40 Ways To Elevate Your Thanksgiving Stuffing Game

Thanksgiving is a time for family, togetherness, and, of course, what most people think is the star of the show: the turkey. But let's not underestimate the role of the stuffing sidekick. Originally prepared inside the bird — hence the name — stuffing is now often made in a separate dish, where it is technically called "dressing," but we're not going to split hairs.

Traditional stuffing usually contains bread, vegetables, herbs, and sometimes meat, but there is no reason to stick to conventional flavors to make an impact. If you want to impress your guests, consider the stuffing your opportunity to take risks; if it doesn't quite work out, the turkey will still save the day. But if you take a chance and it pays off, you just might steal the spotlight with a stuffing that becomes the talk of the town — okay, maybe not the town, but at least the dinner table. So join us as we explore 40 innovative ways to take your Thanksgiving stuffing from unremarkable to unforgettable.

1. Consider different types of bread

Bread is a major ingredient in traditional stuffing, and swapping out the type of bread you use can transform the dish from a mediocre side to a standout feature of your Thanksgiving feast. The bread will soak up the other flavors in the stuffing, so most people tend to choose a neutral-flavored bread such as white sandwich bread or French baguette. The tight holes make these breads excellent choices, but switching them for brioche will make an interesting change, as it will still soak up the juices but has a richer flavor.

For a totally different flavor profile, you could try sourdough bread, which will give a tangy element to the stuffing. The chewy texture and robust flavor will hold its own against the herbs and seasonings and create a tasty stuffing that will complement the rest of the Thanksgiving feast.

2. Add spicy Italian sausage

Adding spicy Italian sausage to your stuffing is a game-changer in terms of depth of flavor. The fennel, garlic, and red pepper flakes contained in most Italian sausage can take a bland stuffing to new heights of heat and complexity. As the stuffing cooks, the fat will render from the sausages, creating a rich, chewy texture and intense flavor with spicy, savory notes.

Providing a texture balance to the soft bread elements and mingling perfectly with the rest of the seasonings, spicy Italian sausage will enhance the enjoyment of both the stuffing and the other elements of your Thanksgiving meal. With its subtle heat lingering pleasantly on the palate, every forkful will be packed full of flavor, making your stuffing a guaranteed festive hit.

3. Use the giblets

When starting to prepare your Thanksgiving turkey, the first thing you might do is remove the giblets and throw them away. However, you're missing out on the opportunity to add deep, meaty flavors to your stuffing. The giblets consist of the heart, liver, and gizzard and have a gamey flavor that is hard to match with other ingredients.

Finely chopped and sautéed until golden, the organ meat can be added to the rest of the stuffing ingredients before baking. As well as an incredibly rich flavor, the offal is packed with nutrition, meaning it will benefit more than just your taste buds! 

If you worry that your guests will be put off at the thought of the giblets, there is no need to tell them! They will enjoy the best stuffing they've ever had, while you can feel proud that you have cut down on food waste.

4. Add some bell peppers

Adding bell peppers to your stuffing will give it a Mediterranean vibe and bring in some bright, fresh flavor as well as a pop of color. Red, orange, and yellow peppers have a sweet taste that will perfectly complement the other comforting flavors in the stuffing mix. Green bell peppers, with their more bitter flavor when raw, mellow when cooked and will give another tasty dimension.

By incorporating different colors of peppers, you and your guests can benefit both from the array of flavors and the different nutrients they provide. Once cooked, the peppers will impart a sweet, fresh flavor that will contrast the bread and other elements beautifully, resulting in a stuffing that is comforting and surprising.

5. Consider oysters

If you're looking to upgrade your stuffing with a bit of luxury, consider adding oysters into the mix. Though salty shellfish is not a traditional flavor within a stuffing, it actually provides a great umami burst and chewy texture that complements the traditional herbs and seasonings.

Adding oysters to stuffing might not be as unorthodox an idea as you may think. This was a traditional dish as much as 300 years ago, especially in coastal areas where oysters were plentiful. The seafood flavor is not overpowering and enriches the stuffing with complex flavors and texture. Why not surprise your guests this Thanksgiving by serving a feast that celebrates the best of land and sea?

