Classic Midwestern Stuffing or Dressing

Thanksgiving food, here in the US, isn’t really about the turkey – it’s about the sides. To me, it’s not Thanksgiving without mashed potatoes, gravy and of course, stuffing! Notice the explanation point. I get excited about stuffing, especially since I usually only have it once a year. Anything else can be as gourmet or as basic as you’d like, but the stuffing? It has to be this one.

Classic Midwestern Stuffing - shown here is 1/2 a recipe
Classic Midwestern Stuffing – shown here is 1/2 a recipe

This is a classic Midwestern stuffing came about partly from my Mother who taught me the basics and mostly from a friend who shared her 99 year old Mother’s recipe – and the addition of sausage and milk. If you think stuffing is an afterthought, something plopped down on the plate only as a nod to tradition, you haven’t had stuffing like this. And by the way, whether pulled from the bird or from a casserole, in the Midwest, we call it stuffing. At least we old people do…

So keep your oysters (we’re Midwestern), corn bread (we’re Northerners) and most fruit, dried or fresh (unless it was something Grandma would use.) In the Midwest, we don’t need no stinking* water chestnuts (not local) or wild rice (different dish.) We don’t want cheese (sacrilege) or leeks (la di da). We really don’t want greens (trust me, nothing will make this healthy) or mushrooms and/or anything else “fancy” or “trendy.”

And bacon? No bacon! I’m taking a stand here – just like cheese, bacon shouldn’t be in everything, and really shouldn’t be in a classic stuffing. You heard it here, first, fellow Americans! Sausage goes in stuffing. And giblets. Ask your Grandma.

Lets talk about the rest of the ingredients here. There are ways to shortcut stuffing, but these common deviations do make a difference. Especially the bread!

Classic Midwestern Stuffing
Classic Midwestern Stuffing

For the best stuffing, skip the bagged or boxed already dried bread. Sometimes you’ve gotta do what ya gotta do, but while this shortcut may make a tasty stuffing it will never make a great one. Stuffing isn’t just about taste, it’s about texture. Look for a good sturdy bread or combination of breads, a bakery Italian is ideal. If possible, try to find one without a lot of additives and softeners which inhibit the drying process.

There’s not a lot of broth in here, but trust me here – a gorgeous home-made stock brings true flavor & body to the stuffing that no boxed, canned or powdered product ever will. If you can possibly swing it, go with home-made – whether chicken or turkey. You’ll be able to control the salt and avoid that boxed, “fakey” flavor. Make it a few weeks ahead and freeze until needed to cut down on the last minute Holiday cooking craziness and you’ll probably find yourself using it for other dishes coming to the table, too.

The butter? It’s not a typo, this outrageous amount, about a tablespoon per serving, but this is a huge amount of stuffing. If you’re worried, cut it back some, but I wouldn’t cut it past a 3/4 cup, a stick and a half. And giblets? That’s your call. I often skip them (don’t tell my Mom!)

Classic Midwestern Stuffing - shown here is 1/2 a recipe
Classic Midwestern Stuffing – shown here is 1/2 a recipe

Classic Midwestern Stuffing

  • Servings: 12 - 16
  • Time: 1 hr 15 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 1 pound breakfast sausage
  • 3 cups diced onion (1 large or two medium)
  • 4 cups diced celery (figure about 2 to 3 stalks per cup)
  • 2 sticks butter (1 cup)
  • 2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons sage
  • 1 teaspoon salt (reduce if using canned broth)
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 16 cups dried bread cubes (about the equivalent of two one-pound loaves, a good white bread or a mixture of your choice)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • Chicken or Turkey broth (see recipe) about a cup, all of it may not be used.
  • Turkey Giblets, if available & desired

This stuffing will be baked at 350 degrees for about 45 to 55 minutes. Adjustments will need to be made if cooking at a different temperature or if using different sized pans (for instance 1 large pan or two smaller pans.)

Bread Crumbs: Several days ahead (three to four) cut bread into about 1 inch by 1/2 inch cubes. Place on a tray in a safe place to dry. May also be spread out on trays and baked in a 300 degree oven for 30 to 50 minutes, stirring and rotating trays now and then. Cool before using. Premade bread cubes (14 to 16 ounces) may be used but you’ll need to increase the amount of broth and it will affect the quality of the stuffing.

