Sides are the focal point of the Thanksgiving table. I don’t care what anyone says about that glorious bird that so often takes center stage. Beautiful though that bird may be, the sides will always have my heart. And the king of sides is Thanksgiving stuffing.
Give me a plate filled with toasty cubed bread, diced celery, onions, sausage, apples, and, of course, sage, and I’m in flavor-blasting heaven. I’ll eat it all with absolutely no regrets.
Oh, I know what you are thinking: “How could she forget the mashed potatoes!” or, “Um, hello, green bean casserole! Who doesn’t love green bean casserole!”
For the record, I love potatoes drenched in gravy and green bean casserole too, but it’s the distinct and homey fragrance of sage wafting up from a hot casserole dish filled with stuffing that reminds me of the holidays.
Is It Stuffing or Dressing?
Technically speaking, stuffing is cooked inside the bird, and dressing is baked in a casserole dish or 9x13 pan, but most people use the words interchangeably to mean cubed bread with aromatics served at Thanksgiving.
This recipe is for baking it in a 9x13 dish rather than inside the turkey, but I’m going to go ahead and call it stuffing because, to me, dressing is served on salads.
What’s the Best Sausage for Stuffing?
I prefer to use a one-pound ground country or breakfast sausage rather than, say, Italian sausage. I also tend to use turkey sausage just because it’s a little leaner, but really, you can use whatever you prefer.
What Is the Best Bread for Stuffing?
Stuffing and what you put in it varies greatly by region. I prefer a nice crusty sourdough bread. I think the slight tanginess of the sourdough plays well with the earthy flavors of sage and thyme and the sweetness of the cooked onions and apples. I don’t even bother to cut the crusts from the bread.
What Are the Best Apples for Stuffing?
When developing this recipe, I made a version with apples and a version with pears. Both versions were delicious, but I went with apples because I liked the hint of color.
Any sweet apple that’s good for pie will be good in this. I prefer Braeburn or Gala. I would steer clear of yellow and red delicious. They tend to soften too much and turn a little mushy. For more information on which apple varieties are best for baking, check out our Guide to Apples.
How Much Salt Is Needed?
The kind of sausage you use will deeply impact the flavor and the salt content of the dish. I made this once using Honey Suckle White Ground Breakfast Turkey Sausage and found I needed to add about a 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the stuffing mixture. But when I used ground breakfast pork sausage from my butcher, no additional salt was needed and if I had added the additional salt it would’ve been too salty.
So how much salt should you add? Once you cook the filling in the skillet try a forkful before you pour the stock over it. If you feel like it needs more salt add it then.
Can You Cook This Stuffing in a Bird?
Yes, you sure can. If you cook stuffing inside the bird, it takes the bird longer to cook, so be prepared for that. Also, you need to make sure the stuffing, not just the turkey, reaches 165°F. If you want the details on how to safely cook stuffing inside a turkey, visit the USDA’s page here.
Make-Ahead Tips for Thanksgiving Stuffing
Yes, you can make this ahead of time.
- Four days before: Toast the bread and keep it in an airtight container on your counter
- One day before: Cook the base for the stuffing and add the stock. Cool it, then keep it in the fridge. Combine it with the toasted bread and bake it according to the directions on the day you want to eat it.
- One day before - version 2: You could make the entire dish the day before, then keep it covered in the refrigerator and reheat it in a 350°F degree oven for 20 minutes before serving.
Need More Thanksgiving Side Ideas?
- Cranberry Sauce
- Slow Cooker Mashed Potatoes
- Roasted Acorn Squash with Butter and Brown Sugar
- Potato Dinner Rolls
- Green Bean Casserole from Scratch
- Giblet Gravy
Thanksgiving Stuffing with Sausage and Apples
Sometimes the filling can stick to the aluminum foil. It’s worth the extra effort to butter or oil the foil before covering the dish.
I usually pick up a round of sourdough bread from Whole Foods. I can get about 8 cups of cubed bread from about half of a traditional round. I just slice it up. No need to remove that beautiful crust.
- For the toasted bread:
- 8 cups (1 pound) sourdough loaf, 1/2 inch cubed
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- For the stuffing:
- 1 pound country sausage – pork or turkey
- 6 stalks celery (2 cups), diced
- 2 large Gala apples, cored and diced small
- 1 medium onion (1 cup), diced
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 cups low sodium chicken stock
Toast the bread cubes:
Preheat oven to 425°F. On a large baking sheet, spread the bread cubes. Drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Use your hands to toss and coat the bread. Toast in the oven for 10 minutes, until the cubes have toasted slightly and take on a little color. When ready, they will still be tender and squishy on the inside, but toasty and stiff on the outside. Cool, then transfer to a large mixing bowl.
Prepare your baking dish:
Butter a 9x13-inch baking dish and set it aside.
Cook the stuffing ingredients:
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add sausage, breaking it up as you go. Let it brown and release some moisture. This should take about 5 to 7 minutes.
Add celery, apples, onion, sage, thyme, and pepper to the pan. Scrape up any browned bits (fond), from the sausage. Sauté for about 10 to 12 minutes, stirring only occasionally, because you want the fruit and vegetables to take on a little color as well.
Once the vegetables have browned just a bit, and softened, add the apple cider vinegar. Stir to coat and cook for one minute more. Taste the dish along with a piece of the toasted bread. Decide if it needs more salt. If so, add it now. Add the stock and scrape up any remaining fond on the bottom of the pan. Give everything a good stir.
Combine everything together:
Carefully, pour skillet contents over the bread in the mixing bowl. Stir to combine, then pour everything into the prepared baking dish.
Cover and bake:
Spray one side of the foil with cooking spray or brush with oil to prevent any of the stuffing from sticking to the top.
Cover the baking dish with the aluminum foil oil side down, then place in the oven for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, remove the foil, and continue baking for 20 additional minutes. When it’s ready, the stuffing will look moist but have a nice crispy texture on top, and a golden color.