10 Weird Ingredients People Put in Thanksgiving Dressing

Stuffing is a standard part of the holiday meal, but some kitchen daredevils like to try more unique spins on the dish.
© Rick Barrentine/Corbis

Americans eat a lot of turkey; in 2011, the average American ate a little more than 16 pounds (7.3 kilograms) of the bird. About 3 pounds (1.4 kilograms) of that is consumed on Thanksgiving, and the rest shows up on plates of Kentucky Hot Browns and the always-popular turkey club sandwich [source: National Turkey Federation]. And if you want Thanksgiving leftovers, plan to make about 5 pounds (2.3 kilograms) of turkey per person. Since they go hand-in-hand, plan for a generous four cups of stuffing as well [source: Butterball].

Or is it dressing?


What you call the dish varies based on where you live. It's fairly common for Southerners to make dressing for their turkey, while Northerners prepare stuffing -- and there's a small part of Pennsylvania where turkeys are stuffed with "filling" [source: Butler]. The stuffing versus dressing (versus filling) debate rages on, and despite it being basically the same dish no matter what you call it, chances are pretty good that what you stuff into your annual Thanksgiving turkey (or prepare on the side) won't be the same recipe as your best friend's or your neighbor's -- or maybe even your own family members'.

People have been stuffing poultry since ancient times -- the Romans and Arabs are both thought to have stuffed birds with mixtures of bread, herbs and spices. Today's stuffings are frequently prepared on the side instead of in the bird to reduce roasting time and avoid uneven cooking. They're often bread- or cornbread-based, but depending on where you're from, you might expect ingredients ranging from oysters to apples to ... pepperoni and cheese? Sometimes, non-traditional ingredients get into the mix; let's talk about how pepperoni and mozzarella ended up in stuffing, and how Miles Standish may or may not have been involved.

10: Pepperoni and Mozzarella

We've loved pepperoni and mozzarella on pizza for years, so why not throw it in the bird?
© Tetra Images/Corbis

In 1620, Miles Standish sailed with the Pilgrims on the Mayflower to New England, and he served as the military leader for the Plymouth colony. Today, we celebrate his commitment to the colonies by adding pepperoni and mozzarella cheese to our Thanksgiving stuffing. Because when you think of pepperoni and mozzarella cheese, who doesn't think of Miles Standish?

OK, you've got us. As far as we know, pepperoni wasn't even a thing during Colonial times; it isn't until 1919 that it's first mentioned in print [source: Moskin].


To make this dish, you'll need bread crumbs (homemade from white sandwich bread or store-bought), traditional poultry seasonings including fresh herbs (sage leaves, thyme), dried rosemary, yellow onions, celery, chicken stock, salt and ground white pepper -- but it's the proteins that make it interesting. Miles Standish stuffing stars cubes of pepperoni and mozzarella cheese, as well as crumbled pork breakfast sausage, turkey gizzard and turkey heart [source: Guarnaschelli].

9: Bagels

No longer just for morning meetings, bagels get a seat at the turkey table.
© Rick Gayle Studio/Corbis

Many Thanksgiving stuffings rely on bread; some of our most favorite and traditional recipes include cubed white bread or bread crumbs. But you don't have to use white bread. Some people substitute breads such as challah or brioche, French baguette, potato bread, or sourdough boule -- or a mix of a few different stale breads.

Some Thanksgiving menus feature stuffing made with leftover breakfast: stale bagels. Plain, whole wheat, rye, pumpernickel or even an everything bagel could work. Season as you might a traditional turkey stuffing, with aromatic vegetables (onions and celery), butter and herbs such as parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme [sources: Balsley, Taste of Home].


8: Fruit

No, no! Put the fruit INSIDE the bird, with the bready goodness.
© Todd Warnock/Corbis

Your Thanksgiving table may not be complete without cranberry sauce, but what's stopping you from adding that tart, fruity flavor to your stuffing?

There are a few ways to pair fruits with your turkey. First, think about adding seasonal fruits such as apples, pears and cranberries to your cubed-bread stuffing, along with traditional seasonings such as onions, celery, sage, and thyme. Although not technically fruit, you can also sweeten things up with squash, such as pumpkin, butternut or acorn varieties [source: Wimbush-Bourque].


Additionally, many bread-based stuffings are moistened with turkey or chicken stock, but replacing stock or broth with apple cider will add a sweet, fresh flavor. You can also try something a little harder, such as white wine or hard cider, or add a subtle flavor to your dish by soaking dried fruits (try golden raisins, dried apricots, dried cherries, dried cranberries, dried currants, dried figs or dried plums) in bourbon before stirring them into your stuffing [sources: Martha Stewart, Whole Living].

