Try this recipe once and your mouth will start to water every time you think of it! My cherished family recipe for Southern Cornbread Dressing is wonderfully moist and seasoned with onions, celery, and sage. It puts stuffing to shame!
I’m checking today to make sure I have everything I need for the one recipe that I absolutely can never even think about leaving off the menu for Thanksgiving. It’s our family’s cherished and very much sought after Southern Cornbread Dressing recipe.
This cornbread dressing is always the star of the show at our Thanksgiving dinners. The side dishes may change. The desserts may be varied. But there is always, always dressing on the menu.
Stuffing or Dressing? What’s the Difference?
There are those who will debate the differences between dressing and stuffing. And I suppose there are merits to each, but dressing is our tradition.
Some people say that the difference is simply that stuffing is cooked inside the turkey and dressing is cooked in a separate dish. I would say that there’s a great deal more difference than that.
The type of cornbread dressing that I grew up with was as different from stuffing as night is from day. Stuffing has cubes of bread or cornbread with other wonderful additions. Vegetables, sausage, even fruit.
But dressing is of a completely different texture. The cornbread is broken down to be more homogenous with the other ingredients which are typically not much more than onions, celery, and stock.
It’s also given some lift during cooking with the addition of beaten eggs. The result is more akin to what southerners would call “souffled,” the cornbread having been lightened and puffed by the addition of the eggs.
My Mama’s Dressing
This recipe is, with minor modifications, my mother’s recipe for cornbread dressing. Now my mama is the undisputed Queen of Southern Cornbread Dressing Makers.
She holds the title and everyone in the family knows it. We’re all crazy about her dressing and she always makes far more than is needed to feed the crowd because everyone wants to take the leftovers home.
When BeeBop and I were newly married and living far away from our southern home, Mama wrote down her dressing recipe and mailed it to me to use for our very first Thanksgiving together.
That was over 30 years ago, and I’ve used her handwritten instructions ever since. It makes me feel like she’s right there in the kitchen cooking with me.
If you want to treat your family to some authentic southern cornbread dressing, just give my recipe a try.
Ingredients You’ll Need
- Cornmeal (I always use a finely ground white cornmeal for my dressing and encourage you to use it if you have access to it. But then, I’m a cornmeal snob. You may prefer yellow cornmeal or a medium grind. Any cornmeal will work but you’ll have a different texture. My preferred brands are Arnett’s and Hoover’s)
- Cream of Chicken Soup (You can make your own cream of chicken soup substitute if you like. The canned soup suits me fine.)
- Broth (Homemade turkey broth, chicken broth, or chicken stock is best but purchased is okay, too.)
- Crackers (Regular old saltine crackers. Or use leftover stale bread or biscuits.)
You’ll find detailed measurements for all ingredients in the printable version of the recipe at the bottom of this post.
How to Make Southern Cornbread Dressing
Let’s Go Step-by-Step
I always like to show you the photos and step-by-step instructions for my recipes to help you picture how to make them in your own kitchen. If you just want to print out a copy, you can skip to the bottom of the post where you’ll find the recipe card.
Make the Egg Bread
You’ll start by making a cornbread recipe that we call egg bread. The egg bread should be room temperature, so it’s easiest to make it the day before you make the dressing.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
- Sift together the cornmeal, baking powder, and salt.
- Into the dry ingredients, alternately add the buttermilk and eggs. Add one egg at a time, followed by some of the buttermilk. Whisk well after each addition.
- Pour the cooking oil into a large skillet (cast iron is best) and place it into the hot oven. Let the batter rest while the skillet and oil are heating (about 5 minutes).
- Carefully but quickly, remove the hot skillet from the oven and pour in the batter. Return the pan immediately to the oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes.
- Set aside the egg bread until you’re ready to make the dressing.
I always make the egg bread a day or two in advance and refrigerate it until it’s needed.
Saute the Vegetables
Chop the onions and celery.
Melt the butter over medium heat in a large sauté pan.
Add the onions and celery and cook slowly until tender but without browning at all. Sprinkle the vegetables with 1/2 teaspoon salt while cooking.
Assemble the Dressing
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Meanwhile, crumble the egg bread into a large baking dish. Just break the cornbread up as small as you can with your hands. Don’t worry about it too much, you’ll work out the finer texture later.
- Add the crushed saltine crackers, soup, and broth. Then using a potato masher or a big cooking fork, break up the egg bread and crackers with the soup to create a finer texture. You want as few lumps as possible.
