Cornbread. Stuffing. This is not an “either… or…” scenario. This is the tag team of your dreams. Light, crumbly, and subtly sweet cornbread from scratch PLUS the finest of all Thanksgiving sides. Cornbread Stuffing is proof that you can have it all.
I came to stuffing late in life.
I know many who think stuffing is just ho-hum, and I see you. Until I started making stuffing from scratch, I used to feel this way too.
Now that I’ve experienced stuffing for the totally satisfying, well rounded, and straight-up delectable, next-level carb fest that it can be, I say to you with confidence: if you don’t care for stuffing, it’s because you haven’t found the right recipe yet. Or, you’ve only eaten stuffing from a box.
Stuffing should never ever be bland, dry, or something you can generally resist piling extra servings of onto your plate.
Stuffing can be the crown jewel of Thanksgiving sides when the right ingredients are used.
You need layers of flavor and texture that can stand proudly on their own. I’d put today’s cornbread stuffing (and my wildly delicious Chestnut Stuffing) on that level!
A Stuffing Like None Other
This sausage cornbread stuffing is bursting with classic fall flavors, but with the yum factor cranked way up.
- Sausage makes it hearty and satisfying (like in these Stuffing Muffins).
- The apples and cranberries add texture and dimension.
- Savory herbs bring the Thanksgiving flavors home.
This cornbread pairs perfectly with turkey, but is equally as delectable on its own.
I first paired ours with a bowl of rich Crockpot Butternut Squash Soup, and it was one of our favorite fall dinners to date.
The Difference Between Dressing and Stuffing
The words “stuffing” and “dressing” are often used interchangeably (this usually varies by family and region), but there is a technical difference between the two.
- Stuffing refers to when the recipe is stuffed and cooked inside the poultry cavity.
- Dressing is used when it is cooked in a separate pan outside of the poultry cavity.
Thus, technically this recipe is for cornbread dressing, but since I grew up using the term “stuffing” to encompass both forms of preparations, I’ll do that here too.
(We could debate this; or we could agree to disagree and help ourselves to extra helpings. I prefer the second idea. I hope you do too.)
A Note on Cornbread
The backbone of this easy cornbread stuffing is the most delicious homemade cornbread from scratch.
If you haven’t tried stuffing made with cornbread before, it is nothing short of fantastic. The specs of cornmeal give the stuffing a wonderful texture, and the flavor of the cornbread itself while slightly unexpected (in a refreshing way), fits right in at the table.
The cornbread recipe I’m using here is simple. It has a touch of honey to let the flavors of the stuffing shine, and it is fast and impressive enough to be TOTALLY worth the effort. You don’t even need to dirty a mixer.
I’ve seen various iterations of Southern cornbread stuffing (like the cornbread stuffing recipe from the Pioneer Woman) call for half cornbread and half regular bread in the stuffing. After testing it both ways, I prefer using entirely cornbread.
The cornbread is moist on the inside, gets toasted bits on the outside, and the texture of a coarser grain is a standout. The plain bread felt like a distraction.
Plus, there’s so much delicious variation in the stuffing ingredients already, you don’t need to add more and complicate the recipe.
Cornbread does not need to be stale for stuffing. It only needs to be toasted.
Instead, this easy cornbread stuffing calls for cutting the cornbread into cubes, then toasting it for a few minutes in the oven to dry the outsides. I like this approach, because it gives you the best control over the results (and doesn’t take as much advance planning).
How to Make Cornbread Stuffing from Scratch
Making cornbread stuffing without a mix takes a little extra effort BUT, that effort is minimal and the payoff is maximal.
The holidays are the right time to slow down and find more quality time with family and friends. And few things show them your love more than cooking from scratch.
Plus, the taste difference when using a cornbread mix recipe cannot compare to cornbread made from scratch!
- Cornmeal. The base of our easy, from-scratch cornbread. I recommend a medium grind to give the stuffing a little texture. (Wondering if you can use a mix instead? See Substitution Tip below).
- Eggs. You put eggs in dressing to help hold everything together, keep the stuffing moist, and ensure the cornbread holds together when folded with the other ingredients.
- Sweet Italian Chicken Sausage. I love the extra pop of flavor that Italian chicken (or turkey) sausage brings to the stuffing. It makes it hearty and a standout.
- Onion + Celery. The perfect veggies to add to our cornbread stuffing. They give it complexity and are building blocks.
- Dried Cranberries. A chewy and sweet element that adds color, a fun holiday vibe, and an additional dimension.
- Herbs. Fresh sage and thyme are masters of quintessential holiday flavors. I also added some parsley flakes.
- Apple. Make sure you choose one that’s firm and tart, so it holds up well in cooking and adds delicious flavor. A Granny Smith apple would work fantastically here.
- For the cornbread: Melt the butter, then let it come to room temperature.
- Stir together the milk and vinegar. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes (this makes shortcut buttermilk), then add the honey, eggs, and butter.
- Whisk together the dry ingredients. Fold in the wet ingredients.
- Bake the cornbread for 16 to 20 minutes at 425 degrees F.
