What is Stuffing?

Chris Kohatsu

Eager faces and hungry stomachs gather around the dinner table on Thanksgiving, eager for turkey and extra servings of stuffing. Stuffing, a mixture of chopped vegetables, seasonings, and bread crumbs, is a longtime favorite side dish to turkey dinners. Also known as dressing, it is served in a multitude of different varieties, ranging from herb flavored to oyster based and even fruit infused.

Stuffing commonly accompanies poultry.
Stuffing commonly accompanies poultry.

No one really knows when or where stuffing began. One widely circulated story revolves around the reason for it in the first place: poultry and other wild game whose cavities have been cleaned and gutted need something inside in order to retain its shape. Early cooks stuffed their birds with whole vegetables before discovering a combination of stale bread and chopped vegetables. When cooked, juices from the meat would flavor the breadcrumbs and an additional dish was created.

Breadcrumbs are a main ingredient used to make stuffing.
Breadcrumbs are a main ingredient used to make stuffing.

Another story widely circulated about stuffing history involves the marketing techniques employed by the Kraft Company in 1972. Stove Top® stuffing, a brand owned by Kraft, was introduced as a boxed stuffing that kitchen cooks could make in minutes. The marketing campaign used to sell Stove Top® involved the idea that this side dish was essential to a Thanksgiving meal. Many attribute this campaign as the reason why Stove Top® is one of the most popular food items sold during the holiday.

Various ingredients including celery, bacon, sausage, oysters, and apples can be used in stuffing.
Various ingredients including celery, bacon, sausage, oysters, and apples can be used in stuffing.

Stuffing is typically made by combining herbs, spices, chopped vegetables, and breadcrumbs. It can roast inside a bird cavity or be cooked on the stove top. Most recipes call for the addition of liquid, such as chicken broth or stock, while other recipes rely on actual pan drippings. Stuffing is not just used to accompany poultry, but other meats, such as beef and pork. It is sometimes seen tied into a roulade or wedged into the side of thick pork chops.

Every year, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises home cooks to take certain precautions when preparing a meal with stuffing. In addition to healthy sanitation practices, if it is used inside meat or poultry, it is recommended that the stuffing’s internal cooking temperature reach at least 165°F (71.1°C). If made separately from meat, it is also recommended that the cooked dressing does not come in contact with raw meat or its juices.

Whole chicken ready to be stuffed and roasted.
Whole chicken ready to be stuffed and roasted.

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Discussion Comments


@croydon - To me the point of the stuffing is not even to eat it, although of course it can be very tasty. The point of it is to flavor the meat of the bird or whatever is being stuffed. If you use a lovely apricot stuffing, for example, you'll get apricot flavored meat which can be absolutely delicious.

Some people just use herbs and spices without any intention of actually eating them afterwards, simply to give a flavor to the turkey or the chicken.

There are some really lovely stuffing recipes online, and I would encourage people to get a little bit experimental. I think it's a shame when stuffing comes out of a box because it never quite tastes right, but it's very easy to make stuffing from scratch.

@umbra21 - Well, I can understand people being nostalgic, but different kinds of stuffing are so diverse it's almost like eating a completely different meal, so I would almost be tempted to try giving her some stuffing and just don't tell her what it is. I mean, sausage stuffing and cranberry stuffing are going to taste completely different. Just because she has lost one particular stuffing recipe doesn't mean she can't find another that she also likes.

People tend to be so picky and nostalgic about stuffing. My mother just refuses to eat it altogether, particularly if it comes from a box or in a bird that was roasted in the supermarket. She told me that it just tastes so bad compared to what her mother used to make that she can never stand it.

Unfortunately, her stuffing recipe was lost when my grandmother died and none of her children are very good at cooking so I think my mother might just have to go without during the holidays.

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