Whether you make it with rice or bread, stud it with meat or veggies, put it in the bird or serve it alongside, stuffing is an irreplaceable part of a Thanksgiving feast. At its core, typical stuffing involves a starch, various seasonings, and a few extras. So, we’ve put together a magic matrix so you can mix and match until you achieve that perfect combo of sweet, savory, aromatic, crunchy, and hearty. All the things a stuffing should be.
First things first, when it comes to stuffing, you’ll need to figure out your base component. A few options:
Bread is an excellent base for stuffing because it soaks up all the goodness, turns crusty in the oven, and is fairly substantial. We particularly like using sourdough because of its tanginess and crusty texture or, for a neutral variety which won’t assert its own flavor, a neutral white bread is great, too. For a more flavorful option, try rye, which will add its own signature aromatics—just make sure your guests will be into it.
We are totally obsessed with cornbread—homemade or store bought—the dense texture and slightly sweet flavor is a fabulous stuffing base. Toast the cornbread a bit before using so it doesn’t fall apart.
Though slightly less common, hearty, chewy wild rice is a great base for stuffing, as it absorbs a lot of liquid without turning overly soggy. It’s also a good option for the gluten-averse.
To keep everything together, we recommend using eggs, butter, broth or stock, and working it into the mixture before baking. That way, your stuffing will be soft and succulent, while crispy on top. A bit of apple cider can add a bit of sweetness to the mix as well.
Salty, crispy, and hearty, the addition of meat always adds so much flavor and additional texture in the form of savory morsels. Make sure to brown the meat before you add it. Pork in all forms is best, from breakfast sausage to chorizo to Italian sausage (hot or sweet). When using sausage, be sure to remove the casings. Bacon, pancetta, and guanciale are also delicious options.
Funnily enough, oysters are a traditional stuffing addition, just make sure to go simple with the other ingredients so as not to overshadow their delicacy. We recommend combining them with bread crumbs along with simple aromatics and seasonings.
We love the addition of dried cranberries, currants, raisins, or dried cherries for a pop of sweetness that pairs oh-so-well with this savory dish.
Nuts provide a nice textural component—we recommend pecans, hazelnuts or walnuts.
Apples, leafy greens, squash, and other seasonal veggies or fruits can be great flavorful additions to stuffing as well…and add a little extra feel-good to all the bread and meat.
No matter what kind of stuffing you’re preparing, aromatics are essential. Onion and celery (chopped finely and sautéed) should constitute the beginning of your stuffing, but adding other ingredients like garlic and leek will provide even more great flavor.
We love really heavy hitters like sage and thyme in our stuffing—since it will be baked all together, don’t use delicate herbs, stick to the heartier ones that will really deliver.
If you’re still feeling a little stumped, here’s a very simple stuffing recipe to start things off:
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter plus more for baking dish
1 pound good-quality day-old white bread, torn into 1″ pieces (about 10 cups)
2 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions
1 1/2 cups 1/4″ slices celery
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth, divided
2 large eggs
Preheat oven to 250°F. Butter a 13x9x2″ baking dish and set aside. Scatter bread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake, stirring occasionally, until dried out, about 1 hour. Let cool; transfer to a very large bowl.
Meanwhile, melt 3/4 cup butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat; add onions and celery. Stir often until just beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Add to bowl with bread; stir in herbs, salt, and pepper. Drizzle in 1 1/4 cups broth and toss gently. Let cool.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk 1 1/4 cups broth and eggs in a small bowl. Add to bread mixture; fold gently until thoroughly combined. Transfer to prepared dish, cover with foil, and bake until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of stuffing registers 160°F, about 40 minutes.
Bake stuffing, uncovered, until set and top is browned and crisp, 40-45 minutes longer (if chilled, add 10-15 minutes).