The obligatory turkey for Thanksgiving makes the stuffing or dressing debate return every year. Some people insist that there is no difference between the two side dishes, while others vow that they love one and hate the other even if they can't tell you why. Let's explore the debate and debunk the myths.
Stuffing is defined as a seasoned mix used to fill the body of a fowl before it is cooked. The Oxford English Dictionary's definition of dressing is not as specific and merely calls it "the seasoning substance used in cooking".
Recipes for turkey stuffing and dressing are usually interchangeable. The base is usually a crumbled bread product such as cornbread, biscuits and/or bread slices. Most call for chopped onion and/or celery. Some recipes call for sauteing the onions and celery until they are tender. Another key ingredient in almost every recipe is poultry seasoning.
The main difference is that stuffing is "stuffed" into the turkey before it is baked, while dressing is put into a greased pan and baked. The famous cookbook "The Joy of Cooking" says that a mixture is considered stuffing if you cook it inside the bird, and dressing if you cook it in a pan. However, The National Turkey Federation states that the terms are interchangeable. Other differences are in the ingredients choices which vary according to regional locations. Generally southern states in America call a mixture "dressing" while northern states usually call it "stuffing." The theory is that southern states find the word "stuffing" not genteel enough for their liking. There are recipe variations that can include sausage, walnuts, cranberries and in coastal areas, oysters.
There is a health risk involved with placing stuffing inside the turkey cavity while it is cooked. The stuffing can develop bacteria if it is not cooked to 165 degrees. The problem is that it is possible for the thigh of the turkey (where you insert the thermometer) to register an internal temperature of 180 degrees while the stuffing may not be the same temperature. If the turkey stuffing has not reached 165 degrees it must be cooked longer, which can result in the turkey being overcooked.
Making a Choice
It comes down to personal preference. If you like the combination of a crispy outside with a moist middle than you are a dressing person. If you prefer the squishy texture of stuffing then by all means go for it. Just remember that you may have to remove the stuffing from the turkey at some point and bake it separately for a longer period of time to be sure it is safely and thoroughly cooked.
When it comes to the "is it turkey stuffing or dressing?" debate it depends more on where you grew up and what you grew up eating rather than an actual difference between the two. Other than a need to be more attentive to the cooked temperature of the stuffing, the difference is only in what ingredients you use.