- Cut the cooled cornbread into 1-inch cubes. Toast them in the oven for 15 minutes at 300 degrees F.
- For the stuffing: Whisk the eggs and broth together. Saute the onions and celery with the sausage. Add the apple.
- Stir in the cranberries and herbs. Pour the mixture into the bowl with the broth and eggs.
- Stir in the cornbread cubes, and fold all the ingredients together.
- Transfer the stuffing to a baking dish, and bake for 35 to 40 minutes at 375 degrees F. ENJOY!
Make Ahead Tips
Get ahead on your Thanksgiving menu with these make ahead stuffing tips!
- Bake the Cornbread Ahead. You can make cornbread up to 2 days in advance and toast the cubes up to 1 day in advance. Store them in a container at room temperature.
- Cook the Mix-Ins Ahead. Saute the onion, celery, sausage, and apples in the skillet (Steps 7-9 of the recipe below) the day before. Refrigerate in an airtight container.
- Make the Recipe Ahead. Really crunched on the big day? You can make the cornbread stuffing 1 to 2 days ahead of time and refrigerate it. (Leftover cornbread stuffing can be refrigerated for up to 4 days, but personally, I prefer it most on day 1 or 2, so wait as long as is feasible.)
If you make your cornbread fully in advance, here is the best way to reheat it:
- Reheating. Remove it from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature so it will cook more evenly. Cover the pan with foil, then place it in a 350 degrees F oven and reheat to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Depending on how much you’re reheating, this will take about 30 minutes.
- Crispy Top. To recreate the crispy top after storing it in the fridge (a critical stuffing factor!), remove the foil for the last 10-15 minutes of reheating; you can also pop it under the broiler for a few minutes.
- Keep the Stuffing Moist. If the stuffing feels dry, add a splash of stock (or even turkey juices) before reheating.
Leftovers might just be the very best part of Thanksgiving. Turn your leftover stuffing into these tasty Cheesy Breakfast Stuffing Cakes.
One Pot Meals
Recommended Tools to Make Cornbread Stuffing
- Mixing Bowls. A variety of sizes that are easy to store and clean.
- Baking Dish. You’ll find yourself using this dish on repeat.
- Large Skillet. Great for sautéeing, browning, and so much more.
For the cornbread:
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup nonfat milk at room temperature
- 1 tablespoons white vinegar or lemon juice
- 1 cup yellow cornmeal I use medium grind
- 1 cup white whole wheat flour or all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 cup honey
- 2 large eggs at room temperature
For the stuffing:
- 2 ½ cups reduced sodium chicken broth
- 2 large eggs
- 1 pound sweet Italian chicken sausage or turkey sausage
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 medium yellow onion finely chopped
- 4 stalks celery cut in small dice
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 3 garlic cloves minced (about 1 tablespoon)
- ½ cup dried cranberries
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage or 2 teaspoons rubbed sage
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 tablespoon parsley flakes or 1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1 medium firm tart apple (such as Granny smith) peeled and 1/2-inch diced
- Bake the cornbread (do this up to 2 days in advance): Place a rack in the center of your oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F, with a baking rack on the middle level. Coat an 8×8-inch baking pan with nonstick spray. Melt the butter and let come to room temperature.
- In a medium bowl or large measuring cup, stir together the milk and vinegar. Allow it to sit for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the milk has curdled slightly (you can also swap the milk for buttermilk, omit the vinegar, and skip this step). Stir in the honey, eggs, and melted butter.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the wet ingredients and fold gently to combine.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 16 to 20 minutes, until the cornbread is light and golden brown, with a deeper golden brown at the edges. A toothpick inserted into the middle should come out clean. Set aside to cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees F.
- Once the cornbread is cool, cut it into 1-inch cubes (since the pan of cornbread is thicker than 1 inch, I cut mine into 1-inch cubes from the top, then turn each “row” of cubes on its side and then cut it in half again through the middle). Spread in a single layer on an ungreased or parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. The cubes can touch, but don’t overlap them (if your pan is too small, divide them onto two pans). Toast in the oven for 15 minutes. Increase the oven temperature to 375 degrees F.
- Make the stuffing: Lightly coat a 9×13-inch baking dish with nonstick spray. In a very large bowl, whisk together the eggs and chicken broth.
- In a large skillet on the stove, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, salt, and pepper. Cook until the vegetables begin to soften, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 30 seconds, until fragrant.
- Add the sausage to the skillet (if it’s in its casing, you can squeeze them into the skillet directly). Cook, breaking up the meat into crumbles. Add the apple.
- Continue cooking until the sausage is cooked through almost completely, about 4 minutes more, then stir in the cranberries, sage, thyme, and parsley.
- Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool a few minutes. Pour into the bowl with the broth and eggs, along with any cooking juices.
- To the bowl, add the toasted cornbread cubes. With your largest spoon, stir very gently to combine the ingredients. Continue stirring and folding, until everything is evenly moistened.
- Spoon into the prepared baking dish. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until toasted on top and the center is moist but not overly damp. Serve warm.
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