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Taste Test: Storebought Stuffing

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[Photographs: Alice Gao]

The Winners

#1: Stovetop
#2: Pepperidge Farm
#3: Bells

We've been eating a lot of stuffing around these parts this month. And by a lot, we mean some days we only ate stuffing. (Living the dream, or a nightmare?) Though some people are fervently opposed to the boxed or pouched insta-stuffings, it can be a fast and easy base to doctor up with real-er ingredients like celery, veggies, dried fruits, sausage, chestnuts, and oysters.

Stovetop is arguably the most familiar-tasting, for better or worse. Dried bread dust and that artificial herby flavor with plenty of butter to keep it all compacted together. Starch plus butter: it's hard to go wrong with that equation, eh?

Actually, in the case of storebought stuffing, it really, really can. Laced with so much salt and dry seasonings, many of the stuffings we tried coated our tongues with that impenetrable stuffing flavor for the rest of the day. We were all popping gum, mints, Cinnabon cereal, whatever we could find to make it go away.

The Contenders

We included widely available brands of stuffing, especially those recommended by readers.

  1. Stovetop (kraftbrands.com/stovetop)
  2. Trader Joe's (traderjoes.com/stovetop)
  3. Pepperidge Farm (pepperidgefarm.com)
  4. Mrs. Cubbison's (mrscubbisons.com)
  5. Bell's (bellsseasonings.com)
  6. Arnold's (mrscubbisons.com)

First, a Quick Word on Semantics

We've clarified this plenty of times before, but here goes again. Stuffing is technically the name of the bready-seasoned-butter-mass only when it's baked inside the actual cavity of the bird. The kind you cook stovetop or in a casserole dish, sans bird, is dressing.

So, yes, all of what we tried for the purpose of this tasting would technically be categorized as "dressing." Moving on.

The Criteria

We tried a total of six brands of storebought stuffing. We stuck to the classic whitebread variety (except Trader Joe's, which only sold a blend of white and cornbread). Each called for the addition of water and butter.

Before you start chirping, "but where's the Martin's potato roll stuffing?" (A favorite in this office and the big victor of our previous storebought stuffing tasting). We wanted to keep this one as fair and streamlined as possible with a single breadtype. So, since apparently we're always looking for an excuse to eat more stuffing, we organized a completely separate comprehensive tasting with different breadtypes using one homemade recipe. (So, is Martin's really the best? Challah superior? What about baguette? Would it be weird to use bagels? All answers will soon be revealed.)

The Results

Going into this, we didn't think it'd be that bad. Six different stuffings for lunch! Well, we were feeling more than a little woozy after. Storebought stuffings are chock full of salt and other dried seasonings (big shocker) to the point that it's hard to mask those flavors with other, fresher herbs and veggies.

We unanimously preferred the homemade variety. If you have a little extra time (and it really shouldn't take that much longer to use regular bread and your own seasonings) go for the from-scratch method. But if really want go the all-in-one-box route, here you go:

Stovetop (5.14)

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This is more of a ground-up breadcrumb texture rather than the crouton-like squares. It probably scored so high because there were no incredibly off flavors: just the expected herbs and a fair amount of salt, but not as salty as many others. "Only one I took a second bite of," said one taster, which was a huge compliment given the stuffing overdosing that transpired. Would be fine to use as a base.

Pepperidge Farm (4.71)

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A little sweeter, also very familiar-tasting in a storebought way. It's pretty moist with some crisp bits. Strong poultry flavor. Adding sausage to zest this up would be a good idea.

Bells (4.5)

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"Tastes like freeze-dried bread and bouillon cubes," said one taster. Very salty. Very lumpy. The soft, spongy bread nubbins taste like they've been soaked in Campbell's chicken noodle soup.

Trader Joe's (4.14)

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This was a greenish shade next to all the brown-to-brownish specimens. The base is a mix of white bread and cornbread; the nubbins stay lose without clumping together. It's still fake-tasting with all those dried herbs (hence the green hue) "but not as obviously fake as the others," said one taster. A little mushy.

Mrs. Cubbison's (3.71)

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Another greenish shade. "Salty with no other flavors," said one taster. Another artificial seasoning bomb, but the real celery and onion that it called for were appreciated. (We followed the standard directions on the back for each; this one called for both celery and onion.)

Arnold (3.57)

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Smooshy croutons. "Just chunks of crunchy bread with goo in between," described one taster. It's salty and peppery with all of that "herb" flavor. Bleurghh.

Make It From Scratch, People!

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