Best Bread and Herb Stuffing Recipe: Secrets to perfecting favorite Thanksgiving Dish
Updated: Nov 11, 2022
Whether you call it Dressing or Stuffing is up to you, but your guests will call this Old-Fashioned Bread and Herb Stuffing/Dressing the best they have ever tasted.
It is not hard to make a wonderful Thanksgiving Dressing/Stuffing and this recipe will provide a base dish that is moist, rich and delicious. Throw away that bag of packaged croutons—you can quickly and easily make a far better stuffing with a loaf of your favorite sandwich bread and some basic ingredients.
Note: Technically, it's stuffing if your put it in the turkey, and dressing if you bake it in a dish alongside the turkey. I'll use the terms interchangeably and will address safety concerns of stuffing a turkey.
Stuffing/Dressing is the big crowd pleaser on Thanksgiving Day, and you can keep everyone happy with a recipe large enough to actually produce leftovers.
Once you have the perfect stuffing base, you can "add in" the ingredients that you love—whether oysters or dried fruit or just a little sage—and 30 minutes in the oven while your turkey cools.
Selecting Your Bread
The most important ingredient in any stuffing is the bread.
A number of food sites and writers have considered the type of bread best for stuffing. You may have arrived at your own conclusions after much trial and error. There are 3 basic criteria to a good stuffing bread: 1) a tight (not "open") crumb, 2) a lack of moisture, and 3) an absence of strong flavor. An open crumb means that the bread has a lot of "holes" and air--think French bread or baguettes--and will likely turn to soggy mush when liquid is added. The example above is a bread with no very tight, or closed, crumb. The photo below is of a bread with a moderately open crumb.
A lack of moisture means the bread is not hydrated—if you can squeeze a bread to mush in one hand, it's not suitable for stuffing. Finally, the bread should not have strong flavor—a very sour Sourdough or a bread with rosemary in the dough, for instance—as a strong flavor will dominate your stuffing. Most writers recommend a good quality sandwich bread. My brother Greg saves the ends of bread loaves from a diner owned by his family to make his legendary stuffing. I have found that Panera's White Miche Bread makes a wonderful stuffing, but they only sell it in these huge double loaves—great if you are serving a crowd, but too much if you are not. (I personally just make a huge lot of stuffing as someone will always eat it.)
Another option is the Italian Artisanal Loaf at Aldi—it is huge again at 1.5 pounds but is perfect (the crumb is a little open, but it doesn't get soggy at all).
You can find nice better-quality sandwich loaves at Walmart or another local supermarket. Skip the Ciabatta loaves at Sam's Club or the baguettes at Costco—they are just not designed for stuffing. Also, use great care when buying any bread labeled "artisan." It might work, but often bread labeled this way has huge open holes which make it unsuitable for stuffing.
Every bread stuffing needs sage to complete it.
Rubbed sage or fresh sage are better alternatives than ground sage. Even better, save a few leaves from your sage plant and crumble them. Any dried sage will give a much complex flavor than ground sage. But in a pinch, any sage will do.
I personally make this recipe with sage, for a very old-fashioned Yankee style stuffing. But you are free to add whatever herbs you like. Consider fresh Italian parsley or even just basic poultry seasoning. Avoid strong flavors such as rosemary.
Good stuffing needs butter, and lots of it. If your recipe calls for less than a stick of butter, it is time to rethink your life. Stuffing will be hydrated by two things --butter and broth. They should be used relatively evenly if you put stuffing in the bird. If you cook your stuffing/dressing outside of the bird, you will need to add additional broth. But be careful - too much broth makes for soggy dressing, so add extra broth at the end, a little at a time. I prefer using salted butter, but you are free to use unsalted and add more salt before you bake your dressing/stuffing.
Drying your Bread Croutons
The bread must be cut in cubes - about 1/2-inch square.
Alternatively, you can simply "tear" the stuffing into pieces of that size—some cooks swear by tearing the bread, since it creates more surface area on each crouton to "crisp up." I myself like the look of nice even cubes of stuffing.
How you make your own croutons is up to you.
