Commentary, Food

How America Makes Cornbread Dressing: A Scientific Survey

I am not here to tell you what to do.

Let’s get this out of the way first. You are a grownup. You can put whatever you want on your Thanksgiving table. You can serve chili with beans and I will roll my eyes and silently judge you because you do not put beans in chili, but that’s not the point. This is your dinner, and you can serve it however you want and whenever you want. You have control over everything except how Jason Garrett’s inexplicable lack of coaching skill will wreck the Cowboys game.

This is not me telling you how to make cornbread dressing. You can follow whatever recipe you want, whether it’s your grandmother’s sacred text or Stove-Top’s. (My grandmother’s dressing was unmemorable, but she would put chopped hard-boiled eggs in the gravy, and good Lord, don’t do that.)

What this is trying to be is behavioral analysis: what do people actually put in their dressing? Specifically, what are search engines and recipe sites telling people to put in their dressing?

METHODOLOGY: I started by clicking on the first thirty recipes for “cornbread dressing” on Google. This is not exactly scientific, and shut up, but it does tell you what the popular online recipes look like. (I specifically left out the New York Times recipe — these, you know, are the people who insisted that you could make guacamole from mushy peas.) Then, I put the ingredients into a spreadsheet.

Celebrity Chef Alton Brown eating a big hunk of cornbread dressing
I am not getting into the dressing versus stuffing debate here.

The spreadsheet follows a simple pattern, one that I remembered from an old Alton Brown Good Eats episode — basically, how Alton defines a casserole. (Yes, cornbread dressing is a casserole. Shut up.)

  • Starch. This, of course, in cornbread dressing, is primarily… wait for it… cornbread.
  • Protein. (This isn’t in Alton’s rubric; he says “main ingredient,” which in cornbread dressing is… wait for it… cornbread, but that’s the primary starch.) Some recipes have a protein, some don’t.
  • Aromatics. Flavorful vegetables like onions and celery, you know.
  • Seasonings. Sage is the traditional seasoning, but there are variations.
  • Binder. This is what holds the casserole together. In traditional Southern post-war cooking, this is cream of mushroom soup (please tell me you’re not putting cream of mushroom soup in your cornbread dressing).
  • Liquid. This, again, is not in Alton’s rubric, but with all that dry cornbread you need something to keep your dressing from drying out.

The results are as follows:


All of the cornbread dressing recipes include cornbread.

A big hunk of cornbread in a cast-iron skillet.
I know, right?

Now, because this is essentially a libertarian article, I am not going to tell you that you have to make your cornbread from scratch, in a cast-iron skillet, the way that God and Martha White intended. I am not going to tell you to put sugar in it, or buttermilk. You do it your way. (I use Jiffy Brand and am not ashamed.) I specifically did not document what the different recipes used for cornbread; no need to stoke that fire. Make cornbread how you want.

White Bread

A loaf of Mrs. Baird’s bread.

A little under half of the recipes in this survey include white bread. If there was ever evidence of the total collapse of decent society, it is here.

Three recipes include biscuits instead of white bread. This is also wrong. But it is, somehow, less wrong than just putting a big hunk of Mrs. Baird’s in your dressing. I don’t recommend this but you can do it.

One recipe suggests adding a box of Stove-Top to your cornbread. I do not endorse this or the people that do this. You can try it! You can try lots of things. But there are better options, like admitting you can’t cook and going to Waffle House.

All kidding aside, really, please don’t put white bread in your cornbread dressing. You can! No one is saying you can’t. But all you are doing is adding extra carbs and no flavor.


One third of the recipes included sausage as a protein. I always include sausage in my dressing; but that’s a minority position and I’m okay with that. Two recipes included chicken breast; I think that would probably be okay if you weren’t making this for Thanksgiving; chicken in dressing plus turkey sounds like poultry overkill.

I am a Texan living in New Jersey, so I made a special order for Elgin sausage. Sage sausage is excellent if you can find it. Some recipes call for breakfast sausage, others for Italian sausage. I say you can’t go wrong with whatever you like.


Every single recipe had onions. This is as close as you get to unanimity in this world, and it is a good thing. I am not a huge fan of onions, but even I put onions in my dressing (heavily diced, nearly caramelized).

Andy Warhol print of can of Campbell’s cream of celery soup
I mean, it can’t be worse than starving to death.

29 of 30 recipes had celery. The other one had cream of celery soup. I honestly do not know what to tell you about this. I suspect that someone, years back, opened their refrigerator on Thanksgiving morning, saw that they were out of celery, looked in their pantry, saw a lonesome can of cream of celery soup, and said to themselves, “Well, what’s the worst that can happen?”

