“Stove Top Stuffing?! I’m Staying!”

One of us comes from the South (Brent,) and the other comes from the North (Josh.) In the South, most folks call that bread-y stuff you put inside a turkey “dressing.” And in the north, most people call it “stuffing.” 

Except that Brent grew up loving Stove Top Stuffing – which he calls “dressing” even though its literal name is “Stuffing.” And Josh calls everything “stuffing,” except for the extra stuffing that doesn’t fit into the bird and is baked in a dish. He calls that “dressing.”

We suspect we’re not the only family with conflicting terminology for Thanksgiving’s 2nd most important dish.

So where did this divergence in terms from from? It’s difficult to say for certain. But there are a few clues dropped throughout history.

The first recorded history of purposefully inserting things into an animal or bird (for culinary purposes at least) comes from the Roman cookbook, Apicius De Re Coquinaria. Most of those recipes called for inserting vegetables, offal, or grains into animals. There is also some evidence that they also stuffed animals with other animals. Like camels stuffed with sheep. Or goats stuffed with birds. Which we suppose means we can blame the romans for “Turducken.”

The first generally used English word for stuffing/dressing was “forcemeat.” Which seems pretty straightforward, right? You force stuffing/dressing into meat. But no. Force, when used in forcemeat, was just a mispronunciation of “farce.” Farce is the french word for the minced vegetables, grains, and meat that are – you guessed it – stuffed into roasts or birds.

But let’s not spend another moment on the forcemeat farce – since nobody calls it that anymore anyway. Back to stuffing v. dressing.

Use of the word “stuffing” as a noun can be found all the way back to the Middle Ages. The first American recorded usage of it in relation to turkeys was in 1803 – just one year after William Beekman built his farm.

“Dressing,” however, has a little more confusing history. Dressing has been used as a verb for centuries. Think of it as any sort of preparation of a dish. Like dressing a salad. Or dressing a roast. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that dressing began begin used in cookbooks as a noun, ie: stuffing a bird with dressing. A few historians believe that dressing began to be used in place of stuffing during this time because stuffing sounded vaguely lewd to the Victorian ear. But then again, dressing, seems like it might have some lewd connotations as well.

Not really clearing things up here, are we?

In more recent history, food writers have begun insisting that stuffing is what goes inside of a bird, while dressing is what’s baked in a dish. But there’s no etymological or historical basis for that distinction. They’re just trying to force their opinion as fact, just like your crazy Uncle discussing politics at the Thanksgiving table.

What is certain is that different ethnic groups around America have developed infinite variations of stuffing/dressings for their Thanksgiving repasts. New Englanders have, of course, embraced the traditional bread stuffing – often made with Bell’s Seasoning (first sold in 1867.) Those who live along the coast might also include whole oysters. Southerners may use cornbread and hot sausage. Or rice in the Carolinas and Gulf Coast States. Around Pennsylvania and in other Amish regions you may find mashed potatoes added to their bread stuffing.

Here on Beekman 1802 Farm, we don’t much care what you call it.

Just make sure there’s enough of it for leftovers.

Here’s a few of our own favorite stuffing recipes. (If you have any, share them in the comment section.)

Buttermilk Cornbread Stuffing with Sausage

Savory Cornbread Pudding

Fruitcake-stuffed Pork Chops

Sour Cherry & Sausage Stuffing

by Josh and Brent

Reader Comments

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Italia Patterson

Dressing would be the appropriate term if one was putting the stuffing ON the bird-as in dressing it up…Stuffing is what one puts IN the bird…..Unless you do not stuff the bird at all….imagine that….

Nancy Drawe

I grew up with “stuffing” for the bird. “Dressing” is what comes in a bottle that you pour over a salad. i.e. Italian dressing.

