Every year around November, the same old question resurfaces: what exactly is the difference between stuffing and dressing? And every year we believe it to be a simple answer: stuffing is what you call that delicious mix of bread (with aromatics and other fillings) that’s cooked inside the bird, and dressing is what you call it when you cook that same bread mixture outside of the bird.
While this is mostly true, unfortunately the answer is not as clear cut as that.
It turns out we use different terms based on what region we live in, no matter what ingredients we use, or whether we stuff the bird or not.
Most differences in regional recipes are a result of what’s available locally ― oyster dressing is popular in coastal areas, cornbread stuffing is popular in the South, and sourdough stuffing is big in Northern California.
In the South, it’s typically referred to as dressing. In the Northeast, it’s almost always stuffing. In Pennsylvania Dutch Country, it’s actually called filling and is mixed with mashed potatoes. In the rest of the country, it’s mostly referred to as stuffing, but not always. There’s one state north of the Mason Dixon line that prefers the term dressing, and that’s Iowa.
Despite the South’s affection for dressing, often times in those states it’s also called stuffing. According to Epicurious, the only states that searched for dressing recipes over stuffing recipes were Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.
The term for stuffing is pretty self-explanatory ― it’s used to stuff the cavity of a bird. But dressing? Apparently that’s a result of politesse. Stuffing just wasn’t a nice word, and Southerners didn’t want to use it. (Just like some of them prefer to call grits hominy.)
In other words, call it what you want ― use the term interchangeably if you please. Just make sure you eat lots of it. Here are some recipes to make sure you get that done this Thanksgiving.