The Great Thanksgiving Debate: Is It Stuffing or Dressing?

Updated on December 22, 2019
revmjm profile image

Margaret Minnicks is a health-conscious person who researches the health benefits of foods and drinks.

Is this stuffing or dressing?
Is this stuffing or dressing?

Stuffing or Dressing?

It happens every year when Thanksgiving is celebrated across the country. Most holiday tables have similar side dishes that surround the turkey centerpiece. When it comes to one dish, however, there is always a debate about what it should be called.

Even married couples disagree about whether to call this dish "stuffing" or "dressing." That's because they might have grown up in one region and migrated to another region. They hold fast to what they grew up with, and it might be hard to change what they believe this dish should be called.

Have you noticed that even Kraft, the manufacturer of Stove Top Stuffing, might have named its product incorrectly? If it is cooked on top of the stove, how can it be called stuffing?

How can it be called stuffing if it is cooked on top of the stove?
How can it be called stuffing if it is cooked on top of the stove?

Regional Debate

The two terms are used interchangeably depending on where you live. People in the South insist that since it is a side dish cooked outside the turkey, it should be called "dressing." Therefore, they fight with their northern friends who want to call the dish made with the same ingredients "stuffing."

Most northern states call the side stuffing, regardless of its preparation. Those who live in the South feel comfortable calling it dressing. If you have friends and relatives from both regions eating at the same table, expect the age-old debate about stuffing vs. dressing.

stuffing or dressing?
stuffing or dressing?

Logical Debate

If you stuff something inside a turkey or other poultry, then it is logical to call the dish stuffing because it was stuffed in the cavity of the turkey and cooked.

How the dish is cooked should make a difference in what it is called. The dictionary defines stuffing as a mixture used to stuff another food before it is cooked. When the same ingredients are cooked outside the cavity of poultry, it is not stuffing because nothing has been stuffed.

It should make sense that stuffing is stuffed inside the cavity of any poultry before it is cooked, and dressing is a separate dish cooked in a pan outside the bird.

Which Came First: Stuffing or Dressing?

The term "stuffing" was the first to appear. The Oxford Dictionary traces the word back to 1538 and defines it as "a mixture used to stuff poultry or meat before cooking." The word was used in the Roman Empire in a collection of Roman dishes.

On the other hand, the word “dressing” didn't appear until the 1850s. It was the Victorians who settled on the word "dressing" instead of “stuffing" because they considered the word offensive. The South embraced the Victorian view, but the North refused to accept it.

Most people in the South call the dish "dressing." Most people in the North call the dish "stuffing," no matter how it is prepared.

turkey stuffing
turkey stuffing

Call It Delicious

People might debate what to call it, one thing is for certain. There is no real difference between stuffing and dressing because the ingredients are the same. Besides, the dish is delicious.

The disagreements are never about the taste. It is a favorite and no Thanksgiving meal should be without it. The problem lies in the fact that some people will be concerned about what to call when they ask for it to be passed at the table with mixed company.

What the Expert Cooks Say

While some people at the Thanksgiving meal will continue to call it stuffing and others will call it dressing, what do the cooking experts say about the matter?

The Food Lover's Companion and the National Turkey Federation say stuffing and dressing can be used interchangeably. However, The Joy of Cooking says the dish is stuffing when cooked inside the bird and dressing when it's cooked outside.

What do you call the Thanksgiving fixing?

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    • ChristianWritings profile image

      Christian Writings 

      19 months ago

      Happy Thanksgiving to you too Margaret! I will indeed enjoy my dressing ;)

    • revmjm profile imageAUTHOR

      Margaret Minnicks 

      19 months ago from Richmond, VA

      Christian Writings, I see you are well aware of the Great Thanksgiving Debate. Thanks for sharing how you were notified early on about the choices for the side dish.

      HAPPY THANKSGIVING! And enjoy your "dressing"!

    • ChristianWritings profile image

      Christian Writings 

      19 months ago

      This was interesting. Having grown up outside the US and marrying an American from the South, I was promptly notified that the side dish was called ''dressing'' and not stuffing.


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