Once your bread is cubed, it must be dried out. Spread the cubes out on a cookie sheet in one layer and either leave them to dry out naturally for 2-3 days or put them in a 225-degree oven for 30-40 minutes.
Either method will give you a nice, very dry crouton. At this point, you can freeze your croutons or use within 3 days. Homemade croutons will not keep for months in the pantry like the ultra-processed cubes your buy.
To Stuff or Not to Stuff
This one isn't even close—it really is time to look into the light and give up putting that stuffing in your bird. I understand if it's part of your tradition to stuff your bird. But it is next to impossible to get the stuffing to safe temperature while still not overcooking your bird. If you simply must, leave out the egg and use a food thermometer to test that it is a safe temperature. But stuffing tastes great when it is cooked in a casserole while the bird is cooling.
Cooking the Stuffing
Find a pretty casserole or baking dish that will accommodate your stuffing and butter it up like crazy. A shallow dish (think a 13x9 pan, for instance) will give you lot of crispy parts as so much of the stuffing will against the pan. A larger deeper casserole dish will give you a moister stuffing.
Whatever pan you choose, put in a 350-degree oven for 30-45 minutes. A nice time to do this is just before you take out the turkey and during time you are letting it "rest." I like to serve the stuffing in the pretty casserole it was baked in, so people are free to dig for the crispy bits if that is what they like. Remember to let your casserole cool so it is warm but not hot at the table.
Bread and Herb Stuffing (Cost $6.50 for 8 servings)
This is a basic recipe which will produce 6-8 cups of dried bread and will produce a nice 2-quart casserole of stuffing. It should serve 6 generously. You will almost certainly want to double this recipe if you have a crowd coming for Thanksgiving. In an absolute pinch, you can pack extra stuffing in a sheet of aluminum foil, cover and seal up the edges and place directly on the oven rack. Being creative with your baking dish is better than running low on stuffing.
1-pound loa of good-quality sandwich bread, 6-8 cups cubed ($5.00, Panera)
1 stick butter ($0.50, Aldi)
¾ cup diced onions ($0.50, Aldi)
¾ cup celery ($0.30, Aldi
1 t rubbed sage or 1 T fresh sage or several leaves of dried sage, crumbled
3/4 c chicken or turkey broth, homemade or canned ($0.70, Sam's Club)
1 egg (optional)
Additional chicken broth if you cook outside of the turkey
Cut your bread into 1/2-inch cubes or alternatively tear into pieces of that size. Spread your bread cubes out on cookie sheet(s) in a single layer. Use more than one if you double the recipe.
2. Leave your cubes out for 48 hours or so in order for the cubes to "dry out." Alternatively, you can dry your cubes quickly by placing your cookie sheets in a 225-degree oven for 30-40 minutes.
3. When you are ready to begin making your stuffing, set your oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease a casserole or baking dish that holds 2 quarts for a single batch and 4 quarts for a double.
4. Melt a stick of butter in a large open pan. Once your butter is sizzling, put in diced onions and celery.
5. After they are soft, put in your herbs and mix around. Cook briefly--a minute or two--and turn heat to very low.
6. Add your stuffing cubes and stir around until your stuffing is mixed well.
7. Now TASTE your stuffing. Add salt and pepper (white pepper, if possible) until you are happy with the flavor and it nearly salty enough.
8. If you use an egg, beat lightly with a fork and mix in your stock. Now add the egg and 1/2 c. of stock to your stuffing mix. If you are not using an egg, add 1/2 c. of stock.
9. Now look at your stuffing-- is it moist enough (depending on how you like your stuffing)? If it is not moist enough, add additional stock about a tablespoon at a time until the texture is right. If you left out the egg, you could continue to taste your stuffing. If you used a raw egg, the time to taste is past (so make sure you taste before you add the egg).
10. Take your stuffing off the heat and cool slightly.
11. Place stuffing lightly into your 2-quart baking dish of choice and place your stuffing inside. If you doubled the recipe, you might use a 13x9 inch pan. Cover your dish with foil.
12. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 30-40 minutes. Cool slightly before serving. Serve and enjoy your holiday!!