7: Sticky Rice

Don't worry. No one expects you to use chopsticks when you eat stuffing. Unless you want to.
© Seelow/PhotoCuisine/Corbis

Chinese sticky rice -- naw mai fan -- makes an Asian-inspired stuffing. Chinese dishes such as lo mai gai -- glutinous rice stuffed with chicken, lap cheung (Chinese pork sausage), Chinese mushrooms and sometimes dried shrimp, scallops, water chestnuts or other ingredients, seasoned and then wrapped in lotus leaves and steamed -- may be an inspiration for adding glutinous rice to Thanksgiving menus. Except you're stuffing the bird with rice, rather than the other way around.

Sticky rice stuffings are traditionally made with short-grain glutinous rice (the stuff sold in American markets as "sushi rice" works well), combined with shiitake mushrooms (both fresh and reconstituted), lap cheung, egg, shallots and scallions, and seasoned with oyster sauce, Shaoxing wine, soy sauce and sugar [source: Chang].


6: Corn Chips

You can dip them in salsa, or stuff them in your turkey. Multi-use.
© Geoff Kidd/Science Photo Library/Corbis

Thanksgiving stuffing can be a challenge for those following a gluten-free diet (that includes not just the 1 percent of Americans who live with celiac disease but also the 10 percent who have gluten sensitivity as well as everyone else who's giving the wheat-free diet a go). Many traditional favorites rely on bread as a main ingredient [source: Smith]. Out with cubes of white bread, and in with corn. Specifically, the corn chip.

Now, there are versions of this corn torilla chip-based stuffing that include ingredients such as queso fresco cheese, chorizo and -- sorry wheat-free eaters -- white bread, but you can do without them. Only six ingredients stand between you and a basic corn chip stuffing.


First, empty one big bag of corn chips into a large bowl, and pour 2.5 cups of chicken stock over them; allow the chips to soften for about 30 minutes. In the meantime, sauté 1 cup of diced yellow onion and 1 cup of diced celery in a tablespoon of oil (vegetable oil, olive oil and even butter will work here), along with 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning. Add the sautéed onions and celery to the chips, combine well, and spoon the mixture into a greased casserole dish. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 Celsius) for 30 minutes or until the center is set [source: Frito Lay].

5: Plantains

And you thought fried plantains were yummy on their own. Just wait until you've incorporated them into your Thanksgiving stuffing.
© Catherine Leblanc/Godong/Corbis

Plantains in Thanksgiving stuffing may sound like a weird ingredient to some, but it really just depends where you're from. Mofongo is a dish made with fried then mashed green plantains, and it's a year-round Puerto Rican staple. And sometimes that staple gets stuffed into a turkey.

First you'll need to make tostones, which are twice-fried, mashed plantains -- they're the primary ingredient [source: Cortina]. With the tostones done, dice up bacon and sauté until crispy; set aside. Crumble the tostones into a large bowl, and add crispy bacon, sofrito (a seasoning base made primarily from yellow onions, bell peppers, ajices dulces and cubanelle peppers, garlic, cilantro and other aromatics) and vegetable oil. Drizzle in chicken broth as you mix, and stir until your mofongo is moist enough to be used as stuffing [sources: US Foods, Saveur]. Season to taste and stuff that bird!


4: Oysters

While oyster stuffing isn't that uncommon, people that don't grow up eating it as part of family feasts are often a little surprised at the idea.
© Corbis

Every Thanksgiving table has its own version of stuffing, and even those serving the same type may differ greatly from family to family -- and such is the case with oyster stuffing. Yes, while you may not immediately think of putting turkey and oysters together on your plate, these little mollusks have been making an appearance at Thanksgiving feasts since the British immigrants who would come to be called Pilgrims celebrated a shipment of provisions with a group of Native Americans in 1621, and no one has agreed on a recipe since [source: Skirbunt].

The basic ingredients for oyster dressing are often similar, though, and include small shucked oysters with their liquor, bread crumbs (or stale bread), celery, onion, butter, egg, parsley, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste [source: Gage]. You may find Parmesan cheese, bell peppers and cayenne in oyster dressing served in the Chesapeake Bay area, whereas in other parts of the country, oyster dressing may include sausage, cornbread, duck fat and bacon. Port wine even makes an appearance from time to time [source: Oyster Company of Virginia, Saveur, Bon Appetit].


3: Popcorn

The movie theater staple can also be part of your holiday meal.
© Peter Frank/Corbis

Popcorn may or may not have been part of the menu at early Thanksgivings (although corn and ground corn are sure to have been), and while you can add it easily to your traditional Thanksgiving menu in the form of popcorn balls or another snack, some people use it as a culinary curveball in their holiday stuffing.

