Mom’s Thanksgiving turkey stuffing

This Thanksgiving stuffing recipe is one that my mother does perfectly–a really basic recipe that everyone should have in their repertoire. Every childhood Thanksgiving memory that I have starts out with the fragrant aroma of my mom sauteing onions and celery in butter for this dressing:

Classic Thanksgiving Stuffing Recipe

  • 1 stick of butter (1/2 c.)
  • 2 c. chopped celery
  • 2 large onions, finely diced
  • 2 tsp. powdered sage
  • 10 c. dry bread, torn into bite-size pieces or cut into 1″ cubes
  • 2-4 c. chicken stock

In a large stock pot, melt the butter, then cook the onions and celery for several minutes until soft. Add the sage and stir for 1 minute. Add the bread chunks and stir into the onions/celery. Add the stock a little at a time, turning the bread constantly. The amount of stock will vary, depending on what kind of bread you use. I like to use a crusty French bread. When the bread is nice and moist, put the mixture into a large sprayed casserole and bake covered for 20 minutes at 375ºF, then 10 minutes uncovered at 400ºF.


You can do a quick and easy variation of this by buying the stuffing mix bags in the store–if you buy the “traditional sage” flavor, you substitute a bag of stuffing mix for the sage and bread above. It makes a FAST and hearty side dish for a quick dinner (or if you have chunks of chicken or turkey, you can heat those up and throw them in with the stuffing and call it a meal!)

We have edited this post to remove the recommendation to use the stuffing to stuff the bird.  See Kate’s comment below, which reflects the prevailing thought on the safety concerns of that method.  We grew up eating inside-the-turkey stuffing with no ill effects, but we both now keep the stuffing separate, not being fans of food-poisoning, or even the possibility thereof.

Note: If you use homemade stock that has no added salt, you will probably need to add a little salt to this recipe. Also, changing up the bread (to cornbread or sourdough) will yield very different, but tasty, results. This dressing is very easy to keep vegetarian. If you use vegetable stock, you’ve got it. In contrast, I have a friend who also adds cooked and crumbled sausage to her stuffing.

We’ll be posting two more stuffing (or dressing as it’s called in some parts) recipes today. We hope that by posting some of the traditional Thanksgiving recipes early, you’ll be able to make your shopping list early!

9 thoughts on “Mom’s Thanksgiving turkey stuffing

  1. Eeeeek! Don’t ever stuff the turkey! We learned that in culinary school and were told over and over never to do it. The stuffing never comes to the proper temperature at the same time the meat does, and if you wait for the stuffing to cook properly, the meat is overdone. Plus, you have that whole raw poultry issue, AND the stuffing will absorb all the good juices from the turkey as it cooks and the meat dries out, leaving you with no juice as the base for your gravy.

  2. So there ya go. Thanks, Kate.

    For my turkey, I usually put a couple of onions, peeled and cut in half, inside the cavity. These get thrown out after the bird is cooked–they’re just for adding flavor during the roasting.


  3. I can’t wait for Thanksgiving! I hardly ever get to make it home for Thanksgiving anymore and this year I will be spending it with my family! We use a basic dressing like this one but we add some sliced black olives to it! I love it! Happy Halloween 🙂

  4. This is pretty close to my dressing recipe but I add the crumbled cooked sausage and a can of mandarin oranges with its juice. For extra crunch I add sliced water chestnuts. One year I even added chopped apple but the kids told me to go back to the previous year’s recipe.
    Aunt Joan

  5. I’m 62 years old and we always stuffed our turkeys and so our parents and grandparents before them, and not once did anyone ever become sick, except for overeating. Why now is it a big issue? Is our poultry contaminated anymore? Not only that but the stuffing is what flavors your turkey,so all you turkey police out there,,,get real.

  6. Hi Patty,
    I think if you asked food scientists that question (are poultry MORE contaminated now) you might find that the answer is yes. Or at least, the germs they have are more virulent than the days of our parents and grandparents. You might also find, if you could go back and do some study via time-travel, that there WERE more cases of food poisoning as a result of poorly cooked stuffing back then; only, people didn’t recognize why they felt sick after Thanksgiving–they just thought they’d eaten too much. Also, the people whose stuffing was adequately cooked may have gotten used to overcooked turkey meat.

    In any case, we’re happy it’s worked out for you without unpleasant consequences, and if you want to continue stuffing your turkey, please don’t let us stop you. We are not the turkey police. (Though we think someone out there ought to do some cartoons featuring the Turkey Police. 🙂 ) But we still recommend to our readers to make their stuffing separately.

    Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving,
    Laura and Barb

  7. My mom has never stuffed her turkey. Now that I’m the one who likes to cook and I LOVE doing turkey I have never stuffed my turkey with dressing. I’ve only stuffed my turkey with a bit of fresh herbs,onion and lemon wedges.
    Ok, I have a few things to say about the whole bacteria thing. Poultry isn’t really worse bacteria wise as it was back then. My opinion is that they were just more immune to it and didn’t get sick. For example, a family friend of mine went to Guatamala for a missions trip last year. He was my boss at the time at a butcher shop and so he took pictures of their butcher shop for us to see. They had there meat hanging out in the open outside for anything and everything to contaminate it. But they don’t get sick. Because their stomachs are built up to take it. I’m no expert though. But still, I was always taught to never stuff the turkey because it drys it out. I know with beef at least you should put your vegtables and what have you around or under the meat (this is what I was taught for rib roast) I do the same for turkey and the turkey/chicken I have made that way turn out pretty tender.

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