Thanksgiving isn't complete without a big serving of challah and sausage stuffing! This twist on an American holiday favorite uses challah bread, breakfast sausage, fresh herbs and lots of butter for an irresistibly delicious side dish.
I adore stuffing. So much so that it is a year-round staple in our household. I love whipping up a seasonal dressing to accompany roast chicken dinners and pork chops whenever I get the chance. This stuffing, however, is THE Thanksgiving side dish that I come back to each and every year...
Why This is The BEST Thanksgiving Stuffing Recipe
- Make Ahead Recipe - We know that cooking a holiday feast can be a big undertaking! Juggling oven times and casserole dishes can be pretty intense! This recipe can be made in advance and frozen or refrigerated until the big day.
- The Challah - Challah is the BEST bread for Thanksgiving stuffing. It's rich and flavorful, toasts and dries into the prettiest little golden cubes, soaks up butter and stock like a dream and has the ever so slightest hint of sweetness that fits perfectly with the flavors of Thanksgiving.
- The Butter - This stuffing is a true holiday recipe. Calories don't count and we're indulging ourselves with two full sticks of butter. Big flavor, golden crunch and no regrets.
- Balance of Flavor and Texture - This recipe has a lot going on: breakfast sausage, aromatic veggies, garlic, tons of fresh herbs, a little tartness from a few dried cranberries and a nutty crunch from toasted pecans. It's got a crispy golden top and a fluffy, steamy interior - she's anything but boring.
- Feeds a Crowd - This recipe makes a LOT of stuffing - perfect for feeding a big crowd and allowing for second helpings and (leftover Thanksgiving sandwiches)!
- Challah Bread - Challah is a traditional Jewish bread that is rich, eggs and ever so slightly sweet. We often find challah bread in the bakery section of our local grocery stores during the holiday season. They're also available at some bakeries, Jewish delis, or you can bake you own. I made the three strand loaf using the same recipe as my Braided Challah Buns.
- Breakfast Sausage - Technically, you can use any sausage. We love using a pork breakfast sausage because breakfast sausage is generally flavored with black pepper, maple and sage making it the perfect flavor profile for this recipe.
- Mire Poix - Mire poix is French for aromatic vegetables and usually refers to 2 parts onion, 1 part celery and 1 part carrot. We used shallots, celery and carrots but I sometimes substitute celery stalks for celery root and I'll add in a little parsnip, if I have it. I like to dice the veggies small, to cook quickly and evenly distribute throughout the stuffing.
- Herbs and Garlic - Nothing beats the flavor of fresh herbs and fresh garlic so even if you usually use dried spices, I encourage you to go all out for the holiday and mince up some fresh garlic cloves with lots of sage, thyme and a bit of rosemary.
- Turkey (or Chicken) Stock - To keep the stuffing moist and flavorful, you'll need some stock or broth for the recipe. I like to make a big batch of homemade turkey stock a week or two before Thanksgiving and freeze it it for all my holiday dishes from stuffing...to homemade turkey gravy... to leftover Thanksgiving soup!
- Butter and Oil - You need a touch of oil for sautéing the sausage and a lot of butter for soaking into and flavoring the bread.
- Dried Cranberries & Pecans - Both of these are completely optional, but really yummy! The dried cranberries adds a surprising tart flavor and touch of acidity while the toasted pecans add a nutty crunch.
How To Make Challah Stuffing
- Dice the challah bread in ½ inch cubes. (You can use stale bread, or a fresh loaf.) Arrange the cubes of bread in an even layer on two baking trays. Bake in a 200° Fahrenheit oven for 1 - 1 ½ hours, tossing occasionally, until the bread is fully dried and lightly toasted. Place the challah croutons in your largest mixing bowl (or disposable roasting dish, see below).
Pro Tip: Less Dishes! - I know holiday dishes can get out of hand pretty quickly! Save yourself some trouble and make this entire recipe in a large disposable aluminum roasting pan. You can use it to mix your stuffing together, bake it, serve it and throw away the pan.
- In a large skillet, heat half of the oil over medium high heat. Add in the breakfast sausage and cook, undisturbed for 3 - 4 minutes to create a nice golden crust. Use a spatula to flip and crumble the sausage, cooking a few more minutes, until fully cooked. Add the sausage along with all of its rendered fat over the cubes of bread.
