The Homemade Trials: Dressing!
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.
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!