Taste Test: Store-Bought Stuffing
"Eating Stovetop is kind of like eating Cheerios. There are really no surprises—you know exactly what it's going to taste like."
Ah, stuffing. Nobody pays much attention to you all year and then bam—Thanksgiving hits and the starch junkie in all of us comes out. Technically this tasting involved "dressings" and not "stuffings" since we baked them in casserole pans, not inside the turkey's hollowed-out body. And for the record, we'll probably just keep calling it stuffing.
We shopped around and rated the following brands: Stovetop, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods 365, Martin's Potato Rolls, Pepperidge Farms (both Herb-Seasoned and Cornbread), and Canterbury Organics. The results, after the jump.
The Underdog Winner
We love our burgers on Martin's potato rolls, so it made perfect sense that we'd love Martin's Potatobread Stuffing. Made with the familiar squishy, just-a-smidge sweet bread, the chunks aren't too soggy or dry (two very common stuffing offenses). Though on the sweeter side, maybe even a little too sweet, there was something kind of addicting about the flavor. Martin's is a Pennsylvania-based company so distribution is mostly limited to the Northeast, but you can call 1-800-548-1200 to order any of the products.
Best to Doctor Up
There's definitely no shame in starting with a boxed mix and adding your own flair, and Pepperidge Farm Herb Seasoned Stuffing might be as classic as it gets for stuffing foundations. Now that tastes like stuffing. The flavor isn't super life-changing but that's part of what makes it such a great base for adding apples, nuts, sausage, and fresh herbs. Crunchy on the top and not too in-your-face salty, it could definitely benefit from some additions. The much moister Whole Foods 365 Stuffing (traditional with chicken flavor) was also fine alone but could use some gussying up. The celery and onion flecks weren't cutting it.
Tastes Most Like Stovetop
Eating Stovetop is kind of like eating Cheerios. There are really no surprises—you know exactly what it's going to taste like. And hey, that's fine. The semi-gelatinous glob of bread will never throw a curveball at you. The same red box—whether in Turkey, Chicken, Savory Herbs, or the Traditional Sage flavor—still has that little seasoning packet full of super-salty, factory-engineered herbs. Is it bad that we care more about this is as leftovers for turkey sandwiches than as an actual side?
For the Cornbread Fans
While making cornbread from scratch is probably the right answer, who really has time for that? If you want the grainy texture and sweet-savory flavor of cornbread, the Pepperidge Farm Cornbread Stuffing does the trick. It's a little one-note on the cornbready flavor so this is definitely another doctor-it-up situation. Ed, a semi-homemadeoholic, recommends using it as a shortcut for the Silver Palate's Corn Bread-Sausage Stuffing With Apples.
The Least Brown
In a sea of tan to brownish stuffings, this vaguely greenish Trader Joe's batch stuck out. Should you judge your food by color? Probably not, but the swampy shade will get your attention. As far as texture goes, it was a little too gooey, almost approximating mashed potatoes or a bread pudding. It's not bad-tasting, just not worth a special trip. We expected a little more from the Joe.
The Fanciest But Least Edible
Do not fall for the autumnal leaf illustrations dancing around this box. Do not feel like your $4.99 (on the pricier side of the spectrum) is going to a good cause. The Canterbury Organics was a pile of soggy croutons. I mean, sure, we'd probably still eat it but overall, it was the most depressing. One taster was a fan, but she probably just has more refined palates than the rest of us.
How to Doctor It Up
- Leeks and carrots
- Pears and walnuts
- Dried cherries and almonds
- Blanched broccoli rabe and toasted pine nuts
- Blanched escarole and golden raisins
- Crisp bacon and figs
- Sautéed chicken livers and dried currants
- Sweet Italian sausage and pecans
- Kielbasa and (very well-drained) sauerkraut
- Chorizo and roasted red pepper
- Apples and smoked eel (available frozen at many Asian grocery stores)
Note: These ideas were also listed in our original Store-Bought Stuffing Showdown of 2007.
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