6. Make it with cornbread

Cornbread is an excellent alternative for making stuffing, resulting in a buttery flavor with a satisfying crumbly texture. The natural sweetness of cornbread complements the other flavors in the stuffing and gives it an extra layer of complexity. Herbs and stock soak nicely into the bread without making it overly soggy, while keeping the stuffing moist and flavorful.

As the stuffing cooks, the cornbread will develop an irresistible golden outside layer, contrasting the soft layers from the meat or other ingredients. Making your own cornbread from scratch will elevate this dish even further, but if time is short, you can use a cornbread mix. It will still result in a rustic stuffing that is perfect for a joyous festive family dinner.

7. Dry your bread out (deliberately!)

While choosing the type of bread to make your stuffing from is important, there is one crucial step that mustn't be overlooked for the perfect stuffing — drying out the bread. Although fresh bread can be used in stuffing, it can lead to a heavy, soggy texture. Drying out the bread reduces the moisture content, meaning the bread can soak up the wonderful flavors of broth and seasonings in the dish.

Stale bread works in the same way, but if you don't have any on hand, cut your fresh bread into small cubes and bake in the oven for around 20 minutes. Your final dish will end up with deliciously moist stuffing with crunchy golden-brown bites scattered throughout.

8. Throw in some wild rice

Though bread is the usual carbohydrate of choice for Thanksgiving stuffing, there is no reason you can't change the rules — adding wild rice is a great way to mix up the flavors. With its nutty flavor and chewy texture, wild rice is an easy way to incorporate healthy whole grains into your Thanksgiving meal rather than refined white bread.

The wild rice in your stuffing will enhance the aesthetics, too, as the shades of brown and black will be dotted throughout the dish. To prevent the stuffing from being too dense, consider still including some bread throughout to lighten up the texture overall.

9. Create a gluten-free traditional stuffing

If you have guests who are intolerant to gluten, it's important to give them an authentic Thanksgiving experience while catering to their needs. The good news is that you don't need to compromise on flavor to create a stuffing that all of your guests will love. You can either use shop-bought gluten-free bread or add a naturally gluten-free alternative such as quinoa or rice.

Make sure to keep the flavor profile high by adding tasty broths, fresh and dried herbs, and a selection of vegetables, just as you would with your regular stuffing. No one should have to miss out on delicious stuffing, so create a dish that is inclusive and mouthwatering for all your guests.

10. Add squash

Introducing squash into your Thanksgiving stuffing will create an autumnal feel to the dish and add a vibrant splash of color at the same time. Any squash will do, including acorn squash and pumpkin, but butternut squash is the most popular variety in fall, and its vivid orange color will suit the dish perfectly.

Roasting the squash in advance will create a caramelized flavor that will complement the rest of the stuffing ingredients well and add a smooth, creamy texture to the dish. It will also enhance the naturally sweet flavor and provide the perfect balance to the savory elements. It is a healthy, hearty addition that will help your stuffing stand out from the rest.

11. Go Greek with feta and olives

If you are looking to go in a different direction with your stuffing this year, consider adding a Greek twist with some olives and feta cheese. The salty flavor from both the olives and cheese means you can dial back on the usual seasoning, and the creamy texture from the feta will add a rich, tangy contrast to the traditional ingredients.

To keep the Mediterranean flair, you could combine it with some Italian sausage for a hearty element that will complement the briny flavor of the olives and cheese. Though this stuffing combination may seem unusual, it will result in a burst of flavor to serve alongside the turkey and add a bold twist that will impress your guests.

12. Add some roasted garlic

This variation on traditional stuffing may not change the look of the dish, but the impact on flavor is significant. Roasted garlic has a fantastic, deep flavor that is far removed from its raw counterpart. The taste becomes sweet and mellow, and the texture creamy and soft, making it the perfect addition to a traditional Thanksgiving dish.

