots in Appalachian Virginia and have lived in North Carolina for 23 years. But I spent my formative childhood and teenage years in Annapolis, Maryland, where I picked up the vernacular — therefore, to me, it's stuffing no matter where it's cooked. 

But that makes me an outlier where I now live in North Carolina, and where I will soon move (Tennessee), as you can see from the map below, created using Google search data from the past year.

Who says "stuffing" versus who says "dressing."

Not only does the place where you live determine what you call the classic dish, it also determines what you put in it, or at least that's what I learned when I posed the question on social media. 

Tres Hundertmark, an oyster broker for North Carolina oyster farmers, said his grandmother, from South Dakota, also called it stuffing but served a dish that was more like a savory bread pudding made with torn bread, aromatics, eggs and heavy cream.

Mary Evans, a manager for Pack's Tavern in Asheville, said her grandmother, from St. Martinville, Louisiana, always called it "dressing" and added oysters to the mix. 

"Growing up with Midwestern parents, it was always stuffing," North Carolina-based communications specialist Jennifer McLucas told me. "And, it was always Pepperidge Farms dry stuffing mixed with diced celery, diced onions, seasonings, ground-up giblets, chicken broth and a wee bit of parmigiana, because you know, we’re Italian and all."

Half would go in the bird, and the rest would bake in a casserole dish, she added.

"It is what home tastes like," she said. "That and Mom’s chicken and dumplings, which is soup-like and made with spätzle-like dumplings."

Try these classic recipes and start a new tradition in your own home.

Classic stuffing (or dressing) recipes

Bacon cornbread dressing: With plenty of butter and smoky bacon, this dressing should be in your repertoire. 

Get the recipe

Classic turkey dressing: This classic sausage dressing recipe uses a mix of bread: cornbread, French bread and plain ’ol white sandwich bread.

Get the recipe

Apple pecan cornbread dressing: This classic Thanksgiving recipe is redolent with flavors of fresh sage and marjoram. Apples pair perfectly with breakfast sausage.

Get the recipe

Oyster cornbread stuffing: Using pre-shucked oysters is perfectly acceptable here, as the oysters’ liquor adds to that briny, oceanic flavor of the dressing. But avoid the canned oysters packed near the sardines and anchovies — they’re way too salty.

Get the recipe

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Mackensy Lunsford is the food and culture storyteller for USA TODAY Network's South Region. She's the editor of Southern Kitchen and a correspondent for The American South.

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Reach me: mlunsford@southernkitchen.com