Stuffing is an essential side dish at most Thanksgiving dinner tables. But which type to make, how to prepare it, and how much you need? You can go crazy trying to figure it all out.
Here’s a stuffing primer of sorts. Whether you’re doing the entire dinner including stuffing, or bringing stuffing to Thanksgiving at someone else’s home, these tips will make you a stuffing maven (expert.)
5 Tips for Better Thanksgiving Stuffing
- The 3 basic types of stuffing – Most stuffing recipes are carb-based, but not always. I divide the stuffing world into 3 categories: bread, rice, and “other”-centered. “Other” mean includes everything from grains (quinoa, etc.) to paleo-friendly butternut squash cubes. Within the bread category (including gluten-free), some stuffings use bread cubes ,while others use crumbs. The bread isn’t always loaf bread either; my friend Lafe’s cornbread stuffing balls are a favorite treat at our Thanksgiving table. And if you’ve always thought of stuffing as carb-heavy (not that there is anything wrong with that for most of us), check out Carolyn’s low-carb stuffings from her round-up at All Day I Dream About Food.
- Stuffing Ingredients – No matter which base ingredient (bread, rice or “other”) you use, most stuffing contains fat (butter and/or oil), liquid (usually broth or broth and egg) and vegetables, fruits, and/or nuts, herbs and/or spices. Preserved meats, especially sausage, are also common in stuffing recipes. Each element except bread cubes or crumbs is typically cooked before being added to the stuffing mix. Then the mix is cooked, either stuffed in a turkey, or baked in a greased or buttered casserole dish, with liquid to give it moisture and to help the ingredients meld together. If you’re cooking it in a casserole, adding dots of butter or brushing the top with melted butter or oil will help the top brown for crunch.
- How much stuffing per person? The first consideration is how many other dishes there will be. Serving lots of turkey and multiple sides? Guests will probably eat less stuffing than if it is the sole or one of the main side dishes. I estimate that a 9-inch x 13-inch pan of stuffing serves 6-8 people. I love leftover stuffing, so I try to make more than guests will eat at Thanksgiving dinner. I keep extra broth on hand in case the leftover stuffing seems too dry before re-heating.
- To stuff or not to stuff? – Stuffing got its name from being traditionally cooked inside the turkey – duh! Cooked inside the bird, flavored with the turkey juices, stuffing gets much moister than it would be if cooked in a pan. (So, if you are using a recipe, check whether the recipe expects the stuffing to go inside the bird or bake separately – and modify the amount of broth added accordingly.) If you do cook stuffing inside the turkey, all of it must be taken out of the bird before carving, and whatever portion isn’t consumed at the table, should be refrigerated (not left in the turkey cavity) within 2 hours. Food safety rules, unlike school and alternate side of the street parking rules in New York City, are not suspended for holidays.
- The 3 secrets to great stuffing – Variety, quality, and seasoning. No matter which base you use, what you add, or whose diet you have to accommodate, if you use high quality ingredients (principally different vegetables, fruits, and nuts) that make a colorful and appealing combination, and you add fresh herbs for seasoning, your stuffing is bound to be good.