This is my family’s traditional dressing for Thanksgiving dinner, which my mom learned how to make from her mother. It’s really more like a savory bread pudding as the heavy cream and turkey broth make for a dense, moist dressing that you can cut like a brownie. The one guaranteed second serving at Thanksgiving was the dressing, and my sisters and I would fight over the leftovers.
Key Ingredients and Substitutions
For the full effect of this dressing, you really need everything listed; that said, there are some substitutions provided in case you don’t have the exact ingredients on hand.
The complete ingredient list and measurements are listed in the printable recipe below.
- Sandwich bread: Any white sandwich bread would work here, but the soft, airy texture of your basic inexpensive sandwich bread is a key part of the texture. We use a combination of white and a whole wheat version as well. I’d avoid any bread that has a heavy texture or a thick crust.
- Onions and Celery: These two are key to the overall flavor profile, and you’d be missing out on a lot of savory goodness without them. And don’t throw out the celery leaves – they can be chopped and added to the sauté for extra flavor.
- Broth: If you have the time we recommend making your own chicken or turkey broth (or stock) but a good quality store-bought broth is great as well. We prefer to use turkey broth for a little extra Thanksgiving flavor. You can also use stock for a deeper, richer flavor.
- Poultry Seasoning: This is the key spice, and in addition to salt will need to be carefully calibrated to taste before putting the mixture in the baking dish.
- Heavy cream: Playing a big role in achieving the final texture, it adds richness to the overall flavor. You could use half and half to save a few calories, but the whole aim of this dish is indulgence, so go for it!
- Fresh parsley: You can use dried parsley, but it won’t pack the same punch as fresh, which is the third important player in the savory trio. If substituting with dried parsley, use a third of the amount called for in the recipe.
Dressing vs. Stuffing – What’s the Difference?
The terms “dressing” and “stuffing” are often used interchangeably, but technically there is a difference.
- Dressing is cooked in a separate pan and outside the cavity of the turkey or chicken.
- Stuffing is stuffed and cooked inside the cavity of the bird.
The flavors and ingredients can be the same or similar which leads to the casual misuse of the two words. But whether you call it stuffing or dressing it doesn’t really matter since they are both delicious.
How to Make Mom’s Thanksgiving Dressing
Here are the quick step-by-step instructions with visuals; you can find the full instructions with the exact ingredients in the recipe card below.
Pro-tip: Don’t skimp on how long you leave it in the oven – the crusty bits are the best part!
1. Sauté the Onions and Celery: Heat a large skillet over medium heat to melt the butter. Add the celery and onion once the butter has melted and sauté them for about 5 to 6 minutes or until they are tender. Make sure to season this with salt and pepper while sautéing, as it will be important to the overall balance in the recipe.
2. Tear up the bread: Tear a loaf and a half of bread into small pieces that are about ½ to 1 inch in size. This step can be done in advance or while the celery and onions are sautéing. I try to keep it balanced between white and whole wheat bread, but you could make this recipe with all of one or the other.
3. Add the celery and onions: Prior to adding the wet ingredients combine the bread with the sautéd onions and celery, poultry seasoning, pepper, and salt to evenly distribute the vegetables and spices.
4. Add the broth and cream: Add half of the broth to the bread mixture and combine well before adding the remaining broth. Stir in the cream and parsley then taste for any additional salt or poultry seasoning. The final texture will be “gloppy”, which makes the final dressing so sumptuous.
5. Bake the Dressing: Transfer the dressing to a greased 9×13-inch baking or casserole dish. Bake for 45-60 minutes or until dressing is browned and cooked through. You can serve it from the baking dish and make sure the turkey gravy is readily available.
Recipe Tips and Notes
- Sandwich bread does not need to be stale. Bread that is stale or toasted just requires more liquid so you may have to adjust the amount of broth you add to the dressing recipe.
- The dressing should be wet but not standing liquid. Add the broth a little at a time to avoid soupy dressing.
- No eggs are needed. Eggs are used as a binder in many dressing recipes but due to the amount of broth used in this recipe, there is no need to add them.
Make Ahead Tips
- Tear the Bread Up in Advance. Tear the bread into a bowl, and then transfer it back to the bread bags for storage. It is okay if the bread goes a little stale so you can do this up to a week in advance – just add a bit more broth.
- Sauté the Onions and Celery Ahead. Sauté the onion and celery the day before then refrigerate in an airtight container. You may want to warm them up a bit in a microwave before adding them to the torn-up bread.
- Make the Recipe Ahead. Prepare the dressing and then refrigerate the unbaked dressing covered for up to 2 days. You can also make it weeks in advance and freeze it. Thaw in the refrigerator and then bake at 350°F for 45-60 minutes.
Frequently Asked Questions
YES! Sautéing them mellows out the flavor slightly and also gives the onions a sweeter flavor. Skipping this step will result in a texture and taste that is slightly off. There’s no shortcut to good flavor.
Place baked, cooled dressing in a freezer-safe air-tight container and freeze for up to 3 months.
Allow it to come to room temperature which will help it to cook more evenly. If the dressing seems dry add a splash of broth then cover the pan with foil and place it in a 350°F oven. Reheat for approximately 20-30 minutes depending on the amount being reheated or until the internal temperature is 165°F.
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Other Recipes to Try
If you enjoy this holiday recipe, we recommend checking out some of these other Thanksgiving recipes:
Mom’s Thanksgiving Dressing
- 1 9×13 Casserole Dish
- 1 Large Skillet
- 1 Large Bowl
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 2 cups onions, diced
- 2 cups celery, diced
- 1 ½ loaves sandwich bread, torn into 1 to ½ inch pieces
- 2 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 ½ teaspoon poultry seasoning
- 2 to 2 ½ cups chicken or turkey broth
- ½ cup heavy cream
- ½ cup parsley, rough chopped
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter the baking dish and set aside.
- In a large skillet over medium heat melt the butter and then add the celery and onion. Sauté for about 5 to 6 minutes or until celery and onions are tender. Season with salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning.
- Tear the sandwich bread into 1-½ inch pieces and place in a large bowl, keeping it as uniform as possible.
- Stir in the sautéed celery and onion mixture, salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning, then stir until well blended.
- Add half the broth a then work the mixture until you get a well-combined but lumpy dressing. Add the remaining broth and combine well.
- Add the heavy cream, stirring one more time. The dressing should be broken down and wet but there should be no standing liquid. Add the parsley and taste for additional salt or poultry seasoning.
- Transfer the dressing to a greased baking dish. Bake for 45-60 minutes or until dressing is browned and cooked through.