Popcorn stuffing doesn't just include popped popcorn, though; this stuffing is actually cornbread-based (or corn muffin-based). Homemade or store-bought cornbreads work equally well here, and you'll need a 2:1 ratio by volume of cornbread to popped popcorn. To make this stuffing in an 8-inch (20-centimer) square, greased baking dish, combine 6 cups of crumbled cornbread and 3 cups of popped popcorn in a large bowl. Add 1 onion (finely chopped, please), 1 stick (which is half a cup) of melted butter, 2 eggs, 1.75 cups of chicken broth, and 1.5 teaspoons of dried rubbed sage, and combine well. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes at 375 degrees Fahrenheit (190 degrees Celsius) until the center of the stuffing is set [source: WPVI-TV]. Alternately, you can grind the popped popcorn in your food processor for an equally crunchy and flavorful side dish -- without the distinctive white kernels showing throughout.


2: Twinkies

Considering the infamous shelf-life of Twinkies, you could buy your groceries for several years' worth of stuffing at once.
© JIM YOUNG/Reuters/Corbis

Maybe you like Twinkies deep-fried, or in Paula Deen's famous Twinkie pie, or just straight out of the package -- there's no doubt that Americans love them as a snack tradition, but have you considered using them as part of your traditional Thanksgiving holiday meal? That's right: "The Twinkie Cookbook" includes a recipe for Twinkling Turkey, with a cornbread and Twinkie-based turkey stuffing.

This recipe will feed 15 to 20 people, and makes enough stuffing for a 14- to 18-pound (6.4- to 8.2-kilogram) turkey. To prepare this stuffing you'll need Twinkies, of course -- six of them. First cut each Twinkie in half lengthwise, and then scoop out the filling; set the filling aside (you'll use it later for basting the bird). Cut the Twinkie cakes into cubes, spread them on a baking sheet, and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 Celsius) for about eight to 10 minutes (until they turn a lightly toasted color). Let the Twinkies cool.


You'll also need six to eight yellow corn muffins. In a large bowl, crumble the cornbread and add the cooled Twinkies. Also add an apple (peeled, cored and diced), and lightly toss everything together. Stuff the Twinkie mix loosely into the cavity of the turkey, and roast until the internal temperature of the bird comes to 175 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit (79 to 82 Celsius). About 15 minutes before the turkey's ready to come out of the oven, combine the Twinkie creme filling with one-quarter cup of honey and brush the mixture into the turkey skin [source: Hostess].

1: White Castle Sliders

Can fast food make the transition to the holiday table?
© Najlah Feanny/Corbis

If you are of French descent, you may have memories of your mémère making a meat stuffing -- a French stuffing cooked with ground beef or pork (or a combination of the two), and, depending on the specifics of your family's recipe, possibly onion, maybe potato and perhaps a hint of nutmeg or poultry seasoning. Spread a version of it on bread and it's called creton; bake it in a pie and it's tourtière. And some families use it as stuffing for their Thanksgiving turkey. So the idea of adding burgers to your holiday stuffing may not seem so far-fetched; what is White Castle Turkey Stuffing if not a highly-Americanized and modernized version of a French Canadian cretons or tourtière? Right?

So here's what you do to make this version:

You're going to need one White Castle slider (hold the pickles -- you just want beef, bread, and onions) for every one pound of turkey. So for an easy example: to stuff a 10-pound (4.5 kilogram) turkey, you'll need 10 hamburgers. In a large mixing bowl, tear those 10 burgers into bite-sized pieces, add 1.5 cups diced celery, 1.25 teaspoons ground thyme, 1.25 teaspoons ground sage and 1.5 teaspoons coarse ground pepper (or to taste). Toss everything together, and add a quarter cup of chicken broth. Combine well. Your stuffing is now ready for the bird. Stuff just before roasting, and roast until the center of the stuffing reaches a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit (74 Celsius) [sources: White Castle, CDC].

Lots More Information

Author's Note: 10 Weird Ingredients People Put in Thanksgiving Dressing

Growing up, we had a few types of stuffing at the Thanksgiving table -- a bread stuffing, or sometimes a chestnut stuffing, but it was my grandmother's French meat stuffing that made an appearance every Thanksgiving, both as a stuffing for our turkey as well as baked in a casserole dish (too much stuffing for the bird, I guess?). I was always a fan of the version baked in the casserole dish, which took on a nice golden crust.

Related Articles

  • Balsley, Betsy. "Fabulous Fillers: Skip the stuffing? Not on Thanksgiving!" Los Angeles Times. Nov. 17, 1988. (Nov. 3, 2013) http://articles.latimes.com/1988-11-17/food/fo-370_1_turkey-stuffing/3
  • Biography. "Myles Standish." (Nov. 3, 2013) http://www.biography.com/people/myles-standish-9491929
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