Roasting an individual clove of garlic can burn it quickly, so stick a whole head of garlic in the oven while the turkey cooks. Wrap it tightly in foil and roast for 30 minutes, check it, then return to the oven for another 20 to 30 minutes if needed. Squeeze the soft garlic into the rest of your stuffing ingredients and bake as normal, then enjoy how the roasted garlic elevates the stuffing from good to unforgettable.

13. Use some quinoa

Including quinoa in your stuffing is a great way to incorporate new flavors and textures among your traditional ingredients. The texture of the quinoa will create a satisfying crunch, and the mildly nutty flavor will complement the rest of the elements. Since quinoa is naturally gluten-free, it can also be a great option for any guests with food intolerances.

Quinoa pairs brilliantly with dried fruits such as raisins and cranberries, so consider adding these to your stuffing for a burst of tart sweetness. Quinoa's versatility and impressive nutritional profile make it a great addition to your Thanksgiving dinner and will have your guests asking for the recipe.

14. Replace meat with lentils

If you are looking for an ingredient that will give you a hearty, comforting stuffing, then lentils could be what you need. Lentils are becoming increasingly popular as a meat replacement in vegetarian and vegan dishes, and they make a great accompaniment whether you are serving turkey or a nut roast.

By combining lentils with mushrooms, you can create an earthy, meaty flavor purely from plants and get all the health benefits that go along with them. This combination provides a filling and nutritious meal, making sure none of your guests are left hungry, but without the heaviness associated with over-eating traditional Thanksgiving side dishes.

15. Combine pear, walnut, and blue cheese

Blue cheese and pears are a classic combination often served during the holiday season, and there's no reason you can't include them in your stuffing. The salty, umami flavor of the blue cheese and the sweet, soft pear will contrast perfectly and elevate your stuffing to a flavor explosion.

Walnuts also match these two culinary stalwarts, so why not incorporate some for added crunch? This heavenly trio will create the perfect stuffing — sweet, salty, and crunchy — providing a modern, sophisticated side dish that your guests will be raving about until Christmas!

16. Add orange and herbs

With a heavy Thanksgiving feast, you may wish to create light and refreshing stuffing to counteract other dishes. By infusing the stuffing with orange juice and zest, and some fragrant fresh herbs, you can create a bright, vibrant dish that will not leave a sinking feeling in the stomach.

The sweet tang of orange will cut through traditional ingredients in the stuffing, while fresh herbs such as rosemary and sage will complement the main course. This combination can tie together the savory elements of your Thanksgiving dinner and leave your guests feeling refreshed.

17. Make it with Mexican chorizo

Traditional Thanksgiving stuffing often contains sausage meat, so if you are planning an unusual twist this year, why not switch it out for chorizo for a spicy kick? The chorizo, with its fiery blend of spices, will infuse the stuffing with a vibrant flavor that will contrast nicely with the rest of the meal.

To keep the fiesta going, add black beans, coriander, and a splash of lime for a stuffing reminiscent of a Mexican feast. Each forkful will have a hearty texture with a fresh zing, making for lively conversation around the dinner table!

18. Make stuffin' muffins

Who said stuffing had to be made as one big portion to be served at the table? Well, no one, so why not make individual portions for each person, in the form of stuffin' muffins? These single-serve portions will delight your guests, especially when they realize they get even more of the crunchy exterior than usual!

The added benefit of individual stuffing is that you can cater to personal taste, adding or removing ingredients (chilis, for example) if not everyone is a fan of a spicy treat. They could also make perfect leftovers for work the next day — fair warning, though, the chances of any stuffin' muffins left are slim!

19. Add beetroot

Give your stuffing a striking look and deep flavor by adding roasted beetroot to your dish. Roasting beetroot enhances its sweet taste and gives it a velvety texture, making it the perfect addition to your Thanksgiving stuffing. Whether you want to add it into a traditional meat stuffing or create a vegetarian or vegan alternative, the beetroot will provide a contrast to the savory and herby flavors throughout the dish.

With its beautiful purple color, your beetroot stuffing can be elevated to a stunning centerpiece alongside your turkey or meat-free alternative. Your guests will be delighted with an innovative take on stuffing that is a treat for both the eyes and taste buds.

