The Homemade Trials: Dressing!
Is it worth it to make homemade dressing (or stuffing) or should you just buy it at the store?
The Homemade Trials: Dressing!Jump to Recipe
I haven’t done a Homemade Trial in a while and it seemed perfectly appropriate to do a seasonal one featuring the thing that lines the ends of every grocery store aisle in the country right now: Stuffing.
Which is right exactly? Well, I can tell you that I call it stuffing casually, but technically dressing is when you cook it outside the bird and stuffing is when you cook it inside the bird. So they are the same thing and how you prepare it should dictate what you call it.
But I pretty much always call it stuffing even though I always cook it outside the bird. I’m trying to change.
To be honest, I’ve never actually purchased boxed or bagged stuffing even though I’ve probably eaten my weight in the stuff over the course of my life. So let’s dig in and try to make some sense of this dressing/stuffing situation.
Does this stuff make sense to buy or is it nonsense?
There are a ton of popular stuffing mixes you can buy in the store. Here’s the thing: they are all essentially the same so don’t freak out because I didn’t buy all of the brands.
I went with one popular version (Pepperidge Farms) and a high end gluten free version (Three bakers) and my homemade version also known as BREAD.
As always, I tried to keep the versions as similar as possible. That means I didn’t use my actual dressing recipe, I used a super-basic pared down version. I also tried to add the same flavors to each version to make sure one wasn’t getting a (turkey) leg up.
First though, let’s start with my version.
My Basic Version
This is about as basic as a dressing/stuffing recipe can be in my book. Some bread, some aromatics, some spices and herbs and stock. Bake that off with some butter and you’ll be in really good shape.
The Most Basic Homemade Dressing
- Serves 4
- Prep Time:
- Total Time:
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Is it worth it to make homemade dressing (or stuffing) or should you just buy it at the store?
1) Toast bread cubes in a 325 degree oven until they are very dry, 10-15 minutes.
2) In a large skillet, add oil along with celery, onions, and garlic. Cook until veggies are soft, about 3-4 minutes. Add chopped herbs to the skillet and season mixture with salt and pepper.
3) Transfer celery mixture to a bowl and toss with dried bread. Add enough stock to wet the bread without making it super soggy.
4) Transfer dressing mix to an 8×8 baking dish and drizzle with melted butter.
5) Bake the dressing at 375 degrees F. for 35-40 minutes until the top and edges are crispy. Let cool briefly before serving.
It should be noted that I used the cheapest loaf of bread I could find at the store. It was a few days old in the bakery section of my grocery store.
Once I got all the breaded things unpackaged it became very clear that boxed stuffing is essentially croutons. There’s nothing wrong with this, croutons are delicious, but they are almost identical.
To make everything identical, I added celery, onions, and garlic to all the versions along with roughly the same amount of stock. My homemade version needed less stock because the bread wasn’t quite as hard as the store-bought versions. I also added a tiny amount of thyme, sage, and rosemary to my version because that was dried and in the boxed versions.
Every version got butter.
Here’s my analysis!
Here’s the only step that is different in the preparation of homemade versus store-bought dressing: drying out the bread. It’s really important that your bread is bone dry before mixing it or it’ll just turn into a soggy mess (some people like it soggy actually, but that’s a different story).
I baked my bread cubes for 15 minutes to really dry them out and that’s the only difference in prep times. This is what the store-bought versions save you: roughly 15 minutes.
Again, you need to add things to the store-bought versions. Both said to add stock and recommended celery and onions and stuff so your costs are basically the difference between a cheap loaf of bread and whatever these companies are charging.
Loaf of Stale Bread (7 oz.) = $1.19
Pepperidge Farms Stuffing (12 oz.) = $2.99
Three Bakers Gluten Free Stuffing (12 oz.) = $8.99 (not a typo)
Even if you bought two small loafs of stale bread from your bakery, it’s going to be cheaper than any boxed mix. I did spend a few cents on herbs to spice up my homemade version, but it was minimal and you’ll probably have those around anyway for the holidays.
There’s no doubt that cost goes to homemade if you are just getting cheap, stale bread (which is really all you need).
The nutrition part of this is almost silly to even calculate. So I’m really not going to. After all, I cooked them essentially the same way so the only nutritional difference is between what’s in a loaf of bread and what’s in these boxes.
They are almost all identical. The gluten-free version had a slightly higher calorie count and more fiber. The pepperidge farms version was loaded with sodium. Probably could’ve guessed that.
But here’s the thing: I don’t know a single person that makes dressing based on nutritional info. You just pour gravy over the whole thing anyway.
So these are all close enough to call them a TIE I think.
One note: The Pepperidge Farm version did have High Fructose Corn Syrup in it while the gluten free fancy version had honey and less ingredients in general. But, the stale bakery bread I bought had HFCS in it also, so it’s still kind of a wash.
I was trying to remember if I’ve ever just tasted plain dressing before. I’m not sure I have. I always just use it as a vehicle for cranberry sauce and gravy or I make a really good dressing that can hold up on its own.
I was really hoping my basic version would win the taste battle, but it was really just too close to call. Taste was pretty much a tie and maybe could be swayed one way or another depending on what you like.
My homemade version had a nice, clean flavor to it thanks to the fresh herbs. But the gold-plated gluten-free version got crispier (which I personally like). The Pepperidge Farms version was totally fine also.
They were all good, not great, but good.
So, taste is a TIE.
First thing is first. If you have a solid dressing recipe, just use that I think. Buy stale bread to save a few bucks and make a good recipe (here’s my personal fave).
If you believe dressing (or stuffing) is just a vehicle for other things, then you have some options. If you want to save a few bucks and don’t mind drying out bread in an oven, buy a loaf of bread. If you don’t mind spending an extra few dollars on croutons, then go with the boxed version!
