A Lesson in Southern Dressing (Not Stuffing)

Southern dressing is a Thanksgiving staple, while it's called stuffing in the north
Recently, a very (very) scientific* polling showed the term is “dressing” in the South and “stuffing” in the North.

Before now, we didn’t realize what you called that delicious, diet-busting carbo-load of a dish was dependent upon which side of the Mason Dixon line you reside. So then we started discussing it … turns out, in our office, the Northerners said “stuffing” and the Southerners insisted upon “dressing”.

So, obviously, that begs the question, which is it? Dressing or stuffing?

What is dressing? And how is it different from stuffing?

Let us begin with a quote from a great speaker on all-things-cuisine: the one and only Alton Brown:

When it comes to turkey, stuffing is evil.

OK, so it’s not like we’re saying the devil created stuffing (although it does sound like some Southern colloquialism our mama’s would’ve spat at us in our youth). Brown clarifies that it’s the cooking method that is problematic. And by that, we mean that the juices, which could contain salmonella bacteria, soak into the stuffing, which then has to be cooked to 165° F to be safe.

But here’s the kicker: the basis for stuffing is dried bread, some kind of cooking liquid, and seasonings (like sage … can we get an “mmmmm” for our favorite November herb), plus onions, celery, and additional items can be added (like apples, sausage … you get the idea).

Dressing is made with much the same items (although many times in the South you’ll see that cornbread is specified).

But the only real difference between stuffing and dressing is how it’s cooked. Stuffing is inside the bird—in case that wasn’t clear by the name “stuffing”—and dressing is cooked casserole-style in the pan. But … many people down South call it dressing regardless of whether or not it’s in the bird (looking at you, Grandma), which just makes it confusing and senseless … which, now that we mention it, sounds exactly like a Southern tradition.

A simple idiom and style of cooking may not seem like huge issues, but people get quite heated about how best to cook their dress … stuff … side dish. How to cook their side dish.

And for the record, at VisitSouth, we prefer ours the correct way: as dressing, in the pan. But, bless your heart, if you absolutely have to stuff the bird, we’ll be super polite about it … we are Southern, after all.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!

*not at all