Classic bread stuffing is almost everyone’s favorite Thanksgiving side dish. Cubes of dried bread mixed with celery, onions and sage are baked in the oven until golden brown. This is the kind of dressing, or stuffing, that your grandma made. It isn’t fancy or “modern” in the least and that is exactly why we love it.
I’ll give you variations and substitutions where I can, plus helpful tips and tricks for success. Read on for this info as well as the recipe. If you’d like to skip straight to the recipe, use the jump to recipe button at the top of the post.
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Why you should make this recipe
If you love old fashioned bread stuffing, this is a recipe for you. It is simple, basic bread stuffing with celery, onion and sage.
- Simple and straight forward – There is nothing complicated about this classic recipe. It uses common ingredients and basic kitchen equipment.
- Crowd favorite – Almost everyone will list stuffing as their favorite holiday side dish, so make a big batch.
- Make ahead – Stuffing, or dressing, is one of those sides that you can bake the day before, re-heat before serving, and it will still taste fantastic.
Classic bread stuffing
A traditional bread stuffing recipe isn’t complicated, nor should it be. It is holiday comfort food. The variations on stuffing are endless, but a classic bread stuffing with onions, celery and sage is always my favorite.
This is my grandma’s recipe. I added a little more flavor to it, with the addition of some aromatics and butter, but the base of this recipe is hers. This is the bread stuffing, or dressing, that I grew up eating, and it is what I continue to make for all holiday dinners.
This old fashioned bread stuffing recipe is popular for a reason – it is easy to make, requires no fancy ingredients and no special equipment. This is what our grandma’s made – simple, delicious and always a hit.
- Bread – I use a hearty white bread. You can also use a combination of breads.
- Eggs – The eggs in this traditional sage stuffing will serve as a binder to help hold it together and also give it a little lift as it bakes.
- Sage – Sage is the aroma of Thanksgiving. I use both fresh and ground sage in the recipe.
- Substitutions: If you are out of sage, but you have poultry seasoning, use it.
- Celery, onions & garlic – These aromatics add a ton of flavor to the stuffing.
- Stock – I use chicken stock, but you can swap chicken for vegetable stock to keep it vegetarian.
- Butter – Butter gives the stuffing a bit of richness.
- Salt & pepper – Everything needs seasoning.
How to dry bread for stuffing
Good stuffing starts with dry bread. If you start with fresh, soft bread, you’ll have a mushy mess on your hands. So, the first step in making stuffing from scratch is to dry out the bread. You have two options for drying out the bread or making it stale.
After you’ve cut your bread into cubes, you can leave those cubes of bread out on the counter for a couple of days or you can toast them in the oven. Generally, I toast mine in the oven because I need the counter space. Also, just drying them out isn’t always enough and they taste a little bland.
Think of how a plain piece of bread tastes and then how a piece of toasted bread tastes. It makes a big difference, and you will taste that difference in the stuffing as well.
How to make
Here’s a quick summary of how to make classic bread stuffing. Please see the recipe card at the bottom of this post for the full recipe.
- Toast – Preheat oven to 275°F // 135°C. Lightly toast the bread cubes, stirring halfway through to make sure they are evenly dried and toasted.
- Cook – Sauté the onions, celery and garlic in butter. Add the sage.
- Mix – Combine the toasted bread cubes with the celery, onions and garlic.
- Add – Whisk the eggs into the stock and pour over the bread mixture.
- Bake – Cover with foil and bake until golden brown.
Classic bread stuffing FAQ’s
Because of the raw eggs, stock and vegetables, it isn’t “food safe” to make and refrigerate stuffing ahead of time. Because of bacteria growth, it is best to be cautious – especially if you are feeding people with weak immune systems.
If you want to make stuffing ahead of time: Bake the stuffing the day before, then refrigerate. Reheat in a warm oven. You can also freeze it, then thaw overnight and heat before serving.
A couple of tips or guidelines to help you: In order to keep your stuffing moist and ensure that it doesn’t dry out during baking, make sure to cover it with foil. You may also need to pour a cup or two of stock over the top as it is baking in the oven.
My best tip for making classic bread stuffing ahead of time is this: measure and/or chop all of your ingredients for the stuffing (except the bread – that is kept separate) and put it on one baking sheet. Wrap it up with plastic wrap and store it in the fridge overnight. In the morning, all that is left is mixing and baking.
Prepping in this way is essential when you are cooking a big meal. There is no measuring, no looking for ingredients when you need them because it is already done. Grab the tray and go. We do this in professional kitchens every day. It is a huge timesaver when you have a lot on your plate, so to speak.
Variations and substitutions
- Fruity – Add in a diced apple for a little sweetness.
- Meaty – Brown a bit of sausage and stir it into the mixture.
- Poultry seasoning – No sage? Substitute poultry seasoning in a pinch.
Here are a handful of recipes that will be on our table this holiday season.
Helpful tools and equipment
- Serrated bread knife – A good serrated knife makes all the difference.
- Chef’s knife – For chopping onions and celery.
- Casserole dish – You’ll need something to bake the stuffing/dressing in.
- Liquid measuring cup – Helpful for measuring the stock.
- Baking sheets – Heavy duty pans for toasting bread in the oven.
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- 1 (large) loaf hearty white bread, cut into 1/2 in cubes (20 oz. loaf of bread)
- 2 large eggs
- 2 tsp. ground sage
- 4 stalks celery, diced
- 2 medium onions, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp. fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
- 3 - 4 cups chicken stock
- 1 tbsp. salt
- 1 tsp. black pepper
- 6 tbsp. butter + more for baking dish
- Toast the bread: Preheat oven to 275°F / 135°C. Spread the cubed bread out in an even layer on a baking sheet. Stir after 30 minutes. Bake for 30 minutes more until very crunchy. Remove bread from oven and set aside to cool. Increase oven temperature to 350°F / 180°C / Gas mark 4.
- Cook onion, celery and garlic: Melt 3 tbsp of butter in a medium sauté pan. Add garlic, onions and celery. Sauté until onions and celery are soft, about 10 minutes.
- Add fresh sage: Add fresh sage, stir to combine and remove from heat.
- Mix bread and onion mixture: In a large bowl, toss toasted bread with onion mixture until well combined.
- Add liquid: Whisk eggs with 2 cups of chicken stock, salt, pepper and ground sage. Pour over bread and mix to combine.
- Prepare to bake: Lightly grease a 4 quart baking dish. Add stuffing mixture to dish and spread into an even layer. Melt the remaining 3 tbsp. of butter and drizzle over the top.
- Cover and bake: Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 35 - 40 minutes, checking after 25 minutes. Baste with additional stock, if necessary.
- Uncover to finish: Remove foil and continue baking an additional 15 minutes to brown the top.
To make stuffing ahead of time: Bake the stuffing as directed, cool to room temperature, then cover tightly and refrigerate. Re-heat in a warm oven.
You can also bake the stuffing ahead of time and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then re-heat in a warm oven.
**Do not leave unbaked stuffing in the refrigerator overnight. Bacteria can grow in the stuffing making it unsafe, especially those with compromised immune systems, like elderly folks and kids. (I know people have done it, but I also don't want you to get sick on a holiday weekend)
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 252Total Fat: 14gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 6gCholesterol: 80mgSodium: 1513mgCarbohydrates: 19gFiber: 1gSugar: 7gProtein: 12g
Nutrition information calculated by a third-party company as a courtesy. It is intended as a guideline only.
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Originally published in 2011, most recent update 11/9/23.