I’m not sure I could ever honestly recommend that someone spend $9 on a stuffing mix though. It was good, but like… come on.
Personally? The thing I learned by this homemade trial is that Pepperidge Farms stuffing mix is croutons except cheaper. So, at a minimum, if you buy a lot of croutons, pick up a bag or two while they are cheap.
What’s your stuffing game plan?
Are you a from scratch person or a store bought person? What did I screw up? Leave a comment!
About MacheesmoRead More
Hello! My name is Nick Evans and I write and manage Macheesmo. I started Macheesmo 11 years ago when I was just learning my way around the kitchen. I love to cook and love everything food-related, but I have no formal training. These days I focus on fast, accessible recipes with the occasional “reach” recipe!
I’ve posted almost 2,000 recipes on Macheesmo. For each one, I do my best to give full explanations of what I did and tips on what I’d do differently next time. I’ll bring up the tricky parts and the easy parts.
I hope you can find something and cook something!
16 Responses to “The Homemade Trials: Dressing!” Leave a comment
You should have had some real fun with this, and entered Stovetop Stuffing into the running :-D
Homemade stuffing FTW!
Ha! Yea… I thought about that Matt, but stovetop is essentially the same thing and both of these stuffings had directions for cooking on the stove top if that’s your preferred method. Personally, I just don’t really like stuffing on the stove top unless you are physically stuffing the bird because it just turns into a soggy mess… so I stuck with what I knew. ;)
I was surprised by your results as I have had some store bought dressings and much prefer our homemade version. We use different types of bread for the base and toast it all prior to making the dressing. Yes, we call it dressing as its always cooked alone due to vegetarian daughter. Win for me as the actual turkey then cooks quicker.
A big NO to that Stovetop Stuffing. It is awful, really.
Yea Susan. If you have a great recipe, it’s going to blow the store-bought stuff out of the water. I didn’t make my full blown recipe because I know it’s better. I was trying to even the playing field a bit. Sounds like you are all set though! :)
I’ve never considered making my own version of the “Stove Top Stuffing” or even really what it is. I bought it once for my husband when we were dating and did our own thanksgiving together. That’s what he wanted so I went with it…It’s not my jam. My family always makes cornbread stuffing which is pretty different from bread stuffing. I’m not sure if it’s a regional thing?
I think cornbread dressing/stuffing is pretty much a southern thing.
I use cornbread! I cook my cornbread sit it aside! Cut up onions and celery chop in food processor and cook with chicken stock! Made from chicken! Mash corn bread put in everything and mic if to soupy put come saltiness mashed up in it! If to thick put more ck stock in it! Bake that’s it!. I forgot salt. Add salt then bake#
You lost me at white bread. I’m hard core cornbread dressing girl myself (no sage, either….cornbread, salt, pepper, celery, onions, chicken stock, the end). I generally love experimenting with adding things to food, but I’m a purist about my dressing! I am, however, planning on trying the dry-brining method this year! Thanks for introducing it to me. I’m pretty excited to taste the results!
This is the way I make it too!!
This is the way I make my dressing too!! No sage!!!
I’ll up the time, but lower the cost – always make my own bread – sourdough for my dressing.
Hi Nick, I’ve been getting your emails over here in Somerset, England for a couple years or so now and have a folder full of the ones I’ve saved to try out, I just felt compelled to get in touch on this one as it’s one close to home! Our boxed *stuffing* as it’s always called over here looks pretty different to yours, we use it on regular basis as it’s pretty cheap, quick and easy and a roast dinner in our house is not a proper roast without stuffing balls and homemade yorkshire pudding! But, at this time of year I always make my own for the Christmas meal and I use homemade sausage meat from our village butcher – can’t beat it! I make a traditional sage & onion for my youngest son with sage leaves from the garden chopped roughly and fried in butter with some finely chopped white onions, when it’s cooled I season it up with sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, mix it with the sausage and sometimes fine breadcrumbs, sometimes not, then I roll into balls, they take around 20 minutes to cook in a moderate oven. My christmas stuffing for my husband and eldest son is the same principle but with finely chopped chestnuts and cranberries and dried apricot mixed into the sausagemeat – very christmassy! Give them a try and see what you think. Congratulations, best wishes and luck to you for the impending arrival of your first baby. Cheers. Kay
Funny how families have traditions and what you grow up with, you didn’t know any different till after the fact. I grew up with my father’s “stuffing” even though the bird was never stuffed however; no one could hold a candle to it. I’m going to search your site for your “full blown” method. I have a funny feeling it’s very similar to my dad’s.
I’d like to mention that I did use your dry rub…and Alton’s method of roasting turkey (thank you for posting that info.) I have to say, after way to many to count turkey holidays, my hat’s off to you and Alton! I have done Alton’s way before, with more than fair results however; combing your dry rub with Alton’s cooking method hit the JACKPOT! The most moist succulent meat, white & dark with the best EVER skin to brag about! Love your blog Nick, I’ve beat my hero (dad) at the best ever Turkey dinner :) thanks to you.
Very Happy Holidays to You Betsy and Nugget
That’s so awesome to hear Pam! Really glad you tried it and it worked out! Have a great holiday weekend!
*Ugh…Combining ( I caught that)
Interesting result! I like that you played it fair with your homemade version and tried to make it close to the supermarket ones. I would have thought the bagged varieties were over processed and their taste would suffer, but not so! I confess that I buy bagged stuffing sometimes especially in the spring/summer when for some weird reason I want a break from the freshness of seasonal foods and really crave the comfort of Thanksgiving. I’ve always felt a bit guilty, but no longer :).