- Return the skillet to the stove top and lower the heat to medium. Add in the remaining oil and 12 Tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) of butter. Use a spatula to scrape the sausage fond (browned bits) from the bottom of the pan. Add in the shallot, carrots and celery. Season generously with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally for about 10 - 15 minutes or until the onions are translucent and the carrots and celery are tender.
- Add in the minced garlic and herbs. Stir and cook for 1 - 2 additional minutes. Add the aromatic vegetables and all of the butter in the pan over the dried cubes of bread and sausage.
- If using, add the dried cranberries and toasted pecans to the stuffing mixture. Toss everything together until evenly distributed. (I like to let it cool slightly and toss with my hands, but you can use a big spoon if you need to.)
- Pour a bit of turkey stock over the mixture and toss to combine. Allow it to soak in for a couple minutes and toss again. Adjust stock, as needed.
The amount of stock you need will vary depending on humid and how dry your challah is. You want to find a balance between dry and soggy (and you can always add more stock while the stuffing is roasting). I find that roughly 2 Cups of stock creates a nice balance, the stuffing should hold together a bit when scooped.
- Season with additional salt and pepper, to taste. Remember, this recipe makes a lot of stuffing and will require a lot of salt to be properly seasoned.
- Transfer the stuffing to a large casserole dish (or arrange evenly in your big disposable pan). Top with thin slices of the remaining 4 Tablespoons (½ stick) of butter. Bake for 35 - 45 minutes (see Pro Tip, below) or until the stuffing is heated to an internal temperature of 155° Fahrenheit and has a golden, toasted top. Add additional stock to dry stuffing, as needed.
Pro Tip: Timing it Right, Hot and Ready
One of the hardest things about cooking a big feast is timing each dish so it comes out hot and ready. From room-temperature, this stuffing takes about 40 minutes to bake. We pop ours in the oven while our turkey is resting (we make a big turkey) and it comes out hot just as we're carving the bird.
Be mindful that if you are baking this stuffing from refrigerated or frozen, it will take significantly longer. Likewise, if your oven is packed full with lots of other food, everything will take longer to bake.
If you need to bake it at a slightly higher or cooler temperature - it should be no problem. Just check the internal temperature around the 30 minute mark and cover it with foil if it's getting too dark.
If you are using a ceramic baking dish, the challah stuffing will hold warm for a good amount of time. You can always pop it back in the oven for a few minutes before serving. If you cover it to keep it hot, the top will steam and become a bit soft. You can revive the crispy crust with a minute or two under the broiler.
How To Make This Recipe Ahead of Time
This recipe is great because you can prepare it days (or months!) ahead of time and pop it in the oven day of. It's perfect for potlucks and Friendsgivings, too.
- Refrigerator: If you make this on the Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday before Thanksgiving, just keep it in the fridge. Allow it to come to room temperature for a couple hours before baking it as normal.
- Freezer: If you are preparing this stuffing weeks or months before, you can keep it in the freezer. (I usually stash a small casserole dish of Thanksgiving stuffing to bake for myself on a chilly Winter night.) The stuffing can be baked straight from the freezer. Cover it in foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking for an additional 20 - 30 (or more) minutes until the internal temperature reaches 155° Fahrenheit. The exact time will vary depending on the size of your dish - wide shallow pans will bake faster, deep dishes full of stuffing will take much longer.
Why We NEVER Stuff The Bird
You may be wondering (criticizing?) why I call this "stuffing" and don't stuff it in my turkey. In my family, we always called this side dish "stuffing". I've always associated "dressing" with cornbread - though I know that's not true for other families and traditions.
Whatever you want to call this dish, I beg of you, PLEASE DO NOT STUFF YOUR TURKEY! When you stuff a turkey (or chicken), the bird's uncooked juices are absorbed by the bread. If you cook the turkey to a fully-cooked juicy doneness, the stuffing inside the bird will not reach a safe temperature to fully cook off the salmonella.
If you continue roasting the turkey until the stuffing inside has reached the 165° degrees Fahrenheit required to kill salmonella, the turkey meat will have had to cook much hotter, and become quite dry and unappetizing. Furthermore, cooking the stuffing in casserole dish allows for a greater surface area of crispy crust and will have a prettier presentation with a much nicer texture.
Frequently Asked Questions
Stuffing and dressing both refer to a traditional Thanksgiving side dish. "Stuffing" originally got its name from being stuffed inside the carcass of a raw turkey while "dressing" was baked in a separate dish. Today the terms are often used interchangeably and generally consist of cubed bread (or cornbread), onions, celery, herbs, butter and stock.