20. Combine cheese, beer, and bacon

If you want to really indulge this Thanksgiving, elevate your stuffing by combining cheese, beer, and bacon. Depending on the beer you choose, it can add savory, bitter notes or a caramelized flavor — either one will match perfectly with the smoky flavors of the bacon. 

Melting cheddar cheese throughout the dish will combine all the ingredients to create a comforting, gooey stuffing with a deep, savory flavor. It may not be the healthiest Thanksgiving dish, but it just might be the tastiest!

21. Give it an Asian twist

Reinvent your traditional Thanksgiving stuffing by giving it an Asian twist and adding bold Chinese flavors. Stuffing usually contains lots of fragrant herbs and spices, which can easily be substituted for five spice, star anise, and cardamom. Using sticky rice instead of bread will give the stuffing an unexpected texture that will still be comforting and filling.

To enhance the Chinese flavor further, consider adding water chestnuts, shiitake mushrooms, and a splash of soy sauce. Served alongside your usual Thanksgiving turkey, this stuffing will create a fusion experience that will invigorate the senses, combining the familiarity of stuffing with the adventurous flavor of Chinese cuisine.

22. Toast some nuts

To elevate your Thanksgiving stuffing, including toasted nuts will add a lovely flavor and crunchy texture that complements the softer elements of the dish. Toasting nuts intensifies their flavor and makes them super crunchy, which is exactly what you want for your stuffing. Walnuts and peanuts are classic choices and will go well with the bread, but almonds, chestnuts, and pine nuts will all do a great job, too.

The easiest way to toast nuts is to roast them in the oven for around 10 minutes, checking them regularly to make sure they don't burn. Chop them roughly, then incorporate them with the other ingredients in the stuffing, sprinkling a few on top for some festive crunch.

23. Go Italian

While turkey with all the trimmings is a fabulous feast, sometimes you may find yourself craving a simpler dish, like an Italian pizza. Well, why not combine the flavors of pizza into a fantastic Italian-style stuffing? Switching ciabatta for bread and adding some Italian sausage is a good start for a flavor of Italy.

If you want to go full-out Italian, add some sundried tomatoes with oregano, then include grated mozzarella throughout. As the stuffing bakes, the mozzarella will melt and bind the other ingredients in a gooey delight that is reminiscent of a freshly cooked pizza.

24. Add figs

Adding fruit to stuffing is always a popular choice, as it brings a freshness to contrast a lot of the heavier side dishes served at Thanksgiving. Figs have a unique flavor that lends itself well to savory dishes, enhancing the other ingredients with their natural sweetness.

Fresh figs provide a subtle sweetness and juicy texture, whereas dried figs result in a delightful chewy consistency and pockets of concentrated sugar. Don't forget to balance the dish — herbs such as rosemary and thyme work well with figs while counteracting their sweetness.

25. Use chestnuts

Chestnuts, famously roasted on an open fire at Christmas time, can be an excellent ingredient to include in your Thanksgiving stuffing. Their sweet and earthy flavor pair well with the rest of your ingredients and provide a buttery texture. You should cook the chestnuts prior to baking the stuffing, either by boiling them in a pan or roasting them in the oven.

Their sweetness complements strong savory ingredients such as sausage or bacon, but they also go with mushrooms or lentils for a plant-based dish. Whatever you combine them with, the chestnuts will provide a festive twist for a rich flavored stuffing.

26. Baste the stuffing with the turkey fat

The key to keeping meat moist is simple — baste, baste, baste! As the turkey cooks, the fat renders out into the pan below, creating a magical savory elixir that must not go to waste! While you will likely be basting the bird numerous times as it cooks, you should also consider using some of the gorgeous fat in the stuffing.

Once your stuffing is assembled in a baking dish, collect some of the fat from the turkey roasting pan and drizzle it over the top. The bread will soak up all the flavor and enhance the ingredients, resulting in a top-notch side dish.

