No matter what you call it, this Thanksgiving essential has a place at the table.

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Thanksgiving feasts look fairly similar across the country: turkey with all the fixings and pie for dessert. There are, however, a few different dishes depending on where you reside. A perfect example? Stuffing and dressing, or those savory dishes with the crumbly bread base and the perfect consistency, somewhere between a pudding and a custard. For families in the south, our Dried-Fruit and Nut Cornbread Dressing might make an appearance; those who reside in the northeast are more likely to serve something like our Sausage Pear Stuffing.

From sea to shining sea, within households and even marriages, there are disagreement on what constitutes a stuffing or a dressing. Here, we try to settle the great debate.

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Do the Ingredients Dictate?

Much like there will be multiple sides on our tables on Thanksgiving, there are various sides to the stuffing versus dressing conundrum. Some believe that stuffing is only stuffing when the mixture of breadcrumbs and vegetables (or perhaps mushrooms, walnuts and crusty bread) is cooked inside the turkey. If it's cooked outside the bird, that side, they would tell you, is dressing. Following that rule, stuffing is tender and moist, suffused with juices from the bird, whereas dressing has a crispy top from being baked directly in the oven.

That seems logical, but often doesn't live up to experience. For much of the country stuffing is stuffing regardless of how it is cooked. It comes down simply to geography. Most northern states call the side stuffing regardless of preparation, while those south of the Mason-Dixon line call it dressing.

What the Experts Say

The truth is, they aren't so sure, either. The Oxford English Dictionary traces the word "stuffing" back to 1538, and, like other dictionaries, defines it "as a mixture used to stuff poultry or meat before cooking." The National Turkey Federation says stuffing and dressing are interchangeable. Search some more and your can find sources, like the esteemed food reference book The Food Lover's Companion, that assert stuffing is stuffing when cooked in the bird and dressing when it's cooked outside. We surveyed our own recipes and found they reflect a similar range of definitions. We have both stuffing and dressing recipes which include instructions for cooking them outside of the bird.

Whatever You Call It, It's Bound to Be Delicious

This is going to be controversial, but we're here to say that there is no real difference between stuffing and dressing. You can make peach stuffing and call it dressing or a wild mushroom, (think chanterelle, oyster, cremini, and shiitake) with leeks dressing and tell everyone it's stuffing. Whatever you label it, this side is always a crowd favorite and a must-have on the holiday table.

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