Stuffing recipes can be made from sourdough, country loafs, brioche, cornbread and more. In our humble opinion, challah bread makes the best stuffing with its fluffy texture, rich flavor and slight sweetness.
Breakfast sausage is often used for Thanksgiving stuffing because it is generally made with sage, maple and black pepper.
More Holiday Recipes
- Old Fashioned Oatmeal Dinner Rolls
- Butternut Squash au Gratin
- French Green Beans with Herb Butter
- Pumpkin & Sweet Potato Soup with Pancetta & Sage
- Mini Mushroom Pies with Thyme
- Pennsylvania Dutch Apple Pie with Brown Butter Crumble
- No Bake Pumpkin Mousse Pie with Salted Caramel
- Purple Sweet Potato Pie with Torched Meringue
Challah and Sausage Stuffing (Dressing)
- Instant Read Thermometer (optional)
- 1 loaf challah bread fresh baked or staled; cut into ½ inch cubes
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil divided in half
- 1 pound breakfast sausage loose (or cut out of the casings)
- 1 Cup butter (2 sticks) divided; (12 Tablespoons and 4 Tablespoons)
- 4 -5 medium shallots small diced
- 3 medium celery stalks small diced
- 3 - 4 medium carrots small diced
- 5 cloves garlic minced
- 1 ounce sage, thyme and rosemary (See Notes) minced
- ½ Cup dried cranberries optional
- 1 Cup pecans optional; chopped and toasted
- 2 Cups turkey stock (or chicken stock), as needed
- fine kosher salt* to taste
- Freshly-ground black pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 200° Fahrenheit (95° celsius). Arrange two oven racks in the center third of the oven.Arrange the cubed challah bread in an even layer across two baking sheets. Bake the bread for 60 - 90 minutes, tossing occasionally, until thoroughly dried and lightly toasted. Add dried bread to a large mixing bowl or casserole dish. Set aside.1 loaf challah bread
- In a large skillet, heat 1 Tablespoon of olive oil over medium high heat. Add the breakfast sausage and press into the pan, cooking undisturbed for 3 - 5 minutes or until a caramelized crust forms. Use a spatula to flip and crumble the sausage, while cooking for 2 - 3 additional minutes or until cooked through. Pour the cooked sausage and any rendered fat from the pan over the cubed bread and set aside.2 Tablespoons olive oil + 1 pound breakfast sausage
- Return the skillet to the heat and lower to medium, medium-low. Add remaining olive oil and 12 Tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) of butter. Use a spatula to scrape up any sausage fond (browned bits) from the bottom of the pan. Add in diced shallots, celery and carrots. Season generously with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, for 10 - 15 minutes or until the shallots are translucent and the celery and carrots are tender.1 Cup butter (2 sticks) + 4 -5 medium shallots + 3 medium celery stalks + 3 - 4 medium carrots + 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- Add in the minced garlic, sage, thyme and rosemary and stir. Cook for 1 - 2 minutes until aromatic. Add the entire contents of the pan (including all of the butter) over the cubed bread and sausage.5 cloves garlic + 1 ounce sage, thyme and rosemary (See Notes)
- If using, add the dried cranberries and toasted pecans to the stuffing. Toss everything to combine.½ Cup dried cranberries + 1 Cup pecans
- Drizzle about 1 Cup of turkey (or chicken) stock over the stuffing. Toss to combine and allow to absorb for a couple minutes. Add in additional stock as needed until the mixture holds together and is neither dry nor soggy. Season with additional salt and pepper, to taste.2 Cups turkey stock + fine kosher salt* + Freshly-ground black pepper
- Transfer the challah stuffing to a large, deep-dish casserole pan. Top the stuffing with thin slices of the remaining ¼ Cup (4 Tablespoons) of butter. Bake immediately or store refrigerated (or frozen) until ready to prepare.
- When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375° Fahrenheit (135° celsius) . Bake the stuffing for 35 - 45 minutes or until the top is golden and toasted and the internal temperature reaches 155° Fahrenheit (68° celsius). Serve warm with turkey, gravy and all the fixings !
* A Note About Salt
Unless otherwise noted, all recipes on The Sage Apron are developed using Diamond Crystal Kosher salt. It is a great all-purpose salt for cooking and baking. If using table salt, reduce quantities by about half.