27. Spice it up with Jamaican jerk

If your guests are up for a bit of spice, why not give their taste buds a treat by making a Jamaican jerk version of Thanksgiving stuffing? Known for its unusual mix of sweet, spicy, and earthy flavors, jerk seasoning will transform traditional stuffing into a Caribbean flavor fiesta.

Scotch bonnet chilis are, of course, the star of jerk seasoning, so tread lightly unless you are certain your dinner companions can handle the heat. Be sure to balance the fiery heat with sweet elements, such as dried fruit or bell peppers, to ensure it has a manageable spice that everyone will enjoy.

28. Incorporate dried fruit

Sweet and savory make a great festive combination, so be sure to include dried fruit in your stuffing to enhance the flavor profile. While raisins and sultanas are an obvious choice, there are many other dried options that can raise the sweet flavors of the dish.

Dried apricots add a honey-like element with a subtle tang, whereas cranberries provide a tart burst of flavor. Dried dates and figs enhance the texture perfectly with their chewy consistency, and the deep sweetness hits the right note alongside the savory elements. These sweet notes should be just enough to whet people's appetite in advance of dessert!

29. Combine kale and Gruyère

Give your stuffing an upgrade that is healthy and indulgent by adding kale and Gruyère into the mix. The robust, earthy flavor of the kale and the luxurious richness of the cheese combine to create a wonderfully savory side dish that will match the turkey perfectly.

Sauté the kale leaves first to wilt them and mellow the flavor, then mix with bread, onion, and herbs. Grate the Gruyère and stir it through the mixture to ensure it oozes into the spaces between the bread as it melts. The result is a colorful and creamy side dish that will have your guests asking for second helpings — or, uh, dare we say thirds!

30. Switch cauliflower for bread

Cauliflower has become a bit of a celebrity in the vegetable world in the last decade, replacing all sorts of unhealthy ingredients in classic dishes – cauliflower pizza crust, anyone? Its low-carb content makes it a common substitute for bread, meaning you can overhaul a stodgy stuffing by embracing the cruciferous veg.

Roast the cauliflower florets to enhance their flavor, then mix with the other stuffing ingredients before baking as normal. Though sticking to a low-carb diet is not something we would want to attempt on Thanksgiving, serving a cauliflower-based stuffing means your guests will have one less dish to feel guilty about!

31. Add some blueberries

Some fruits are classically associated with savory dishes, such as apples, oranges, and raisins, but for some reason, blueberries rarely get a mention — and they should! Their sweet, tangy flavor compliments savory ingredients beautifully, and their juicy consistency helps to keep dishes moist. By incorporating blueberries into your Thanksgiving stuffing, you will have a dish that bursts with color and flavor.

Add the blueberries to the stuffing mix just before baking — don't heat them in the pan with the vegetables, as they will lose their shape entirely. As the stuffing cooks, the juice from the blueberries will ooze into the bread and other ingredients, creating a fantastic mishmash of sweet and savory.

32. Use bacon and jalapeño

Bacon and jalapeños are a superstar duo of savory dishes, and adding them to your Thanksgiving stuffing is the perfect way to create a moreish side dish. The vibrant kick from the chilis and smoky depth of the bacon meld together in a tantalizing fashion. To get the most from the bacon, crisp it up first for added texture, then cook the vegetables in the rendered bacon fat.

The bacon can then be crumbled through the mixture to make sure that every forkful will have an irresistible crunch. By the time the flavors have infused in the oven, you will have an umami-rich stuffing dish that will rival the turkey for center stage.

33. Add eggs to bind

Eggs can be gastronomic stars in their own right but are often at their most crucial when supporting other ingredients as binding agents. By including eggs in your stuffing mix, you can create a rich side dish with a moist consistency.

No matter what ingredients you are using in your stuffing, adding a whisked egg before baking will create a "glue" to hold the separate items together and create one fabulous dish. The stuffing can then be cut into slices if you wish and will hold its shape much better than an eggless version.

34. Cook the vegetables in flavored butter

Butter is a secret weapon in the kitchen — imparting flavor and texture onto other foods but rarely stealing the limelight itself. When it comes to sautéing your vegetables for the Thanksgiving stuffing, butter is a must — but using regular butter means missing out on the potential to enhance the flavor profile even further.