As far as other vegetables, several recipes called for garlic. I think this is fine. I think you probably need to like garlic a lot to make this work. Similarly, one recipe included fennel. Again, if you like fennel, that is fine, too, although I think that you’d do better off with Italian sausage if you wanted that flavor. A couple of recipes called for bell pepper, which I think doesn’t add enough flavor, but you can try it. One recipe suggested jalapeno peppers, which I would personally be OK with but everyone else in my house would rebel.


Sage leaves
Not shown: parsley, rosemary and thyme

The easy winner here is sage, with almost every recipe including this particular herb. Those that didn’t list sage included poultry seasoning, which just so happens to include sage. So my sage advice is to make sure you have some sage. (Yes, I know.)

So what else you got? A lot of people use parsley, and thyme, and even rosemary, to go with the Scarborough Fair joke I made in the caption. Any of that is fine, I suppose. There were a couple of people who use nutmeg, why not. I have used ginger before. It’s pretty good, but you can’t use too much of it.


So just about everyone uses chicken broth. Which is fine. A couple of recipes use cream of chicken soup as well (and one, dear God, does use cream of mushroom on top of that, why would you). I think cream of chicken soup is a little bit overkill but without ever having tried it I am not going to mock it that much.

Three recipes use milk — two use just regular milk, but one uses Eagle Brand, and I have to admit, I am a tiny bit curious about this. I think it would be too sweet, but I like sweet. I’m a little afraid to try it out. You might try using evaporated milk to make the cornbread — but when you look up that recipe, the first link is from the people who make evaporated milk. Never ask a barber if you need a haircut.

One recipe recommended using wine as a liquid. I am just going to leave that with you.


Almost every recipe used butter — sometimes as a medium to brown the aromatics (this is what I do) or just for the hell of it. So, yeah, butter.

Other Stuff You Can Try, Why Not

Apples? I mean, sure, why not. Mushrooms? I mean, I guess. Bon Appetit suggests corn nuts, which just sounds weird. Pecans and cranberries could work but you are going to have cranberry sauce and pecan pie, aren’t you? AREN’T YOU?


There is a good bit of variety in these recipes, but you know, really not that much. Getting the basics right is more important than the variations. If you can make cornbread, that’s half the battle. Then all you need to do is add butter and onions and celery, add in some sage, drown it with chicken stock, bake it, and you’re golden. Anything else is just gravy.

And please don’t put hard-boiled eggs in the gravy. I am begging you.

Links to recipes used in this article:

Commentary, Food

It’s Pimento Cheese Time, Losers

I have two daughters, and one of them is stubborn. I mean, I guess, all kids are stubborn, but this one is, like, super-hyper-stubborn and won’t do a thing unless she wants to or is bribed sufficiently. Anyway, it is that great time of year where the kids don’t have to wear their heavy winter jackets, which is great because it’s so much harder to buckle them into their car seats when they’re in the jackets. They get to wear their spring jackets.

Except that the stubborn child won’t, for the sensible reason that her spring jacket doesn’t fit her anymore. (Genetics, shall we say, have not smiled on the stubborn child.) She insists on wearing the bulky winter jacket. Under normal circumstances, this means that we put up with a somewhat elevated level of whining. But these are not normal circumstances, or so my wife told me.
“Since I have that bridal shower to go to on Sunday,” she said, “why don’t I take the children to the outlet mall on Saturday? That’ll give you a little down time.”

I should have made a bit of mental calculus at this point. I could use that time to mulch. To build the shelves in the garage. To put together that little table for the paper recycling. To put my next mosaic project together. To promote my novels. But I did none of these things, because that Saturday just happened to be Masters Saturday. Time to make the pimento cheese.


