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Southern Cornbread Dressing, the quintessential holiday side dish!
I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I’m a GRITS (Girl Raised In The South.) And because I grew up in Tennessee, every single family Thanksgiving dinner included Southern Cornbread Dressing. I didn’t actually love my mom’s cornbread, but I really loved her cornbread dressing. She started with homemade cornbread then added stale bread cubes, and sometimes leftover biscuits too. Nothing went to waste! It’s a basic dressing recipe with plenty of onion, celery, eggs, chicken broth, sage and thyme.
What makes this a Southern Cornbread Dressing recipe?
Much like Irish Soda Bread is regularly on the table of Irish families, cornbread has always been a fixture on southern dinner tables. So it’s only natural that cornbread would be part of the Thanksgiving feast. They used what they had on hand, so cornbread was the foundation of southern dressing and stuffing recipes.
There are many variations for cornbread recipes across the United States. Some like it sweet with sugar or honey, and many use buttermilk instead of plain milk. Sometimes a little mayonnaise is added in place of oil to the batter like in our Skillet Buttermilk Cornbread recipe. Mayo may not be a typical add-in at your house, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it! For this dressing recipe, I recommend using a less-sweet cornbread in the mix. It won’t taste right if overly sweet.
How do you make Southern Cornbread Dressing?
First, use a good amount of butter to sauté the onion and celery. Next, crumble up an entire cake of prepared cornbread into the mix. You can also add stale bread, if you have any on hand. Cornbread dressing does not require additional breads, so no worries. However, if you’re skipping the white bread you’ll need to double the cornbread. Finally, good chicken stock or broth is added along with a few eggs to bind it all together. Lightly season with sage and thyme, and you’re good to go!
What’s the difference between Southern Cornbread Dressing and Cornbread Stuffing?
It’s all about the bird! If the recipe is made in a casserole dish, it’s dressing. If it’s stuffed inside the bird, it’s called stuffing. The terms are pretty much interchangeable in the South. My mom often stuffed some inside the bird, and had extra dressing to bake in a pan, separately. We like to make enough Southern Cornbread Dressing so that we have leftovers to eat with our turkey sandwiches. Is there anything better?
Can you make the cornbread dressing ahead and freeze it?
- Yes you can! If you’re planning to freeze your cornbread dressing casserole, there are options.
- Bake just the cornbread ahead and freeze it until needed. You’re one step closer to delicious cornbread dressing!
- You can also make the entire casserole ahead of time, bake it for about 30 minutes, cool completely, cover and freeze. Thaw the casserole overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before baking.
- More often than not, I end up making the entire casserole the day before Thanksgiving and refrigerate it, unbaked, until needed. Such an easy way to enjoy a delicious tradition!
What kind of extras can you throw into your cornbread dressing recipe?
For years I tried changing things up by adding things like cooked sausage, dried cranberries or pecans to my cornbread dressing. Personally, I love the little bits of pork breakfast sausage, or the tart little bites of cranberry. One of my favorites was the addition of pecans. Nuts are great in everything.
However my little family apparently doesn’t like change. They prefer the plain old Southern Cornbread Dressing recipe they grew up on, or so they’ve said many, many times. Simple, unadorned basic Southern Cornbread Dressing is all I make now. My kids have even complained when I leave cornbread cubes on top of the casserole as I’ve done here. Most cornbread dressing casseroles have the cornbread crumbled into very tiny pieces, with no cubes remaining. I like the cubes for visual appeal myself, so they can just get over it. Haha. The top is a little crispy but the middle of the casserole is soft just like we love.
Food memories are the best 🙂
Even now when I smell this Southern Cornbread Dressing baking in the oven, it takes me back home. I can see the Macy’s Day Parade on the television, with my mom in the kitchen wearing her apron. She would run from the oven to the stove, and back to the sink with tremendous grace and agility. We always helped, of course, but mostly with the cleanup. She was a force of nature in the kitchen and could bring a massive meal together with amazing finesse. I sure do miss my folks this time of year!
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Southern Cornbread Dressing Recipe
- 1 recipe buttermilk cornbread, homemade preferred or store-bought *
- 6 cups hearty white bread cubes
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided (113g or 4 ounces)
- 2 large sweet onions, diced
- 4 celery ribs, diced
- 1 ¼ teaspoons dried sage
- ¾ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
- 3 ½ to 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (28 - 32 ounces)
- 4 large eggs
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- chopped parsley leaves for garnish, optional
- Cut the cornbread into 1-inch pieces and place on a large baking sheet. Cut the white bread into 1-inch cubes and add to a separate baking sheet.
- Option 1 - Preheat oven to 250° F. Place the pans in the warm oven and bake until dry, about 45 - 50 minutes. Rotate and switch the pans halfway through baking.
- Option 2 - Instead of oven-drying, stale the cubed breads overnight at room temperature.
- Melt 6 tablespoons butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and celery and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the sage and thyme and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.
- In a large mixing bowl whisk together the chicken broth, eggs, salt and pepper. Add the sautéed onion and celery mixture to the chicken broth. Stir until combined.
- Add the dried cornbread and bread cubes to the broth. Gently fold together until combined. Allow the mixture to rest for 5 - 10 minutes, gently stirring a few times, or until most of the liquid is absorbed.
- Preheat oven to 375° F. Lightly grease a 13x9-inch baking pan. Gently scoop the dressing into the prepared pan. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of melted butter on top and bake for 40-45 minutes. Cool 15 minutes before serving.
- The cornbread can be prepared up to two days before you need the dressing. Prepare the cornbread, bake and cool. Keep lightly covered at room temperature until needed.
- To make ahead: The day before the dressing is needed, mix all ingredients together, cover and refrigerate until ready to bake. Allow the dressing to come to room temperature for 45-60 minutes before baking.
- To freeze the dressing ahead: Bake the dressing for 30 minutes then cool completely. Wrap the casserole in plastic wrap and then foil, and freeze. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature for 45-60 minutes before baking. Bake, covered with foil, for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake an additional 10-15 minutes or until heated through.
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