The Best Thanksgiving Sausage Stuffing There Ever Was

November 17, 2022
3 Ratings
Photo by Bobbi Lin
  • Prep time 10 minutes
  • Cook time 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Makes one 10 x 14- inch casserole dish, plus 5 cups for stuffing the turkey
Author Notes

This stuffing is a Nicoletti family tradition. Unlike most sausage stuffings, which cook the sausage first and bind the stuffing with eggs, this one omits the eggs and uses the sausage as a binder. As a kid we used shrink-wrapped logs of Jimmy Dean sausage, but these days, since I make sausage for a living and am a bona fide a-dult, I make the sausage from scratch, which makes this stuffing even better. I’m not budging on the cheap white sandwich bread though. That stays.

Note: Grandy always spun the spice rack at the very end and added a dash of whatever his hand landed on, which was thrilling to me when I was small. Please feel free to do that. —Cara Nicoletti

Test Kitchen Notes

Everyone has strong opinions about who makes the best Thanksgiving stuffing, and what ingredients put it over the top: Is it the bread, the seasoning, the vegetables (leek-lovers, raise your hands), or the sausage? Recipe developer and fourth-generation butcher Cara Nicoletti would argue it’s all of the above.

In this recipe, she makes her own sausage using pork shoulder, dried sage, and white wine–and shows you how to easily make your own using a stand mixer or your hands. Once you see how the sausage gets made–ha!–make the rest of the stuffing using white sandwich bread, butter, onions, mushrooms, celery, and bell peppers.

The only question that remains is: To stuff the bird or not to stuff the bird? While the name “stuffing” comes from the idea of actually stuffing a turkey with the bread-and-sausage mixture, doing so isn’t necessarily recommended. The reason why most people don’t recommend stuffing the bird itself takes much longer to cook than the stuffing. A stuffed bird may cause the bird to dry out before the stuffing is fully cooked, leading to a potential risk of food poisoning. Hence, we recommend baking stuffing in a separate casserole dish so it cooks evenly alongside the turkey. As the bird bakes, baste the stuffing with chicken stock just as you would with a roast turkey to prevent the bread from drying out.

The best part of stuffing–or dressing, if you also say “y’all”–is that you can customize it. Hate bell peppers? Leave them out!

What You'll Need
  • For the sage sausage
  • 2 1/2 pounds ground pork shoulder, chilled (or any mix of cuts that is 70% lean to 30% fat)
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried sage, ground
  • 1 splash white wine (about 1/8 cup)
  • 1/4 cup ice water
  • For the stuffing
  • 1 pound sliced white sandwich bread (the cheaper the better!), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 3 medium yellow onions, chopped
  • 1/2 pound button mushrooms, sliced thin
  • 4 large celery ribs, chopped
  • 3 green bell peppers, cored and diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (you may want to adjust this is you're using a particularly salty stock)
  • 2 1/2 pounds sage sausage (recipe above)
  • 1 cup chicken or turkey stock
  1. For the sage sausage
  2. A note before starting: Make sure your pork is cold! Meat binding breaks down at 64° F, so if the meat gets warm, it’s going to be a lot harder to make it bind together, and your sausage will be a crumbly mess.
  3. To make the sausage in a stand mixer:Place the ground pork shoulder in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Turn the mixer to the lowest speed and add the salt, pepper, and sage. Mix for exactly 1 minute (set a timer!), then add the white wine and mix for another timed minute, then add the ice water (just the water, not the ice) and mix for one more timed minute.
  4. TO MAKE THE SAUSAGE BY HAND: Add the pork and spices to a large bowl and knead the meat like you would knead bread, for about 5 minutes, until the mixture is tacky. Add the wine and the water and continue to knead until the surface is no longer outwardly wet—about 1 more minute. The sausage should resist slightly when you try to pull a chunk out. A good way to test if the sausage is done is to take a medium-sized piece of it and stick it to the palm of your hand. If the mixture stays stuck to your palm for 10 seconds when you hold your palm up in the air, you’re good to go!
  1. For the stuffing
  2. Heat the oven to 350° F and lay the bread cubes out in an even layer on two baking sheets. Bake until bread has dried out, rotating sheets halfway through—about 10 to 12 minutes.
  3. Melt butter in a large skillet and add onions, mushrooms, celery, bell peppers, garlic, and salt. Cook until onions are translucent and the mushrooms and peppers are soft. Set aside to cool.
  4. Once the vegetables have cooled enough to handle, transfer them to a very large bowl and add the toasted bread cubes and sausage to the bowl. Roll your sleeves up and mush the mixture together with clean hands, until everything is mixed evenly throughout (this was my favorite part as a kid).
  5. Reserve 5 cups of sausage for stuffing your turkey. Transfer the remaining stuffing to a large casserole dish (10 x 14 inch, or 2 quarts), cover with aluminum foil, and bake on the middle rack of the oven for 40 minutes, basting with chicken stock every 20 minutes or so.
  6. After 40 minutes, uncover the pan and roast until internal temperature reaches 140° F, about 25 more minutes (if you aren’t sure about the quality of your pork, cook it until the internal temperature is 160° F).
  7. Stuff your turkey with the remaining 5 cups of sausage. Cook your stuffed bird until the thickest part of the inner-thigh reads 175° F—the stuffing should reach at least 140° F.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

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  • Therese
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Cara Nicoletti is a butcher and writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Cara started working in restaurants when she moved to New York in 2004, and was a baker and pastry chef for several years before following in her grandfather and great-grandfathers' footsteps and becoming a butcher. She is the writer behind the literary recipe blog,, and author of Voracious, which will be published by Little, Brown in 2015. She is currently a whole-animal butcher and sausage-making teacher at The Meat Hook in Williamsburg.

4 Reviews

ibbeachnana December 24, 2017
A friend brought homemade herb stuffing bread cubes, how many cups of this should IU use, I think there are between 8 and 12 cups...Merry Christmas everyone.
kristin November 23, 2017
Making this right now! We got pork from our butcher, and they had some that was pre-seasoned for stuffing. Smells amazing!
Therese November 22, 2017
Just made this for Thanksgiving tomorrow. Tried it right now and it’s so delicious that I can’t wait to serve it tomorrow. I also made it with Jimmy Dean sausage!
Jennifer D. November 10, 2017
This is just like my stuffing recipe, except I cheat and use Jimmy Deans Sage Sausage. I also use a variety of breads- hearty grain, wheat and dark rye. Make a lot- people love it!!