Jessica Jordan

My family is from South Georgia and we have always had dressing. In fact, my grandmother used to say, “In the south we don’t have stuffing, we have dressing!” It’s made with homemade cornbread, onions, celery, a couple of boiled eggs, and chicken stock. Most importantly, and I cannot stress this enough IT’S DELICIOUS! 🙂

Suzanne Koba

I was under the impression that in the bird is stuffing (you’re stuffing the bird) outside the bird it’s dressing. My question would be have there always been two choices?


Exactly what I was going to say! How can it be referred to as “stuffing” if it is baked in a dish, and how can it be referred to as “dressing” if it is stuffed inside the turkey? Anything on the side is considered dressing and anything inside something else is stuffed. Never did understand the confusion. LOL 😉

VJ Cole

Josh and Brent, you get bonus points for mentioning Bell’s seasoning. Now that I live in Colorado, I have to order it online – but I know BOTH grandmothers would spin in their graves if I used anything else for my stuffing.


haha enlightened to be certain. In Lancaster County PA it is stuffing; whether it is inside or outside the bird. Growing up, my Grandmother called one kind stuffing, and one kind dressing– both were made with bread, so I am not sure what the difference was.
My husband is from western pa, where it is stuffing also.
I can’t wait to see the answers everyone else leaves.
Now the next question–is it Supper or Dinner?

Ranee Hadley

now you have gone and done it – up till now I have never thought about it one way or the other – in fact – I think I may call it both – and now I can not remember what I call it. I know everyone who has eaten mine – loves it. I save the ends of the loaves of bread, toss them into the freezer when we get down to the last slice or two in a plastic bag. When I want to make dressing/stuffing I take out what would be close to the equivalent to a loaf of bread, cut it up into half inch cubes, and combine it with a chopped up medium onion, two stocks of celery. If I have giblets I like to precook the heart, gizzard, liver, tail and neck until tender in a pan with enough water to cover and that has been seasoned with salt and pepper. When they are done, reserving the broth from the cooking, I remove the meat from the tail and neck bones, and with the other parts grind them up fine. I then add this to the bread mixture along with enough raisins to taste; (1/2-1 cup), salt, pepper, ground sage; ( a good heaping tablespoon) and poultry seasoning; not quit as much as the sage. I do not measure – or rather I use the cup of my hand to measure. Mix all together well, adjusting liquid more or less so that the mixture is well moistened with out being too wet. I make this the day before, put it into a large zip lock bag and into the frig. The I stuff the bird with it in the morning just before putting it in the oven. I always have more then I need to stuff the bird, so I wrap the extra in aluminum foil and tuck it into the pan with the bird. We enjoy this.

Roger Swayze

My grandmother always made “Sweet Dressing” whenever she roasted a turkey so that’s what we ate when I was a small child. It was a bread-based recipe to which she added dried fruits like dried cherries, apricots, apples, raisins, prunes, etc. Imagine stuffing a bird with fruitcake and you would be close. But then my aunt married a man from Texas who always had cornbread stuffing for Thanksgiving. So for his sake my grandmother started to make both. We had two kinds of stuffing to choose from. I usually had some of both! Now that much of my family is older, grandma has passed on and a lot of the folks are sugar-sensitive, or GMO fearful, or gluten-free, the cornbread recipe has become the favorite. I like to add chopped walnuts and hazelnuts when I get to make the stuffing.

Frann Harrison

I’m from CT and my husband is from TX. I grew up stuffing the big bird with bread, Jones sausage, onions, celery, and Bells seasoning. My husband couldn’t wrap his head around the thought of stuffing the bird…until he tasted it. He loves my “Yankee” stuffing.

Kristine, Dallas

Our family’s always called it dressing because we’ve never stuffed a turkey. I’m 48 and as long as I can remember- grandmother’s included- I have never had a stuffed turkey. So if you stuff the turkey, it should probably be called stuffing. But if you use it as an accoutrement to the turkey, i.e. a “dressing” then it’s dressing. There- solved! 😉 Love y’all!