If you’re looking for the best vegetarian stuffing that’s full of flavor, look no further! We tested 8 meatless stuffing recipes in search of a reliable recipe that will please everyone at the Thanksgiving table.
My family actually never made traditional stuffing growing up. I grew up with a rice-based stuffing that my mom makes with Chinese sausage (which she now omits for her vegetarian children), mushrooms, cilantro, green onions and oyster sauce. So when I discovered American Thanksgiving stuffing, I was…stunned. A bread casserole with caramelized onions and herbs? Sign me up.
What is dressing vs. stuffing? If we’re going to be technical about it, stuffing technically means it was baked inside a bird while dressing is a bread casserole baked separately. But multiple sources seem to agree that the nomenclature is not as relevant. So for the purposes of this bake off, I’m sticking with my preferred term–stuffing!
“Most cooks interviewed said they are happiest and get the fewest complaints from family and friends around the table when the stuffing they make is close to the classic bread stuffing.” – NYT
- All stuffings were assembled and baked the day of (though I made some components ahead of time).
- 26 friends participated in tasting and ranking for the below scores.
- Each taster ranked each stuffing on an overall scale of 1-10 and then ranked all stuffings in order of preference.
Ingredients: I used storebought bread (unless otherwise specified), Swanson vegetable broth and Diamond kosher salt.
Recipe selection: For this bake off, I stuck to bread-based vegetarian stuffings. All recipes were written as vegetarian recipes except for the Pioneer Woman (where we subbed in veg broth instead of the chicken broth). For a full list of the stuffing finalists I considered, you can view my Google Spreadsheet.
Here are the final eight we tested:
- Smitten Kitchen’s Kale and Caramelized Onion Stuffing
- Alison Roman’s Kale & Cheddar Stuffing, via Buzzfeed
- The Pioneer Woman
- Clinton Kelly’s Biscuit Stuffing
- Epicurious’ Best Vegetarian Stuffing Ever
- Gwyneth Paltrow
- The Kitchn Classic Sage Stuffing
- Serious Eats’ Best Vegan Stuffing
Results of the Best Vegetarian Stuffing Bake Off
No one was more surprised than me to inspect a random Buzzfeed article and discover that the author was Alison Roman! As you can see from the chart, Alison Roman’s stuffing was the clear winner with high overall average and ratings distribution.
I consider second place to be a mass tie between Clinton Kelly/Epicurious/Smitten Kitchen given the almost negligible 3 point spread. You can see that even though Epicurious scored a tiny bit higher than Smitten Kitchen, it was a more divisive stuffing whereas most people generally liked Smitten Kitchen. The same thinking applies for third place (to Gwyneth and The Kitchn). With slightly different “mix ins” for each recipe, these rankings are of course a reflection of each taster’s personal preferences. Let’s dive into the analysis!
Analysis of the Best Vegetarian Stuffing Recipes
I made one exception to my rule of bread-based stuffings only for this recipe because of two reasons. First, it’s still 67% bread-based and second: I was very curious to see if going to the trouble of making homemade cornbread would be worth it.
The answer was a no for my sweet cornbread-loving palate. The cornbread, made with shortening and no sweetener, is probably a fine rendition of true southern skillet cornbread. To me it tasted a bit greasy and soapy from the baking soda. This stuffing calls for basically 3 loaves of bread (including the cornbread) to be staled for 2-4 days. (For context, most other recipes call for toasting the bread in the oven to dry it out without losing flavor.) It’s dressed with a combination of onion, celery, parsley, broth and an alarmingly small amount of spices for the amount of bread used.
Fittingly, the overwhelming feedback from tasters was that this was “bland,” “bready” and “soft.” One taster did exclaim that this “tastes like home.” Given that there is plenty of positive feedback for this recipe, I think this would be a solid choice if you’re accustomed to southern cornbread stuffing. Still, if you like cornbread stuffing, I’d recommend you skip the complexity of adding extra bread and just make a straight cornbread stuffing. If you like bread based stuffing, stay away as the cornbread is the dominant flavor. Plus, the overall flavor is just a little bland.
Unfortunately, I would not make this again.
Kenji’s vegan stuffing uses mushrooms and pecans to add umami and texture. He also calls for a homemade vegetable broth for even more flavor. (I did not make the broth from scratch to be consistent with the other stuffings).
Kenji was aiming for “deep, complex, savory flavors,” and I think he was right on the mark with a caramelized mixture of vegetables that soaked right into a pan of freshly toasted bread. Tasters commented that this stuffing was “juicy,” “earthy,” “olivey” with plenty of umami. While I thought mushrooms would cause the most rifts (“did not like the mushrooms,” commented several tasters), the nuts seemed to incite the most negative feedback. While some liked the crunch and added texture from the pecans, others called them “an interruption.” I personally didn’t love the texture, but if this sounds up your alley, many did enjoy them.
Make this if: you’re looking for a richly flavored and textured, very moist stuffing that will please vegans and meat eaters alike (must love mushrooms and nuts).
This stuffing is a classic mix of onion, celery, garlic, fresh sage and thyme, and toasted rustic bread moistened with broth and eggs. I’ve made this before and thought it was a very good rendition.
Tasters agreed for the most part, calling it “classic,” “buttery,” and “moist” with “good texture.” However, some wished for “more flavor” and while some enjoyed the amount of onion, others were put off by it. Overall, people seemed to feel that this was an average stuffing. It was tasty, but not super memorable to most. This is probably the most classic stuffing of the bunch, and thus the safest if you are a traditionalist. If you season this to taste with your desired amount of salt, I have a feeling the complaints of blandness may be a non-issue.
Make this if: you’re looking for a solid, traditional stuffing with a good level of moistness without being soggy.