Broth: Chicken or Turkey stock may be used, home-made is best. If time allows, simmer the broth with the Turkey giblets (but not the liver) and neck for 30 minutes. Finely chop giblets and add to stuffing, discarding any bones from the neck. I often save the neck to add to my turkey stock I make after the meal.

Saute celery and onions in butter until softened, cool slightly. In a very large bowl, toss bread cubes with poultry seasoning, sage, salt & pepper. Add the celery/onion mixture and toss with clean hands.

Mix egg and milk and add to stuffing mixture, tossing again. Moisten with chicken broth until desired consistency.

Cover and bake for 25 minutes. Remove cover and bake an additional 20 to 25 minutes or so until golden brown.

From the kitchen of http://www.frugalhausfrau.com

 Just for fun: 

* Americans have long laughed at the Mel Brook’s parody Blazing Saddles and the line “We don’t need no stinking badges.” Brooks misquoted this from the questionable classic, The Treasure of Sierra Madre and the quote has appeared in many movies, books and stories over the years.

So for my more far flung friends, if you ever hear an American say, “We don’t need no stinkin’ something or other” they’re not suffering from a lack of language skills, they’re trying to be funny! 🙂

25 thoughts on “Classic Midwestern Stuffing or Dressing”

  1. Me and my mum go very basic (Pittsburgh is really Mid-west, after all). But we go super simple forgoing even the sausage and the giblets. Does that mean we’re boring? LOL

    The cats always get the giblets.

    I have always wanted to try a sausage stuffing, though!

    1. Ha! Good is never boring! 🙂 And go wild, try a little sausage!

      Pittsburgh always has seemed to have a lot of the same sensibilities that a lot of midwestern cities have! Maybe it’s because so many ppl from that area settled, eventually,into the midwest?

  2. Forget the turkey, gravy, and mashed potatoes, stuffing is what Thanksgiving is all about! It’s hard to justify making it very often (you’re so right about the health factor), but I so love a nice stuffing. Your recipe looks divine! As a fellow Midwesterner, I’m in total agreement with your ingredient include/exclude list.

    1. Thanks, girl! I could go without the turkey, to tell ya the truth. Is it sacrilege to think of it as a by-product of gravy?

      Hey, does Meta Given have a stuffing recipe in her Encyclopedia of Modern cooking – I’ve misplaced my copy…I bet she has a corn bread stuffing.

  3. If you can leave out the giblets, then I’m putting in the oysters. Lol! This does sound just like home though. I like a little rye bread in my stuffing too. My mom always made a stuffing very close to yours and my dad made an oyster and I had to have both. Now I’m thinking a southwestern style with chorizo, chipotle, cumin, maybe corn bread cubes…ah geesh, here I go again……. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family Frau! Bob

    1. To you, too, Bob, and your family! I loved your 10 minute work out post (that’s 10 minutes several times a day, before anyone gets TOO excited! 🙂 ) and it reminded me, too, of how important it is to up the activity during Holiday weeks – especially when eating like this!!

      Yes, keep your oysters~ha ha.

  4. Stuffing at our house was an invention of my mom’s who came from a non-North American food cooking tradition. Her combination of a bread, rice and giblet stuffing was my favourite thing about the Thanksgiving meal, over the turkey itself. Once it was done, I’d have a few slices of the turkey in gravy. Everyone NEEDS a good turkey gravy.

    The addition of sausage is totally new to me but I’ll have to give it a try the next time I roast a turkey.

    1. I love it! The stuffing first, then the turkey as an afterthought! I think that is as it should be! 🙂

      And you’re right about the gravy. I’ve noticed here in the US a lot of turkeys come with a packet for gravy…I don’t get it!

      One year friends asked me over and asked me if I’d make the gravy – I stepped out of the kitchen and when I walked back in, they said, “We threw out all that “greasy” stuff – all the turkey drippings! They didn’t know that you “de fat” it and make the gravy from it, I guess, and the pan was already in the sink full of water and soap.

      I had to improvise with canned chicken broth…

      1. It’s hard to make some people understand that gravy doesn’t start with an herb package/pouch or a can. I wonder what they thought you’d use to flavour the gravy with. Butter, flour, salt and pepper?

  5. Sounds delicious, I manage to put almost everything in your do not add checklist in my stuffing except the oysters (no thanks), LOL. It’s loosely based on my Mom’s stuffing. I do love a stuffing with sausage. YUM.

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