Flavored butter can elevate the stuffing from a standard side dish to a mouth-watering masterpiece. By infusing your butter with garlic, rosemary, or chives, the flavors will permeate the vegetables as they cook, creating delicious layers throughout the dish. This simple step can transform your stuffing and create a side dish truly worthy of its place beside the turkey.

35. Use eggplant

Eggplant, with its meaty texture and knack for absorbing other flavors, is often used in plant-based dishes as a meat substitute. Whether you are serving a traditional turkey at Thanksgiving or a vegetarian alternative, eggplant can add a new dimension to your stuffing and provide a tasty twist to the traditional version.

Eggplant acts like a sponge when it comes to flavor, so you can cut it into cubes, roast it, and use it in place of bread in the stuffing if you want a lighter version. It will absorb flavors from garlic, herbs, and oils, creating a rich but light side dish that will keep both vegetarians and meat-eaters happy.

36. Throw in some parmesan

Parmesan cheese is known for its deep, savory flavors — and a little of this strong cheese goes a long way. Adding it to your stuffing will elevate the umami profile of the dish and add more complex flavors throughout the layers. Using fresh parmesan, with its nutty flavor and delicate consistency, will give you the best results, as the dried version has a more overpowering taste.

Layer the freshly grated parmesan through your stuffing, allowing it to mingle with the other ingredients as it melts. Be sure to adjust your seasoning due to the salty nature of the cheese. Your parmesan-infused stuffing will be the perfect accompaniment to the main dish and will become a Thanksgiving staple in years to come.

37. Roast your stuffing uncovered to crisp it up

The ultimate stuffing has a moist and tender texture, with a crispy top layer to give that satisfying crunch as you bite in. To achieve both of these sensations, consider in advance how you will bake your side dish. Crispy perfection means you want as wide and shallow a dish as possible — this will create the biggest surface area for the top layer to become golden brown.

If you are cooking your stuffing covered in aluminum foil, remove it for the last 15 minutes of the cooking time. If the top still isn't crispy enough, stick under the broiler for a few minutes to achieve the perfect crust — just don't let it burn!

38. Flavor it with applesauce

Flavoring your stuffing with applesauce is an easy way to get loads of flavor into the dish without much effort. Apples are a classic ingredient in stuffing, but sometimes you just don't have time to core, peel, and chop them when you have a massive turkey to deal with at the same time. Applesauce imparts a subtle sweet apple flavor into the stuffing while keeping it moist.

To achieve perfect balance, opt for unsweetened applesauce — or you will need to increase the savory seasonings to compensate. Other liquids, such as stock, may need to be reduced to prevent the stuffing from becoming soggy. This simple addition to your Thanksgiving meal will result in a classic autumnal side dish your guests will love.

39. Use a variety of mushrooms

Mushrooms are a great addition to stuffing as their meaty flavor lends a rich, savory note to the dish. But there is so much more mushroomy goodness out there to be tried than just the white button variety. By using a mix of mushrooms, you can create complex layers of flavors within your stuffing that will go brilliantly with the rest of the Thanksgiving meal.

Incorporating more unusual mushrooms, such as morels, oyster mushrooms, and porcini, will give your stuffing a unique umami flavor your guests will appreciate. These mushrooms also have a wide variety of health benefits (good source of vitamin D, and they promote a healthy gut and immune system), meaning your stuffing will be as nutritious as it is appetizing.

40. Use a slow cooker for your stuffing

There is a lot going on when preparing a Thanksgiving dinner — turkey to roast, potatoes to peel, gravy to simmer, and pies to bake. Using a slow cooker to make your stuffing can save you time (and valuable oven space) while also creating a deliciously moist dish.

The ingredients in the stuffing will infuse with each other as it cooks — and the chance of the mixture burning or drying out is reduced with a slow cooker. What else does it mean? Enlisting the help of your superstar crockpot will free up time for you to mingle with your guests and put the finishing touches on other dishes. So take advantage of this technology to help create the ultimate stuffing — then you can relax and enjoy family and friends even more.