Stuffing vs. Dressing: Is There Actually a Difference Between These Two Beloved Thanksgiving Dishes?

No matter what you call it, this holiday side has a place at everyone's table.

Thanksgiving feasts look fairly similar across the country: turkey with all the fixings and pie for dessert. There are, however, a few different dishes that make their way on the table depending on where you live. A perfect example? Stuffing and dressing—those savory dishes with the crumbly bread base and perfect consistency that falls somewhere between a pudding and a custard.

For families in the South, dressing might make an appearance; those who reside in the Northeast are more likely to serve stuffing. Regardless of where you live, there are disagreements about what constitutes a stuffing or a dressing. It's time to settle this debate once and for all.

thanksgiving stuffing

Stuffing vs. Dressing

While plenty of people believe these two dishes are interchangeable since they both call for mixing breadcrumbs and an assortment of vegetables, they have one key difference.


When you consider the word stuffing, the definition comes naturally. According to Merriam-Webster the Thanksgiving side dish is "a seasoned mixture (of bread crumbs, vegetables, and butter) that is typically placed inside the cavity of a turkey, pepper, etc. and cooked."

The thinking is that by cooking stuffing inside the turkey cavity, the dish is given a unique flavor and texture—it will come out tender and moist as it's suffused with juices from the bird. (Of course, we know that cooking stuffing inside your turkey isn't necessarily the best or safest way to make this holiday favorite.)


On the flip side, Merriam-Webster notes that dressing is "a seasoned mixture usually used as a stuffing (as for poultry)." While this definition is less cut and dry, the esteemed food reference book The Food Lover's Companion says that dressing is traditionally cooked outside of the bird, which gives the dish a crispier top from being baked directly in the oven.

How Geography Plays a Part

Although preparation sets a distinction between these dishes, the lines have blurred over time. For most Thanksgiving celebrants, stuffing is stuffing and dressing is dressing no matter how (or where) you cook it.

What you call the flavorful, crumbly side is largely dictated by where in the country you live—most northern states tend to call the side stuffing, while those who dwell in the South typically to use dressing. No matter where you call home, we're sure the side dish will be enjoyed by many this Thanksgiving.

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