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:


My Yelp Review of that Italian Place in Manhattan Where My Stinking Ex-Boyfriend Works

The website for Trattoria Pappardelle says that it’s located on Washington Square and that the head chef is Paulo Lunetti, which is two lies for you right there. It’s like four blocks north, and the chef’s name is actually Paul Mooney, and he’s from Staten Island. I know this because I dated his sorry ass for three years before he dumped me right before he got this job in Manhattan, the slime. That means Trattoria Pappardelle has been open about four months now, so if you want to go there, you should do it soon, by which I mean before the Health Department closes it down.

Trattoria Pappardelle serves traditional Italian fare in an intimate, romantic setting. What that really means is that Paul talked the owner to keep the lights turned down so no one can see how ugly the food is. It does have these cute red-and-white checkered tablecloths, so there’s that, I only mention this because Paul thinks that cute checkered tablecloths are tacky, which shows you how much he knows.

When you get there, ask Katie the hostess if you can sit on the left side. Not that it makes that much of a difference, because the food is the same either way. and the same cheesy murals are on either side. But the tables on the left are Wilma’s, and the tables on the right are Kameron’s. Wilma is not really a very good waitress, and she will try to talk you out of ordering any of the lobster dishes, even though lobster is like, really cheap right now, and most of it is sustainably farmed. But Wilma is essentially a nice person and won’t ever do anything like have try and have sex with your boyfriend in the back of a VW Touareg.

Like this one, let’s say.

I am not saying that, if you happen to go to Trattoria Pappardelle, that Kameron will try to talk your boyfriend into having a quickie in the back seat of a German crossover vehicle, just because she did that to my boyfriend, who is now my ex-boyfriend, but I am saying that Kameron will put her slut hands all over your food and you don’t really want that.

Trattoria Pappardelle is BYOB, but they will set you up with a corkscrew and wine glasses if you ask nicely. Orlando does the dishes, and he’s usually very conscientious about the glasses being clean but he’s not there every night, so make sure you check for spots. Paul is too much of a wuss to fire Orlando, even after that time he was gone for three days and Paul had to drive all the way down the Jersey Shore to bail him out after he’d gotten picked up for drunk-and-disorderly on the boardwalk at Point Pleasant.

There are a LOT more pictures of cauliflower soup out there on the Internet than you’d probably think. Not even kidding.

You probably want to get the soup. It’s the one thing that Paul actually does well, the lying slug. The roasted cauliflower soup with lamb sausage is your best choice. Paul put it together when he was at Cucina Vito’s in Perth Amboy and they had a lot of cauliflower and lamb sausage left over after some catering gig, and it turned out better than you’d think. At least it’s better than the minestrone, which is mostly a way for Paul to use up vegetables that aren’t exactly fresh anymore. The only good thing about the minestrone is that Paul always adds freshly cooked conchiglie before he serves it, because if you add in the pasta when you cook the soup, the pasta gets overcooked, and Paul cares more about overcooked pasta than he does about people, even people that are close to him and who let him borrow thirty-five hundred dollars to finish his last semester of cooking school.

You want the soup because the appetizers are mostly garbage. Paul buys the ravioli from Sysco, because he’s too lazy to put down his PlayStation controller and go into the kitchen and make fresh appetizers. Then he just throws some sun-dried tomatoes on top and says that’s gourmet dining, which is a joke. The only thing that’s any good is the roasted eggplant dip with brown butter and balsamic vinegar, because Andre, the sous-chef, makes that himself. Paul is a big giant baby and he thinks eggplant is gross. It’s one of the few things Andre gets to do on his own, and he works hard on it, and it’s really good and you should try it.

All of the salads have chopped red onion in them, which is gross, so don’t get the salad.

I am serious here for a minute. Who wants this? It looks DISGUSTING.

You pretty much can’t go wrong with any of the pasta dishes at Trattoria Pappardelle. This is because one of the few things that Paul is actually good at doing, other than being emotionally unavailable and immature, is making pasta. Kevin is the saucier, and he does a really good job on the pasta sauces, so you’re pretty much set. I am not saying that Kevin is really a nice person, because he isn’t, and he smokes. I have it on good authority Kevin told Paul to dump me when he got the job in Manhattan, because thought I was taking up too much of Paul’s time. But it is not like Kevin screwed Kameron out in the parking lot, or went to Bermuda with Lisa from Liberty Travel not two weeks after he broke up with me, the way Paul did. You can order the linguine with quail or the wild boar ragu with penne with confidence.

Trattoria Pappardelle’s reputation is built on their chicken parm, which is not because it’s all that good but because Paul uses bigger chicken breasts and pounds them thin to make it look like you’re getting a lot bigger portion than you actually are. Paul thinks most people are cheap bastards, and the only way you can get them to come in the door is either with two-for-one coupons or by making them think they’re getting a deal on the chicken parm. The problem with the larger chicken breasts is that they don’t have that much flavor and aren’t that juicy, so Paul salts the hell out of the chicken to make up for it. So don’t get the chicken parm unless you want your blood pressure to go up the way mine did when Paul dumped me for no reason, the louse.

The best item on the menu is the braised veal chop with the saffron orzo. Paul used to be really sniffy about veal, and the only reason it was on the menu in his old restaurant was that he said that the owner kept complaining that he left it off. But then when he lost the lease on the old restaurant, he took me to Italy for two weeks, which at the time I thought was so incredibly romantic until I found out that he put the airfare on my credit card without asking me first. Anyway, we went to Naples, and had dinner at this amazing restaurant on this historic piazza, and I was just convinced he was going to ask me to marry him then and there, but of course he didn’t, because Paul wouldn’t notice a romantic moment if it hit him in the face with a bottle of pinot grigio. So I ordered the veal chop, and Paul made fun of me for ordering it, and I told him it was better than anything he knew how to make. So he tried a bite, and then he ended up eating half of it, and then went in the back to ask for the recipe, which once they found out he was a cook, they basically put him to work while I was sitting at the table all by myself eating about a half-dozen zeppole and feeling bad about myself. But it really turned Paul on to veal, and so you should probably order that.

You really can’t go wrong with good fried dough.

They don’t have zeppole at Trattoria Pappardelle, which is probably a good idea because they’re incredibly fattening, but it’s a shame. The main thing most people get is the cannoli, which is pretty good, but be sure to order the flourless chocolate cake. Paul decided to have a gluten-free menu, which was a good idea on his part, but the only dessert that they could figure out that would be gluten-free is the flourless chocolate cake, and Paul hates flourless chocolate cake because he’s not really good at making pastries in the first place and you have to watch it to make sure it doesn’t fall. So be sure to order the flourless chocolate cake, but cover your ears when you do, because Paul gets really cheesed off when anyone orders it and you might hear some bad words.

Trattoria Pappardelle is wheelchair-accessible and kid-friendly, although don’t bring up the subject of having kids around Paul because he won’t ever talk about it and will try to make you feel bad for asking. The restaurant takes American Express, Visa and MasterCard, but not Discover even though lots of people use Discover and I told Paul a hundred times that he should take it but he won’t because he let his Discover balance get too high that one time and they raised his rate and he still holds a grudge. I give Trattoria Pappardelle four stars, but only if you get the lasagna and the flourless chocolate cake, and if you sit on the left side of the restaurant. Except that I give it one star if you’re that bitch Lisa from Liberty Travel, who can die in a fire as far as I’m concerned.

Enjoy your dinner!