I added this stuffing to the list when I saw it performed well in this Buzzfeed stuffing test. Gwyneth adds fresh rosemary, fennel and celery seeds to the usual onion and celery mixture, along with a whopping 15 cups of bread. The headnotes mention “…this stuffing is hearty and satisfying but not soggy or heavy as stuffing can sometimes be.”
Indeed, when I was making this, I felt there was not enough stock to moisten all the bread, and many tasters found it quite dry. “Good stuffing but too much bread,” “too dry but good flavor,” commented some. Many commented that it tasted “traditional” yet “too herby” or that the seasoning was “too strong.” I think this was caused by the fennel/celery seeds contributing a more concentrated flavor than using fresh fennel and celery (an easy fix). Overall, it seemed to be an inoffensive dish, just a little dry.
Make this if: you like a drier stuffing (i.e. you hate soggy stuffing) and a herb-forward flavor.
Deb alludes that this recipe was inspired in reaction to all of the very complicated stuffing recipes that exist. With just 10 basic ingredients, this stuffing is extremely flavorful. She nudges caramelized onions into the “tart-sweet zone” with sherry vinegar, then adds wilted kale into toasted bread with just broth (no eggs! In fact, if you made this with just olive oil, it’s easily a vegan recipe) to bake.
This was one of my personal favorites! After taking a bite, one taster instantly said “oh there’s vinegar in there,” which did not sound appealing to me. But after taking a bite, the tangy, slightly sweet flavor won me (and most tasters) over. “Has a sort of vinegar taste, very different and good!” said one taster. “Delicious oniony goodness,” said another. This stuffing is VERY onion-forward, so if you don’t love onions (or kale), I would take a look at Deb’s apple-herb stuffing instead.
Make this if: you like a bold-flavored casserole with tons of onion and kale and just the right amount of moisture.
With many glowing reviews, this recipe seemed like a clear winner. Though it was a tough pick between this Epicurious porcini stuffing which many claim is their new “best ever stuffing,” I decided I had enough mushroom representation. This stuffing errs on the sweet side with chopped apples, craisins and carrot in addition to onion, celery, sage, and a LOT of butter.
This definitely won people over with a great buttery flavor, but it was a little too sweet for me. Interestingly, one of the top themes of this stuffing was the good “bread to veggie ratio.” Multiple commenters noted that they liked “that it’s not all bread.” Personally, I would have preferred more bread as it is quite heavy on the craisins and other vegetables. Many enjoyed the “sweet and fruity” and “salty sweet” notes, though a couple commenters noted that it was a bit soggy. If you try this, you may look at reducing the butter a bit to keep it a little less soggy.
Make this if: you tend to like sweet/savory things, and especially if you love craisins and don’t want the bread to overpower your stuffing.
If having extra biscuits on hand tends to be a regular problem for you, this is your answer. And even if you just enjoy biscuits, this can still be your answer as long as you have an extra hour to dedicate to making biscuits from scratch. Trust me, it’s not nearly as intimidating as it sounds, and they’re easy to make a few days ahead. Clinton uses a base of mushrooms, celery and shallots seasoned with sage and thyme. He gilds the lily with a splash of cream into the mixture, resulting in a fork-tender, pillowy stuffing that melts in the mouth.
Tasters didn’t necessarily recognize that this stuffing was made with biscuits, but many commented that the bread was “flavorful and yummy,” and a “unique, sweeter choice.” Some loved the mushrooms–“seasoned and cooked to perfection!”. Others noted that it “threw off the texture” or that there were just too many mushrooms. One overwhelming theme was that it was lacking in salt or bite. The texture is rather one-note, aside from the mushrooms–so seasoning it well is imperative. A few called it bland, while another noted it had the “right amount of herb.” As written, it tends towards the milder end of the flavor spectrum.
Make this if: you’re looking for a rich, but mildly-flavored stuffing. What it lacks in crispy, textured edges, it makes up with pillowy biscuits.
On the opposite end of the flavor spectrum, here is Alison Roman’s cheesy rendition. I had never heard of using cheese in stuffing before, but in similar fashion to her introduction of salted chocolate chip shortbread unto the food world, I will never look back. An onion is jazzed up with a fennel bulb, kale, your choice of rosemary, thyme or sage. AND THEN you add a cup of parmesan cheese, half a cup of cheddar cheese, and a teaspoon of crushed red pepper.
I don’t know if it’s the cheese or the amount of crushed red pepper, but this was an absolute symphony of flavors. “Herbaceous and spicy,” said one taster. “Cheesy and toasty and has a kick,” said another. Virtually everyone commented on the “kick” in this stuffing, but noted it was the perfect amount. The only complaint? “The bread is firm and crispy. The cheese gives it really good flavor. But it is basically just bread and cheese.” No complaints here.
Make this if: you’re looking for a slightly offbeat, VERY delicious, unique contribution to the Thanksgiving table for those with adventurous tastebuds. If you want a more traditional flavor, check out this “stovetop”-style recipe.
Vegetarian Stuffing Recommendations
- Erika’s picks: The Kitchn, Alison Roman, Smitten Kitchen
- For an untraditional pick: Alison Roman
- For a more traditional gathering: The Kitchn, Smitten Kitchen
- For a sweeter stuffing: Epicurious
- For a mushroom-forward stuffing: Clinton Kelly, Serious Eats
- For a cornbread/bread hybrid stuffing: Pioneer Woman
My top tip for making stuffing? Toast, don’t stale, your bread!
Some recipes recommend leaving your bread out to stale before using it in stuffing. Kenji explains the science and difference between staling/drying out bread here. The short version: drying bread via toasting is superior because it’s faster and yields a superior flavor and texture.
Happy Thanksgiving cooking!