  1. Start with the realization that pimento cheese is by-God unhealthy for you, and you shouldn’t eat it, ever, except during Masters weekend, when you have to watch golf anyway. I am going to watch the Masters the way that I typically do, by listening to my children proclaim that “golf is so boring.” Relax, will you?
  2. Setting that aside. Yes. Pimento cheese is unhealthy. Sitting in front of a television set all afternoon is unhealthy. But if you limit your pimento cheese intake to one day a year, and your daytime TV-watching to the Masters and the NFL on fall Sundays and the occasional baseball game, you can handle it. I don’t recommend it, mind you, but it can be done.
  3. You want to start with a bag of grated sharp cheddar cheese from the supermarket. Yes, of course, there are better cheeses out there. Of course there are. But don’t waste them on pimento cheese. Pimento cheese is Southern prole food of the highest order, right up there with Beanie Weenies and Cool Ranch Doritos. Anyone who puts fancy cheese into pimento cheese is a fool and a poser and you can write that down in your datebook and sign my name to it. Use the cheapest cheese you can find.
  4. Open the sad little plastic envelope and decant as much of that cheap, sorry cheese as you think you can stomach into a bowl. Then drain a little glass jar of pimentos and pour the pimentos right on top. (That’s how they come, the pimentos, in a little glass jar.) Make sure you drain them, or your pimento cheese will turn out runny, and nobody wants that.
  5. Take an equivalent amount of Heinz India relish, drain it, and pour that on top, too. If all you have is sweet pickle relish, that’s fine, just make sure it’s drained.
  6. I actually made my own relish this year, and I am a better person for it. I took a jar of bread-and-butter pickles and a jar of homemade sweet jalapenos and put them in the blender with some chopped garlic and it came out yummy.
  7. Ideally, in a perfect world, you will have some Miracle Whip hanging around in your sad little condiment rack in your refrigerator. Put a good bit of that in, maybe like a cup or so, who knows? Pimento cheese isn’t really about measuring stuff. If you don’t have that, use Sandwich Spread. If you don’t have either, you can use mayo in a pinch, but don’t mess around with stuff like gourmet wasabi mayonnaise or anything like that. Be sensible.
  8. I tried one element from this Garden & Gun recipe and put in some whipped cream cheese. It wasn’t bad!
  9. If you don’t have Miracle Whip or a reasonable substitute, don’t go to the store, because you might miss Rory McElroy hitting the ball into the pine straw, and if there is anything better than watching a really good golfer hitting a really bad shot and landing it in an awkward location, I don’t know what it is. Schadenfreude isn’t the half of it. Anyway, you probably have other creamy salad dressings in your fridge. Use that. Start with ranch dressing and work your way down. You don’t want to overwhelm the pimentos or the cruddy cheese with a lot of blue cheese or peppercorn flavor. Use what you have but don’t overdo it.
  10. Mix it all up with a wooden spoon. If your mixture is too thick — if it splinters an ordinary Ruffles chip — then put in a little more mayo or dressing. If it is too runny, put in MOAR CHEESE. You’re a grownup. You figure it out.
  11. I went to a fancy-schmancy place in Decatur, Georgia once that served this awesome grilled pimento-cheese sandwich. If you have time, sure, go ahead. Give it a shot. It can’t be any worse than starving to death. But I think it works better as a dip, with strong reinforced ridged potato chips, and a cold Coke or sweet iced tea to drink.

Of course, you don’t have to watch The Masters this way. You can schlep to Augusta if you want to imperil your offspring’s chances of going to a decent college. You can go to Buffalo Wild Wings and eat tepid chicken parts in a sticky sauce with overpriced beer. You can watch it on your iPad while running on a treadmill, drinking a wheatgrass smoothie that will delay your inevitable death by twelve minutes. I am going to sit on my luxurious, super-model approved piece of leather furniture, with a big bowl of artery-clogging pimento cheese and greasy, factory-made potato chips and a sugary beverage, listening to Jim Nantz whispering about the sentimental glories of golfing achievement. At least until my wife tells me she needs me to go out in the garage and put the recycling together.


  1. Wright Thompson wrote a piece for ESPN about three years ago about the “secret ingredient” for pimento cheese sandwiches. To this day, the secret has not yet been revealed. I am furious.
  2. You can put chopped hard-boiled egg in your pimento cheese if you want to. I do not want to. I do not eat eggs, and hard-boiled eggs make me physically ill. (This is my own personal cross to bear.)
  3. The guy who used to write the Deadspin food column did a pimento cheese recipe one year that told you not to use pimentos. I used to spend a lot of time criticizing him for being a dumb-ass about things like putting beans in chili, and he asked me to stop, and, okay, I guess, but it is still foolish and wrong to say that you shouldn’t put pimentos in pimento cheese.
  4. Having said that, Burneko is right about the rooster sauce. I put rooster sauce in it last year, and it was fine. (I am only allowed to put in rooster sauce on the things that I alone eat in my house.) I put Frank’s Hot Sauce in it this year, for variety. It was fine.
  5. I am also totally trying these pimento cheese biscuits.

Note: A previous version of this post appeared on my website, which has been destroyed by the ravages of time. A backup version is still available on Quora, which won’t let me delete it, so there you go.