- Add the sautéed vegetables, salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning. Mix well. Stop at this point and taste the mixture. You may need a little more salt. Remember, that’s a big dish of dressing to season.
- Lightly beat the eggs and add them to the dressing mixture.
Your dressing mixture should be fairly “soupy.” If you think it’s too thin, you can add some additional bread, crackers, etc. to thicken it. However, it’s rarely too wet.
Even if you think the dressing is too wet, it’s probably not. It took me a long time to learn that. It’s just one of those cook-by-feel lessons that you acquire through making a traditional recipe over and over.
If you do add more bread or crackers, be sure to crumble them very well and incorporate them into the mixture.
Bake for 35-45 minutes or until the dressing is golden brown on top and cooked throughout.
People often ask me if they can assemble the dressing a day ahead and bake it when ready to serve. Quite honestly, I don’t advise doing that simply because cornmeal (and therefore, cornbread) is very, very absorbent. The longer it sits, the more liquid it absorbs. If you made your dressing the day before baking, it would most likely turn out dry because the cornmeal would have absorbed all the liquid. This type of dressing is meant to be quite moist when served.
However — here’s what you can do: (1) Bake the egg bread one to two days ahead. Let it cool, then crumble it and store it in a container in the refrigerator, (2) Cook the onions and celery up to two days ahead and store them in the refrigerator, (3) Crush the crackers and have them ready to go. The day you’re cooking, it will take you just a few moments to assemble everything and pop it into the oven.
Of course, you can use your favorite egg substitute in this recipe.
This dressing can be stored in the refrigerator for up to four days. You can also freeze it for later use. To freeze, place the dressing in a freezer storage container and use within six months.
We always do a buffet for Thanksgiving. I make a large platter with sliced turkey on one end and mounds of dressing on the other. Serve turkey or giblet gravy to drizzle over the dressing and, of course, cranberry sauce on the side.
More Thanksgiving Recipes
- Oven Roasted Turkey with Gravy
- Easy Cranberry Orange Sauce
- Stuffed Turkey Breast
- Apricot and Prune Stuffed Pork Loin
- Sweet Potato and Pecan Stuffing
- Old Fashioned Copper Pennies
- Sweet Potato Casserole
- Baked Fruit
- Pecan Cheesecake Pie
- Classic Pumpkin Roll with Cream Cheese Filling
- Butternut Squash with Pecans and Blue Cheese
- Old Fashioned Gingerbread with Lemon Glaze
- Classic Turkey Tetrazzini
Southern Cornbread Dressing
For the egg bread:
- 2 cups finely ground white cornmeal sifted
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 eggs
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 3 tablespoons cooking oil
For the dressing:
- 2 onions
- 3 ribs celery
- 8 tablespoon butter (1 stick)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Egg Bread recipe follows
- 10.5 ounces cream of chicken soup
- 32 ounces chicken (or turkey) broth or stock
- 2 cups saltine crackers or leftover biscuits or stale bread (may need more to finish)
- 2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- ¾ teaspoon poultry seasoning
- 3 eggs
Make the egg bread:
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
- Sift together the cornmeal, baking powder and salt. Add buttermilk and eggs, alternately.
- Pour the cooking oil into an iron skillet and place it into the hot oven. Let the batter rest while the skillet and oil are heating (about 5 minutes).
- Quickly pour the batter into the hot skillet and return immediately to the oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes.
- Allow the egg bread to cool completely before proceeding.
Assemble the dressing
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Chop the onions and celery.
- Melt the butter over medium heat in a large sauté pan. Add the onions and celery cooking slowly until tender but without browning at all. Sprinkle with the 1/2 tsp. salt while cooking.
- Meanwhile, crumble the egg bread into a large baking dish. Add the soup and broth and mix well using a potato masher or large fork to break up the egg bread to a fine texture.
- Add the sautéed vegetables, salt, pepper and poultry seasoning. Taste and adjust for more salt if needed.
- Lightly beat the eggs and add to the dressing mixture. Your mixture should be fairly “soupy.” If you think it’s too thin, you can add some additional bread, crackers, etc. to thicken it. Be sure to crumble them well and incorporate them into the mixture.
- Bake for 35-45 minutes or until the dressing is golden brown on top and cooked throughout.
Nutrition information is calculated by software based on the ingredients in each recipe. It is an estimate only and is provided for informational purposes. You should consult your health care provider or a registered dietitian if precise nutrition calculations are needed for health reasons.
— This post was originally published November 5, 2010. It has been updated with new photos and additional information.