It’s one of those perennial Thanksgiving questions: What is the difference between stuffing and dressing? Does it have to do with what they’re made from, or maybe how they’re cooked (one goes inside the bird, one doesn’t)? Nope! Well, not necessarily.
There is no difference between stuffing and dressing, according to “The Food Lover’s Companion.” Both are mixtures “used to stuff poultry, fish, meat and some vegetables.”
“Stuffing” most commonly conjures images of a bread mixture with celery, onions, and poultry seasoning (or maybe fresh sage and thyme) along with various other ingredients like nuts, apples, or cranberries, but it can refer to wild rice mixtures, sausage mixtures, and more as well. And while we’re talking turkey stuffing in honor of Thanksgiving dinner, you can obviously stuff lots more, from squash to mushrooms.
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Stuffing vs Dressing: Manners & Cooking Methods
According to Leo Pearlstein, a culinary PR expert (who also co-wrote “Mrs. Cubbison’s Best Stuffing Cookbook“), “This comes up every year.” His opinion is that people started using the term dressing because “the notion of ‘stuffing’ didn’t sound so mannerly.”
The “Oxford English Dictionary” says that the word stuffing dates back to 1538 and is defined as “forcemeat or other seasoned mixture used to fill the body of a fowl, a hollow in a joint of meat, etc., before cooking.” The OED entry for dressing is less specific and states that it is “the seasoning substance used in cooking; stuffing; the sauce, etc.”
The “Joy of Cooking” differentiates between the two by saying it’s stuffing if you put it in the bird, and dressing if you serve it on the side, but the National Turkey Federation says that “both terms are used interchangeably.”
Bottom line: Call it whatever you feel comfortable saying, and enjoy. (And note that while cooking stuffing in the turkey cavity is still preferred by many for the flavor, food safety experts advise against it.)